My son is an extraordinary person. I suppose most, if not all, parents are entitled to that view, even after we discover that what makes our child extraordinary also makes other children so. Apparently, collective extraordinariness does not delete individual extraordinariness. At least, not to parents. I say that my son is extraordinary because of his wild imagination, creative skills, kindhearted nature, and intuitive abilities. Yes, your child is like this too.
Despite how amazing my son is, I am often tough on him. I push him to speak his mind, own his voice, think outside the box, and to question everything, especially me and his own beliefs. I get on his case whenever he claims things as facts and defends them with statements like, “Well, daddy, that’s what people at church say.” Those are moments when I unleash my inner professor and lecture him about finding things out for himself instead of simply accepting what others say. Poor guy.
In my regular interactions with my son, I do not consider that he is 11-years-old, small in size for his age, and lives with cerebral palsy. At least, I do not consider those realities until someone asks about his age, or we are out in public and people stare at him because he walks in a stiff and unstable way, and talks slower than them and with an obvious strain in his voice. For those brief moments, when people inquire about him with their words or their stares, I see him through their eyes as someone who is different and needs special attention. I wonder, though, could others, the world, ever see him through my eyes as someone who is incredibly capable, independent, smart, observant, creative, and very funny. (He is a prankster).
I realize that when we encounter difference, it is an opportunity to expand our horizons (of understanding and knowing). When people stare at my son, or ask, “What’s wrong with him?” my defenses, understanding, ignorance, knowledge, and curiosity meet theirs. They want to know and understand. I want to defend my son and my parenting, but I also want to learn about them and their curiosity. New and expanded understanding and knowledge could emerge when curiosities meet. That possibility excites me.
Encountering difference represents a hidden treasure that we must mine with humility, dialogue, and openness. The treasure contains the most beautiful gems that reveal our humanity and interconnectedness.
When I see people staring at my son, I notice that I become softer and more curious about him. I do not lose my push and support for him to realize his highest and best self. However, I am reminded that there is always plenty more room for compassion, patience, and connection.
Let us stand and observe the world together, naming and honoring our mutual curiosities, defenses, and differences.