Tulsa Writer’s Memoir Is a Poignant Portrait of Being a “Glass Child”
An interview with Diane Morrow-Kondos, author of "The Long Road to Happy"
I love my brother. As a child, however, that love did not always keep me from wanting to be like everyone else, to fit in, to be an ordinary girl with an ordinary little brother and an ordinary family.
For many years, our family had been just that.
And then one day, we weren’t anymore.
(Excerpt from The Long Road to Happy: A Sister’s Journey Through Her Brother’s Disabilities by Diane Morrow-Kondos)
Diane Morrow-Kondos’s memoir, The Long Road to Happy (The RoadRunner Press, 2023) is an honest, clear-eyed expression of the complicated emotions involved in being the sibling of a brother with severe intellectual disabilities. Guilt, shame, fear, isolation, boredom, confusion and loneliness shaped Diane’s young life, but equally present were protectiveness, happiness, playfulness, pride and love.
Morrow-Kondos’s memoir divides a time before her brother and an entirely different time after David was born when she was 5 years-old. While David looked “normal,” his development during the first year was not. Their mother knew but was brushed off by the doctor until it became apparent that David was not progressing. At around his first birthday, David was diagnosed as “mentally retarded,” the name of the diagnosis in 1966.
“Any time there is a child in the family that requires an extra share of resources, it changes the family dynamics,” Morrow-Kondos said. “My brother needed more attention, more time. His needs became the central focus of our family.”
Being the closest in age to her brother, Morrow-Kondos was the sibling who spent the most time with David. He was mostly non-verbal, but she spent hours trying to understand him. She took him with her when she went swimming, bike riding or to the park with friends, and later, on some of her dates.
There were times that she struggled with math in school and wondered if she, too, might be “retarded.”
Confused and longing for attention, she desperately tried to figure out how to be the perfect sister to David, seeing it as a way to get her parents to see her. She admits to feeling some resentment toward her parents, especially her mother.
As she explains in the book, “glass children” is a term applied to siblings of children with disabilities. Often, the non-disabled child is invisible, as if they are a pane of glass, unseen by parents who are focused on the child with the most need.
At the time, few people talked about intellectual disabilities. Even today, people often don’t want to talk about the difficulties. They may be in denial about what will happen to their child.
“This book could really help parents of kids with disabilities understand what the siblings are going through,” she said. “Siblings will understand some of the feelings that I went through. Everything doesn’t have to be positive. It’s OK to have negative feelings. I hid those and was ashamed, but I’ve found that my feelings are pretty normal and typical.”
It’s also a book that she hopes will help those who have never had her experience better understand families who have a child with an intellectual disability.
Morrow-Kondos, who is now David’s guardian, wants to encourage people to become more honest and open about sharing their feelings, both good and bad. She thinks that it’s especially important to pay attention to the siblings.
“It’s the siblings that have the longest-lasting relationship with the person with disabilities,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Diane Morrow-Kondos writes TulsaKids’ grandparents’ blog.
Discussion and Book Signing at Magic City Books
The Long Road to Happy by Diane Morrow-Kondos
221 E. Archer Street
Thurs., Jan. 26, 7 p.m.