Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lisa's Mom

You know how you smell vanilla and suddenly remember your Grans kitchen?

Or you see a robin at your feeder and suddenly remember looking out your gradeschool window?

Or you hear the theme song to "The Young and the Restless" and suddenly remember Lisa's mom?

Years ago I used to consult to a variety of agencies and families in a small community north of Toronto. I had the luxury of scheduling my own appointments and sometimes that kind of flexibility leads to temptation. I yeild to temptation for what is temptation for? Lisa's mom, I discover is a devoted fan of the Young and the Restless and popular North American day time soap opera. "Me too!" I said excitedly after she told me that the time I'd offered to meet conflicted with her "soap".

Problem was, that was the only time I had that week. She asked shyly, "Well, we could watch the programme together and talk during the commericals." That started a set appointment that I was not late for and did not cancel for just over two years. Lisa had a fairly serious problem behaviour and we talked and strategized during the commercials - in truth I think Lisa's mom liked the company as much as the consultation.

One day when I arrived the television wasn't on and Lisa's mom was busy in the kitchen. "It's just you and me this week," she said, "the programme has been cancelled today."


"The US president has a press conference or something."

"Damn him!" We both laughed.

"Can I ask you something?" she asked. I could tell that she was worried about something.


"Have you always been ... you know?" She couldn't even look at me.

"Fat?" I finished her sentence.

"No, no, I meant 'big'."

"Listen, I don't mind the word fat. I am fat. Really fat, truth be told. It's OK. But the answer to your question is, yes. I've been ... um ... big ... since I was a kid."

Suddenly she started crying and saying, "Sorry, sorry, sorry."

I had no idea what was wrong. It's best when people are upset to let them be upset. Why say, "It'll be OK" when you don't know what "it" is or that it indeed will be "OK".

Finally she finished and said that she wanted to talk to be about how people always stare at Lisa. She said that at first, when Lisa was a baby people didn't really notice she had Down Syndrome but now it was obvious and people stared all the time. Made comments to one another - some even pointed.

"I've had to fight with my family, fight with the school, fight with the neighbours. All it seems I'm doing any more is fighting for Lisa. And I don't mind. But the fights kind of gone out of me these last couple of years. I don't want to fight everyone, everything, I don't want to have to be grateful for what others take for granted. And I don't want to start fearing taking Lisa out because I can't cope with what she can't see."

"And you want to know how I cope with it."


"It's fairly simple," but my eyes welled up with tears, "but I don't often talk about it."

Now she was apologetic and wanted to back away from the conversation.

"No, it's a good question."

Pause, not for drama but for breath.

"I cope because someone loves me." There it was said. "I'm not alone in the world."

I looked at Lisa's mom and continued, "Have you ever made it through a difficult time only because someone loved you and believed in you?

She nodded.

"That's the power of love. But I'm not saying that you don't talk to Lisa about being different and don't talk about people staring. Of course you talk to her, let her know that people will react to her difference but that difference isn't wrong."

"That seems too simple."

"Listen I grew up in a family that was ashamed of me. Fat. Clumbsy. Stupid. Those were the words I heard as a kid. Sometimes, even now, when I'm not on guard, I still call myself those names. Childhood was torture. I spent all my time wanting to be something else, something approved of ... but I didn't know how to not be 'me'. Even when I tried faking it, I faked it wrong. I hated life and I was caught. I hated leaving the house and being public but I hated being home and being glared at. There was no where safe."

"What happened."

"When I was sixteen, I met someone who loved me. My world changed - I didn't have to be different anymore. It might have been the most powerful thing that's ever happened to me."

"But I do love her. I can't believe how much."

"Don't just show her, tell her. Let her know, down deep, that she's truly loved."

"And she'll make it?"

"I have."

Years later I was doing a series of relationship training classes and there came Lisa through the door. She didn't remember me but greeted me warmly anyways. I sent a note home with her to her mother.

"Do you still watch 'The Young and the Restless?'"

I got a note back, "Do you remember the day that it was cancelled?"

I did.


Belinda said...

The power of being believed in is huge, as is the power of being loved.

Believing in someone--or someone believing in you is the stuff of miracles.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave-I too never really matched up to the expectations of a demanding world. When I was a child, I wasn't fat but I was loud. And not afraid to(or to stupid not to be)funny and to speak my mind. At 10 and 11 years old and not quite like the rest-we were poor so the clothes didn't work either-I quickly realized that who I was was who they were glad they weren't.Now, my dad didn't like me either, and my mum was too busy so really the only one believing in me was me. And boy did I! I looked in the mirror and I couldn't believe the other kids couldn't see what I could see. I knew my "magic" was subtle(don't laugh those of you who know me-I was just a kid, my charm was more subtle then) not like the in-your-face confidence I exude now. But I knew it was there. I had such a superiority complex that didn't make me snobby-others were too busy oppressing me to let me be a snob-it just got me through my childhood. And now, I have friends, husband, family and church that think I'm just as great as I think I am. That sounds preposterous, I know, but maybe it was just the hand of God all along telling me " I made you.You are special." I think it was.Glad you're happy, Dave and that you made it. You could say you made it big!Frances

Ashley's Mom said...

Good morning Dave. As I drove into work this morning, I was thinking very similar thoughts to what you related for Lisa's Mom. I plan to write on my blog later today about those feelings, but like Lisa's Mom, I really, really tired. Tired of the school battles, the medical battles, the fight for appropriate services. I'm tired of having to justify my daughter's existence and my actions to support her. I will not, of course, ever stop fighting for those things that are her right and are best for her, but sometimes the exhaustion hits my body, my mind, and my heart like a logging truck. Today is one of those days, and soon, I need to write about it. Writing is my therapy...

Diana Santoro said...

I just wanted to say that this *rocked my world* and I won't soon forget it. My son has Down syndrome and this was the perfect way to follow up on World DS Day, which was yesterday. Thank you.

Maggie said...

Dear Dave,
I know just how Lisa's mum feels. When people stare at my daughter with DS and smile I can cope but when they just stare I get angry and sometimes I don't cope. I know it is human nature to stare at things that may look different to what we "normally" see but it is amazing what a difference a smile can make. Thanks for shring your great thoughts with all of us.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave-I too have not always measured up to the expectations of this world. When I was a child a doctor suggested to my mom that she might want to put me in an institution, why; because I wasn't developing normally. I was also suggesed that I would never compete highschool or even go to college. Well I am a college Alumni and I also have My Developmental Services Worker Diploma. You know I don't think I would have gotten this far if it wasn't for my mom and my determination to prove to everyone wrong. Tracie