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The Day I Finally Cried

2006-06-29 14:55

  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 anyone else's.

  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 as well.

  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 sick myself.

  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.

  By Meg Hill

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