We are a family that is often on out and about in our community. We like to participate in local events, visit museums and zoos, grab a bite to eat at restaurants and generally have a good time. I have always been the out and about type, but I find that our adventures outside our house now include more conversations with random strangers then ever before.
Emma is three years old and attracts quite a bit of attention to herself. She is all smiles and flirty with people we meet in public. She has the most amazing eyes and people are just drawn to her and come over and start to strike up a conversation. Emma is quite hospitable to them for a couple of minutes before she looks around to find another person to lure into her web while she leaves me holding up a conversation with the stranger. This could be because Emma doesn't talk so her conversations with the strangers are very short, but I think the reason I am left to hold up the conversation is more because people seem to want to know - why is Emma in a wheelchair and not talking, what is it like to be her parent, etc. And so as often as not they continue to stand around wanting to talk with me long after their "chat" with Emma has ceased.
I have gotten good at managing these conversations, and have a variety of responses ready based on our available time and how much I like the person. One group that seems to be fond of Emma and wanting to talk to me is the little old lady. I'm sure you've met her. She is the one who generally says something to the effect of "God only gives children like this to parents who can handle it." Oh, boy! Although I have a few responses at the ready, I often quote Mother Theresa in response - "I know God will not give me anything I cannot handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much."
But, the other day I came out with an entirely different response.
We were out eating lunch and the owner came over to talk with the girls and give them a little present. She was a lovely woman who had a nice way about her - she treated Emma great by speaking directly to her and wasn't a bit patronizing at all but she was very curious. And, in the course of the conversation she had to say it - "You know, God only gives children like this to parents who can handle it." And immediately a great feeling of love came over me and I heard myself saying that she is right. My husband and I must have done something right to be so blessed with both our girls. That only we are able to know how truly wonderful it is to have Emma and Julia with us day in and day out. And then she looked at me like I must be crazy! Because she can't even begin to understand my life.
Other people capture glimpses of our life. Feeding Emma while my plate grows cold. Carrying her around and helping her play with other kids. Lifting her wheelchair in and out of the van, going down the slides at the playground with her, acting as Emma's arms and legs in her daily life. Checking to make sure her cochlear implants are working correctly. What they really see is all the work involved with raising Emma and they see me doing all this while managing to ensure our typically developing almost 5 year old is getting all the love and attention that she needs.
And while raising Emma does require more work than raising typically developing children who can talk, hear, and move on their own, I find that it is often filled with great joy to counter-balance the work.
What people don't see when they glimpse a brief moment of our day is the true picture of life with Emma. They don't see how our family is just like any other family in our own house when the door closes. They don't see how Emma acts like a typical 3 year old - using her crawler to get around and into her toys, watching the cartoons on the couch with her sister, playing hide and seek and giggling all the time giving away where she is hiding, building forts and laughing heartily while she is in them, looking at everything her sister is doing and trying her best to imitate her, moving her feet in her gait trainer trying to walk to her destination, using her iPad to sometimes give silly responses to our questions while she gives us a mischievous grin and laughs before she decides to give us the right response. You see, the truth is that at home, behind closed doors, is when real magic unfolds.
So now I think I have my response to the one liner that I hear all too often. I will say, that I am truly lucky that God thinks I can handle this much happiness. If only everyone was as lucky.