I walked into the Mile High Down Syndrome Association holiday party on Saturday morning thirty minutes late and not knowing at all what to expect. It also didn’t occur to me, until I saw parents holding their children’s hands, that I was attending a party by myself. The doors opened, and I was engulfed by laughing kids, teenagers sucking the ends of their candy canes into lethal points and parents greeting their friends from Mile High before dashing after their young ones. Volunteers wore elf hats and the music of a folksy band drifted across the dance floor that was already teeming with dancing kiddos dressed in their holiday best.
Smack in the middle of the dance floor, and most certainly dressed in his holiday best, was Mac Macsovitz, or, as he was better know on this particular day, MacElf. He stopped his jolly jig long enough to introduce me to his wife, Rebecca, and their three kids, Hoke, Rae and Guion, who has Down syndrome. Hoke and Rae watched the dancers on the floor and wandered among the nearby tables filled with plates of leftover breakfast and Hanukkah coloring book pages. Guion perched, rather subdued, in his mother’s arms, dried tears making crystals on his eyelashes. Rebecca went to play with Guion and get him in a party spirit, so I went to go find Santa.
I moved among the tables where grandparents were drinking cups of coffee and watching the dancers while the super funTumbleweed Wanderers (Mac found them at a conference in Oakland, California and paid for their gas to drive out here) went through Wagon Wheel, a favorite song of mine (It’s about North Carolina!). Live music was meant to be a big focus of the party because people with Down syndrome typically love to dance and listen to music. Mile High likes to provide opportunities to keep the kids active, also.
I found Santa surrounded by elves and children and their parents. The kids watched toys changing hands while the grownups stood back and snapped pictures, usually standing in front of the official photographer. I stayed there for, possibly, too long, and if I weren’t a writer, I probably would have been asked to leave on account of my being a borderline creep, but I just couldn’t tear myself away.
I watched Nick, who looked to be about ten or eleven, run up to Santa (who I swear was the real thing) and throw his arms around his neck. Santa mumbled something to Nick, who then cupped his hand around his ear and softly whispered what he wanted for Christmas. Santa held out a bowl filled with candy canes, and Nick took one, then another, then another, before his mother grabbed his candy-filled hand and said “Oookayyy, that’s enough.”
Baby Finn squirmed on Santa’s knee, reaching for mom, until an elf put a shiny dog toy on his lap. He placed his palm on the dog’s head and his eyes widened before he looked up into Santa’s rosy face. I could see it in his awestruck eyes, that he was putting it together in his mind: “This guy’s got the good stuff.”
After Amelia’s turn, she snuck back through all the parents and tugged on the photographer’s shirt.
“I want to help take the pictures!”
Her little hands reached towards the camera before her mom gasped and insisted on Amelia helping her with her own pictures. Amelia, five, gently tugged the camera strap over her mother’s head and snapped a couple pictures of her friend’s family, who were getting their picture with the crimson-clad gent. When there were no more pictures to take, Amelia stomped away through the crowd, leaving her mom in her dust. A few minutes later, a cacophony of sounds arose from the piano, completely drowning out the Tumbleweed Wanderers. I learned from her mother later that it was, in fact, Amelia.
I made my way back over toward the dance floor, where I saw a boy named Daniel sitting directly in front of the band. He wasn’t tapping his toes or nodding his head with the music, but he was completely captivated. His mother told me later that at home, he listens to Pete Seeger and then stands up with a guitar and mimics him. I saw Guion sitting on the floor, zooming a Transformers car across the tile to his friend from school. Apparently someone went to see Santa, and that same someone was suddenly in a more festive mood.
I heard jingle bells coming up behind me, and when I turned around Mac was there to introduce me to Beth, a young lady with Down syndrome who is about to be hired at Mile High. She currently has two jobs and goes to college and acts in plays, which is what she’s going to school for. She introduced me to her parents, with whom she travels all over the world (she loved Paris, and coming up, they are headed to Africa.). She told me about her stage makeup class and her dad showed me a picture of one of Beth’s assignments. She had completely and utterly transformed herself into the Queen of Hearts from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
The party was starting to wind down, and the band played their last couple songs while families joined their dancing tots out on the floor, everyone clapped along with the music. Guion showed me his Transformer car. A little girl, Rayne, twirled in front of me in her glittering holiday dress. Parents talked to me and talked to each other. I noticed that I never felt weird for going to this party alone. And why should I? I spent the morning surrounded by people who, as Mac put it, at some point felt like it was them against the world. I don’t mean to say that I ever felt like it was me against Santa, some elves and some kids, but there was this initial feeling of discomfort. But that’s why Mile High is here, to provide a sense of community and support when you feel like you’ve got nobody who will understand. Or, for good company, a visit from Santa and great music over breakfast.