By Katy Liljeholm
Katy Liljeholm is the Artistic Director at Well Arts, and a freelance director, puppeteer, teacher, and new mother living in Portland, Oregon. She was approached to teach a two-month playwriting workshop for the NWDSA, and then cast professional actors and direct the performance of the stories written by the mothers.
Six mothers present themselves dutifully on the first day in class. Four care for children with Down syndrome, two for children with other developmental disabilities. They’re nervous, unsure if they want their stories out in the world.
At the same time, they deeply need a way to connect their experiences as mothers into a larger whole. That’s a perfect storm for good writing. Once a week for eight weeks, we load our plates with bread and cheese, pour red wine into mugs, and crowd around the table. I do a little instruction on different writing tools and techniques and then we write for an hour. At the end we share what we wrote with each other.
Their children come alive for me. Daniel, who creates music and animations. Adara, who loves to read, and swims like a fi sh. Chrystal, who drives her mother nuts because she doesn’t call often enough to check in. Margaret, who at the tender age of four loves playing Boggle and rarely likes to be bossed.
Their lives are productive, they have every ability to positively impact the people around them. Alicia writes about her daughter, “She belongs in thi world, our world. She belongs in every room her feet take her into.”
We’re sitting at a table scattered with scribbled stories. They share some of their choicest quotes told to them at IEP meetings. Abby thinks back for a moment, takes a breath in, and shares hers: “One of the teachers came up
to me and said, ‘It’s not like we blacklisted your daughter,’ and I said, ‘Well, I wasn’t thinking about that but that’s good to know.’”
At the heart of this story is a very simple question. Does our community hold a place for people with developmental disabilities?