The waiting room at my husband’s office is always interesting. He works with children, many of which have special needs. These children are the absolute best! I always look forward to visiting because of who I might meet.
I had to stop in last week to drop off some paperwork that needed signing. Jon wasn’t available so I sat down in the waiting room to wait until he was free. My three-month-old son, Brandon, was wide-awake in his car seat so I took him out for a stretch and a cuddle.
There were three families in the waiting room, but only one child that had an obvious disability. He was also the happiest and friendliest child in the room. I watched as he sorted through a basket of blocks, choosing one at a time. He would feel out the block then announce what shape it was. “Triangle! Square! Rectangle!” He would exclaim as he tossed the shapes back into the basket. As he worked his way through the blocks he would look up and roughly towards where an older boy was sitting and ask him questions. “How old are you?” No response. “Do you go to school?” Again, no response. But he continued asking questions, totally oblivious to the fact that his questions were making the other boy uncomfortable. He stared back at the happy boy on the floor, eyes wide and full of fear… I could almost see what he was feeling. “You’re different. And that makes me afraid.”
The boy on the floor was blind. I had seen him and his Mom come in behind me, the boy holding his walking stick in one hand and his Mom’s hand with the other. The little boy’s eyes were milky white. He was also pale, covered in freckles, and had a head of shocking curly red hair. He was adorable. But I can understand how other children might feel afraid. I felt very sad for both of them.
The little boy on the floor couldn’t see that the older boy was terrified of him. But the little boy’s mother sure could. “Cole, don’t worry about everyone else, just play with the blocks,” she told him. I also noticed that when I sat down beside her she didn’t turn and acknowledge me or coo at my baby as another mother might.
My feeling was that this woman was self-conscious. I found myself wondering… Have you become accustomed to being treated as “different” because of your son? Do people avoid you because they don’t know how to acknowledge your child? I was suddenly painfully aware of the seats the other two families had chosen, as far away from this woman and her child as they could get. Was that on purpose? Maybe they felt uncomfortable and weren’t sure how to address the obvious fact that her son is blind. Maybe they felt guilty for their own “normal” children. Regardless, I imagine this woman is shunned by some adults the same way her son is shunned by some children.
I felt compelled to reach out to this woman, to let her know that not all strangers are afraid. I wanted to speak with her as I would speak to any other woman. It wasn’t that I felt sorry for her. It was because, in my experience, any people who’ve faced major challenges in life are usually really incredible people worth talking to.
“Your son sure is friendly.” I said.
She didn’t respond, just kept watching her son playing on the floor. I knew she had heard me. I said it again, only this time I reached out and touched her arm. “Your son, he’s very friendly.” She turned, a look of surprise on her face. I smiled. Yes, I’m speaking to you, not another parent in the room.
“Yes,” she replied softly, “he sure isn’t shy.”
She looked back at her son still playing on the floor, happily and blissfully chatting to himself, now stacking the blocks. The woman looked worried. She looked as if she’d been worried for a long time.
Just then Brandon started fussing in my arms. The boy looked up from his blocks. “Mom, a baby?” he asked, getting excited. He got up and started walking towards us, his arms outstretched, feeling his way along the waiting room chairs. I could see his mother was about to stop him but I smiled at her, wanting to reassure her that not only was I comfortable with it, I welcomed the chance to talk with her beautiful child. “Cole you have to ask.” She told her son.
“Can I touch the baby?” Cole asked me.
“Sure,” I said, “Babies love to be touched.”
I took Cole’s hand in mine and guided it to Brandon’s head. With both hands he started to feel the shape. Brandon instantly calmed to the boys touch.
“How old are you Cole?” I asked.
“Six.” He replied, completely engrossed in feeling out the shape of Brandon’s head. He paused, “what is that? Does it hurt?”
I looked to where he was feeling. “Oh no,” I said. “It’s just a bit of dry skin babies get on their heads sometimes.”
I was amazed at the care he was taking to feel every square inch of Brandon’s scalp, each strand of his hair. He was meticulous, pausing at a bump and tracing a tiny scratch with his finger. He started following Brandon’s hairline, found his ears and felt the tiny ear lobes between his fingers. Then his fingertips made their way down my son’s jaw line to his little baby chin. Ever so carefully he moved his fingers over Brandon’s face, tracing his lips and little button nose. He gently passed over his eyes and circled his eyebrows then felt his way back up to the top of Brandon’s head. He had just mapped out every inch of Brandon’s face with his fingertips.
His Mom and I were both surprised when Cole started moving his face towards Brandon’s as if to kiss him. Again I smiled at his Mom to let her know this was okay. But instead of a kiss he pressed his left cheek against Brandon’s forehead and started rubbing it back and forth. He nuzzled his face into Brandon’s hair and took a deep breath, inhaling his baby smell. I watched, in a trance, feeling deeply moved as this beautiful display of affection unfolded. This young blind child was truly magnificent, drinking in the feel and smell of my new baby. I found myself wondering if I had ever savored the feel and smell of my son to the same degree this young boy had just done.
Watching Cole drink in my son reminded me of how profound human touch can be. I can soothe my four-year-old son’s tears with a kiss. I can feel my husband’s tension melt away in my embrace. And a tiny newborn, fresh from the womb, is put onto his mother’s bare chest for warmth, comfort and nourishment. Like Cole, a new baby is barely able to see himself and needs mama’s touch, mama’s smell, and mama’s milk… That’s all the baby has.
I have so many days when I feel “touched out.” I spend hours a day (and night) breastfeeding, baby wearing, baby holding, baby soothing… There are times I just need some space, my body to myself, a break from the all-consuming role of mothering a newborn. At least once a week I contemplate switching to bottles. I’m no stranger to bottle feeding as this was how my first two children were mainly fed. But with my third baby it’s been different. I pushed through the frustration and the pain and after a few months we established that wonderful connection I always heard mothers talk about. And that connection that I’m so thankful for is all based on touch. In those few moments Cole had shown me just how truly important touch is in any relationship, but especially to our most vulnerable.
Jon arrived in the waiting room, which broke apart our little moment. As I got up to leave I struggled to find parting words that could convey to this mother how much her son had moved me. I knew I would never forget the last few moments and would be telling my son the story when he’s older.
“He’s amazing,” was all I could manage.
She smiled, knowingly.
I realized then I didn’t tell her something she hadn’t already known for a long time. Little Cole may not have his eyesight but he can certainly see the world in a beautiful way many of us have forgotten.