I was waiting for Branko’s name to be called for a routine X-ray on his legs. His grandfather took him in when his name was called, and a mother smiled and said Hi to him as he went by. She asked about his nasal prongs (Branko is on oxygen 24/7) and I gave her the short, but honest story of how he ended up being on oxygen. The mom was sitting with her daughter, who was in a wheelchair, and her mother. We started going back and forth with the typical questions that I’m sure most parents of special kids are used to:
“When did you notice something was wrong.”
“Can he walk?”
“Can she talk?”
“Is he in school?”
“Can she feed herself?”
While these may seem like invasive questions, ones you wouldn’t usually ask a stranger in a hospital waiting room, it seemed okay because we both clearly had similar battle scars to compare. There was a level of comfortability (wait, is that really a word?) between us that I hadn’t felt with other parents.
The grandmother seemed really interested in the nasal prongs. “How long does he have to wear them for?” (I really hate that question, because we have absolutely NO IDEA how long his respiratory problems will last. I guess the best answer would be… as long as we want him to breathe good??)
I could tell, as the conversation went on, that the grandmother was starting to look a bit sad.
Hold the phone… does she feel sorry for us? For my super-duper-smart, bilingual, and sarcastic son? Who may not be able to walk, but can sit on his own, stand with support, and cruise around the living room? Who constantly says “I love you Mama!” without any prompting whatsoever?
I am trying to look at situations like the one in the X-ray waiting room with an ‘it could be worse’ attitude. This mom isn’t the type of mom I should be worried about. But there is a major, polarizing, difference between our attitudes. I don’t feel sorry for her granddaughter. And I don’t feel sorry for the many other children with unique needs and health issues that I see almost every day. Because, and this is a bit of a secret, you can’t possibly be yourself around someone that you feel sorry for. Nope. Try as you might, but you will never come across as the kind and respectful person that you WANT to be if you choose to interact with someone while having that little bit of sorrow in the bottom of your stomach.
Now comes the hard part – how do you not appear to feel sorry for someone who is different/confusing/sad to you? It’s hard. Here’s a tip that I’ve found very helpful: don’t look away. It’s really cool when a complete stranger smiles at us. And I dunno, I’m no expert, but maybe your kid(s) will be comforted by the fact that Mama or Papa isn’t scared of the different kids. [BONUS: this sets your child up for a lifetime of good karma, lots of friends, wise conversations, and being a generally well-liked-all-around-good-person. With kind eyes. And good hair. In other words, your child will definitely probably star in Dr. Who someday]