Lyla doesn’t just look at people. She sees people. As I watch her meet someone new, I am struck by how she studies his or her face, mentally cataloguing each eyelash, wrinkle and freckle.
Her expression is stone serious at first, and then begins to soften as she senses the humanity behind the physical exterior. The corners of her mouth twitch and gradually expand into a big, toothless, drooly smile. She takes in each sound and facial movement with the utmost curiosity, striving to understand the fascinating being in front of her.
Last weekend, we took her to the Mill City Farmers market. As I was perusing produce, I felt Lyla’s head turn and her gaze landed on a little girl sitting in a stroller next to us. The little girl responded in kind, staring intently at Lyla. Since Lyla was wrapped onto me in the Moby, I bent down to facilitate their interaction. They cooed, drooled and smiled at each other— smiles so big that the edges of their mouths quivered in joy. My swift crouching movement caught the eye of the little girl’s mother, who began watching this precious interaction, just as captivated as I was by their wordless communication.
The little girl’s mother and I let them continue their smile-fest for several minutes before going about our farmers market business. We passed the little girl and her mother several more times that morning. Each time, without fail, the girls would greet each other with a smile of recognition— like long lost friends.
I find all baby communication to be touching, but this particular interaction resonated with me on a different, deeper level. Lyla’s farmers market friend had Down syndrome. As I reflect on their interaction, a hot flush of shame rushes to my cheeks. I had seen this little girl at the crêpe stand, about ten minutes before Lyla’s eyes met hers at the produce stall. Upon noticing her, my second thought (after “what a beautiful little girl”) was “what a challenge it must be to raise a child with Down syndrome.”
Why? Because, for better or for worse, the lens through which I view the world is covered by various filters, and tinted by my life experience– what I’ve heard, seen, and think I know. Lyla’s lens is crystal clear, and its focus is razor-sharp. When she looks, she immediately sees the good stuff. The important stuff. The human stuff. Where I saw a mother’s challenge, she saw an intriguing person.
If only I took the time to truly see and try to understand those with whom I interact on a daily basis. Imagine what a better, more compassionate, more sentient person I would be. Imagine the accuracy and depth with which I would be able to write about the human condition; to share my observations with others.
As I watch Lyla meet new friends, I feel as though I’ve been missing out. I don’t know when we “lose” this pure curiosity, this ability to suspend judgment and truly see. I think it’s still in me. If I keep watching my daughter, I know I’ll find it again.