Friday, December 13, 2013

the look...

Parenting a child with special needs is tough.
 
It's a joy, don't get me wrong...
 
but it's tough.
 
Words like 'age-appropriate' or 'developmental delays' or 'failure to thrive' swirl around in your head... but at the same time that medical professionals warn you of those terrifying realities that have become your child's life, 'don't compare' and 'I'm sure he'll catch up' and 'by the time he's 2 years old....' are meant to be soothing and comforting to the already-terrified parent.
 
I remember so many times when Hunter was tiny... at the store or a doctor's office... watching 'typical' kids run and play and talk... things we were told Hunter would never do. They were full of joy and life and I'd watch them longingly...
 
I didn't long for me...
 
for my son.
 
This is where I first became aware of 'the look.'
 
The look on a parents' face when, no matter how hard they try not to, they find themselves comparing their child to another seemingly-more 'normal' child... doing seemingly-more 'normal' things.
 
I'd watch closely... how they moved, sounded, responded to kids and adults... and I'd look at my son and my heart would shatter.
 
Not because he wasn't good enough or as good as them... because he was.
 
It would shatter for him.
 
For the things he'd never be able to do or say or understand... for what he would miss out on in life...
 
And I would walk through the rest of my day paralyzed with the fear that if he wasn't able to run and play and talk and understand, then he would never experience joy... the joy that comes from being full of life.
 
'The look' in my face... the look I know other mom's could see... was the look of a Mama who was....
 
scared? anxious?
 
jealous, even?
 
That's a hard one to swallow.
 
It took months for me to learn how to hide 'the look'... how to block out the sounds and sights of other kids who were Hunter's age. I put so much energy into ignoring what was 'typical' and settled over and over again on the reality that Hunter would be his own 'typical'... his movements and growth and development redefined 'normal' in my head.
 
And I was ok resting there for a while... in a place where 'normal' and 'typical' didn't exist... where the sounds and sights of kids running and playing and talking and responding to their surroundings didn't define 'normal' anymore.
 
We were sitting in the waiting room at Hunter's Audiologists the other day ... Hunter took over the place! He was running from chair to chair... he would walk over to someone else who was waiting and would gently put his hand on their knee, just so they would say 'hi' to him... he'd move on and grab a magazine just so he could throw it on the floor... he made himself welcome behind the front desk and got a kick out of the paper shredder...
 
and then I saw them.
 
The beautiful couple sitting around the corner with their son, in the far side of the waiting room. Their 6 year old son was in a wheelchair... sitting up, but not really... aware, but not... happy, so happy!
 
His parents were watching Hunter so closely... his movement, his sounds, how he responded to his surroundings....

the look.

We were getting the look... US!

My heart broke at the longing in their face... the grief.... the jealousy.

It was as if Hunter sensed their attention and, as if on cue, he walked over to their son's wheelchair and gently placed his hand on the wheel. He looked from the boy to his parents and back at me... I knew what he was asking me and I nodded... he looked back at the sweet boy and smiled at him before he toddled off.

He broke the ice for me...

Their son had just had brain surgery... he went into it as a fully hearing boy and came out of it deaf.

As we talked... as I travelled through Hunter's story with them... I saw the most amazing thing...

as we talked, their precious son struggled to turn his head just so he could see his parents, so he could just be assured that they were there... with him, in the middle of the visual chaos and silent conversation surrounding him... he needed to see them but more that that, he needed them to see him. Their look meant that everything was ok... would be ok... that he was safe.

And it hit me;

I had spent so much time focused on how other people looked at us and how looking at other kids felt to me...

that I had missed the real looks... the only ones that matters;

the look of contentment and security and safety on my son's face when he looks for me.... and when he finds me.

And when our eyes meet? That look brings out confidence and strength in him ... confidence and strength that only a glance between us can bring out in him because I'm the one who taught him that look, after all.

"I love how your son looks at you."

They sat speechless... and something else amazing happened...

their look slowly transformed from hopeless...

to hopeful.

A few simple words... a million hidden meanings.

What makes a child 'normal' or 'typical' isn't in their movement or language...

it's in their look...

 the one that tells them that they're wanted and accepted and deserving... that they're strong and capable and confident... the one that defines 'joy'...

the one that tells them that they're loved.

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