The BLOG: Voices

Raising a child with Down syndrome: Quinn turns 16

This is the second blog by Jean Pollock about raising Quinn, her son who has Down syndrome. To read the first post, click here.

Quinn has got to be the cutest kid that ever turned 16. Don’t get me wrong – if you read my first blog about Quinn, you’ll have read that our first nine kids are exceptionally beautiful, smart, talented, etc., but … OH my gosh, watching Quinn wait for 16 and then get there was downright off-the-charts cute.

His birthday was the very first Friday in Lent this year and, because we like to at least start out our Lent strong, it was a bit of a challenge, deciding how to celebrate his birthday. We ended up deciding to have a few of our older kids in with their children, make some pizza, have a store-bought cake and then say the Stations of the Cross together. Keep it kind of low-key. Then, on Sunday, we’d invite more relatives and friends and have the “real” party. That would enable us to keep the spirit of Lent and his birthday, too.

The night before a birthday when I tuck my kids in to sleep, I always tell them to “enjoy the last night of being whatever age they are!” When I gave Q that reminder, I thought the smile was going to pop off his face — he was snuggled way down in his pillow and grinning from ear to ear!

We’d asked him what he wanted for his birthday (I am plumb out of ideas when they get to 16). Usually they ask for a car and we all say “ha, ha” and they end up with a nice sweater or something. Quinn said, without hesitation, “Why don’t you just get me some shirts, Mom? I could use some more shirts!” I replied, “What about socks, Quinn? Or pants? Don’t you need them, too?” “Yes, I could use them, too,” he said with a matter-of- fact contentment that is so typical of him.

Friday morning, I woke Quinn by singing the “Happy Birthday” song as I walked into his room. He opened his eyes and the same huge grin that he’d gone to sleep with reappeared.

Normally it takes him forever to get himself through in the bathroom, etc., and downstairs, but on his birthday he was down in record time. He had put on a dress shirt, khakis and his Sunday shoes and was strutting around like a little peacock, obviously thinking he was the coolest dude around! The excitement was palpable. HE WAS SIXTEEN!!!! He had arrived.

(Courtesy of the Pollock family)

(Courtesy of the Pollock family)

Off for the school bus he bounded, through the snow and bitter cold that morning, too excited to be able to eat breakfast. He called me a couple of times throughout the day to give me a blow-by-blow of the happenings. One of his teachers had made him brownies and he was passing them out to everyone (while carefully hoarding some for later of course). Everyone, it seemed to Quinn, was as excited about and focused on his birthday as he was, which is, of course, as it should be…  ;-))

Friday night was anything but low-key. Our son-in-law arrived with their three girls and while we were waiting for everyone else to arrive, we had a glass of wine (or two), the volume of noise went up, kids were blowing up balloons and running up and down stairs for this or that and Quinn was continuing to float on Cloud Nine. We did end up following the “plan,” but it didn’t seem like we weren’t having a party on the first Friday in Lent. Even the icky cake didn’t phase anyone. Quinn happily blew out the candles and everyone had at least one bite of the cake and went on to presents. When I’d been shopping at the department store for a shirt, pants and socks for him, I’d strolled through the toys to see if there was something else that he might like and had picked up a kids’ bow and arrow, thinking that he might like it. When he opened those gifts you would have thought that he’d been given a Lamborghini! He was that thrilled! Sixteen and as thrilled with a cheap bow and arrow and some new clothes as he could be …

It was St. Valentine’s Day on Sunday, but since that was the day of Quinn’s “actual” birthday party, we decided to celebrate it on Saturday night and go out to eat. As we pulled into the parking lot of one of Quinn’s favorite restaurants, we realized that we weren’t the only ones who’d decided to eat out that night. It looked packed. Quinn and I went in to see if there was any room for us while my husband parked the car, and as we stepped into the doorway we found ourselves behind a group of high school girls. “Hi, Quinn!” they all said in unison – Quinn beamed like the Harvest Moon – “Hi!” he replied cheerfully, then he turned to me and whispered seriously, “Mom, PLEASE don’t embarrass me!  That’s Courtney!”

Courtney has been Quinn’s heartthrob for about four months now. She’s a sweet, beautiful girl and they walk down the halls in school together. He is convinced that he’s going to marry her (she’s about the 13th girl that he’s been in love with and planned to marry, so we have learned not to get too concerned).

Someone else called, “Hi Quinn! Hey! Is it your birthday??!” It was the hostess as she came to the doorway to see who needed to be seated.

“How did you know it was Quinn’s birthday?” I asked, surprised.

“Oh, I saw it on Gavin’s Facebook page,” she replied (Gavin is one of Quinn’s older brothers). “Happy birthday, Buddy!”

Another waitress came through. “Hey, Quinn!  How are you!?” she asks with a big smile. “Great, Stephanie, how are you?” Quinn joyfully replies.

It turned out that we were going to have a 45-minute wait there, so we decided to go to Restaurant No. 2, which is another frequented haunt of ours. That place was packed too, but as we walked in the door we hear, “Hey! Quinn! Buddy! How are you?!”

“Hey, Adam, how are you?” Quinn answers, and gives the waiter the Big Whack Handshake (that means they are true “buds”), which ends with a colossal hug. I bragged to Adam that Quinn had just turned 16 and there were more accolades and grins and congratulations.

Of course, all this activity had garnered some attention — then we realized that we were standing next to a table at which sat one of my husband’s closest friends, who is also a great friend and accomplice of Quinn’s — and is another of Q’s “absolute favorite people.” More huge hugs, congratulations, excitement and offers of free soda.

The whole night went on like that! It’s like going somewhere with the mayor of the town. It’s quite entertaining, watching this short little kid with Down syndrome know more people than any one other person that we’d seen all night — and truly believe that each and every person he meets is his “absolute favorite person in the whole world” as he puts it. It doesn’t bother him in the least that he says it about so many different people — it’s the moment that he’s living in that is important. He’s such a good teacher…

We did end up having his “real” birthday party on Sunday. Do you think he was tired of this? Heavens, NO! He woke up Sunday morning still on top of the world. Couldn’t wait for his party, because his cousin, who is his absolute favorite person that he doesn’t see very often, is coming!

He took up the collection at church, as he does as often as he can, with his chest all puffed out while he is trying to be manly and take his job seriously — I wonder if the donation count is higher when Quinn takes up the collection; he is such a sight! He has to clamp his lips together in order not to grin with pride and he gets the biggest kick out of sliding that long-handled basket (which makes a very cool noise as it slides through his hand) in front of people, knowing that he is being trusted to collect the money for God.

Back home, more guests, food, wine, music (Hooray! It’s Sunday in Lent and we get some relief!) and now the kids can really have a good time. I’d planned on making everyone’s favorite Chocolate Birthday Cake, but at this point I figured “who cares! Enough already!” and had Quinn and an older brother make a double batch of brownies as his cake.

What a birthday. What a kid. What a blessing he is!

Jean Pollock

Jean Pollock

Jean Pollock has been married to her husband, Patrick, for 41 years. She is the mother of 10 children and grandmother of 12. She is a passionate lover of the Catholic faith; she homeschooled her children and was very involved in the pro-life movement, especially in the 1980s.