Vacation from Down Syndrome

July 21, 2012

As I mentioned in a previous post, my husband was born and raised in Greece.  Every two years or so, we travel back to his birthplace to visit family and friends and experience the unique culture in which my husband spent his formative years.  Earlier this month, we were back again–swimming in the sea, feasting on Greek delicacies, and introducing our children to this rich and enchanting country.

Before our first trip, I feared how our daughter would be received in Greece since it truly can be a tragedy to have a disability there.  With the economic crisis hitting in full force, more than ever there is no funding in place to support individuals who need some extra assistance.  Nothing seems to be accessible for people who have mobility issues, and there is no support available in schools for children who are developing differently.

The irony of this fear was that nobody in Greece really seemed to be aware that Rachel has Down syndrome at all. I’m sure they believe she’s younger than 4, but otherwise they don’t see anything other than a happy, sociable little girl.  I wonder if because kids with disabilities are not mainstreamed at school and in other programs, they just don’t recognize it.  Someone even asked me where she got her eyes, to which I kind of laughed to myself and thought “That extra copy of chromosome 21?”

 Upon mentioning the extra assistance Rachel would receive at school because of her disability, I was met with astonishment, told this was not a disability– just look at how she is enjoying her life!  This led to a very unsettling and painful conversation as I explained all the ways she was not developing as her peers were– so strange to be on that side of the argument when I normally extol all her amazing strengths and virtues.  It’s a great way to look at things, and I do believe she’ll have a happy, fabulous life; however, I’m also realistic.  I know the work that goes into helping her to talk, walk, become toilet trained, not to mention saving for her future.  We know a young man with Down syndrome who has finished high school, has a job, and is doing amazingly well–but his parents still can’t leave him alone to go on vacation by themselves. There’s no doubt it’s a different road.

Regardless of this, unlike at home, most people did not mention it at all.  Whether it’s because they don’t know or because Greeks seem to avoid bringing up topics that might be uncomfortable for you, I found it kind of a nice break.  No therapy or other appointments for two weeks, no curious stares in the supermarket, no indication at all that we were anything other than a family on vacation. Two weeks to clear our heads and enjoy each other without any labels.  Truly a wonderful holiday.

Pendeli Mountain, where Daddy grew up

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

carole s July 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm

dearest Heather, i fear few in greece can imagine doing the work you and Alex have done and do w/Rach. and we also have the ‘special school’ system, meaning that our in any way challenged kids live separated from society.
so, truly, your Rachel is a gem to behold!!!
in any society, but outstanding here in greece.
she wins hearts anywhere, and hopefully changes outlooks as well.
hugs
carole

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Heather July 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Thanks ;) I think she absolutely changes outlooks! It’s interesting to see how people respond to things differently in different cultures.

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