SEE ME, FEEL ME

My husband tends to keep things close to the vest. He’s not as openly effusive as I am and he doesn’t readily share his thoughts about our family life, preferring to keep them private. We’re different that way. I think he internalizes things a bit too much, and he thinks I share too much – somewhere there’s a balance and it seems we both have different needs in terms of the kind of support we want from beyond our family of three. Strangely, despite the disparity in our coping, it works. We always have each other. In a rare share, he wrote the below piece for a fundraiser our school puts on each year. Sadly, he was in Wales visiting family so he missed the reading. Much of the audience was brought to tears and it was well read by one of other dads, who, besides being a talented orator, also completely related to the experience which brought a great deal of heart to his reading. I’m sharing with permission…

As written by my husband, and read by Benjamin Bratt at our annual CHIMEapalooza Event:

If you saw my family walking through a mall when my son was a baby, we looked just like any other family (my Hollywood good looks could be distracting, but otherwise we looked like your typical family.) We had the stroller and the packed diaper bag, but if you rifled through it you might see syringes and gravity bags for tube feedings next to the wipes and cloths.

As my son got older and outgrew the stroller, our outward profile changed, a bright orange wheelchair replaced the stroller, and friendly smiles were replaced with odd stares as we walked through the mall. It seems the general public is not accustomed to seeing children in wheelchairs out and about. Kids were generally curious and often asked questions, “What happened to him?”, “Why is in a wheelchair?”. To this my wife would smile at them, sharing “This is Cole. He’s four. How old are you?”, or explaining “Cole’s muscles work differently than yours and needs the wheelchair to help him get around.”, or “He understands everything that you are asking, so you can talk to him and you’ll see his answer with smiles.”. And on cue, Cole would flash is light-up-the-planet smile, and make a friend.

Yep, kids were a breeze. More often, adults would lock gaze on him and practically walk into a pole, mouth agape, like they couldn’t figure out how a kid in a wheelchair managed to find his way out of the house. For me, still wading through the newness of parenthood and the rawness of my own fears for Cole’s future, their judgmental stares caused me to try to protect my family by glaring back at them in my attempt to communicate to them that their stares hurt. They made us feel somehow less than, not welcome in public, and so much worse. I raged inside because I wanted to protect my boy from that feeling. It broke my heart to have people look at him like that with so much intensity, but actually not see him at all. Not see the bright, funny, beautiful, kind, open child that was sitting right in front of them.

Over time it just ground me down, having to summon that glare, giving so much power to the confused and small-minded reactions of passers by. Simultaneously Cole started the CHIME infant toddler, and then the lab pre-school, and finally CHIME Charter. We became part of welcoming community so much bigger than our little family, our tribe as my wife calls it. I learned over time that no matter what or particulars, we all face challenges and we all feel the weight of our hopes and dreams for our children. Most importantly, everyone has good days and bad days.

And something else changed. When I caught those stares, I started to forget to glare back and instead smiled. If they continued to stared at me like they couldn’t process what we are, I would smile just like my son taught me to. My smile is not as open as his, not as warm or as full of life, but I do my best. Plus, now I say hi to everyone I pass and I hope that my smile and my hello communicate at least a sliver of, “Hi. We like the mall, maybe more than we should and we are pretty happy to be here today. We may not be exactly like you, but we are not so different either. We hope you have a good day, and we hope that this is a good day for us too. Oh, and hopefully I’ll find a cool sweater – on sale!”

Dan
Father of Cole in 7th grade

One Response

  1. It was so moving to hear it read in person. Thanks for sharing it again…and to Dan for writing this insightful and heartfelt story.

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