An early draft of my first book about my son’s several heart surgeries, included a chapter of upsetting things people said to me. These comments might be seen as microagression, or I may have just been hypersensitive. My friends whose children are like my son loved that part. People who hadn’t lived through a similar experience were confused. One of those friends asked, “What can we say?”
That question led to a list of supportive things to say and do. Many people told me that was helpful. Since then, however, I’ve seen a ton of blogs and websites promoting, “What not to say,” or “What never to say.” For examples just google those terms. Some of those items are obviously rude, some are micoragressive, and still others are really examples in hyper sensitivity. This “you can’t say that,” movement annoys me and I’m glad I was more positive in my book because I find these lists angry, not helpful.
Recently, I heard a mother say something many mothers say, “You can take my kid.” Other variations are, “You want her?” or “I’ll trade you kids” etc. I understand all of us Moms get stressed at times. Personally, it doesn’t offend me even though I’m unlikely to ever utter those words, even when I’m super stressed.
Is there something wrong with making that joke? No, Moms have been saying it since the dawn of time. It’s like, “Take my wife, please!” I’m sure a widower in the 1950s who heard a comedian say, “Take my wife, please!” probably heard something far less funny than the rest of the audience. The rest of the audience, however, had every right to laugh.
Last night I wondered about all the women who’ve struggled with infertility hearing someone says, “You want him?” about a hyper child. I thought of those of us who live every day worrying about losing our children, who’ve come perilously close to losing them, or worse have lost them. When we hear that, we can’t help but think, “Be very careful what you ask for.”
It’s not that people who say things like that are bad people or even doing anything wrong. It’s more like saying, “I’m feeling blue,” in English means you’re feeling down, but in German, it means you’re stating that you’re a homosexual. It just means something different depending on where you’re from.
Right now, I’m sitting in The Children’s Hospital for a routine appointment, and I’ve seen a dozen kids in wheelchairs and on ventilators, kids with cancer rolling around their IV polls, and a boy who lost the use of his legs in an accident within the last two months and is still in-patient. As a mother, this is where I began, and because of that somethings get lost in translation.
But, that’s OK. That’s just how it is, and I am finally now, after eleven years of this, able to hear someone say, “You can keep my kids,” and not be offended, not be angry, not doubt that mother’s affection for her children. Because, finally, I’m realizing that just because where I come from changes the way I hear things, it doesn’t change the meaning of what a person is saying with her own words. It doesn’t mean she can’t say it.
Yes, it is nice if we can be sensitive to others, but it’s also important for the hypersensitive to understand that not everything is about us, and other people can’t help it if they don’t speak our language. Honestly, the fewer people who know what this is like, to start your parenthood in a place like this, the better. A children’s hospital is the most miraculous place you never want to need.
The next time I hear a parent jokingly give away their child, I won’t think about how scared I am of losing mine, I’ll think of how happy I am that they don’t know any better.