The following ramblings (in her own words) were submitted by Juliette, from VampireMaman and WestCoastReview, while she was thinking through some unedited thoughts and memories. We here at STMND think her ramblings are well worth reading through, appreciating, learning from, and spreading across the blogosphere.
I often see special needs teens when I pick up my daughter at school. I always tell her how different it was when I was growing up. The special kids I see now are fashionably dressed, usually have great hair and are walking along like all the other teens.
So what are my experiences from the deep dark past?
My family has so many skeletons in the closet that it is starting to look like the famous scene in the Marx Brother Movie “Night at the Opera”. You know the one where people keep coming into a teeny tiny little room and eventually someone opens the door and they all fall out I a big pile.
My Cousin Trudy
That was the week I told my grandmother to go to hell. We were a house full of girls and my grandmother never forgave my parents for not having a son. She spent most of her visit taunting and insulting us. So I got tired of her crap and yelled at her. I’d never told an adult off before, but that was before she told us about Trudy. She made a point of telling us that Trudy was prettier and better than all of us and how much she loved her first-born granddaughter. If she loved her so much why had we never heard of her?
So we asked our mother about Trudy and why we never heard about her. Trudy was a Mongoloid. That is what everyone called Downs Syndrome people in the 1960’s. When Trudy was born her young parents were told that it would be better to put her away in a state mental hospital. Trudy lived her entire life in an institution. She hardly recognized her parents. She couldn’t remember anything. She was happy. Everyone in the family said she was happy. But nobody talked about her. I had no idea. She died when she was in her early 50’s.
Nobody talked about her. There was too much shame. For about three seconds my 13-year-old self thought maybe my grandmother was so mean because she wanted Trudy to be her perfect granddaughter and resented my sisters and me. But maybe my grandmother was just a bitch.
My dad and Duff.
My father grew up in a small rural Louisiana town. He was a city boy who’d been dumped in the backwoods home of his grandparents after his parents got divorced. This was during the 1930’s. My father told me about a kid named Duff. Nobody knew why he was called that, then again, nobody in that town ever went by their real names. So anyway, Duff was what everyone called “slow.” Other boys used to pick on Duff and do mean things to them. My dad didn’t even like Duff that much but he didn’t like what the other boys were doing. So my dad beat the crap out of Duff’s tormentors. After that the other boys left Duff alone. Duff sort of became my dad’s shadow. He followed him everywhere like an adoring puppy dog. I asked my dad what happened to Duff. Dad took off his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye. Right after my dad left for college Duff was murdered. My dad thinks someone did it just for fun.
When I was small my mother spoke of a girl. I’ll call her Velentina. She couldn’t speak or walk or do anything. She was like an infant. Her father was my dad’s best friend. Her mother was a crazy woman.
Mrs. Frank kept her child at home and took care of her. She would talk about Valentina as if she was a normal child. My mom wondered why when Mr. and Mrs. Frank would have company that Valentina would be on a blanket on the floor, just rocking around. Mrs. Frank dressed her daughter well and kept her hair pretty. Everyone thought Mrs. Frank was nuts. When Valentina passed away when she was around 10 years old her parents had a few more children who could talk and run and go to college.
As a child I didn’t wonder why Mrs. Franks was nuts. I wondered why nobody understood how much she loved her daughter. It was one of those weird memories that burned into my ten year old brain.
I have a lot of other stories. My grandma (not the other grandmother I mentioned earlier) had a friend with a special needs daughter. When we were small her friend would visit with the wild girl and her quiet son. The wild girl would jump on furniture and act like the apes in the zoo acted. Her brother would sit quietly. When we got alone with him, away from the adults he would talk about how much he hated his parents for ignoring him and sending him to military school while his sister stayed at home. It was a sad and dysfunctional family. I wasn’t sure what to think. I never questioned anything out loud or asked questions as a child. I just watched and remembered. I wonder what happened to the boy. I think his name was either Charles or Frank. His sister passed away but I never knew her entire story. My mother had an opinion on that situation too. She said the girl could have been in school and the boy should have been loved at home, not sent away to military school.
College girl who married the guy with one arm.
Fast forward twenty years. About a year after I’d graduated from college I learned that one of my classmates had married a great guy. He was handsome, smart, and successful and he adored his new wife. But my classmate’s parents had disowned her because she’d married a man who only had one arm. I’d never heard anything so stupid.
I have a hundred more stories. Our lives have been enriched by friends who are different – even if that means they are special needs. We used to call that mentally retarded. Now we know there are many reasons people who have special needs because… it doesn’t matter why. It just matters that we treat them as valued individuals.
Three years ago when I started my odd vampire/parenting/musings blog Vampiremaman.com I started to discover other Vampire bloggers. True confession time: I wasn’t “into” vampires that much before I started this… it just happened.
This is the description from one of his Vampire Syndrome blog: Former Special Olympics champion sprinter and 400-meter sprint national record holder. Now the World’s fastest running Vampire, able to run at over 100mph for long distances. Retains his sincerity and good will towards others while living and interacting with a Vampire population generally not known for these qualities. Jack gets his first girlfriend in my trilogy’s second novel, “Vampire Conspiracy”. Jack’s heroism and unique abilities gradually become known to the world’s human Vampire population… and others.
Pretty cool. And I thought my Vampire tales were original. And no, Daven has no idea I’m writing about him. You can see is work on http://www.vampiresyndrome.net/meet-the-vampires/
The girl at school
One of the girls in my daughter’s high school has Downs Syndrome. I told my daughter that not so long ago girls like her wouldn’t go to school. They wouldn’t have pretty clothing or pretty hair. They wouldn’t be treated like “normal” kids. They wouldn’t have gone out in public because other people would have said it was shameful. Shameful why? I never got that one.
For all the shit I gripe about there is a lot of good going on with those kids in that school. The Homecoming King was in a wheel chair. Not because he was in a chair but because he was a great kid with a strong will and a “screw adversity” attitude. The school is full of great kids.
When I was growing up grown-ups would gasp at retarded people and say things like “that is so sad. Why isn’t he in a home.” But home they meant locked away in a mental institution along with anyone who needed a wheel chair, was blind, deaf or without speech, or just considered weird or different or difficult.
From the time my daughter was born I tried to teach her that people are not all the same. My daughter doesn’t flinch or even look when we’re at the grocery store and an autistic child starts to loud noises. She doesn’t stare at people in wheel chairs. She doesn’t wonder why someone would keep a child who is different.
She has special need friends. She has competed in a skate club with Special Olympics skaters. She has a special needs cousin. We all have people in our lives who are different. It is up to us not to hide them away or feel ashamed. We should be proud of the kids we love – even if they’re different or challenged, or even if they sing a song that is just a little different.