Yesterday at Costco Wesley walked along pushing the cart. We began to pass a man who had what appeared to be a child, perhaps 6 or 7, sleeping in the cart when he suddenly stopped to engage Wesley. With a gigantic smile, he held out his fist to give him knuckles.

“Hi buddy!” he said as if he knew Wes.

Wes happily obliged in giving him knuckles.

“How are you?” he said with his smile getting even bigger.

He looked at me, “How old is he?”

“He’s 21,” I told him.

He pointed to his son in the cart. “He is 18!”

I walked over to say hello. He wasn’t a young child. He was a child like ours. He had special needs.

We stood there for a few minutes in the frozen section of Costco. People hurried by as we talked about our boys. It wasn’t about exchanging information. It was about being, even if briefly, with someone who lives in my world.

Their life is as mine. Without being told, I know things about these strangers. I know this man or his wife has a hospital bag in his closet. There sits an already packed bag just in case that fever isn’t just a blip but the start of an extended hospital stay. Their arms are tired every single night from maneuvering their son. I know they hook up a feeding tube to give their child the basic sustenance to live. They try to balance time with the other children but some days they just can’t and it is no one’s fault though it feels as if it should be. They carry the weight of how their children are impacted. Though they will likely grow to be kinder and more compassionate adults, there is still a cost. I look at his beautiful wife whose smile is just as big and know he has a supportive spouse. Their friends try to understand but can’t possibly because they always only pass through.

And I know they have cried over the simplest victory. They celebrate every smile and every laugh. Their life is amplified. They take nothing for granted and lay down each night and thank God for one more day with their son.

Being the parent of a child with special needs is something like being a citizen in a foreign land. You appear to be like everyone else but your culture is different. The way your family eats is not like others. Though you speak the same language, yours includes words and acronyms the others don’t know. Your family can’t attend events unless they intentionally turn down the volume and the house lights are just half dark. Sensory friendly events are few and even fewer are churches to welcome the entire family. Days are filled with vital stats checks and diaper changes and medications. Some nights sleep is regular and others it consists of only two hours. There is no rhyme or reason. It is just how it is.

Complete assimilation just isn’t possible even though you once lived with the same customs your friends luxuriously enjoy. As much as they don’t understand yours, you can no longer imagine life being any other way than how it has become. For it to be any different would mean the worst of nightmares.

But then you see a couple and even though they are strangers, you recognize a familiarity that is not just welcomed. It is sought. They know the words you do. They don’t just sympathize. They empathize because they live there too. The only thing you may have in common with them is that but the weight and joy of that encompasses who you are. So you just stand there for a few moments. You feel your soul relax in a way it only can when you are with fellow inhabitants.

For a fleeting few moments the abnormality of your life isn’t there. You soak in the seconds when abnormal is normal. And you smile and thank these strangers, these co-inhabitants, for stopping to give knuckles to Wesley and a smile to your heart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: