Video by Mamamia

A mother shares what it’s like when your disabled daughter grows up.

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Have you ever seen someone you just can’t stop staring at? I’m a terrible starer. Wildly inappropriate. But when someone or something captures my attention – it might be the way they’re interacting with whoever they’re with or their voice or the way they look – I find it hard to rip my eyes away.

It’s a bad habit that mortifies my family and I’m not proud of it. I like to think it’s because I’m curious. Others call it nosy or just rude.

Vanessa Cranfield is one of the people who has been on the receiving end of my unflinching gaze. It was at a local park about 15 years ago and I was at a preschool picnic with my son who was about three at the time.

Vanessa was there too with her little boy who was mates with mine and though we hadn’t met at kindy, I recognised her from Preschool as the most stylish mother – actually, scrap that – the most stylish woman – I’d ever seen in real life.

No black, ever. Life is too short to wear boring clothes. Colour makes my heart sing. ❤️????????????????

A post shared by Stuff We Love ❤️ (@southofthebordersydney) on

Not stylish in a fancy pants intimidating way. Vanessa just had this……thing about her.

She wore clothes in ways I would never have thought of in combinations I would have never considered. And her energy….

She just…had it. The proverbial it. The not-trying-hard-but-just-looking-effortlessly cool-not-matter-what-she’s-wearing “it”.

I would by lying to you though if I didn’t tell you another reason why I was staring that day in the park.

Listen to Mia and Vanessa talk about their friendships and their lives on No Filter. 

While our sons played with their fellow preschoolers and I lined up at the cafe, Vanessa wasn’t alone. She was with her daughter, a little girl who looked to be about six years old and who had Down Syndrome.

I know. Staring at a mother and her child with a disability was not my finest moment. Vanessa has since said she noticed me staring and thankfully shrugged it off and we became close friends.

The little girl – who I would come to know and even one day take to school – was Gretel. And Gretel and Vanessa and the whole Cranfield family would teach me a lot over the next 15 years.

A few years after that day in the park, another friend of mine had a baby who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome on the day he was born.

Like Vanessa, this friend had no idea that the baby she’d been carrying had a disability. And as she struggled in those early days and weeks and months to process the radical, unexpected change in her life and the life of her husband and other children, I remember her saying “I can cope with the idea of a Down Syndrome child but what about when he becomes a man?

I just can’t get my head around that.”

Well, Vanessa’s daughter Gretel is very much a woman now. She’s in her early twenties and her disability and the way she interacts in the world and what she needs from her parents continues to change.

I’ve read and heard a lot from the parents of children with a disability but what happens when those children grow up? How does parenting change?

And oh – one more thing. A few years ago, Vanessa started her own fashion label called South Of The Border.

If that sounds familiar to you it’s because if you’ve ever seen any picture of me anywhere over the last few years, I will have been wearing at least one thing designed by Vanessa, if not my full head-to-toe outfit.

The woman designs my dream clothes. They’re comfortable and fun and they make me happy in my heart. In this interview – which she was super nervous to do by the way – we cover a lot of ground.

From becoming Gretel’s mother at just 21 to starting her own fashion label and how her relationship with her husband has survived some turbulent times that so often break marriages apart.

Here’s Vanessa Cranfield.

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