Author: Alison Chalmers
When my daughter was born in 1992 with Down’s syndrome, one of my first thoughts was of the people with Down’s syndrome I had seen (but quickly looked away from). They were the half-adult/half-child, clumping next to and holding hands with an elderly parent. Was this going to be both our futures?
As my daughter grew past toddlerhood I encouraged her to walk as much as possible. She was great, uncomplaining, striding out to nursery with me being dragged along. We held hands. A half-hearted earlier attempt to use reins failed as she lifted both legs and I was left dangling her like a fish on a rod. I noticed other parents did not seem to hold their children’s hands when out shopping or walking. These children, it seemed to me, ran riot; picking up and throwing down shopping items, filling trolleys full of Wotsits or dawdling behind mothers who didn’t appear to notice or even care. We held hands.
Later, on the way to school other children zipped along, heads together (head lice heaven), climbing and balancing walls, pushing and shoving for the green man. We held hands. My daughter grew, her little dry hands with their simian creases grew and we still held hands. Until one day, I looked at my daughter with her lank hair and spotty face and saw she was nearly up to my shoulder and thought why are we still holding hands; for whose benefit are we still holding hands? She’s not likely to run away or dash across the road when she sees an ice cream van. She will meander, wander, gazing at shopping windows, chuckling to herself. Are we holding hands for my benefit – to prove to the outside world I am a good, caring mother, that I have control of my daughter? No other 15 year old would still hold their mother’s hand – no other 15 year old would even want to be seen in the same street as their mother. The hand holding had to stop.
I tried an experiment. I didn’t take her hand one day when we went out. She wanted to; I felt her hot leathery palm attempt to nestle into mine. I stuck my hands deep in my pockets, feeling like Bob Dylan on the album cover with him and his girlfriend in the snow. I should have added a cigarette dangling dangerously from my lips for added nonchalance. And, like Suzie Rotolo, my daughter took my arm. A compromise. This felt matey and chatty, two giggly girls ready to go shopping. But arm-in-arm ends up arm wrestling and it is easier to drag with a hand than a crooked arm. We held hands.
The next time, cold turkey - no hands, no arms, just a walk, no bodily contact. This time my daughter strode out, stopped at kerbs, looked once, looked twice and then demanded I hurry up. But I felt like a bad mother; I wasn’t looking after her, she was getting away, becoming her own person and there lay the crux of the matter. As long as she held my hand I was in control, I could steer and guide. I could regulate the pace, the quick march or the slow, droll, stroll.
We don’t hold hands now; we walk together, we talk together but we don’t hold hands. Sometimes we walk at my pace and sometimes we walk at hers but we walk together.
The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand © Alison Chalmers 2015.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.
education, intellectual disabilities, social care, England, Story