This month's story on Womanscape is about two women particularly dear to my heart: Jane and Natascha, a mother-daughter team who refused to turn a disability into a life sentence.
Ladies, thank you for giving me the honour of sharing your story.
My name is Jane Swim. I am the mother of Natascha Jane.'
She speaks softly. Jane is not the person in the spotlight, normally.
That would be Natascha. Taschi, to her friends and family. A brief while ago she had indeed stolen the show as she walked down the runway. The model-slash-designer had twirled her full-length aqua blue skirt as she danced – Taschi loves to dance - to the music, barely pausing for the cameras to flash. In the audience, Jane had cheered her daughter on, as she has for the past forty-three years.
Taschi was born with Down Syndrome when Jane was twenty-seven years old.
The young mother was devastated, but then, 'she was placed in my arms.'
'I immediately fell in love. She was so precious and so very, very dear. And with her hand in mine we began our journey together.'
Jane struggled to find programs for Taschi that did more than just placate her disability. She wanted her daughter to find her voice and grow as a human being. To live.
Natascha had Down Syndrome, but she also had bold, raw artistic talent; she had an eye for colours and patterns, and a wild imagination. A sharp observer of the world around her, she could reinterpret it in her mind, using it and her unbridled instinct to create beautiful, abstract works of art.
Jane knew Taschi had great potential, now the rest of the world had to find out. And it would: she eventually found the perfect program for her at the Creative Growth Art Center.
This non-profit organization serves artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities, 'providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition, and representation.' It is the oldest and largest of its kind, with a community of one hundred and fifty artists. They all have one disability or another, but none of them are disabled.
Creative Growth hosts exhibitions, daily studio and gallery hours, and once a year, 'Beyond Trend:' An international fashion show and fundraiser. Its artists have collaborated with major fashion brands and designers, showingn their work in galleries, art shows, and museums all around the world.
'This is a program wherein spirits not only find their voice and refuge, but also learn to believe in themselves, learn to soar. They soar against great challenges, great odds and sometimes against great societal judgments.'
Through it, spirits like Taschi can earn their living as productive members of society.
'This program is her world. She says to me sometimes: I am so happy mom. I love my life.'
A life one intrepid mother fought to give her against every odd.
This is not the story of a one-woman show: Jane and Taschi are a team. Jane takes care of Taschi, but also, Taschi takes care of Jane:
'She is my buddy. She makes me laugh and she makes me think and she makes me go outside of myself and put her needs ahead of mine. […] She takes care of me because she makes me think about all issues in more far reaching ways, like: I must take care of myself because I want to be here to take care of her.'
At seventy, Jane is now recovering from a hip replacement surgery. She sees even that as a reason to be grateful; a means to continue the adventure with her daughter for many more years.
Jane’s story is one of quiet resilience, hope, and unconditional love. Taschi’s is making headlines. Together, they make one absolutely beautiful, inspiring pair.
Discover Taschi’s work and that of other artists like her at Creative Growth.