Last week, I went to the doctor. Nothing big, just a re-evaluation of my bipolar medication, because my mood stabilizer seems to have had the unexpected side effect of narcolepsy, and I can't afford to keep falling asleep behind the wheel. I wasn't able to get a morning appointment, which meant I had to drag poor C up to Reno with me to wait around in a psychiatric office for an hour.
She kept herself busy in the waiting room by throwing her ball around and chasing it, only to throw it again. After a while, she got bored of that game, and she started to notice the other people in the room.... And their smart phones. THAT got her attention! So then, instead of waiting, I was chasing her down and grabbing her as she tried to steal phone after phone, purse after purse... I was relieved when we got called back to see the doc.
By the time the appointment was over, C was completely stir-crazy, so while I was juggling my copay and scheduling the next follow-up, I put her on the floor, praying she'd stay by me. Of course, that was a ridiculous notion, and the very first thing she did was walk up to the nearest couple, lean in real close, and start pointing at their phone. Fortunately, they were a very nice couple who assured me she wasn't bothering them and that I could leave her there until I finished my business. As I scooped her up to walk out the door, the woman smiled at me and said, "We'll take her!" I laughed and said, "Well, she's quite the handful." Then the woman shocked me. "Our niece has special needs, and she's just so full of love. That's the great thing about these kids; they're full of love and all they want from you is love."
This was the first time a stranger had commented on C's disabilities, aside from noticing her when she was in her wheelchair. This was the first time someone identified her developmental and cognitive disabilities that wasn't a doctor or a teacher, already familiar with her case. Someone recognized her for who she is.
I really thought I'd be devastated when that day came. I thought I'd run home and mourn the loss of the life I had dreamed for my baby, the anonymity she no longer had, the distinction of being "different" that would now follow her around for the rest of her life. Up until now, people had just assumed she was younger than she is and attributed her behavior to her age. Now, they see it. They get it. The jig's up.
Oddly, instead of being heartbroken, I found myself a little bit... relieved. It's hard to explain, but it was like this weight off my shoulders, this sense that I didn't have to protect her image so much anymore, and this relief that I didn't have to explain away her behavior. That she could be who she is, and I wouldn't have to apologize for it. People would see her and understand. At last.
In the grand scheme of things, it was one tiny moment on one insignificant day... But, for me, it was life-changing. It marked the beginning of a new chapter of life, in which we don't try to hide or mask her disabilities anymore, we don't apologize for them or for her behavior, and we can finally fully accept who she is, because the world sees it now, and the world GETS it. My child has special needs; my child has multiple disabilities; my child is an amazing person who overcomes a lot every day. I will never apologize for that again.