Meridian Star

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November 29, 2012

Loving a child on the fringe

(Continued)

PARIS —

Leaving aside the question of whether one can measure happiness in coffee spoons and, more troublingly, compare the real happiness of an existing child to the potential happiness of a nonexisting child, it is a cliché of developmental psychology that kids with disabilities like Down syndrome often outstrip their peers in joie de vivre. Something about their trust, tenacity and tenderness — as well as their often uninhibited engagement with other people — seems to equip them for lives that are not darker than the lives of sensitive intellectuals but brighter.

Cut to: Paris, fall 2012. I am sitting next to my cherry-lipped, porcelain-skinned daughter, now 4 years old. I step out of the medical transport van that has ferried us home from her preschool and heave her onto the sidewalk. She giggles and extends two fingers to stroke my cheek. Before the driver can pull away from the curb, I gather her against my heart, draw back a few inches, smile in wonder into her radiant smile, and kiss her face and hair and temples as holiday shoppers stop and stare.

Eurydice's and my walks through town are punctuated by spontaneous remakes of Doisneau's "The Kiss" — except with toddler and mother switched in for boy and girl. Not that things are easy: Before we've covered the 250 yards between the door of the medical van and our apartment building, Eurydice will have darted into traffic three times. Like a few other kids with Down syndrome, she is inhabited by an irrepressible compulsion to break out and explore, which combined with her perfect fearlessness causes me a great deal more stress than many of the better-known problems of Down syndrome. Walking with my child is like trying to corral a kitten. You hold her by the scruff of the neck, or you lose her. Once the French fire brigade returned her when she made off from a playground — I had turned my head for an instant; she'd gone six blocks in two minutes.

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