When My Daughter With Down Syndrome Stole the Show During My On-Camera Interview With a CEO


My story is a short one — 53 seconds to be exact. And it involves only three characters: a certain “Little Miss Sunshine” that calls herself “Laina,” a top CEO of a global company and me, a broadcast journalist.

If it were a film, the guest and I are the co-protagonists of the story, the male and female leads. For the brevity of her part, Madlaina (her full name) falls into the category of a supporting role.

Now, take a minute and think back to some of your favorite supporting roles, award-winning or otherwise. How many were absolute scene-stealers, even completely upstaging the leads? Well, that’s what happened one afternoon, a couple of weeks into #WFH.

I (the lead) am doing an on-camera interview with the CEO of a Swiss drug company (my co-lead) about emergency approval they’ve received from the FDA to release their new coronavirus antibody tests. It’s a big story and I’m given a seven minute window with him. Now, it’s not the first time I am interviewing someone of his standing, or even the first time I am interviewing him. Nonetheless, I am justifiably nervous.

You see, I have gone from anchoring and conducting interviews in a fancy TV studio, with the support of 5 to 6 additional people, to sitting at my 9-year-old daughter’s desk-turned-home studio/office with only my virtual platform to interact with. In other words, I now must mind the framing of the guests, the audio, and the switching of the shots — in addition to my regular job of asking questions and sounding remotely coherent. Oh, and albeit low on the list, keep my corona-curls from overwhelming my face throughout the interview as sadly, I do not have a live-in hairstylist.

All things considered we are moving along in a timely manner when suddenly the door of the office creaks open. I hear it in the background, but my live TV training tells me to ignore it and focus on the camera. Maybe whoever it is will realize I am recording and go away. Instead, I hear those tiny, unmistakable footsteps coming decisively in my direction. I glance down at my blouse and realize I’m connected to the computer via a clip-on microphone, making a “jump up and do something quick” move impossible. Cue beads of sweat on my upper lip as I realize I will have to interrupt the interview.

Initially I am annoyed. This interview is a big deal. But I also get it: in her mind, there is no reason why mom would be in the next room and NOT available. I am home, and this makes me fair game. But I also wonder, would a “typical” 5-year-old register that a closed door means that mom is working and shouldn’t be interrupted? Surely my oldest would have understood the rules of home office better, when she was Madlaina’s age? Wouldn’t she? I hate these questions, but I can’t help them. I remind myself that it doesn’t matter, and to focus on the first rule of parenting a child with T21 (Trisomy 21, aka Down syndrome): she operates on her own timetable.

This familiar rush of thoughts comes to a halt when I feel her little hands on my leg. I look down at her, grinning mischievously through her pink-framed glasses, arms outstretched, and I am reminded AGAIN that the “what if” game is fruitless with her. And anyways, I have clearly lost the battle in the face of such cuteness.

a working mom with her daughter sitting on her lap

I smile back at her and announce to my guest (who up to that point has been quite serious and CEO-like) that I have a visitor. As I reach down for her, I feel another rush of thoughts, but this time they are thoughts of fear. What will happen if I stop the interview? What if the window closes and I can’t get my headline? Will my boss accept an interruption from my child as an excuse? How will my guest react to seeing a child with T21 suddenly appearing on screen? I mean, I don’t know this man personally … and while most people react positively around her (I call it happy magic), I have also had the opposite response. Some have even openly questioned my decision to have her in the first place. I feel the blood rush to my face, my chest tightens …which will it be?

And then my “I-love-this-child-more-than-life-itself” instincts kick into overdrive, and suddenly it’s done. She is in my lap, laughing, waving, saying “Hi!” and chatting away. In short, completely stealing the show, and with it all my anxiety.

It is glorious. And to my relief, my co-star’s reaction is nothing short of perfection. He laughs and smiles and waves right back. Not only does my daughter give us an unexpected reprieve from our “serious business,” but she does it in her unfiltered, Little Miss Sunshine way. I can tell he is smitten.

Shortly thereafter my husband appears to retrieve her and she slides off my lap. Her warmth still lingers in the air as we do our best to carry on with talk of margins and roll-outs. At the end he is laughing again as he waves goodbye, telling me this was a funny interview and to please send my daughter his regards. Of course, I happily agree.

In the meantime, our super short film has made it around the world, with over 100,000 views on a variety of different social media platforms and is still making the rounds.

I confess that I am surprised by the amount of people it has touched, and the rush of story-telling it has unleashed from both moms and dads trying to manage the three-ring circus that is working from home. It also confirms how much we relish seeing ourselves reflected in the experiences of others and how, especially now, “keeping it real” is the right choice.

Lastly, for her ability to take the script in a new and unexpected direction by virtue of her honest and heartwarming portrayal of a little girl who briefly derails her news anchor mother’s plans to stay serious and guarded, Laina Casty definitely makes my list of best ever performances for an actress in a supporting role.

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