Cindy Harasen is not the first the first mother to think that her daughter might be from another planet.
In this case, Cindy created Planet Kaleigh to explain her daughter's differences to her other children. Still, dad says there's no reason why Kaleigh's extra chromosome (Down Syndrome) should mark her as different in any way. Join the Harasen family on Planet Kaleigh where puddles are always for jumping in, and emotion ripples just below the surface.
Planet Kaleigh was recorded and written by Cindy Harasen in 2009, for CBC's Outfront.
Jody Porter works as a reporter for CBC Radio in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Documentary work helps her escape the daily news grind and has garnered several awards, including the 2006 Third Coast International Audio Festival Best Documentary - Radio Impact Award. Jody is also the editor of the forthcoming book, Stories of Struggle and Strength from First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples in Canada, being published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson in May 2011. Her latest project is a social/radio experiment that brings strangers together to make a meal and discuss race-relations in Thunder Bay. You can hear some of the results here: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2011/02/08/common-ground-cafe/
Neil Sandell hears voices for a living. He is a senior producer at CBC Radio. He produced the CBC's Outfront for five years. His documentaries been honoured by the Gabriel Awards, the New York Festivals, Amnesty International, the RTNDA, the Gracies, and the Third Coast Festival. My Life So Far was a selection at the IFC in 2009 in Dublin. Sandell has taught radio workshops in Oslo, Chicago, Alert Bay BC ,and Nuuk, Greenland. In 2009 he created a Chicago Sound Drop called Carl, with an El.
Hear more stories from the now-defunct (sadly) show Outfront.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Jody Porter
Please describe the genesis of Planet Kaleigh... how did you find Cindy (Kaleigh's mother) and what made you think her experience would translate for a broad audience?
Cindy pitched her idea to a (now defunct) CBC program called Outfront. I'd worked with her before and knew she had a quirky, poignant approach to parenting. Cindy's perspective on what makes Kaleigh different from other people is unique and I knew from past experience that she had the guts to take the recording and the story into territory that few parents are willing to go.
Describe your role as producer vs. Cindy's as the main storyteller in the making of Planet Kaleigh? Did Cindy record all of the tape and bring it to you to shape?
Cindy and I talked before she started recording about the kind of tape that might be useful in getting such a fanciful concept across. Then she did all the recording and we had a second conversation about what she thought she'd like included in the piece. Since it's her story, I did my best to respect Cindy's wishes while keeping my ears open to my own story-telling instincts.
The father seems very reticent to talk, how did his involvement impact the making of the piece?
I think Cindy's husband was a willing participant but it doesn't really make sense to him to sit and talk into a microphone about what makes Kaleigh different, or the impact Kaleigh's differences have had on their lives. For him, Kaleigh is Kaleigh, end of story. I liked his role in the piece because his perspective is a complete contrast to Cindy's. I think if he was reaching as hard as Cindy for an explanation of who Kaleigh is, the broader audience might dismiss this family as too 'out there'.
Cindy wrestles with her feelings of guilt in this story, did you also wrestle with how much you would include of her self-doubt?
Cindy is an incredible, loving, fun, energetic mother and I wanted that to come across along with the self-doubt that perhaps(?) makes that possible. I'm still not sure I got the balance right. Cindy collected a lot of tape that made me feel like a bit of a voyeur. I so appreciate the trust she had in me to listen, and chose which parts of her life, (and her heart), to expose to a broader audience.
Did Cindy approve the piece before it aired? Did she have any concerns, or ask for any changes?
It was Cindy's pitch and Cindy's story, so yes, she got to approve what went to air. It's a very humbling experience to sit in someone's living room and listen together as you reveal how you took her life, her most raw emotions, and turned her into a 'character' in a 'piece'. It was like Cindy held up a mirror on her life, and I was the mirror, responsible for reflecting a true image. Fortunately, she liked it and didn't ask for any changes.
Postscript: Two years after this documentary was produced, Third Coast asked Cindy how Kaleigh's doing...
Kaleigh is great. She turned 7 in November. She continues therapy - including OT, Physio and of course Speech. She has taken great leaps and bounds in her speech the last year and no longer uses any sign language and has many many spoken words. What`s that joke about waiting for your kids to walk and talk and then spending the rest of your life telling them to sit down and shut up.
Well we don`t do that but boy oh boy she is quite the little chatter box!
And does she still think about Planet Kaleigh?
The Planet Kaleigh concept still exists and comes up from time to time. A little girl that Kaleigh plays with once said “Kaleigh is really nice and very funny and kind….of course she speaks another language" We call it Kalien. Not suprising Kaleigh’s favourite movie is ET….and she does a great impersonation of ET - our second favourite alien.
As for me…Planet Kaleigh is probably where I live more than anyone else but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a wonderous place to be a mommy.