I wish I’d kept a diary or journal when our children were young. The internet didn’t exist then (how old do I sound!) so there was no blogging, no Instagram, Facebook or Twitter which could be used to capture a moment and record it for posterity. If we wanted to record something it was good old fashioned ink and paper and a camera with 24 shots per roll of film. Nobody took pictures of their dinner from a hundred different angles when you had no way to delete them!
So it’s no surprise that, having not been organised enough to keep a journal, I have forgotten so many stories about all three children until something happens or I see a photo which sparks a memory. That happened this week when I was reading the wonderful blog Downright Joy by the lovely Alison Morley. You should check it out after reading this.
Alison helped me to remember a story from when Emily was about seven or eight. James and Amy, friends from America had come to stay for a time. One day we were travelling up the M1 on our way home. This must have meant we’d been somewhere wild and gorgeous like the Peak District or somewhere exotic and expensive like Meadowhall shopping mall (because you’ve got to show Americans a shopping mall right?).
Over the years Emily has had a few different soft toys with which she has had a special relationship. Around this time The Tweenies were a big hit on TV. No I can’t remember their names, sorry. However, I can name you all of the firemen from Trumpton and tell you how Camberwick Green’s Windy Miller got his name…but that’s another story!
No, back at the turn of the century – there I go sounding all old again – Emily was into The Tweenies and she really liked Bella. Bella was the blue one, this I know because Emily had a Bella doll. She loved Bella and she came everywhere with us. It was never a good day when we couldn’t find Bella to come on a journey. Thankfully on this occasion, Bella had been able to join us…
(Was there a dog called Doodle? A big shaggy St Bernard type thing?...sorry for the interruption - that just came to me)
Anyway…Bella had been with us to Castleton or Dovedale, or perhaps House of Fraser, wherever we’d been I can't remember, but a good day had been had. Amy, our gregarious and ever so lovely American friend, was sat in the back seat chatting with Emily and Bella. They decided (I suspect Amy decided…) to wash Bella’s hair. I have no idea why Bella would need her hair washing in the car going home, especially as we were all out of water and shampoo which meant that this had to be done in the salon of imagination. However, it kept Emily entertained and that was all that mattered.
Of course when one has had one’s hair washed in the car and there’s no towel available, you need to improvise to get it dried. Amy was clever. She spotted we were doing 70 miles per hour and with the air being warm this time of year it could be the fastest hair drier in the world. She wound the window down a little and popped Bella’s head out, just far enough to ensure that her spiky yellow hair blew in the wind to help dry it off.
Disclaimer: Please, please don’t employ this hair drying method with your own children – even in the salon of imagination!
Amy then made the fatal mistake – this could be the one reason she never progressed to having her own salon – she passed Bella back to Emily while the window was still down a little. Emily, being Emily, decided she’d quite like a go at the hairdrying thing herself and proceeded to pop Bella’s head out of the window, closely followed by her arms, legs and body as she tumbled on to the tarmac which was already way down the road!
“Oh no!” shrieked Amy, putting her hands to her head, “I can’t believe she did that!”
The next turn off was a few miles up the road and it was getting dark. There was no way of going back to see if we could find Bella tonight so we headed home with Emily saying “Blew away…she blew away!”
Indeed she did.
The following morning I was up at first light on the Bella rescue mission. I jumped in the car and headed for the motorway. Having got there I scoured the northbound carriageway, whilst travelling south as slowly as I could get away with, trying to remember where we were when this happened. To my amazement I spotted something blue over on the other side, it was only half a mile from the next junction so I rounded the roundabout and headed north. Sue enough I had found Bella – she’d had the good sense to wait on the hard shoulder! I pulled up, fully aware that I was probably committing an offence by stopping for a non-emergency, opened the passenger door, leant out of the car and pulled Bella in.
I set off home, Bella strapped into the passenger seat for safety, with memories of Emily saying “blew away” and gesturing with her hand as though Bella just flew off into the air of her own accord.
I’ve just pulled Bella down from the loft and re-united her with Emily. Emily said “I don’t want her, I’m not a kid anymore” – it’s a bit like Toy Story 3 all over again – but do you know what I’m so proud, so pleased that Emily now sees herself as an adult. She doesn’t need the toys of her childhood, she needs empowering as a young woman to lead the life she wants. And that my friends, is the challenge we have. Those of us with children, whether they have Down's syndrome or not, whether they have any kind of learning disability or not, whether they have passed exams, graduated, learned life skills...or not, each will have dreams, ambitions, hopes for their life as an adult and we must be prepared to release them to be the person they want to be...just don't release them in the way Emily released Bella ok!!
The final irony…Emily is gaining some (ahem) paid work experience in a real hair salon – thankfully her hair drying methods have improved!