Thursday, March 3, 2011

Looking in Their Eyes

Her eyes are wide set, and her head comes to an unusual peak. Her mouth gapes slightly as she walks on her knees and drags her limp feet behind her. I smile warmly at her and wave a little. Her face shines excitedly at my greeting--that is all the answer she knows how to give. "Look, Emma," I say, loud enough for the other girl's grandmother to hear, "look at that pretty little girl! She is about your age. Go and say 'hi' to her." Emma cheerfully goes and utters robotically, "Hi, my ay ih Eh-uh (Hi, my name is Emma)," which is all the greeting she knows how to give. The girls understand each other perfectly. The grandmother smiles and tells Emma, "Her name is Kylie."

Just beyond our group sits a family with a baby girl in a car seat. The entire left side of her face is swollen with a large red birthmark. Another boy waits on his mother's knee with a forehead enlarged enough to seem more at home in a science fiction movie. In the open hallway behind our chairs they go by: a boy strapped into a wheelchair, blankly staring at the ceiling; tiny triplets in their elongated stroller; a little girl in a gown clutching her blanket tightly; and the tired, journey-weary parents who care for all these children.

In a stroller sits a baby boy with curly blond hair and a face that cannot hide his brain's impairment. He shakes the small, yellow maraca in his hand and smiles with his entire body at the delightful noise he has made. I look into those shining grey eyes and let my face mirror his excitement, "Do you have a maraca?!" I ask. "We got maracas at our last appointment here too!" His mother's face brightens and we talk about her son as if his very obvious differences didn't register at all in my mind. His mother knows I understand because I sit in this waiting room with my own three girls. We are all here for the same reason.

I walk the halls of the children's hospital often. I know the heartbreak, the worry, the weariness; and I know that nothing refreshes my spirit more than for a stranger to look beyond my child's differences and see their beauty; to look into their eyes and speak to them as if they were any other child at the park that day. So when my instinct wants to stare and "politeness" tells me to look away, I stoop down and look into their eyes. I smile and talk about their pretty eyes, or pink pigtails, or gorgeous curls, or the stuffed animal in their hand. I smile at their parents and we chat like any two mothers in the grocery store.

"Mommy, I'm dying of hunger, and I need to have my ultrasound right now!" Hannah interrupts as I talk with Kylie's grandmother.

"I'm sorry," I apologize to the grandmother, "we've had a very long day." I speak with Hannah a moment then venture to share some of our story. "Naomi and Emma had MRI's at 8:00 this morning," I say, gesturing to the bright pink bandages around their hands where their IV's had been, "and, Hannah, here, is having trouble waiting for her ultrasound." The grandmother nods, but I can tell she is wondering. "They have cystic kidneys and liver fibrosis," I offer, "Hannah's getting a screening ultrasound because her doctor thought her liver felt a little enlarged."

And now the grandmother's eyes are sad, she nods again and offers her own story, "Well, Kylie is the result of a shaken baby. She's been in foster care with my daughter since she was three months old, and they're in the process of adopting her now." We are no longer two strangers chatting like any other moms, the bond now is much stronger. Empathy and encouragement flow across that bond without any further words. We need to be moving to our next appointment, but I offer the most encouraging words I can to Kylie's grandmother, the words that warm my heart and the hearts of all parents who have children with special challenges, "She is really beautiful."

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