Our first family outing to a playground took two years, eight months and 15 days of parenting. Official owners of two mobile toddlers, we understood playgrounds require man-to-man coverage. I expected chaos. I wasn't expecting a battleground of emotions.

The wind was so balmy. The unexpected warmth sent a shiver up my spine. After months of wearing layers and sweaters and coats, we were outside in short sleeves, enjoying a temperature surge.

My daughter, Mary Emma, wore her first spring skirt, a crisp navy blue cotton puffing out from her tummy like an umbrella over her chubby, wintry white legs.

She needs a pair of sandals, I thought. No, she doesn’t, my conscience corrected. You want to buy her a pair of sandals.

She’s a little girl! I argued. Let me have my fun! My conscience and I knew neither would win entirely.

I tried not to care, but a powerful urge to protect him made me glance at our playground destination warily.

Charlie wore light gray cotton track pants with a white stripe outside each leg, and a fire-engine red T-shirt from last summer’s trip to the Cape. His pants brushed the tops of his shoes, just covering the blue and cloudy white plastic ankle braces that help him walk. I briefly thought about other people seeing them when he wears shorts. I tried not to care, but a powerful urge to protect him made me glance at our playground destination warily.

Who doesn't wave at a smiling child?

He was so eager to reach the other kids already running and yelling. He walked with determined grit, but his soft stomach and skinny legs made him work for each step. He was a miniature, blond-haired Frankenstein, arms out at 45 degrees, legs swinging wide instead of bending at the knee in simple steps.

Throwing off his balance, he held his right hand straight out in front of him to wave excitedly at a woman and her daughter striding toward us. "Bah!" he chirped cheerily. His standard greeting catches some by surprise. Or maybe it's his friendliness. They waved back.

Charlie is so eager to greet and be greeted, and I want to confront adults who ignore or look right through him.

Thank you, I whispered in my mind. Thank you.

I'll never get used to strangers passing by his cheery wave with vacant eyes. Charlie is so eager to greet and be greeted, and I want to confront adults who ignore or look right through him.

Do you not have three seconds to mirror this child’s good nature? I want to bark. But I don't. I just glare.

We were almost to the top of what was a hill only to Charlie. He struggled against gravity as the incline tugged.

"Good job, buddy!" I encouraged him. I wanted anyone within earshot to understand how hard he worked, just to reach the playground where children ran effortlessly.

We aren't ready for this

Mary Emma and her 16 months of stored energy toddled haphazardly but cleanly from one end of the playground to the other in the time it took Charlie to reach the first slide. These are scary, ominous, big-kid slides, I thought. We aren't ready for this.

It was a rare Saturday together as a family and I was so thankful.

It was a rare Saturday together as a family and I was so thankful, watching The Husband keep up with our daughter, hearing our son shriek with excitement as other children dashed around him, yelling about nothing, which is everything important at that age.

Have you ever breathed air that smells like toasted sunshine? I think that must be the scent of contentedness. The sun had started its gradual slide toward tomorrow, leaving fingers of light poking through treetops like lasers. Little heads bobbed from slide to slide, not slowed by shadows.

This is what it's like to have a family, I thought.

You're lucky, my conscience counseled. Don’t forget this.

I know, I agreed. I won't.

Read more Chasing Charlie

Desperately wanting my daughter to protect my son
Imagining a future for my son with Down syndrome
Having a sibling with Down syndrome

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Galit Breen April 11, 2013
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Wow. This is stunning.