My husband and I found out that our daughter Penny had Down syndrome two hours after she was born, and we shared the same instinct. We wanted to run away.
Today, my memory was jogged back many years as I read this piece about a mom’s reaction to learning her daughter had Down’s Syndrome,
As a young little girl in the 50’s, I was a “fan” of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. They had a television show which aired every Sunday night…it was about life on their California ranch as a cowboy and cowgirl. Back in those days….life was seemingly simple and television westerns were our version of “reality” shows.
As a Hollywood star, Dale Evans had her own heartbreak. Courageously, she wrote a book, “Angel Unaware”*. It was the story of her little girl Robin, who was born with Downs Syndrome.
As I recall, my mother thought I was too young to read “Angel Unaware”. I longed to learn about Robin the beautiful baby on the front cover. I waited awhile, until I could get my own copy of this sad but heartwarming story.
*The first book written by Dale Evans Rogers
in 1953 tells the story of
the only child conceived
between Roy & Dale,
Robin Elizabeth Rogers,
born with Downs Syndrome.
Only one month after Robin passed away her parents, Rogers and Evans, were scheduled to play at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It had been scheduled a year earlier.
On opening night at this famous arena, Rogers sang the religious “Peace in the Valley.” When the Garden management frowned on this open display of religion, Rogers insisted, “Either I sing what I want, or Dale and I will go back home.” Management backed down and a hush fell on the huge New York crowd as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sang this beautiful hymn. via Happy Trails Highway
(My dad took me to all Roy and Dale’s Rodeos in Madison Square Garden)
I remember as a young child being curious about children, who were “different”. One boy in particular interested me… he lived in our apartment building,
Leonard should have been walking and talking but he was not. Instead he was always in his stroller with his mom pushing him…he wore diapers, he was always smiling but never said anything that any of us kids could understand.
My mom told me that Leonard was “retarded“…
She told me, he was born that way and probably would never be like other kids and would always need to be taken care of by his mother.
I accepted my mother’s explanation and looked forward to greeting Leonard and his mother whenever they were out for a walk. In my own mind, I wondered why Leonard was the way he was, not able to walk or talk.
Why did God make him this way?
At night in my bed before falling asleep, I would think about him and then say a prayer for him.
This is my first memory of someone with a disability and he was a child not too much younger than myself.
Then out of the blue, one day…the sad news came…Leonard’s dad had killed himself…I heard my family talking about how awful it was.
Soon after Leonard’s dad died…I did not see Leonard with his mom anymore Again, I heard talk between my aunt and my mother. Leonard was put in a home for “retarded” children…and the worse thing was…people were saying that Leonard’s father could not stand having Leonard living at home, which is why he committed suicide.
Soon, I began seeing Leonard’s mother around the apartment building, she looked different. She was wearing prettier clothes and had make-up on, like she was going to work. She looked happy in her own way. I wondered why she gave Leonard away and why his dad died…he was the second dad in our building who had killed himself. Why do people do that? So sad…so awful!
I never talked to my mother about Leonard again and truthfully have not thought about him in many, many years.
Today, as I read Amy’s story about her daughter with Down’s Syndrome…this flood of memories came rushing into my mind. In the 50’s there was no such thing as kids with disabilities going to school with “normal” kids. They were in schools of their own…here in Illinois those with severe disabilities are still in special schools because of their complex medical needs during the school day.
Children with less severe disabilities go to classes with their peers, who are not disabled…just as Amy’s daughter does.
In my years as a pediatric nurse, I learned that physical disabilities in children may make them “different” in many ways…they may need special assistance, medications, adaptive equipment but they are still kids trying to learn and grow along with their peers…sometimes not an easy task but from which many children do not flinch.
Since the 50’s there have been many medical and social breakthroughs.
It makes me wonder…
what life would have been like for Robin and Leonard had they been born in the 21st century.