When I asked Kirstin which Handy Helper character was her favorite, she immediately answered, “Beth Anne.” Of course that’s what I expected since Beth Anne has Down syndrome like Kirstin and she is somewhat based on Kirstin.
Then Kirstin asked me which character I like best. I thought for a moment and told her I didn’t have a favorite. As she insisted I choose one, I felt like a mother being asked to choose a favorite child from among her children.
I’m sure most parents have had the experience of seeing themselves mirrored in their child’s expression or actions. As I thought about the Handy Helpers I came to realize that there is a little bit of me in each character.
Amber tries very hard to do what her parents want her to do, but she still manages to mess up a lot. As a child, it seemed like I was always in trouble for some stupid thing I did. Because of her attention deficit disorder, Amber has to work harder than her friends to keep up in school. Until I was in eighth grade, I struggled just to earn average grades. I remember that in fifth grade we had to memorize all the states and the capitals. (There were only 48 back then.) Every week we were tested until we had them 100% correct. I was sure I would be in the fifth grade my whole life because I couldn’t pass that test. I finally passed, but I was the last student in the class to do it.
Laura loves to cook and I share that passion with her. Also, Laura is a gymnast. I never trained in gymnastics, but it was part of our P.E. program in school. It was my favorite part and I was pretty good at it. Being a wiry little thing, I think I was well-suited to gymnastics, but my mother never put me in classes. Instead, she gave me accordion lessons as if I didn’t look weird enough already. Melissa calls Laura “the goody-goody girl,” because she tries to keep her friends from making bad choices. I guess that was me to a certain extent. My parents entrusted me with the care of my younger brother and sister at an early age. It was my job to keep them out of trouble.
Melissa is probably the least like me. Except for having blond hair and blue eyes, we don’t have much in common. Melissa is tall and attractive. She’s all about fashion. I was just this scrawny kid with untamable hair and crooked teeth. My mom tried to dress me in frilly, girly clothes, but it didn’t really work. I was still a tomboy underneath. I wore my shoes out so fast that my mom resorted to buying me these clunky brown shoes that looked like boys dress shoes. They really stood out because back then girls had to wear dresses to school. A few years ago, my mother told me she always felt bad about the shoes. I told her that wearing those shoes didn’t really bother me all that much. I think that possibly Melissa is me–the deep down inside me–the me that my mother always thought I should be.
So that’s how I see my self in the girl characters, but what about the boys? You’ll have to wait until next week to find out.