Not ready to let her go. Not ever…

Denise Humberstone’s daughter Kathleen is 19 and has just started college in London. Here, her mum talks about her flying the nest and starting the next chapter in her life…

My husband is driving. Kathleen is in the back seat behind him, happy as Larry and totally engrossed in her phone. Thankfully, I’m in the front and nobody can see my face. I have one hour during which I can pretend to be asleep while tears roll down my face; one hour to get over myself, to pull myself together and process that wide range of emotions assailing me. Angry yet grateful my husband can remain so calm and composed. Begrudging Kathleen’s happiness, crushed by her eagerness, and yet bursting with pride and admiration. How have we got to this?

Photo credit – Ange Harper

I mean, from the very first time you set eyes on your child, it is reasonable to expect they will one day leave you and fly out of the nest and live their life. As painful as it is when it does happen, you do have roughly 18 years to prepare yourself.

We didn’t have 18 years. From the very first time we set eyes on her,  in spite of our instantaneous, overwhelming and unconditional love, we knew there wouldn’t be much she would be able to do, she would most likely live with us until we died and then who knows… We got a lot of sympathy, from the doctors, from family members, from strangers. We were all conditioned to believe that our life was going to be ruined, and that hers already was from the start. What a disaster… I loved her so much that I was dying inside at the prospect of her life full of limitations, full of bullies, full of hurt.

And yet, somehow, here we were, 19 years later and one hour away from releasing her to college, where she will be living in her own flat. She will have support there of course, support that will be weaned off over time, as much as she can handle. One hour from letting her go without my safety net. My brain, my heart just can’t process any of it. I love her so much that I’m dying inside at the prospect of my life without her.

That baby who was doomed to a gloomy life, has turned into a beautiful, strong, independent, bilingual (English/French) young woman who had the opportunity to deliver a speech at the United Nations in Geneva when she was just 17.

She’s thrived and adapted to living in different countries and continents (Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, China, France). She’s also been signed up by a modelling agency (Zebedee Management) through which she has worked with River Island a few times now. But her biggest achievement, I believe, has been to get a place at a Performing Arts college for young adults with various disabilities.

Photo credit – Scallywag Fox

I remember going shopping with her a few days before she started college, to get all the stuff for her flat. The trolley was full and she was giddy with excitement! I think it’s when it hit me hard for the second time (the first time was when I was told over the phone that she had finally got the college placement of her choice). We were in the queue to pay and I feared I was going to pass out from the realisation of losing her. The cashier pretended she couldn’t see my silent tears. When Kathleen noticed, she gave me a big hug and said: “oh mummy, you’re sad because you love me, you’re gonna miss me I know. It’s ok, don’t worry, I’ll be fine”. How I managed to drive us back home, I’ll never know!

The one-hour drive is up. The only way I’m able to cope so as not to spoil her joy is to wipe my tears very discreetly and put myself on auto-pilot. I think I’ve been in a daze ever since, varying in degrees of density. It’s been 6 months. A lifetime. And yet, her blatant happiness makes every one of my heartaches worthwhile.

The one thing I was really worried about was whether she would be able to stay on her own at night as she has been suffering from sleep anxiety for the past 18 months. But apart from a hiccup on the very first night, she has really taken it upon herself to make it work. (We are still trying to find a solution to her anxiety which impacts on her quality and quantity of sleep, it’s a work in progress…).

She has completely embraced college life. She studies English and Maths, with majors in drama and dance. She’s never been very academic so is quite happy with that set up. For now, she comes home every weekend and to be honest, she would probably come home once a month if it was up to her, maybe even less! She is immensely proud to have her own set of keys to her flat, which has a lovely bathroom, and an open plan fully-equipped-kitchen/bedroom/sitting room. She has become very territorial and I’m not allowed to touch anything without asking her permission first (fair enough)! One of her favourite things when not in sessions or when at home, is to find something to eat, turn the computer on, watch her favourite people interviewed on YouTube and write it all down on her notebooks (don’t ask).

Photo credits – @rachel_a_joseph, @simoncecere, @lizcollins, @angeharperphotography, @muratozkasim, @tomcraig, @scallyfoxwag

Every now and then we get a casting call or a modelling job from her agency, so we’re lucky that I can pick her up and we can then spend some quality time together (usually in London). She is hoping to become a full-time model in the future and dreams of walking the catwalks. She certainly blows me away every time she is in front of a professional camera! She sure loves fashion and we were privileged to attend a few shows in February during the London Fashion Week. She has recently been involved in the #iamamarvel campaign (championing resilient women and how they deal with their respective challenge) which was launched on International Women’s Day and on the day of Captain Marvel release.

She is also involved in the Radical Beauty Project (aiming at photographing diverse individuals with Down’s syndrome by world-renowned photographers) and recently took part in the collaboration between them and her agency to celebrate WDSD this year.

So yes, she is a busy young woman who thoroughly enjoys her life, one who struggles to find time to fit in her boyfriend of 8 years with whom she is hoping to get married and have children one day. But that’s another chapter for another day!

Does it sound like I’ve been blowing my daughter’s trumpet? You bet I do, at every opportunity I get, unapologetically too! I try and do the same with my other two children (when they let me – teenagers…). Some individuals with Down’s syndrome are not as able, some others are a lot more able, who cares, all their parents are proud and should be singing their praises regardless.

One thing I’ve learnt being a mother of three, is that the love you feel for your children is not linked in any way to their achievements or their abilities, their genetic makeup or their personality, and neither should their worth be!  I couldn’t love her any less if she was non-verbal or couldn’t walk, and I certainly couldn’t love her more if she spoke five languages and was an international top model! Genetic makeup shouldn’t be a part of the worthiness equation.

Happy World Down Syndrome Day.

You can follow Kathleen’s progress on:

Instagram: kathleenhumberstone
Facebook: Kathleen Humberstone
Twitter: KathleenHumber4

You can follow Denise on:

Instagram: deniselegeayhumberstone
Twitter: DeniseHumber