My Abnormal Children and I

23 Jan

Have you missed me?  Well I have missed you terribly.  I have been busy building an unprofitable business, schooling four children, going back to school and ignoring a lot of housework.  Lately, however, I keep having thoughts to share and points to ponder running through my brain.  To sooth my nerves, and document the fact that I do indeed occasionally have deep thoughts, I am back online.

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Since we last were together, my youngest daughter has been scrutinized, analyzed and evaluated.  Despite many pediatricians in her younger years urging me not to compare, it turns out I was right all along and Caroline has some developmental delays.  Any time you acknowledge that your child has some definable difference from typical children it leads to a lot of sessions in the shower crying, as well as random outbursts of tears when listening to just the right, or maybe wrong, song.  We have a long way to go in discerning whether there is a specific definition for what she “has”, but to be honest I have been dragging my feet.

I have to some extent been avoiding a definition.  Definitions are, well, definitive, and that scares me.  I am scared that someone is going to tell me what she “can’t” do.  I am worried that all the beautiful dreams I have dreamed for her are going to be dashed, and they will tell me instead a sad story of dependence and deficit.  I am a pro at denial, and this has been no different.

However, more recently, there is another reason for dragging my feet.  That is this concept of definition.  I don’t want my daughter defined.  I know that regardless of what doctors and specialists may find, she is Caroline.  She isn’t a type, a disorder, a syndrome or a deficit.  While I acknowledge it is important for me to continue to pursue definitions of her physiological makeup, I don’t feel the need to now what is “wrong” with her – if for no other reason than there is not a thing wrong with her.  Just like everyone else, she has been “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

Over the course of our adventures in homeschooling and beyond, we have been blessed, and yes I do mean blessed (to often this is just a euphemism thrown in for affect) – to know so many kids with something “wrong” with them.  Some have subtle differences that allow them to fit in more easily.  Others have dramatic differences that demand attention, and are regularly a source of sideways glances from strangers afraid to make eye contact.  Some of our friends unique attributes are cognitive or developmental, others are physical.  These folks give me perspective, and have allowed me to see the beauty, and completeness, in each of God’s creations.  A popular perspective in the Christian community is that we have been created by God, and God doesn’t make mistakes.  Therefore, each of us has been created exactly the way He would have us be.

The final straw in ending my blogging sabbatical was while reading my textbook for Developmental Psychology.  In a particular chapter of my text there was an abundant use of the phrase “abnormal child”.  Truly this brought tears to my eyes.  What level of education must one receive … what knowledge must one possess to define a person as normal and abnormal.  What attributes assure us that we are “normal”, and what characteristics must we be plagued with to be defined as “abnormal”.  Now I get what they are saying.  I know what is intended.  There is no value between one person versus another implied, but gosh darned it, there is.  In what world is being abnormal OK?  I get that there are characteristics and attributes that most of us illustrate, and when we veer from this typical development we are different … we are unique.

The question comes however, to what degree do we choose to value these unique attributes.  Elizabeth Taylor was considered astoundingly beautiful in part because of her unique, violet eyes.  While this attribute was unique, would we have ever defined this Hollywood movie star as abnormal based on this physical attribute?  We regularly idolize folks with unusual strength, height and intelligence.  Each of these individuals representing attributes that are unique and not typical.  However, when we see a child with a severe physical developmental differences … a child who learns atypically … a child with severe cognitive differences – why are these folks typed as “abnormal.”  I would argue that each of these folks presents unique qualities that make them uniquely able to see and do things a way that is different from the norm.  This makes them special, not “special”.

As a corollary to this is the idea that somehow if you look the same, think the same and act the same as others you are “normal”.  The truth is, you are not.  And ask any teenager (ideally between the ages of 14 and 16) and they will tell you you don’t want to be normal, typical  or average.  The one thing my textbook did get right is each of us is a unique creation.  By definition then there is no such thing as normal.  Each of the attributes we have been born with are designed to equip us to fulfill the calling we have on our life.  We are all a collection off strengths and weaknesses.  There is no one that is mostly weak, nor anyone who is mostly strength.  We all possess a balance of both, and what sets us apart is what we do with each of these.

At different times each of my four children have had an easier time than others in “fitting in”, and each of them have had their moment to be “abnormal”.  The truth of the matter is that I would hate to think of them as a clone of normal, or to suppose that there was nothing unique and set apart about them.  While no mother of a “disabled” child is able to disregard their unique medical, developmental or educational needs, they cannot be beaten down by a culture and a society that defines their child through a list of limitations.  We as a culture and a society need to learn to embrace the unique qualities individual possess, and empower parents to become the force that opens doors and sends their child forth into the world to answer their unique call.

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