He'd been packed and ready to go for weeks—just like the chipmunks stockpiling nuts in my flower containers for the winter. Joey was ready to join Aunt Susie at Lakeside for a fun weekend of shuffleboard, relaxation, and fun! In perfect timing, his bedroom was needed for a houseguest. As my daughters and I finished making the bed and putting out fresh towels, everything felt done—until—we burst out laughing! We looked around to realize the guest we’d be welcoming might have been 8 years old! Kathleen noticed it first and threw the 20 miniature POWER RANGERS from the dresser top into the top drawer, Kristina put Raggedy Ann in the closet, I grabbed the flashlight (AKA microphone) of Joey’s and as we exited his room we noticed the little pink pig Joey "keeps" tucked between the iron posts of his bed. WOW! It all seemed ready for our adult guest until we took another glance! It brings a smile to my face and heart—so many things seem normal for us that really aren't to so many others … especially knowing our Joey is nearly 36 years old.
His elementary aged bedroom isn’t normal for an adult but it suits him well. It’s his hide-a-way when things get too noisy. It’s his safe space when he’s “had enough” commotion and company. It’s his place of rest at the end of his busy day. He loves to listen to music, watch movies on his DVD player, and routinely gets out all of his action figures for whatever goes with what he’s watching or listening.
It’s amazing what we get used to and what becomes normal for us. Our lives become so normal in our day-to-day routines, it’s easy to forget how others see things around us … or us. I recall a time our family got on an elevator together—noticing a young man with special needs already inside. We weren’t sure if he talked, so we said hello to see if we could converse, but he just stared. We simply smiled and kept silent at that point. None of us said a word until we were in our hotel room at night and Joey was asleep. We commented how we felt when seeing this young man, and what we were experiencing were what others likely felt and experience when they see Joey. It wasn’t that we felt anything negative; it was just that we felt for the first time what others might feel when they see us. This situation made us realize how a simple smile in our direction takes the sting out of the awkwardness of stares or confusing glances and gives us a chance to engage … and be normal.
I suppose many of us, especially out in public, sense that awkward feeling of not knowing exactly how to embrace some situations—whether it’s another family or our own as we care for one with special needs. There’s always that fine line of embracing a situation warmly and welcomingly or sensing others want their space. No matter which it is, one thing I do know: it is always normal to start with a smile. It puts everything at ease.