The other day I was in our pediatrician’s office for my son’s 5 year check up. After checking in, my son and my 2 year old daughter went to play with the magnet wall while my 6 month old daughter and I sat down in the waiting area. A man carrying a child came and sat across from me.
He was a very tall man who looked to be in his late 30’s and seemed to be in a happy mood. These were the first things I noticed. Shortly after that I noticed that the child he was carrying had short, beautiful curly hair and looked to be about 18 months. He held her close to him in an almost cradling position with her face close to his so it took me awhile to notice that the little girl was wearing an oxygen tube and what I had thought was the dad’s backpack was actually a small oxygen tank.
In addition to her beautiful hair this little one had stunning blue eyes. It was about this time that I also noticed there was a definite disability present. I couldn’t identify what it was but it was apparent. What I could clearly see was the love this father had for his child.
She held his attention as if she were the only thing in the room. He looked right into her face, held so close to his, and smiled and talked and playfully lifted her up and down. It was heart warming to see and I wanted to just sit and watch them but I was afraid he would think I was staring at his daughter because she was different.
My 2 year old came over and asked “what’s on that baby’s face?” Now it just so happened that I had recently read a blog post someone wrote about how she hopes that at times when her children ask these sorts of things that, if convenient, the parent of the child with the disability may be willing to share a little about the disability, thereby helping her own child to better understand and be more compassionate.
This thought came to my mind and I too hoped this loving father would explain a little bit about his sweet daughter. He said nothing though so I told my daughter that the tube was to help the baby breathe better.
By this time the mother had joined the man and the little girl and I felt a desire to connect with this little family and tell them how sweet the whole scene was. So, I asked if the baby was a girl (because at this point I was pretty sure but there was a possibility it could have been a boy) and fell back on complimenting looks and sincerely told them that she had beautiful eyes.
There was an odd dichotomy inside of me at that moment. I was truly touched and happy that this little girl, who will undoubtedly have unusual challenges in her life, had such loving parents. Yet, at the same time, I wanted to weep for her and her parents and the struggles they will face.
And then I learned something that actually did cause me to weep a little right there in the waiting room and a lot more later in the car. My son had joined us by now and he and my 2 year old were talking to my 6 month old about looking at the baby. Somehow age came up and I mentioned that I was pretty sure that baby is older than my 6 month old and I decided to ask just how old she was. Both parents answered together: “three”.
That precious little girl who I thought was maybe a year older than my 6 month old was actually a year older than my 2 year old. It was clear that whatever this sweet girl had, extended far beyond needing oxygen. My heart broke.
I quickly, and somewhat mumbling, said something like “yep, she’s older.” But what I really wanted to do was reach out and ask what it is she has, how it affects her, is she doing alright. I felt I wanted to give her parents the chance to explain in a safe, loving situation where maybe, by telling me I could somehow spread the word, raise awareness and compassion for this little family.
Perhaps I’ve been reading too many blogs about mothers who have children with disabilities and are trying to fight against the common misunderstandings that exist about those disabilities and the people who have them. Maybe these two parents are tired of answering questions and explaining and hate being pitied.
I pray I didn’t look at them like I pitied them.
There I was with my three healthy children climbing and running and talking. Maybe those parents were thinking “my daughter will never do that”. Maybe after three years it’s not as hard for them as it was for me to think of their daughter’s future, but I’m willing to bet it is harder. Hard to know your child will be so different. Hard to want to protect her from a world that doesn’t understand. I did pity them.
As I watched I noticed she had a hard time keeping her head up, had a hard time controlling her eyes and mouth and I would guess that she was not able to really talk or walk.
On the way home I had a realization that instead of pitying this girl and her parents I should be rejoicing. She has, what I would guess, is a supportive, loving family who is taking extraordinary care of her. Something so many children in this world, disabled or not, don’t have. This little girl can and probably will have a happy life. I saw that in her father’s face. His complete acceptance of her. And when you have people in your life, especially parents, who love you unconditionally and accept you and any hardships that may come then a happy life is a definite possibility.