Different and Same
This is one of Pat's sisters hugging my girl. His sister has special needs and my kids have always, somehow, understood this without too much explanation.
Sometimes though, especially now as my children have gotten older, they have loving and beautiful questions about her. Curiosity, especially from little ones, can be just another way for them to learn to love.
With their aunt, there aren't a lot of easy answers so sometimes I let them answer each other's questions when I don't have a better idea. They're close enough to right most of the time and, even when they're technically wrong, their explanations are lovelier than I would have offered, so I let them go with it.
When I was doing all of the answering, I was trying to focus on the similarities between them. That was fine enough for awhile, but then it just wasn't. When I was really listening during our conversations (so maybe 40% of the time), I could hear that it wasn't making sense for them.
There are real differences and they sometimes feel larger, at least when they're happening to my kids, than their similarities. Their aunt squeezes them harder than anyone else does when she hugs them. She wants their toys. She can get upset in a way that they don't see other adults get upset. She is an adult and they are children, and yet, sometimes, they are peers. It can get confusing.
My thoughtful 7-year-old who usually doesn't miss a beat said this while explaining to his sister about their aunt, "She just takes longer to learn than us. So, sometimes it's hard to understand her and we need to help her. We just need to help her more. She's still learning and then soon, once she's learned everything a couple of times again, she won't have special needs anymore."
I went to correct him and then I waited for my husband to correct him and then we both just stayed quiet. My son's explanation of how it works sounds enough like how most of us are living our lives regardless of any diagnosed special needs: learning, relearning, failing, trying again, getting a little better, hoping, having others around us help us and hope for us. It's no different, really, with their aunt. I'm not going to Pollyanna the situation too much – she will be who she is for her whole life, which means that seemingly simple tasks will never be simple for her. She is always going to have special needs. But, there is always room for minor improvement; situations are always changing, mostly because of others' willingness to help and make change.
That picture above was taken by another one of my sisters-in-law. That's my girl getting squeezed a little too closely and a little too tightly than she's used to while her aunt also tries to maneuver my girl's brand new Frozen ball out of her hands – an action that would have made my girl scream bloody murder had one of her brothers done it. She just hung in there, though, let her aunt have the ball and showed her how it lit up, and then worked with her other aunt to get it back later on. However she understands it all, I'm not sure, but she does.
Pat's sister grew up during a time when the R word was used both as a medical diagnosis and as an epithet. She was labeled with that word and derided with that word by other kids in her neighborhood. It was said, it was yelled, it was used by so many people – many without any meanness at all, but some whose words really hurt not only his sister, but all of the people who love her. If I ever think that words don't matter, I remember how some words made whole generations of people feel, how it affected whole families whose siblings and cousins and sons and daughters were called words in a derogatory way.
Words can shape lives. My hope is that by the time our children hear words that are hurtful to any people, they'll have so many experiences with real, loving humans that they will know that no word that hurts would fit for any one of them. My hope is that they will give help and love, which means I have to do a decent job of modeling that.
There are so many people who need lots and little bits of help in the world that it can feel overwhelming to me at times. And so then, I promptly do nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. Oh wait, I scroll through Facebook. Because that’s super helpful.
When I think of helping, I want to make it big and grand; I want help to make everything better right away. I forget that small things – seemingly small, inconsequential things: a hug, a connection with somebody, even when it might feel a little too close, a little too tight, a little messy – well, that’s what good and loving help usually feels like. That is love. That is connection for me, for my girl, and for their aunt. Same same.
We're all here together, after all, just looking for help and love. All different sorts of us, but all of us with the same desire for connection, no matter our ability to verbalize it. All of us with the same hope to hear words of love spoken about us and all of us hoping to find bits of connection with those we meet so that all of our needs, special and otherwise, can be met in this big, wide world. There's more than enough to go around if we give of ourselves even just a little. And even the littlest can give.
It's just amazing what they can give, really.
Even when it feels complicated to the rest of us.