I’ll never forget the moment that my wife, Denise, and I received our son Oliver’s prenatal diagnosis that confirmed he had Down syndrome. The doctor told us he was sorry and I couldn’t help feeling as though something had been stolen from us. All of the joy and promise that we had previously experienced was dashed with two words. We had no idea what the future would bring or what life would look like for our family, but we were terrified.
I’ll also never forget the first time that we walked into a GiGi’s Playhouse. Many of our fears for Oliver and his future evaporated. It was as though the joy and excitement we had before learning of his diagnosis were restored and we were joined by a new tribe in celebrating his diagnosis and abilities. Our new community saw everything in Oliver that we did; that he was a person first, that he was capable of so much, and that he would have a wonderful life.
While we had the most wonderful experience, it was bittersweet as this playhouse was 45 minutes away from our house and not feasible for our family to visit routinely. It occurred to us that if we were having issues getting to it, then the people that we had come to meet who lived near us would have the same issues. The idea that other people would be missing out on this support and free programming seemed incredibly unfortunate to us. Also, the likelihood that others would face prenatal and birth diagnoses without a nearby network was something that I couldn’t get past.
And so, I began the journey of bringing a GiGi’s Playhouse to our community, in Deerfield. While our family doesn’t live in Deerfield, along with the startup team, we felt the Deerfield-Bannockburn area would serve the most people and provide support where it’s needed most. We are about a month away from opening and I couldn’t be more excited. The process of opening a Playhouse often reminds me of the journey of raising a child with Down syndrome; it’s not always easy, it’s often a quiet struggle, and there’s a lot of uncertainty and learning as you go. But, the enrichment it brings to your life and the lives of others is unmeasurable and incomparable. Just as I can’t imagine my life without Oliver and I sometimes sit back in wonder at how many people’s lives he’s changed, I think about the people that will be impacted by the Playhouse and I’m again filled with the joy and the promise that felt so abruptly taken away from us not that long ago. I’m reminded of this when I’ll run into people at various events and they excitedly tell me that a Playhouse is coming to our area; I simply smile and nod and say I can’t wait to see them there.
Liz Thorn, Board President