Tuesday, August 28, 2007


     I cried every time my mother took me there. Every morning, like clockwork, I was shoved, kicking and screaming, into a makeshift, run-down house that served as a daycare. Dutch-style awnings, the smell of low-grade, imitation Kool-Aid and Oreo knock-offs lingering, dirty diapers, multi-colored door trim, sharpened monkey bars, rotted tire swings and huge red and yellow oil drums turned sideways on stilts to give the illusion of a children’s paradise.

     I never bought into it. All the bright colors and illegal Peanuts and Disney woodcuts hanging on the fence didn’t mask the fact that I was losing my mother for eight hours, five days a week.

     By mid-day, I’d always cried myself out enough to trudge out to the playground. I had no concept of time back then, but I knew that after a nap, our last trip into this fakery of sand and foul-smelling cedar chips would signal the return of my mother. So, I would endure it. I’d swing for a bit, snake through a series of half-assed jungle gyms and generally keep to myself, knowing that I was just going through the motions.

     On one particular day, the most vivid in my memory, there were two new hapless inmates. A boy and a girl, both with Down’s Syndrome. Like the concept of time, I was aware of what I was seeing before me, I guess. I just couldn’t explain it.

     They played apart from the other children, near the sideways oil drums. What interested me most was the fact that none of the other kids ever attempted to go near them. Not even me. I was just an observer. Of course, maybe so were the other children. What truly struck me was the oblivious nature of the boy and girl. They didn’t seem to care who was playing with them. They had each other and there was nothing else in the world, like none of us existed. This saddened me for reasons that I couldn’t figure out.

     When I got home that night, I asked my mother about the boy and girl. What made them similar to each other, yet completely different from me and the rest of the kids?

     The boiled down explanation came down to this:

"Just because nobody plays with them doesn’t really matter. They’re happy. But they’re happy because they don’t know any better."

     My heart sank.

     The next day and from that point on, I left the kicking and screaming act off the daily repertoire. I entered the daycare sedate as a kitten, fascinated by the boy and girl. Every time I saw them, I felt sad. The explanation my mother had given me had stuck and stuck hard. Their obliviousness was what really got to me. Once that was in my mind, my entire worldview changed.

     That day it rained like nails and it came out of nowhere while we were on the playground. I watched all the kids rush indoors, daycare workers herding them in. The boy and girl were the last ones to realize what was happening, at which point they raced for the house, holding hands.

     I witnessed this from inside the stilted oil drums. And I cried harder than ever I have since.




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