I didn't cry when I learned I was the parent of a mentally
handicapped child. I just sat still and didn't say anything
while my husband and I were informed that two-year-old Kristi
was - as we suspected - retarded.
"Go ahead and cry," the doctor advised kindly. "Helps
prevent serious emotional difficulties."
Serious difficulties notwithstanding, I couldn't cry then
nor during the months that followed.
When Kristi was old enough to attend school, we enrolled
her in our neighborhood school's kindergarten at age seven.
It would have been comforting to cry the day I left her in
that room full of self-assured, eager, alert five-year-olds.
Kristi had spent hour upon hour playing by herself, but this
moment, when she was the "different" child among twenty, was
probably the loneliest she had ever known.
However, positive things began to happen to Kristi in her
school, and to her schoolmates, too. When boasting of their own
accomplishments, Kristi's classmates always took pains to praise
her as well: "Kristi got all her spelling words right today."
No one bothered to add that her spelling list was easier than
During Kristi's second year in school, she faced a very
traumatic experience. The big public event of the term was a
competition based on a culmination of the year's music and
physical education activities. Kristi was way behind in both
music and motor coordination. My husband and I dreaded the day
On the day of the program, Kristi pretended to be sick.
Desperately I wanted to keep her home. Why let Kristi fail in a
gymnasium filled with parents, students and teachers? What a
simple solution it would be just to let my child stay home.
Surely missing one program couldn't matter. But my conscience
wouldn't let me off that easily. So I practically shoved a
pale, reluctant Kristi onto the school bus and proceeded to be
Just as I had forced my daughter to go to school, now I
forced myself to go to the program. It seemed that it would
never be time for Kristi's group to perform. When at last they
did, I knew why Kristi had been worried. Her class was divided
into relay teams. With her limp and slow, clumsy reactions, she
would surely hold up her team.
The performance went surprisingly well, though, until it
was time for the gunnysack race. Now each child had to climb
into a sack from a standing position, hop to a goal line, return
and climb out of the sack.
I watched Kristi standing near the end of her line of
players, looking frantic.
But as Kristi's turn to participate neared, a change took
place in her team. The tallest boy in the line stepped behind
Kristi and placed his hands on her waist. Two other boys stood
a little ahead of her. The moment the player in front of Kristi
stepped from the sack, those two boys grabbed the sack and held
it open while the tall boy lifted Kristi and dropped her neatly
into it. A girl in front of Kristi took her hand and supported
her briefly until Kristi gained her balance. Then off she
hopped, smiling and proud.
Amid the cheers of teachers, schoolmates and parents, I
crept off by myself to thank God for the warm, understanding
people in life who make it possible for my disabled daughter to
be like her fellow human beings.
Then I finally cried.