Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Ostrich Egg

If your a fan of cooking shows like Top Chef or Iron Chef then you've probably seen an Ostrich egg make an appearance from time to time. This egg is the Grandaddy of all eggs. It is HUGE! The average Ostrich egg is almost 6 inches long, 5 inches wide, and weighs in around 3 pounds! The chefs on these shows usually attack this culinary delight with gusto and a hacksaw. No cracking this baby on the top of your counter.  In order to get to that golden goodness locked inside they have to saw their way through the protective shell. So, at this point you're probably asking what this has to do with being a parent of a child with Special Needs...

I need this to develop a a secure, hard, difficult to crack shell around myself. Not to keep people away, but to keep some of the things they say from penetrating my defenses and puncturing the core of my emotions. When everything first started developing (or not depending on how you look at it) with Rae's condition I was so vulnerable to everyone's seemingly harmless words and phrases. I didn't want to be around some people because inside I knew they'd open their mouth and eat their own foot with gusto. Not even realizing that they did'd think they'd their own taste toe jam, but apparently it has no flavor.

Initially things like, "What's wrong with her?" would illicit an emotional eruption inside that would rival Mt. St. Helens and I was almost ready to burn the friendship bridge. Fortunately, over the last few months I've gotten better at controlling those initial responses, but every once in awhile someone still manages to find the chink in my armor. Phrases like: "She'll grow out of it," stated very matter of factly like they are some medical expert when it comes to Hypotonia sends shock waves throughout my body. I manage to choke back any retort that comes to mind, which is usually a very snide sounding, "No, she won't because it doesn't work that way and thank you for reminding me of that little fact." My other personal favorite: "You're lucky she stays where you put her. I have a hard time keeping up with Baby Doe." That one still gets past my guard because what I dream about more than anything in the world is having to chase our daughter around the house. I long for the days that I can't "keep up with her." They can't arrive fast enough.From time to time we also hear the excited exclamations, "Oh, she's getting so big. I bet she'll be walking soon and you'll be chasing her down!" To which my mind screams, "No she won't. We're hoping that maybe she'll walk by two." That one always manages to hit my heart and leaves a burning sensation that lingers for a few minutes.

By working on my Ostrich shell, so much better than chinky armor, I've been able to start nodding in silence with a slight smile and letting them speak their piece. Most people that are aware of Rae's condition don't fully understand it and aren't really sure what to say. So, they generally say whatever makes them feel better not realizing that it sometimes hurts me. Others who are aware seem hesitant to ask questions, probably out of a fear that they'll upset me, so they say generic things that by default sting a little as well. In an effort to not make the situation any more uncomfortable for either party, I have diligently constructed my shell (still working out some of the kinks) and smile without any real comment. Is it honest? No, not really. Is it fair? Nope, life never is. Is it a livable compromise? Yes, but it requires work.

You have to be willing to understand and accept that they don't mean to hurt you and are truly wishing the best. They say what makes them feel comfortable and what they hope makes you feel supported. It is awkward for everyone and a snide or negative retort on my part will only make that worse.

I'm going to leave this with a bit of advice for those out there who have friends or family with Special Needs children.

  1. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes having a better understanding of the need will make your relationship stronger and enable you to support those people more effectively.
  2. Listen. For the love of everything you hold dear...LISTEN! If you ask a question be willing to hear the offered answer. On occasion, when trying to explain Rae's Hypotonia, "She'll grow out of it," comes flying out of someone's mouth and I know that it is a futile effort to say anymore at that point.
So, here's to the Ostrich Egg and the new sense of security I feel in having it's protective shell encasing my vulnerability.

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