Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Danny Boy

After a conversation with some girlfriends tonight, I realized I needed to make a few clarifications.

This is my Danny Boy. He came to our family when he was three and I was ten. He has Down Syndrome and is fairly low functioning (he will not be your bus boy at McDonald's tonight, for instance--that would be above his level). I have always loved Danny.

When I was in the sixth grade, an accident occurred which would forever bind me to this little brother. I was instructed to give Daniel a bath. No big deal. I ran him a bath and put his little body in the water. Although he was five, he was very small (he has heart problems on top of the Down's) and his verbal skills were very poor. He was standing in the three inches of water and was just screaming. This was not completely unusual because he often threw a fit at bath time. I tried to demand that he sit down and I would hurry and get him clean. Not doin' it. After a short time, I decided he (and I) would need an adult to help. As I pulled him out of the tub, I saw something strange on his feet. They were covered in two or three huge bubbles. I went and told my dad that something happened to Danny's feet while they were in the tub. Looking back now, I realize that my dad knew instantly what had happened; my twelve year old self was just confused. Dad rushed up the stairs, flung a towel around Danny and, with a few instructions as to what to tell Mom when she came home, he was gone.

Slowly, I began to realized what had happened.

I had scalded Danny's feet. I had. Me.

I checked the water when I first turned it on, but the temperature had increased dramatically after it had run for a few minutes. I had not rechecked the water.

Burns are no joke and Daniel had to spend several days in the hospital. After he came home, his feet needed quite a bit of care for quite a long time. I did all I could.

Why am I telling you this story? I am telling you because I want you to understand how deeply I love this boy. My parents have adopted another Down's boy named Zachery and have done foster care for scores of developmentally delayed children for twenty-five years. From my seventh year on, we had retarded children in our home. It was often very hard to be the big sister to so many challenging people. They had all levels of behavioral problems, they came from abusive homes, they hit, bit, scratched and broke precious things. HOWEVER, we all learned patience, love, gratitude, concern, gentleness, faith, first aid, and humility. Most of the credit goes to my mother, but we were all involved--it was a family effort. It couldn't have worked otherwise.
Anyone who has lived with a special needs person learns to become very comfortable with them. Some of my friends think I am too comfortable. I use the word "retarded" to describe both he and Zachery. I never use the word "retard." That is a rude and hurtful slang, but retarded is defined as "slow."

To those of you who think my candid talk regarding my brothers is unkind or crass, please, please understand that I KNOW that they are wonderful, special, kind, gentle gifts to us "normal" people. I have been a part of miracles because of them. That doesn't mean it is bad to talk about their funny ways or naughty deeds. It is part of life with differently-abled folks.

And, you know what? My Danny loves me, too.

I know it.


  1. You are an angel. :) Love you guys & all that you do & have done.

  2. I am so sorry that I caused this post. I am insensitive and crass and I could have defended you better. It was never my intention that anyone take offense. I love how comfortable you are with the situation and desire to be more like you in that regard.

  3. Emily, this is a great post! Love your thoughts, we are kindred spirits. Having known Danny for some time (and had a rather entertaining experience babysitting him once) I can even better appreciate your words. Thanks! -Kara

  4. I totally remember the tub incident...tough. I have to say that I love those boys too. I was able to spend a couple nights babysitting them and they were great. They put on shows for me and totally kept me entertained. Not sure who was doing the sitting those nights. I also remember watching Danny and Joey for a week one summer. Joey caused my mom a lot of trouble. :o) But I remember she said she would take Danny anytime. Thanks for the great post.

  5. That was beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it. Looking forward to seeing you next week

  6. This post has left me pretty much without words. Your family sounds simply amazing. Really and truly amazing.

  7. My sister was mentally retarded. My generation was taught that that was the most respectful way of describing their condition. I get whip lash trying to keep up with the latest 'correct' way of referring to it now. ~~Phew~~

    You've heard, "If you can't laugh about it, you would cry..." I think that applies.

    In my experience I have run into 3 types: Those who avoid the mentally retarded, those who treat them with 'reverence', and those (usually with experience) who can be real, can be normal around them. Give me the real people every time.

    Yes, Dannyboy loves Emily, --he sings about you sometimes. He looks at your picture, and I remind him of funny things and he laughs. But he also quietly, sincerely and fervently says "I miss Emily..." (or Joe or Levi.) Good thing he has Mollie here.

  8. Emily,
    I can never seem to remember how old I was when Mom and Dad started to foster the kids, But if you were 7 then that would've made me 4 or 5. I can't remember a time without the brothers. Those boys epitomize what it means to be "Christ-like." I was telling a friend of mine recently about our shared experience with Ricky. We had to grow-up really fast that day.
    At times I resented having the brothers in our home. It was hard being known as one of the kids from the "retard house." (That would be an example of "crass" usage of the word). But in hindsight I am so thankful. Our upbringing has provided me with not only multiple career opportunities but also enlightened me to my true calling in life; serving the less fortunate.
    Emily, I would not have survived my youth without you. I love you. Thank-you for this post.