“I can’t read. I love books,” said my developmentally disabled daughter, Elana, to the cashier at the bookstore.
“You’ve come to the right place,” she replied, with a twinkle in her eye.
Although diagnosed with mental retardation at a young age, Elana is full of life, has a warm smile, and does not let her disability get in her way. She loves people and has an uncanny sense of how to engage them. She can accurately sense a person’s mood, and, when appropriate, can work her audience like a pro.
At the hearing at which my wife, Jane, and I became Elana’s legal guardians after she turned 18, she walked up to the judge and asked, “Where’s your gavel?”
“They don’t let me use it in this type of court,” he replied, smiling. He told us later that her question made his day.
One day, Elana sat intently by the dining room window, watching a spider walk slowly across the outside. “Can I have him as a pet?” she inquired.
We already had two dogs and a rabbit, not to mention three other children. “I think he would be happier outside,” said Jane. Nevertheless, the topic of a pet spider became a recurring theme, and Elana can be very persistent.
After high school, one of her vocational placements was at a pet store. “They have pet spiders!” she exclaimed after coming home. “Can I get one?”
A few days later, a Chilean rose tarantula became the newest member of our family. Elana named her Rose, and the stage was set.
We’re in the check-out line at the supermarket. “I have a pet tarantula,” announced Elana, with gusto, to the cashier.
“Eeeyuu,” she uttered, with a look of horror, as a half-opened roll of quarters spilled across the floor. “How do you feed it?”
“My Dad drops crickets into her cage.”
We’re in a taxi, going to the airport. “I have a pet tarantula. Her name is Rose. I love her. She’s my baby-face,” Elana bubbled on.
The Jamaican driver was enjoying the conversation. At the terminal, he turned to her and said, “Give baby-face a kiss for me.”
Three years later, Rose died and was buried in our back yard in the resting place of some of our other former pets.
One day, Elana said during breakfast, “There’s an animal outside my bedroom window.”
Jane, Elana, and I ran up. Sure enough, a bat was hanging onto the outside of the window frame. We could see its little fingers grasping the wood.
With instantaneous peripheral eye contact, we both said, “No!”