When Julianna Laughs


My children have the most beautiful laughs. But it’s a funny thing. The boys speak, they laugh, and they are of the Earth. At every moment, they strain toward the next level, their every skill a steppingstone to something bigger and better. They warble with glee, their voices chipping at the edge of the future.

But Julianna—there’s something different about her laugh. Something silvery and dusky and altogether otherworldly. There’s something about the way she reacts and interacts that makes me wonder sometimes if it’s not so much that her intelligence is lower, but that part of it exists in another plane. Julianna, perhaps because she’s so quiet, so focused on the task at hand, whether it’s listening to music or pushing a pop mower or hanging over a playground swing…Julianna breathes a different feel into the world than her brothers do. A feel of serenity.

Which is not to say she doesn’t have her stinker moments. She does—and how! In three hours one Friday morning, she took the lid off the honey jar and dumped half its contents on the table; she turned the baking soda box upside down on the bathroom counter; and she emptied the canister of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning. Julianna whiny is a sight to behold…one we behold every morning.

But then there are times when she meets my eyes and I can’t breathe. It’s like falling in love, instantly and irrevocably. And although I fall in love with my boys regularly, that feeling is more tender, the most beautiful and prosaic of loves, the one every mother feels for her child. Falling in love with Julianna is more like being knocked flat on my back by a lightning bolt, like Paul on the road to Damascus.

When I feel that tug on my spirit, the one that sucks me into a whirlpool of painful self-recognition, I often pause to ponder the opinions expressed, usually anonymously, online. The people who think Julianna’s life is somehow worth less, that she is a drain or a burden on the rest of us, that it would be kinder if people like her were never brought to birth—or, conversely, that the things that help her reach her potential should be no one’s burden but those who chose to bring her into the world–as if she’s less important than a normal child, for whom we’d never blink an eye at providing those same supports. That she should be isolated behind a wall. Anything to ensure that no one else is inconvenienced by her existence.

I thank God I was given the gift of a child with special needs. The difficulties that so frighten the uninitiated have broken my heart and left it open to recognize beauty in all the other moments, the ones you can’t quantify. In some ways she is, indeed, “the least of these.” And yet when she laughs, when she catches my eye and bodyslams me on the pilgrim road, I can’t help feeling that all the platitudes, annoying though they may be, are correct: she is closer to God than I ever will be.

17 thoughts on “When Julianna Laughs

  1. My cousin has DS and I know exactly what you mean. He certainly seems closer to God. There isn’t so much…so much…something. So much less worldly junk to distract him from God, maybe?

    I’m so glad you were blessed with each other.

  2. I thank God I was given the gift of a child with special needs. The difficulties that so frighten the uninitiated have broken my heart and left it open to recognize beauty in all the other moments, the ones you can’t quantify.

    That so beautifully captures the love of being a mother to a special needs child. Shelby is a mess some days, but some days she is the beauty in all the “crap” in my life. I thank God for her and I honestly thank God that autism is a part of her. Without it, she wouldn’t be the same Shelby.

  3. Carrie

    That’s beautiful!! You make me cry!!! This is a beautiful tribute to her. You could not have chosen more wonderful pictures to go with it!! I especially love the one with you and the 3 kids and the family picture. 🙂

  4. Absolutely Beautiful Kate! I hope that the unkindness we feel and sense from the world only burdens us as parents (a shield protecting our children) Julianna is blessed to have your family and we are blessed to hear about her in our own lives-thank you, thank you for sharing with us!

  5. I always wonder if I’m writing the same posts over and over about Julianna…but then, I suppose some topics can’t be worn out. Thank you all for your beautiful affirmations.

  6. I wish that I could express myself like you! Our children’s special needs are different, but my mama’s heart resonates with every word that you have written. Thank you for sharing your heart and your daughter with us. She is beautiful!

  7. Every DS person I’ve ever met has communicated that close to God feeling – as if they have a special mark somehow on their souls. In one case, the prayers of a DS adult seem to be quite powerful when interceding for others.

    This was a beautiful tribute to your daughter. I wonder if people who make ugly comments about DS children are really afraid to be generous with others. The nastiness says a lot more about them than they realize they are revealing.

    • Perhaps…I think people don’t recognize the inherent bigotry in attitudes we hold. And the idea that those with disabilities are “suffering” is so ingrained in society that people don’t always see disrespect in their words. Disability is something we try not to think about until we get smacked in the face with it.

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