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Sophie's Choice
by Amy Silverman

In Phoenix, there are really only two seasons. There’s summer, and then there’s the rest of the year. Fall-winter-spring – it’s all the same. Unless, I’ve learned, you’re looking to adopt a kitten.

At the end of January, my husband Ray went looking for a kitten. He’d promised our older daughter Annabelle, but the shelters were empty. Come back, everyone told us, when it’s spring. Try telling that to a five-year-old.

The day after Easter, Ray finally procured a black and gray tabby. After considering the names Rose, Sparkle and Heart, Annabelle named her kitten LuLu. We’re all covered in scratches, and I’ve lost control of the kitchen table, but Annabelle is thrilled. As long as the kitten will let her, she holds LuLu like a baby, rocking her back and forth, cooing, “Hey, girl.”

Sophie, Annabelle’s little sister, is tougher to satisfy. She turns four next month, but she already knows what she wants, and she’s not afraid to ask for it... loudly. Sophie has Down syndrome, so she doesn’t talk as well as the rest of us. But lately, her speech has exploded, and I don’t know why, but when she talks, Sophie sounds exactly like a little old lady on Miami Beach. For the most part, she’s very sweet and loving, but if you make her mad, she says, “Stop it!” almost always followed by “Soooorrrry!”

Not long ago, we were at the mall, and while Annabelle looked at the Littlest Pet Shop merchandise, Sophie roamed up and down the baby doll aisle, pointing to each baby, yelling, “Buy it!”

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Sophie wants a baby. I don’t mean she wants a doll. She wants a baby of her own. It’s in her eyes, I feel it coming off her body when she holds one of her dolls, carefully stroking its plastic head and covering it with a blanket for a pretend nap, giving it a bottle and pushing it in a tiny stroller.

I’ve seen this baby lust before. I never had it. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother, it’s the best thing I ever did, but I’d never changed a diaper before Annabelle arrived; never wanted to hold other babies. I couldn’t wait for my daughters to get past the floppy-neck stage; I was terrified of them. But my friend Trish, she always had the baby lust. Her own mom talks about it, how at the youngest age, Trish craved it. She had to have a baby. Eventually, she had two, including a daughter, Abbie. Abbie’s always had the baby lust, too. We joke about chastity belts – not because Abbie, who’s 12, is boy crazy, but because she’s so baby crazy.

I don’t think Sophie will be able to have a baby. Sometimes I imagine what life will be like for her when she’s an adult, and for a while, I thought it would be enough if she could fall in love and have good sex. She’ll grow up, have a nice job, live near us, and she can get married and they can do it a lot. Not such a bad life, right? Then one day, I watched her gazing down at her baby doll with such intense love, I knew that just having sex won’t be enough. Sophie will need someone of her own, of her own creation, to love.

It’s not unheard of for people with Down syndrome to get married, although after one particular couple was featured earlier this year on Oprah, 20/20, The View and in the Wall Street Journal -- just for having Down syndrome and getting married -- I realized how unusual it must be. Even the woman in that couple announced she had an operation so she won’t be able to have kids. A baby would be too much responsibility, she told Oprah. She’s probably right.

At four, it’s so hard to tell what Sophie will be capable of, and sometimes I wonder why I torture myself. But most days, it’s easier to ponder what Sophie will do when she’s 18, than when she’s 5, and it’s time for kindergarten. I watch Annabelle’s kindergarten routine – sitting quietly for circle time, listening for the bell at the end of recess, reading simple books – and think, there’s no way. That particular vision is a little too clear; the one of Sophie growing up and having a baby is much foggier, vaguer. Safer. At least I know for sure it won’t be happening in the next 18 months.

But Sophie is in a hurry. Lately, when we unbuckle her car seat, she crawls into the front seat of the car and climbs behind the wheel. She makes me pull the seat belt across her tiny lap and turn on the radio. Sophie wants to drive – something else very few, if any, people with Down syndrome ever get to do.

I’m in a hurry, so I try to coax Sophie from the car, then finally take her under the armpits and gently drag her away. She screams, “Stop it Mommy! Stop it! Me try it! Me try it!” Then, eventually, “Sorrrrrry,” and she’s begging to be picked up for a hug. I tickle her and she laughs hysterically, til she can’t breathe, distracted from the disappointment.

How long can I distract Sophie from the disappointment? Maybe a lifetime. Distracting myself will be tougher. When Sophie was three months old, the doctors fixed her broken heart, so she could live for a long time. There is no fix for my heart.
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About the Author:  
Amy Silverman
lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Ray Stern and daughters Annabelle and Sophie. When she's not wiping noses and butts at home, she's associate editor of New Times, the alt weekly in Phoenix, where she also spends a lot of time wiping noses and butts -- and editing. She's a contributor to KJZZ, the Phoenix NPR affiliate, and although having kids has pretty much limited her traveling to San Diego and Disneyland, she's been writing quite a bit lately for The New York Times travel section. Amy's proud to say she's been published by both Playboy and Fit Pregnancy, and that John McCain once yelled, "Can't you shut your daughter up?" at her father in the Senate dining room, to which her father responded that that was impossible. Amy likes to balance her motherfucker persona at the alt weekly by co-teaching the Mothers Who Write workshop, which focuses on memoir/fiction and poetry for mothers of all ages and writing experiences.

 

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