I've driven past it hundreds of times. Set back from the main road that threads into our neighborhood, the one-story rectangle of cinder blocks sits ugly and abandoned. Once, wire awning frames poked out from the rooftop, signaling life that must have filled the building at one time, long ago. I've heard a rumor it was a beauty shop. Now, it’s boarded and lifeless.

The first time I noticed the building, I knew my unborn son had Down syndrome (Ds). It's still remarkable to me how his diagnosis has changed my view of so many things.

During my pregnancy with our daughter, Mary Emma, I was comparatively calm and worry-free. It was such a contrast to the seven months I carried Charlie, who arrived early. During that time, I fretted and stressed and worried about everything a mother could ever consider.

Most of my worries dissolved once I saw my son.

What will happen to Charlie when he's older? Will he be able to live independently? Will he have a job? Will people take care of him? Who will take care of him?

Others tucked away, waiting for dark moments of doubt to arise so they could claw their way back into my consciousness. One in particular: What will happen to Charlie when he's older? Will he be able to live independently? Will he have a job? Will people take care of him? Who will take care of him?

Imagination silences fear

The unknown is powerful. It gnaws at my brain and my sense of reason. It pounds its fists against my faith. The unknown is like a gust of Chicago wind, chilling me to the bone and slicing through layers and years of reassurances that things will work out.

So, for nearly 3 years now, every time I've driven past the deserted, broken building, I've fantasized.

In my imagination, the building becomes a coffee house of sorts (I've also envisioned a bistro, but since I can make better coffee than food, the bistro idea is momentary). A flagstone patio wraps around the building and white, twinkling bulbs dance from young trees planted nearby. Wrought iron tables and chairs cover the patio, and the cinder block is no longer gray. It's been transformed into the most beautiful little building.

Instead of a broken, crumbling, abandoned old building, it becomes a ray of light for the community. Inspiration and awesome coffee — what better combination?

Charlie's Place

This warm, restored building becomes the sanctuary where Charlie works every day when he's older. His colleagues are the beautiful children we've met and grown to love who also have an extra chromosome and a life full of challenges. Brothers and sisters help out. Grandparents linger over coffee in the courtyard.

A beautiful wooden sign welcomes neighbors to "Charlie's Place," and people pop in for a cup of coffee or a muffin or to choose a piece of artwork for a gift (yes, my imagination has also managed to coordinate with a young man in Charleston who has Down syndrome and a talent for sculpting beautiful pottery).

Reality

My imagination never considered what we could do if, one day, that land and that sad building of memories became ours.

This week, my imagination was rewarded with a glimmer of hope when a "for sale" sign appeared on the weed-infested lawn of Charlie's Place. Of course, that darn reality washed away the glimmer pretty quickly. It turns out, my imagination didn't develop a business plan, or line up investors.

My imagination never considered what we could do if, one day, that land and that sad building of memories became ours.

But, then I remembered.

Charlie is 2 years old. We have plenty of time.

Read more about Down syndrome

The truth about my child with Down syndrome
Having a sibling with Down syndrome
Getting to know Charlie doesn't take rocket science

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