Thursday, June 2, 2011


When Laivav was born the medical staff told her father they suspected she had Down’s syndrome. It was already evening and being a sensitive soul, Ncoom did not share the suspicions with his wife as he did not want her to deal with it all alone. Instead he went to the Kotel, drove home, called his parents, and sat down at the computer to search the internet for information on Down’s syndrome.
That was a gift that Chaia appreciates until today. The following morning he did tell her and she cried for two days. Twelve years later when the family celebrated Laivavi’s Bat Mitzvah it was a celebration of love and accomplishment. No mother could be more in love with her twelve-year-old daughter than Chaia is with Laivav. How did the weeping mother change into the joyful one? 

Chaia feels that when Laivav was first born HaShem sent her some very powerful messengers, in the guise of friends, offering their best spiritual gifts.  One friend told her. “When we receive a healthy child we do not ask HaShem why. This is not a time to ask why, either.” Another assured her that her baby had a very special soul.  Others exclaimed on what a beautiful baby Laivav was. And one friend went to the snack bar in the hospital to buy ice cream to celebrate Laivavi’s birth.
As Chaia puts it, “Right away she opened up people’s hearts and she’s been doing it ever since.” However, in the beginning Chaia’s heart was not as open as she would have liked it to be. She had had only two experiences with Down’s syndrome. The first was when she was in third grade and saw the special-education students going into their own, isolated classroom across the hall. The second was knowing that her mother, who worked in adoption, often found homes for children with Down’s syndrom.

Before going home the hospital offered them that option. Chaia and Ncoom did not have to take their baby home. Ncoom was livid at the suggestion, confident that they would love Laivav just like they loved her six siblings.
Chaia was not so sure. She was having a hard time with the nursing while still in the hospital. Leaving the baby in the bassinet she made her way to the pay phone down the hall. “Perhaps,” she hesitated speaking to her husband, “we should just give her the bottle.”
“How are you going to feel years from now telling her that she was the only one who did not breastfeed?"
With his strong answer Chaia felt like she had been slapped, but she reentered her room determined. Apparently Laivav picked up on that and the nursing went well.
When Laivavi came home from the hospital her siblings greeted her with love and caring. Chaia tried to follow their lead but it was difficult. Going out into the big world was scary. Some people’s comments could be so cruel. She divided the people she met into the good guys and the bad guys.
There were many good guys, though. Neighbors on both sides became surrogate grandparents. The house across the street became a second home for Laivav. Still, Chaia had a hard time. She knew she had the problem, not her baby daughter. So she went for help. She was told to look into her baby’s eyes twenty minutes a day, not twenty minutes at a spell, but spread over the day. It helped. Chaia began to be thankful for how healthy Laivavi was. There were no heart or intestinal problems so common to Down’s syndrome children.
The love affair began. When she was three-years-old Laivav was hospitalized for complications with an ear infection This time Chaia was totally there for her. Looking back she says it was her chance to redo the original, troubled hospital stay.
Laivav’s siblings all are gifted students. Perhaps that is why she is so high-functioning.  Perhaps it is environment. Besides the loving family and neighbors Laivav was blessed to have compassionate teachers, youth group leaders, and school administration. At twelve-years-old she is an integral member of her fourth grade class.
As her twelfth birthday drew near Laivav’s parents gave a lot of thought to what they wanted for her Bat Mitzvah. Some plans were too grandiose to implement. It was important to them to show the Laivav that was comfortable with herself in the bosom of her family. And they wanted to share so many of the funny things that Laivavi does that make her Laivavi. They wanted to do that in a way that she would understand they were laughing with her and not at her.
They were successful. I was not the only one who was touched by the program. The amusing stories, told by every member of her family, were told with love. Her speech about the commandments of getting along with others was read well. We all agreed with the rabbi’s blessing that we should return to the same place in a few years time to see Laivavi standing under the wedding canopy. We were delighted when she led her class in a creative movement exercise to the tune of So Long Farewell. The grand finale was the audio-visual presentation of Laivav reciting Hallel, prayers of praise to HaShem, accompanied by a film collage of her growing up.
Many ended the evening thinking how lucky Laivav’s family was to have her. Of course, it is not always easy. Everyday life can be hard work. There are concerns for the future, but her family knows it is in HaShem’s hands.
Chaia says that when Laivav was born her picture of her family was shattered. That picture was rebuilt as a better family, a family more open and understanding. How appropriate it was for Laivav to have recited Hallel at her Bat Mitzvah. What a good match HaShem made when he sent Laivavi to her family. May we continue to praise Him.

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