I was and perhaps still am a stuck-up snob. While I hate to think that I am all high and mighty, the fact of the matter is that I used to walk around with my big nose in the air. I was not truly aware of this character flaw until I had Ellie. Shortly after her diagnosis of Down syndrome, I found myself shamefully thinking I don't want Ellie to be bagging groceries for the rest of her life. Just because you have a child with Ds doesn't mean the stereotypes fly out the window. Yes, I was guilty of believing in a stereotype and yes, I was a narrow-minded snob.
There are two issues at hand:
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with bagging groceries.
- Not all people with Down syndrome are automatically relegated to bagging groceries as their only source of employment.
While I was looking inside myself at my ignorance, I met Danny. Danny is a middle-aged gentleman who is a bagger (and corals the carts) at my local grocery store. He is good natured, hard working, and enjoys his job. Oh and he also has an intellectual disability.
Have I even mentioned that I loathe grocery shopping? I feel like I am in the middle of a chaotic traffic jam of carts with no road/aisle rules. Nearly ever trip to the store results in me almost getting mowed down by an aggressive shopper in the peanut butter aisle. Ellie enjoys letting all of the shoppers know just how much she does not want to be a part of the shopping experience. She wails and screams and carries on while I bribe her with crackers and chewy tubes. Keeping her in the cart has turned into a circus performance. However, when we arrive at the checkout line and Danny is starting to bag our groceries, the whole atmosphere changes. Ellie becomes happy, which makes this mama bear relax a bit. Danny has a ready smile and engages my daughter in a game of peek-a-boo. Plus, he is an expert bagger in that he is efficient, the cold items are bagged together, the bread is carefully placed on top, and the eggs are safely protected. He never places too many items into one bag so that my arm would snap off due to the weight. I say all this because there are so many other people who think nothing of mashed bread and placing the bleach in with the produce.
Danny is good at his job and he enjoys his job.
Since meeting Danny, I have fallen off my high horse and recognized that I need to get my prissy nose out of the air. Bagging groceries is meaningful employment that requires good interpersonal skills, fine motor coordination, and the ability to bag foods in such a way that they do not become damaged or so that the cleaning supplies do not taint the food. It is a job that requires punctuality, working under a boss, working well with coworkers, dealing tactfully with irate customers, and punching the clock on the weekends, evenings, and holidays. It is an honest way to earn a living.
This brings me to issue #2, there are also other options.
Sometimes I wonder why I was so narrow-minded in assuming that Ellie would automatically be bagging groceries. I have read about many people with Down syndrome or other intellectual disabilities who work in preschools, who manage restuarants, who work in the entertainment industry, and who go to college. For instance:
- Katie Apostolides graduated a few years ago with an associates degree in Science from one the 100 US colleges that offers post-secondary education for those with intellectual disabilities.
- Will McMillian worked at a children's hospital before starting college to study presidential politics.
- Tim Harris is a 25 year-old young man who runs Tim's Place, a diner in Albuquerque.
- Bryann Burgess of South Carolina is a teacher's assistant hoping to become a full-time teacher.
- Ryan, the 6 year-old handsome boy who models.
- We all know about Lauren Potter from Glee and Christopher Burke who acted on Life Goes On.
No one knows what the future may hold. Ellie is not even 3 years-old yet and while she has definite likes and dislikes, who knows what her interests will be once she reaches adulthood? Who knows where her strengths and abilities lie? While I would like to think that my little girl will head off to college, that may not be the case. What I want most is for Ellie to be successful and happy. Working in the local grocery store as a bagger is a career option for her, one of perhaps many for my daughter and for those with intellectual disabilities. If Ellie finds herself happiest in this form of employment, I am okay with that. If she prefers sheltered workshop, preschool assistant, or any other form of employment, I will support her as long as she is happy. After all, isn't that what we all want for our children-happiness?
*Danny's name has been changed to protect his identity.
**I apologize for the inconsistent font. I have not been able to fix this issue.