Kelsey is another one of our former students here in Rome. She is a senior at Loyola University Chicago. Last May when I wrote to ask students if they’d be willing to write about their experiences meeting and knowing Annie, she was the first to respond. This was in my inbox the very next day. I am so honored to have her as a guest author. She’s right, I don’t remember that day in the cafeteria when I handed Annie over to her.
Kelsey, we love and miss you! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and my bet is you’ll make the world’s greatest mom when the time is right!
Babies freak me out. I’ve said that for as long as I can remember. They terrify me. Maybe it’s just something that many women my age feel – we’re young and able and ready for the world. Maybe it was because I was one of the youngest in my family – there were no babies for me to play with, to learn with, to understand. Maybe it’s just because the whole idea of children is the lifelong unknown. Having kids can’t be that hard, right? If it was, the population probably wouldn’t be quite so huge. But to me it is a big, hard, scary thing. I can’t imagine having any child, but what if I had a child with special needs? How could I cope?
When I arrived in Rome, there was a family living at my school. Mike, Colleen and Baby Annie. They are the nicest people. They were there for us through our whole Italian adventure. It was amazing how quickly the entire school took to Annie. She is this sweet little girl with Down Syndrome. No one said anything negative. No one made it a big deal. Instead, everyone raved about this wonderful, happy little girl. We joked that when she turned 16, she would have to bring her Italian boyfriend home to meet her parents – all her parents, all 200 of us.
One day, Colleen sat by me at dinner in Mensa. (She probably doesn’t even remember.) Baby Annie was in her arms. Colleen needed to grab something – I don’t remember what she needed, there was a baby staring at me and I didn’t know what to do. That was all I could focus on. As I mentioned, babies freak me out. Without thinking, I said I would hold her and Colleen plopped her on my lap. And there she was, staring up at me, her tiny tongue moving around in her mouth. All I could think of was how she was extra fragile. I just knew I was going to break her accidentally. She looked up at me.
And then she smiled.
And suddenly, I felt okay. I wasn’t scared to hold her. I wasn’t nervous that I would break her. I didn’t feel like I was going to do something that might make her upset. I just bounced her a little and made a noise and watched her smile at me. Then that was it. Colleen was back and Baby Annie was off my lap.
I’m not going to say that I’m cured of my fear and that I want to have my own baseball team, or anything. But in that split second, Baby Annie made me realize that she smiles the same way I do. And somehow that’s enough to make me not quite so scared.
If I do end up having kids, I hope they smile just like Baby Annie.