Glances, Whispers, and Stares.
The other day we were at the dentist office. We were there for a routine bi-annual checkup and cleaning. I had all 3 of my children with me and the office was packed. There was not a single seat available and it made an already tight space feel even tighter.
Have you ever heard that phrase like a bull in a china shop? Well, that phrase captures Sydney perfectly and my boys are well aware of that fact. As soon as we entered the waiting room, I could see them tense up. I knew they were concerned that it would be impossible for Sydney to simply blend into the crowd and not draw attention to her and by extension to them. My son quickly turned to me and said “mom she needs to lower her voice.” I gave him a reassuring look that she would be fine and told him with great confidence not to worry so much about what other people think (easier said then done).
A visit to the dentist is never short, but somehow I lost sight of that fact and our bull grew more impatient and louder by the second. I continued to shoot my boys that look that says I had it under control. Finally, my boys were called into the office to be seen and I remained in the waiting room with Sydney.
With just her to worry about I could relax and focus my attention on keeping her busy. My thoughts drifted to how uncomfortable my boys seemed at being noticed because of their sister. Her loud voice, hoarse and muffled speech, awkward conversation, high-pitched noises, and sudden jerky movements are tough to miss. I sympathize that it could be tough to remain inconspicuous when your sister is calling your name at such high decibels that you are forced to unveil your anonymity and answer her. It is already difficult enough to fit in with the rest of the kids but when you have a sibling that is anything but typical, I can appreciate the strain it must add to your life. That being said, I always emphasized to my boys that no one really notices Sydney as much as they do because she is so small and has very few identifiable syndromic facial features; at least that is what I like to believe.
That particular day in the waiting room it became increasingly clear to me that Sydney was quite noticeable and, unfortunately, not for her sweet smile, gorgeous blue eyes, and beautiful blonde hair. Periodically, glances were made in our direction that at first seemed coincidental. Then I noticed whispers that occurred between parents and their children. Harmless perhaps (I did not want to seem paranoid) and it was quite possible that they had nothing to do with us. But then the stares began and the other children in the waiting room became fixated on Sydney. They were fascinated by her gestures, volume, concrete and simplistic conversations, and the odd and bizarre hissing noise that she would periodically make.
Suddenly, I found myself as uncomfortable as my boys were when they first walked in to the office. It is not like I don’t know that my child is different. I am more than aware of all of her quirky, atypical and odd mannerisms. It is also not like I am in denial that she has her own set of unique physical characteristics. But there was something about having all eyes on us that was very disconcerting. Just moments earlier I told both boys not to worry about what other people think but somehow I was simply unable to do that (so much for following your own advice).
Maybe it had to do with the small confined space we were in, or maybe it had to do with the number of people there, but it was impossible to ignore the added attention. Especially when a mom finally felt the need to turn to her young son and say, “stop staring, it’s not polite”.
A few years ago I read an interesting blog where a mom of a special needs child wrote that others should not offend you when they are staring at you. You never really know why they are staring. It could be that they have a special needs child as well and they are trying to identify with you, or maybe they are so impressed with how you are handling yourself that they are looking at you for guidance, or simply they just can’t take their eyes off the strange behaviors exhibited by your child. In any event the message in that blog was loud and clear, stop worrying about what other people think because you will actually never know what they truly think. All well and good advice until you are the object of the attention.
As I sat in that office I realized that I was no longer going to be able to hide behind the façade of Sydney’s cute demeanor. Her differences were going to overshadow her appearance and over time her disabilities will become more obvious and self-explanatory. As a former wallflower this is going to be a tough adjustment for me.
Ironically, almost right on cue that same boy who was staring so intently at Sydney then proceeded to have a major tantrum. His mom was doing everything possible to contain it, but no question her parenting skills at that moment were on display. Without even realizing it I was now staring at them. Not because I was outraged by his behavior or because I felt bad for the mom, but because I was curious how that mom was going to work her way through the tantrum.
I think it is natural that we are all interested in how other people live their lives. I think the rise in popularity of reality TV has made that clear. Sydney will draw attention to our lives and if I expect my boys to not feel ashamed by the glances, whispers, and stares we might receive then I need to stop caring about what other people might be thinking and assume the best.
The next time I catch someone staring at my life I will assume it is because they are enamored with my cool, calm, and collected approach to parenting – after all a little white lie never hurt anyone☺