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Sunday, October 19, 2008

It Doesn't Take a Saint

I was having lunch with a colleague of mine. We started talking about our kids. I mentioned that Ellie was doing really well in school and that we were really happy about it because she has come so far. They agreed and nodded and then said, "You're a saint."

I said, "No, NO! Definitely not. Ellie's a great kid, probably a lot easier to deal with than a lot of kids."

But ya know, I wish I had said something more to the point like, 

"Do you really think you have to be a saint to love your own child if they happen to be disabled?"

And then, in an ideal world, I would have quietly waited for their answer. I am sorry I didn't have it together to say that instead of babbling like I did.

Because isn't that what that comment means? You're a saint because only a saint could love someone who is imperfect or drools or is just basically in that other category most people don't like to think about. Like you have to be Mother Theresa or something (no offense to Mother T.) but jeez!

I remember one of the other mom bloggers writing about that. But this is the first time it was ever said to me. It just seemed so out of context. One minute we were talking about our kids, the next I was defending my child's loveableness.

So for the record - it doesn't take a saint to love Ellie. Not even close.


Lisa said...

I know this isn't quite the same, but I've heard the "you're a saint" term when I was a special ed. teacher. And yes, it is really annoying.

Ellie is awesome. Anyone who thinks you have to have special saintly powers to love her is missing out.

Anonymous said...

I get the same thing. ugh. anne

Marie said...

Devils advocate, don't shoot me :)

Sometimes I think people just don't know the right thing to say. She was probably just trying to acknowledge that she thinks you are doing a great job in what she sees as more difficult circumstances than her own. I am sure she never meant that you would have to be a saint to love Ellie. If she did she is one nasty person.

Kathryn said...

Marie - I don't in any way shape or form believe that my friend was being malicious at all. BUT it does show a certain degree of ignorance - a certain degree of separation. If a mother of a healthy, typical child says something like, oh, Johnny is doing way better, he was having a hard time but now it's better, no one would ever reply - gee you're a saint for seeing him through it.

It was upsetting my friend said this because it revealed that under it all they could not really relate to me - or thought that they couldn't . And that's the hard thing about raising a kid with disability. For everyone who is not in that world to see your kid -for the beautiful person they are- they have to get over their own preconceived notions that they have of disability. And it is hard sometimes to come up against that wall when you didn't think it was there. And there is the unconscious pity aspect that my friend might pity me - which is equally difficult.

So no, it don't think this person has any mal-intent - but I wrote the post to point out that it's just one of the ways ignorance of minority groups come across. And had I been a really good advocate for my disabled child, I could have very gently but much more powerfully addressed and maybe cleared up some of this ignorance in my friend. As it was I probably just reinforced their subconscious assumption that my life is so much harder than theirs and that whole thing.

Words matter but so does where one's heart for sure and I know my friend has a very good heart. That's not the point.

Chrystie said...

Oh, Kathryn, I sooo get it!

I also find myself concerned that my friends will become scared to say ANYTHING to me, because whatever comes out of their mouths seems to be the *wrong* thing. It's a hard position. I want my peeps to be sensitive yet real and comfortable.

Personally, I think you're a saint, but that has nothing to do with Ellie's (dis)abilities. You care about other people, you've reached out to strangers (me!), and you love your family. That's saint-like enough for me! :-)

Eithne said...

Hi Kathryn

I can see both sides here. People have often said similar things to me, and I hate it and have reacted to it the same way you do. It makes me feel very separate from those who have typical kids, and it makes me want to defend my son etc. But, when I read your blog, and others, I really admire everything you do, your competence, the courage you have, the knowledge you've acquired, your ability to advocate for your child. I think most people have this in them, because of course, every parent would do as you have done given the same set of circumstances. But not everyone gets the opportunity. So I think calling you a saint is just a clumsy way of admiring how beautifully you have risen to the occasion.


Paula said...

by Erma Bombeck

Most women become mothers by accident, some by choice, a few by social pressures, and a couple by habit. This year, nearly 100,000 women will become mothers of handicapped children. Did you ever wonder how mothers of handicapped children are chosen?

Somehow I visualize God hovering over Earth selecting His instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. As He observes, He instructs His angels to make notes in a giant ledger.

"Armstrong, Beth, son. Patron saint, Matthew.

"Forrest, Marjorie, daughter. Patron saint, Cecelia.

"Rudledge, Carrie, twins. Patron saint... give her Gerard. He's used to profanity."

Finally, he passes a name to an angel and smiles, "Give her a handicapped child."

The angel is curious. "Why this one, God? She's so happy."

"Exactly," smiles God. "Could I give a handicapped child a mother who does not know laughter? That would be cruel."

"But has she patience?" asks the angel.

"I don't want her to have too much patience or she will drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wears off, she'll handle it.

"I watched her today. She has that feeling of self and independence that is so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I'm going to give her has his own world. She has to make it live in her world and that's not going to be easy."

"But Lord, I don't think she even believes in you."

God smiles. "No matter. I can fix that. This one is perfect. She has just enough selfishness."

The angel gasps, "Selfishness? Is that a virtue?"

God nods. "If she can't separate herself from the child occasionally, she'll never survive. Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn't realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a 'spoken word'. She will not consider a 'step' ordinary. When her child says 'Momma" for the first time she will be present at a miracle and know it! When she describes a tree or a sunset to her blind child, she will see it as few people ever see my creations.

"I will permit her to see clearly the things I see... ignorance, cruelty, prejudice...and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life because she is doing my work as surely as she is here by my side."

"And what about her patron saint?" asks the angel, his pen poised in midair.

God smiles. " A mirror will suffice."

Instead of Saint, your friend should of said, a good mother. Not everyone can be a good mother.

Bird said...

You know, I know just what you mean. People say stuff and I know it's a compliment about parenting the un-typical, but somehow it doesn't sound quite right either. I try to just take the compliment because I'm glad that they are talking to me and that I am comfortable enough to even talk about Charlie stuff with them. Some people I just don't even know what to say, so I say little.

Angela said...

I get "I don't know how you do it" even from my closest friends...and I never have anything smart to say. I know they aren't being mean -- but it hurts thinking they think my life with Jack is something so hard or horrible that they could not imagine "doing it."

I am sorry you had one of these moments...and I hope it's the last one. (((hugs)))

Catherine said...

They say the same about me because I have 5 boys. Not because they are hard to love; most mothers love their kids. It's because of the work! You've done a lot for and with Ellie. More than what many moms do with ANY child. That is what makes you the saint.

Rob at Kintropy said...

It's not sainthood; it's parenthood, right?

I've heard similar things when we're discussing our kids with other parents. As they start to hear our story, particularly as the surgeries, PT, OT, and other things work into the conversation, we usually hear, "How do you manage it all?"

My usual response is, "It's a lot of work raising two kids."

I know what they mean, but my passive/aggressive answer is something of a redirect, too.

Lori said...

Heck, I love Ellie and I have never even met her! She is darn easy to love! :)

Honestly though, I think sometimes it requires a bit of saintly like behavior on my part to love my own three kids at times. Well, not love. I don't know that your friends meant love. What it is is an ability to set aside your own needs and agendas for the benefit of someone else who may or may not (most likely may not) appreciate your sacrifice. But, then again, that's parenthood. For everybody.

Kathryn said...

Great discussion everyone. Pam - Erma's thoughts on this made me burst into tears as I was in a cab heading toward an executive leadership training I was conducting. Note to self - don't read blog comments on the way to work.

I'm not sure what to add except thanks for the hugs Angela. I guess this is why I blog, though I am sure I am talking to the converted. ;-)

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

I have no idea how I got to your blog I was researching MBT and RYN shoes--
that being said, I started reading.
Love your blog, and wanted to tell you that the "You're a saint." remark was so bizarre and idiotic it's just baffling.