Jennie

The conventional wisdom is to put retarded children in an institution. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

The traits of Down’s syndrome include mental retardation, short stature, and stubby limbs, but it was the slanted eyes and a Mongolian-like fold of the upper eyelid that caught the fancy of a nineteenth-century English doctor.

Langdon Down, familiar with the then new work of Charles Darwin on the evolution of species, described the condition that came to bear his name in a paper titled “Ethnic Classifications of Idiots.” In it he concluded that the mongoloid represented a genetic regression to the supposedly more primitive Mongolian race. He was wrong, but some people accepted his theory, and in 1924, F. G. Crookshank took Down’s theory one step further; in a book titled The Mongol in Our Midst he wrote that the mongoloid was not a throwback to a primitive Oriental human being, but rather to the orangutan. Even today the straight flexion crease found on the palms of many mongoloids is known in medical parlance as the simian line, in reference to a similar crease found on the palms of apes.

Jennie is more like a monkey. Just now as I was typing this, she scampered into the study, put her hands on her hips and said “Hi, Da!” She crinkled her half-moon eyes and gave me a bright, Brushfield-spotted smile (Brushfield spots, white places in the irises or mongoloids, represents defects in the eye-coloring layer). As she was whirling to leave, I gave her a kiss on the head. She smiled and brushed it off. It’s not that she doesn’t like to be kissed. She loves to be kissed, but she brushes all kisses off. It’s what her brothers and sisters do when Jennie kisses them, and Jennie’s picked it up.

Jennie’s eight, and she is mentally and physically retarded. Full grown, she’ll stand no more than five feet. Her mental age now is about four, but it may increase to that of a child of seven or eight. She is perceptive in many ways. She can recognize the way to the store or to Mona’s house (where she stays before and after school), and her memory is excellent. She never forgets a meal and can remember which toys and books belong to her. She’s also capable of holding a grudge when she feels she’s been slighted, and she’s perfectly normal in her ability as the youngest child to tattle on her brothers and sisters if they’ve mistreated her (which is rare).

Food is a big item in her day. The first thing she does in the morning after her mother’s hug is say “Seer-ul.” Once, when she kept gaining weight despite our efforts to

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