There are a few things that virtually all parents who have a child (or children) with disabilities have in common, and one of them is this: we spend time in waiting rooms.
A great deal of time.
Ugly waiting rooms full of uncomfortable chairs covered with institutional mustard-colored vinyl. Beautiful waiting rooms, softly lit and filled with home-like furnishings. Waiting rooms that are well-stocked with clean toys and waiting rooms that contain nothing but two ancient copies of Golf Digest.
I don't care what they look like because I have learned to love waiting rooms.
Strange, I know. In the beginning of this long journey, when we were chasing all over town trying to find appropriate doctors, diagnoses, and treatments, I hated waiting rooms. The boredom! Other people's noisy children! My own unruly child! The wasted time!
In the past two years, though, I have discovered that there is no better place to make friends than in waiting rooms. In fact, it was in a waiting room that I met the woman who invited me to join the support group she had co-founded, a group just for parents of children with mood disorders.
Raising a child with disabilities is an experience (like so many others) that can only be understood by the people who are living it. No matter how sympathetic and understanding the other people around us are, the only people who get it are the people who are in it.
And we all need to have some people in our lives who get it. Nothing since Carter was born has improved our lives as much as finding our support group. To sit, every Saturday morning, with a group of parents whose children have issues similar to Carter's, is akin to taking a long drink of cool water after days in the desert.
We don't have to explain ourselves; we all live with the specters of suicide, imprisonment, and catatonia, and we all make the enormous effort, in spite of all that, to plan for education, jobs, and fulfilling lives for our children.
But we don't have to say any of that.
If I walk into the room on a Saturday morning and say, "Wow, it's been a terrible week," everyone is tuned to my frequency. Bad week probably means life-or-death struggle. It doesn't mean that the water heater sprung a leak or the car broke down, unless cold water and broken cars make our kids unstable.
We can use our gallows humor without backpedaling, reassuring each other that we're just kidding, or we really do love our kids, or we won't actually punch the doctor, send our child to be raised by wolves, or start swilling vodka all day every day.
We can say what we want and never worry that the response will be judgmental or pitying, and if there is advice it will come directly out of personal experience.
As it turns out, that connection was what I needed most in the world. I need all kinds of other things, too, but to be around people who understand, to give and receive love and support, is what has changed me. It is what makes it possible for me to stay functional (mostly) and be happy (sometimes) in the face of Carter's mental illness and the enormous fallout that has resulted.
Is it any wonder that I see every waiting room as a place of limitless potential? Waiting for Carter to have blood drawn last week, I met a woman. We talked as much as we could over the sounds of our (unfed, unmedicated) children and exchanged phone numbers. I expect this to be the beginning of something wonderful.