Costco was crowded, which it always is on a Saturday, and I was rushing through as quickly as possible because I had to go through twice (yes, I require two baskets to buy everything).
On my trip through the meat department, I noticed a man with his daughter. She was maybe 7 or 8 years old, with brown hair down to her shoulders and darling round face. She was also in a wheelchair.
I immediately felt akin to this man. A man who knows what it feels like to be a special needs parent. Knows the challenges, the doctors’ appointments, perhaps the therapy appointments and of course the emotional journey we have all been on – I knew this man understood.
I wanted to say ‘hi’ to him. To give him a knowing glance. To somehow say, “I see you. And you’re doing a good job.”
But it struck me hard that he may not understand – or relate – to my journey with special needs.
Because our journeys look different on the outside. For me, when I go to Costco, often times Matthew is yelling from his seat in the over-sized basket that he can’t sit there because it hurts his penis (yes this actually happens), and then flees from me the moment I turn him loose – sending me into a walk-run through Costco after abandoning my cart, purse and all, because I fear he will head straight to the emergency exit door (which has happened in more than one location).
To which people around me giving me judging looks, huff and puff under their breath and otherwise act as if my son was a problem child.
My son’s challenges are invisible.
And worse yet, they look like behavior problems.
This man didn't have that - or at least not from the outside looking in.
His daughter was very well behaved, followed her father easily and seemed to be rather enjoying herself.
So, I didn’t say anything to him. Not a word.
I smiled at his daughter, as I leaned around her wheelchair and grabbed 6 lbs of hamburger, and that was it.
But it got me thinking of a meeting I went to with my husband years ago – a support group meeting – one that I was just recounting in an email last week to a reader who had experienced the same thing.
My husband and I walked into a support group meeting to see a speaker give a talk on resiliency. Something that is as important to special needs families as the air we breath and the water we drink.
When we arrived there, we took our spot at the back of the room and began to listen. This particular meeting had a great deal of sharing going on – and all of the parents and families there were eager to put in their two cents.
Quickly my husband and I realized that these families were dealing with MANY issues we weren’t. Physical challenges, ‘larger’ diagnoses, and we began comparing our life to theirs.
A nice couple near us started talking about how hard it is for them to have any time alone because of their daughter’s need for oxygen and a feeding tube all but prevents them from having a babysitter.
Another talked about getting their child – who was now a pre-teen – in and out of his wheel chair. Let alone in and out of his bed. And the bathroom.
Hubby and I were there to talk about our 4 year old’s Sensory Processing Disorder.
My son could walk.
And eat on his own.
He could hug me.
And climb in and out of his bed all by himself.
Suddenly, we felt small. Ashamed that we were complaining about something that was so relatively easy in comparison.
We left that meeting feeling grateful that our son ‘only’ had SPD.
But when we got home, he still had Sensory Processing Disorder (and other issues that had not yet been diagnosed).
And our life was still hard.
Comparison is a dangerous thing. Yes, keeping life in perspective is a good thing, or at least it should be, but comparing your life to another’s is bad.
Our lives don’t compare to others – those that appear to have things ‘easier’ than we do and those that appear to have things ‘worse’ than we do.
Pain is pain. Struggle is struggle. It doesn't have to be a certain amount to qualify as 'enough'.
So honor where you are. Honor your path. Honor your journey. Honor its challenges. Honor its victories.
In retrospect, I should’ve just said hi to the man at Costco. I should’ve honored my own journey and the journey of that family by trusting my instincts and reaching out.
No matter how different our children’s challenges are on the outside, no matter how many things we don’t have in common, that man at Costco and I had perhaps the most imporant thing in common: Being a special needs parent.
Which is a strong enough tie, isn’t it?