Our Son the Cheetah
When Mark was eighteen months old, he discovered the “Jib-Skid.” The world was becoming an interesting place and he had made it clear he was not going to miss any of it. The Jib-Skid was his first independently invented form of locomotion, although it was clear it had either come with this genetic package, or he had seen it somewhere else…. For the record, with months of physical patterning, we had been trying to teach Mark how to crawl on all fours. Patty, the physical therapist and I would crawl around the floor around him and move his arms and legs in a crawl sequence called “patterning” so he could see and “feel” the rhythm. He would sit and watch us with obvious disinterest and would object to this very boring form of entertainment by repeating his one complaint hoot after another until we stopped. Although Patty and I firmed our thighs up, Mark’s opinion of learning to crawl was clearly that it tedious and slow.
The “Jib- Skid” was his chosen mode of transportation. No matter how we describe it delicately, it was a genuine chimpanzee scoot. Mark would sit, shift his upper body weight to his hands and swing his legs under him. As his upper body strength and coordination matched his growing curiosity and motivation to get around independently, there was no nook or cranny safe from his attention.
So there he was with his cute flattened face, button nose, slanty eyes, and his smaller, low-set ears, strong upper body, hooting unintelligible words in public. In addition, Mark had monkey feet. They were very narrow at the heel and wide in the foot. There was that Down syndrome fact # 6; a wide space between the big toe and the rest. I admit in shame, I tried to keep shoes on him all the time to hide those peculiar feet. I took him everywhere, which meant I had to carry him everywhere. To this day my posture lists to the left!
When I could carry him no more, I’d gratefully put him into stroller or a grocery cart and try to do errands and shop. He’d hoot and howl and make the sign for “Down”. If I was getting groceries, he would systematically throw out groceries in the cart within his reach. Oh, yes, I gave in and just sat him on the floor. Sometimes I was so desperate for time, I would just tell the checker Mark was on the floor and not to let him scoot out the door! And I kept shopping not knowing if one of my errands that day would be a trip to jail for child endangerment or abandonment. Mark had no qualms; he’d hit the ground jib-skidding and hooting with great joy. His enthusiasm was contagious. People that had seen Mark grow painfully slow actively cheered him on. Imagine being in a large super market, and people are encouraging your toddler to “Go! Go fast Markie!
And he’d disappear around the aisles, jib skidding under people’s feet, chasing shopping carts of people who called out to him. This was a no fear activity for Mark. Every person he saw showed him a positive reaction. The skid made it hard to keep up with Mark, but I could pinpoint his general direction by his exhilarated hooting. Initially, I panicked for all the right reasons as he left my protective sight. I learned to use those giant super market mirrors placed near the ceilings to keep an eye on him. (Ah! That’s what they’re for!).These were the first months I knew I needed my community’s help in raising Mark. They would come to know him as a favorite son, and I would forever be known as the mother of Chimp Boy.