The Locker Room

It may sound crazy, but most of the time I forget that my daughter, Amanda, has Down syndrome. She is just Amanda. Every now and then, though, I get hit with a moment—I call it a whammy —that makes me ponder what life would have been like if that extra chromosome had not occurred. This was one such time.

Amanda takes swimming lessons at the YMCA. She has said she wants to become more independent in the locker room/shower/pool area. It’s a necessary skill that she’ll need in life. She has gotten to the age and ability level where it is not appropriate for Mommy to be helping her put on her undies, bra and other clothing items.

When you think about it, there are many steps in getting ready to use the pool and changing afterward. She has to place all her clothes in a locker—and not put anything up on top that might get pushed back to where she can’t reach it. After swimming, she’s got to head back through the shower/steam room/sauna area and shower.

Dealing with the shower includes turning on the water so it’s neither too hot nor too cold; washing her hair without getting shampoo in her eyes; and turning the faucet off in the correct direction so she doesn’t scald herself.

She then has to dry her hair and body. Wrap in a towel so that she covers all her girl parts. Grab her stuff, and head back into the locker room where she has to remember the locker number she chose.


Amanda wants to be independent but hasn’t pulled together all the steps yet. She still gets shampoo in her eyes and stands in the shower yelling for me to help. She gets mad when her bra will not go on easily over her damp body. Baby steps.

I enjoy seeing her accomplish a new part of the process. This last time she got past her fear of hot water and turned the shower faucet all the way off by herself. This might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. She also does a really good job of remembering which locker she uses—a skill I struggle with.

So: my whammy moment. I’m sitting on a stool by our lockers, waiting for Amanda to finish blow-drying her hair and feeling good about the progress we are making. I’m proud of Amanda’s push for independence and willingness to attempt skills outside of her comfort level.

Then, two girls about Amanda’s age walk into the locker room. They’re in workout clothes, wearing ear buds for their iPods and carrying water bottles. They head to two lockers and change into swimsuits. Nonchalantly chatting about Ugg boots, someone’s brother and a school assignment, they slam their locker doors and head to the pool.

I watch them go. So confident in their surroundings. Not needing any direction or assistance. No parent keeping a watchful eye. It all seems so easy!

And I feel the whammy, like a smack upside my head. Could this have been Amanda? All cute, fit and sure of herself? Able to string together a bunch of tasks without reminders? Out with a friend instead of Mom?

I think about what might have been. For a moment, I let a glimpse of someone else’s world affect my contentment. Darn you, whammy! I sigh, because that is what we Italian mamas do, and look away.

Amanda appears in front of me with a hairbrush in hand and a smile on her face. “Mom, I did it by myself! Look at my hair.”

I turn my attention to my daughter. “Yes, you did, honey,” I say. “You did great.” I am back in my world. A place where certain things might never be easy. A place where skills others learn naturally take time and practice. But also a place where daughter enjoys spending the morning at the YMCA with her mom. We pick up our gear and head out of the locker room, together.

This article was initially printed in Family Times Magazine