(I have barely slept in two days as I write this, so it’s a bit of a mess. I just read it over after finishing it, and it’s disjointed and not ready to put on the blog, but right now, I just want to get the thoughts out there and I’m too tired to edit it. Sorry!)
I used to play a ridiculous game to pass the time on the subway as a teenager. I was so good at it, once I knew my relationship with Bridget was pretty solid, I told her about it and made her play it with me. The game was simple – look at a random passenger and immediately come up with a celebrity look-alike. I couldn’t figure out how to do any of my Calculus homework, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t once see a dead ringer for Dan Akroyd’s character from Spies Like Us once upon a time.
When I take Marshall to an appointment at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, my demeanor is the exact opposite of the subway game. In waiting rooms – especially at Sick Kids – I’m consumed with stress, back sweating, pacing back and forth with Marshall in my arms, trying to keep my eyes down, because looking up means knowing who’s watching the patients.
Let me give you an example. Today, we had an ophthalmology appointment at 1:00 p.m. This is the worst time to have an appointment, and the worst appointment to have. It’s right after lunch, so some of the staff have probably been taking their much-deserved breaks, during which time appointments have backed up. And whereas needing to see the craniofacial team is not something most parents, thankfully, need to do, a lot of children have issues with their eyes and vision. So, it’s always a madhouse in the eye clinic waiting room. You can actually taste the desperation of the parents. You would probably be able to hear it too if not for the generally unsuccessful attempt by the staff to distract families with Toopi and Binoo on the television, and more significantly, the frustrated wailing of a dozen tired and uncomfortable children. I’m scared of flying, but I would rather fly over the Pacific Ocean with the crew from Lost than go to the eye clinic.
When I walked in with Marshall in the stroller, the chaos was in full swing. The hierarchy was already established, but with each new family that walked in, it became more apparent. I am still very conscious of the fact that Marshall looks different, but usually people don’t give him more than a passing glance (their loss!). At the eye clinic, though, everyone looks around. Because it’s such a commonly used clinic, you get the full spectrum of children and their conditions there.
A few people look carefully at everyone who walks in. Typically, it’s children who are not used to seeing so many other children with differences, but today there were definitely a few parents who spent a little much time staring, although I’m not sure they’re aware of it. There was a sweet little girl who did a subtle double-take when she noticed Marshall’s fused fingers.
Then, there are some, like me, who are parents of children with differences. I was simultaneously trying to avoid noticing some stares while also taking in the chaos around me. I’m always wondering what’s going on in the minds of parents of children with challenges. I want to ask them how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and how they make it through each day without wanting to scream and cry at least six times. This line of thinking always leads me to an unhealthy place, wondering if other parents see me with Marshall and breath a sigh of relief that their child doesn’t “have it as bad”.
Today, there was one family that got a lot of looks from the rest of the room. It was hard not to look up when they walked in because the son – probably about twelve years old – was having a hard time walking without bumping into tables and chairs, and was making loud noises. His mother held his hand and guided him around the room with the most beautiful patience. For a moment, I felt pity for her and how hard her life must be, but then I realized that she didn’t need the pity. It did nothing for her. I was in awe of her calmness and how little she noticed the people watching her and the chaos in the waiting room. The father soon entered and together, the three of them sat down together by the touch screen game in a corner of the room. I watched the father embrace his son at one point, kiss him on his forehead, and tell him how proud he was of him and how much he loved him. It was a humbling lesson in how to not give a shit about what people see or think of your child. They were the calm in the centre of the eye clinic storm.
I’d like to say that this experience will make future visits to the hospital less stressful. The reality is that I’ll probably still walk out of the hospital soaked in sweat and exhausted, but hopefully I’ll spend more time enjoying having Marshall in my arms instead of worrying about what everyone else thinks.