I had a dream when I was seven months pregnant. In the dream, a little girl about five years old sat down next to me on the couch. The thing I remembered most clearly about her was that she had short, curly blonde hair. She took my hand, looked at me with love, and said I am your daughter. A few months later, my daughter was born. But, she doesn’t have curly blonde hair. It is thick, wavy, and brown. She’s five foot six, blue-eyed; with a figure my mother insists most women would “die for.” And, she’s developmentally disabled, the current term used by our culture to differentiate people like Gillian from so called “normal” people.
I have been gathering video footage over the course of Gillian’s life: her first birthday, her last nursing, her first gymnastics meet, soccer, basketball, and softball, all the plays she’s performed in, horseback riding. In the back of my mind lurked the idea that “someday” I would make a film about Gillian, but that thought was always tempered by reluctance. I was afraid to reveal my own feelings; I didn’t want to exploit her; I wasn’t sure I could represent her in all of her fullness and complexity. Gillian knows I make movies and recently, as we film her various activities, she’s been telling everyone, proudly, that we are making a movie about her—she calls it The Gillian Film. She has made the decision for me.
There are two primary voices in the film: Gillian’s and mine. Gillian’s, telling us, as any young women will, what her hopes and dreams are, what she thinks of this world, her parents, her friends, and her place in the world. The other voice will be mine as, like any mother, I observe with pride and fear, my daughter preparing to leave home. I talk about what it’s been like to raise an exceptional daughter and about reconciling my dreams with my reality. And, in trying to answer questions about the value of my daughter’s life, I explore my own ambivalence about these questions. However, my ultimate aim, through an examination of one life defined as “different” (or “exceptional” in current terminology), is to explore how we might transform our understanding of the meaning and worth of any individual life.