A Letter from a Parent

We received this letter a few years back when our program was still getting started with GiGi's Playhouse Chicago. Since then our program has expanded to accommodate nearly twice as many actors, each with his or her own story and own unique, shining personality. As we get ready to start a new semester, words like this remind us why we do what we do! 

It is with a heart full of gratitude, with which I write to you. Thank you. Thank you for your precious time and for sharing your precious talents with Emily and her friends. Yet, thank you also for the precious and treasured gift you have given her mom and dad: to see Emily, once again, happy…glowing…giddy…social.

Every family whom you have touched has a different story. And every family at GiGi’s a different telling of a diagnosis and a different reaction. I cannot speak to every family; I can only speak to mine. I tell it; so that you truly understand the gift you have given to us.

When Emily was born, her diagnosis was unexpected. During my pregnancy with her, there were some indicators, but tests at the time were “inconclusive” and everything “appeared to be normal”. At the moment of her birth, (our first child, exactly one year after our marriage), Emily was handed to me by the doctors. She opened her eyes and looked at me, and I knew. I knew in my soul and with the precise beat of my heart that she had Down syndrome. (The doctors in fact, had held and evaluated her for 10 minutes before I could hold her due to complications at her birth, but they didn’t see what I saw in an instant.) I cannot explain to you what those first few weeks were like for us. As I said, every family’s experience is different, but I can only tell you, our experience was heart wrenching. We loved her from before she was born, and her diagnosis didn’t change that one iota; but it did change the direction of our lives.

As Emily grew, so did her zest for life. We always say in our house that each and every one of us needs to dream and to strive to reach them. We grew to modify our dreams for Emily, but dream we still did. Emily was outgoing, social, talkative, confident, proud; truly a Light.

Yet, when Emily was in about 4th grade, something changed. It was like she awakened to the fact that although there were many things she had in common with the other kids, she also knew she was vastly different. For her, those differences were, and still are, due to the speech challenges she has. It was like, on some level, someone or something turned off the switch, dimmed her light. We tried everything to improve her speech: private speech lessons, specialized therapies, specialized vitamins and diets. Kids in school advanced, girls formed cliques, and Emily isolated herself. She began to lose her spark. That little girl who would light up a room with radiant confidence, began to fade. Our hearts broke again.

Yet, four years later, still striving for those dreams, Emily was introduced to GiGi’s drama troupe. Although she was one of the founding members, she was shy and reluctant, and for many weeks spent much of her time hiding in the bathroom. I remember so clearly talking to Mallory and Katie about how Emily was even different than her peers with Down syndrome because of the speech apraxia. I wondered how in God’s good name, Emily was ever going to communicate with the volunteers, let alone perform on a stage.

When you are a parent there are clear moments in any child’s life, when you just need to take the leap of faith. In many ways, this was a pivotal point for me. I knew that I had to let Emily be who she fully was, and let others figure out how to work with her. The results? Magical.

Emily has blossomed into a confident young woman. She is assured of who she is and even what role she would like to take on in a performance. She has sparks of life, and laughter, with that great belly laugh that can ignite a room. When she is with YOU, she tries harder, she is determined, she is interested, she is the best and brightest she ever was. To see that little girl who was so fearless of life, once again, light up a stage, is a treasure beyond words. Your ability and willingness to share your talents, has been a gift that will forever bless our hearts. Thank you.

With MUCH much gratitude,
— The Lavin Family