Friday, January 5, 2018

You're Just Saying That

Recently family members convened at my parent's house for a birthday celebration. The birthday we were there to celebrate was that of Frank, boyfriend of my youngest sister Claire.

As is tradition for all birthdays in our family, at some point during dinner we go around the table and everyone says something we love or appreciate about the birthday person.

When my turn came I knew exactly what I wanted to say; "I really appreciate you Frank because I remember noticing very early on when you started spending time around our family that you seemed to make a point of interacting with Julia.  I watched you seek her out on your own and spend time getting to know her - and that really meant a lot to me."

Frank smiled and replied, "I have to be honest, when Claire and I first started talking and she told me about Julia, her niece with special needs who was the 'best thing' that had ever happened to your family, I didn't really believe her. I thought that was just what people who have kids with special needs in their family say - what they are supposed to say about it - but that they don't really feel that way."

The table was silent as we all took in what he had just said.  We felt a little surprised and curious about this perspective we hadn't ever considered.

We DO really mean it, we aren't just saying that...

Frank continued, "But after just a few weeks of spending time around Julia and with your family, it's like Julia opened my eyes to something I had never experienced before and wouldn't have been able to understand without experiencing it. I realized pretty quickly that this isn't something you are just saying because you are supposed to - but you really mean it when you say she is the best thing."

All I could do was smile at Frank, blink in my tears, and soak in his words.

I DO really mean it, I'm not just saying that...

But if I am honest, I probably thought the same thing Frank did prior to having Julia; that saying a child with special needs is the "best thing' is just what people say, it's the right thing to say, it's what people are supposed to say - you put on a good front and make the best of a bad situation, but we all know, you don't really mean it.

And then I had Julia - and she introduced me to a part of the human experience I had not known before, and in doing so she changed me for the better.  What I may not have believed before, she made believable.  Through her I learned that the families who rejoice over having a child with special needs are not putting on a front and are not just saying what they are supposed to say. This child they've been given is not even close to being considered a bad situation to make the best of, this child they've been given is their greatest gift. An unexpected gift, yes, but a potentially the best gift ever - if they are willing to open it.

I hope everyone gets the chance Frank did, to come face to face with a Julia and experience for themselves what families like ours mean when we say our kiddo is the best thing that's ever happened to us.

In the meantime though, you will have to trust me that I'm not just saying it.

Julia and Frank