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posted Tuesday October 30th, 2018



I finally bought my kid some overalls last week. It was time. And not because it was Halloween, although that was her excuse – this time.

Sophie’s been asking for overalls for years, and for years I’ve been changing the subject. That’s not to say this isn’t a kid who gets what she wants, particularly when it comes to clothing. No fewer than five dresses were purchased in anticipation of a recent Homecoming dance; in fact, my teenaged daughter has so many clothes that some days I can barely see her bedroom floor.

And for the most part, she wears what she wants; she’s learned the hard way that Birkenstocks are a lot more comfortable than high-heeled wedges. It works.

But some habits die hard.

It’s been more than 15 years, but I can still remember exactly what it felt like to hear for the first time that my younger daughter had Down syndrome – something I’d only read about in books, or viewed from the safe distance of the other end of the supermarket check-out aisle.

It felt like I was falling. In those first hazy days, it was as though I’d been slung-shot into space – somersaulting, flailing about for something to hang onto.

Something like a bow tie.

I don’t know where it came from, but in my head was the vision of a person with an intellectual disability, wearing a bow tie. Later I added a top hat. And thus was born the Down syndrome Dress Code.

Okay, so the baby, my baby, had this thing. But she didn’t have to fit any of the stereotypes of a person with an intellectual disability (at the time, I – and pretty much everyone else – still used the word retarded). Sophie would be her own person, with her own sense of style. She’d wear only the cutest clothes, like her older sister Annabelle. No bow ties, no top hats. Nothing that reminded me – or the world – that she was different.

At first, it was easy. Babies don’t have much of an opinion on what they wear, and when no other adults were home I’d cram the ugly onesies we’d been gifted — the ones that said things like “Mama’s Lil’ Darlin’” — into a bag for Goodwill and hide them in the trunk of my car for later disposal.

When Sophie had open heart surgery at four months, I hunted for the softest, prettiest onesies that snapped up the front.

When she needed orthotics to learn to walk, I found hot pink Converse that fit over them, instead of the loser leather shoes the doctor recommended.

And then came the overalls. They were in the bottom of a bag of hand-me-downs from a friend, pink velour Circos, Target’s finest, size 24 months. I hid them in the closet, not knowing why I had such a visceral response. It was a long time before I realized the trigger: the character Lennie Small in the movie “Of Mice and Men.”

No daughter of mine, particularly not a “retarded” one, was going to wear overalls. Not even pink ones.

When Sophie was 10, she found those overalls in the back of the closet and tried to put them on. They were way too small, even for her tiny frame. I grabbed them off the kitchen floor and stuffed them away again.

A handful of times over the years – almost as though she could read my mind — Sophie asked for overalls. I’d distract her with a dress or some leggings.

Fast forward to this fall.

It’s Annabelle’s senior year of high school, mostly likely her last Halloween at home, so we’ve decided to dress up as a family, as characters from Winnie the Pooh. My husband Ray is Tigger, I’m Eeyore, Annabelle will be Christopher Robin, and Sophie will be her all-time favorite character, Piglet.

After some Googling, Annabelle is on the hunt for a yellow polo shirt and blue shorts. I got on Amazon and ordered ears for the rest of us. That was easy.

Too easy.

“Hey what are you doing?” Sophie asked as I closed my laptop. I told her.

“I need pink overalls,” she announced. “For my Piglet costume.”

She had a vision of black stripes on pink. I told her she was wrong, that Piglet wore hot and light pink stripes. We looked it up and Sophie was right. She’s pretty much always right.

“Are you sure you want them?” I asked. “I mean, technically, Piglet doesn’t wear overalls.”

“I’m sure,” she said.

She kind of had me. She knows how much I love Halloween. And she really wanted those overalls. I hemmed and hawed for a couple of days, finally consulting with an old friend.

“It’s time,” my friend said gently.

And it was. I don’t see Down syndrome when I look at Sophie. I don’t see Lenny from “Of Mice and Men” or a grocery clerk in a bow tie. I see a creative, rambunctious, smart, pushy young woman who is a combination of Ray and me and a little extra genetic material.

There is no one else in the world quite like Sophie, no matter what she wears.

I ordered the overalls.

She squealed when she saw them, rushing to her bedroom to try them on. They didn’t fit, not even close. Sophie tugged on the snaps. One of the silver fasteners popped off.

“Don’t worry, I’ll order another size!” I said quickly. “No big deal. We still have time before Halloween.”

Sophie wriggled out of the pink fabric, ditching the overalls – and perhaps the idea of overalls forever — on the kitchen floor.

“No,” she said. “Don’t order more. I think I’ll be Steampunk Piglet instead!”

I grabbed my phone and searched, pulling up an image of Piglet in a long coat – and a top hat.

“Okay!” I said, swallowing a gulp. “Let’s do this.”


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My Heart Can't Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome is available from Amazon and 
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