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?
"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."
"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?"
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?"