The Tent

June 26, 2008 at 7:52 pm 6 comments

I have this memory.  I don’t know when it happened, although I know that our family was still living on the other side of Michigan, the Detroit side, so I had to be younger than seven.  It’s a fuzzy memory, more like a feeling.  When I think about it everything is kind of yellow and I can feel the hot sun on my face. 

My parents and my brother and sister and I were at an outdoor party, a barbecue, I think.  I had been running all over, gorging myself on watermelon.  My palms felt sticky, I was sweating, there were tons of people around.  I wore my bathing suit under a pair of shorts.  Every once in a while I would pass by a parent or a family friend and they would yell at me to slow down. 

It was a fun day.  There were lots of people and food.  Us kids were free to do what we pleased.  There was a swimming hole and laughter.

Some people must have been planning to spend the night.  Tents were up.  It was a party for the duration.

Half way through the day a woman caught my diminutive eye.  She sat at a picnic table.  There was something about her that was different than everyone else at the picnic and I got scared.  I remember my breath catching and a little tidal wave of fear beginning to brim in my stomach.  I looked away from her, afraid to look… wanting to look again. 

I found an empty tent.  Swimming was no longer appealing.  I didn’t want anything to eat.  The inside of the tent was cool, everything was a luminous blue as the sun pushed through the tent’s navy walls.  I hid inside.  I was afraid to see the woman again.   

Eventually my mom and dad found me.  They tried to get me to talk.  I was silent.  There was something terribly wrong and I was sure I was the only person who noticed it.  I refused to leave the tent. 

As a parent I can imagine how my folks felt.  They offered me soda and chips.  They tried to get me to come out of the tent and rejoin the party.  After a while, we left, no one in the family really knew why, except for me.

I was petrified.  I didn’t know that I simply had something new to learn and that it was OK to talk about it and ask questions.

Looking back, I can’t pin point what special needs that sweet woman had.  Of course, my mind’s eye now sees her with Down syndrome.

After Polly was born and we learned of her diagnosis, I received a lot of emails and phone calls.  Sometimes I was told I was blessed with Polly because of my ability to handle the situation.  “I can’t think of two people who could do better,” some have said to my husband and me.

Really, I think I had Polly in order to finally ask questions, to talk about it, to learn.

To come out of the tent.


Entry filed under: Down syndrome, Family, Special Needs.

A hard day’s work Mean Mama

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jooleebrooks  |  June 27, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Wow, Gillian. Your post made me cry! What a special way to express the reality of your struggles. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and emotions. I do hope it is helping you to write them here, because reading your thoughts helps me on so many levels.

  • 2. theramblinghousewife  |  June 28, 2008 at 2:54 am

    I had a similar experience. Looking back it wasn’t with a person who had Down Syndrome, but a person who had mental retardation.

    I can remember being young and being scared.

    Who would have imagined 25 years later I would be a Special Ed. Teacher.

    One that is typically more comfortable in a room of people with disabilities than a room full of people without disabilities.

    I completely agree with you, Ukraine. People with disabilities are here to teach us.

    And there is more to learn from them than we’ll ever fully know . . . 🙂

  • 3. Amy  |  June 30, 2008 at 3:56 am

    wow that as a very wonderful post! hugs to you! and yes, you are soooooo blessed!

  • 4. tom  |  July 2, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    A very powerful story. Thanks for being open enough to share it and I love the mental pictures it conjures up.

  • 5. Christine  |  July 8, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Moving, insightful, heartfelt post. I still sometimes have the desire to escape into the tent; having my son John makes that virtually impossible. How wonderful it is to have someone who really does make you get out there and experience all the beauties life has to offer.

  • 6. kristi  |  July 30, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Great post!


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