Friday, August 24, 2007

Letter to Society

This amazing letter was shared on the Down syndrome List Serve and I had to share it here. It couldn't have come at a more appropriate time for me, as of late, the focus on my staying home and raising my family, especially caring for Emma Sage, has come up in outside social circles. Working Mothers who tell me that they could not wait to go back to work.....and me looking at them with this smile that must express that I just don't understand that need. Anyway.......I found this to be such a powerful letter......and I just had to share.

Letter to Society

Written by Michelle M. Guppy

I thought it was thunder rumbling in those late hours of the night.
The calm, peaceful thunder that keeps you slightly awake, but yet
relaxed enough to still rest, and sleep.

But when the wee hours of the morning came, that thunder became not so
peaceful. Clanging and banging, but not in the rhythmic smooth way
that thunder is. That's when I knew it wasn't thunder. It must be
my son. He's up again. I tried to ignore the sounds, thinking they
would stop. I was so tired.. Weeks in the summer when school is out
can seem like months when you cannot find attendant care. But, the
mommy alarm in me wouldn't let me ignore it for too long. What if
he's wet. dirty.. hurt. Then, as I lay there longer still, I became
angry. Why me. Why again. Why not wait and see if my husband gets
up to check..

That made me angrier. Knowing that really, even though my husband
does his share, I should get up and do all that needs to be done,
because my husband has an important job to go to early in the morning.
He has responsibilities, meetings. A paycheck to earn. He must be
fresh to do a good job, so he can keep his job. Me, I don't have a
job, at least not one I get paid to do or can get fired from. I stay
home and care for my son and my family. I don't have to clock in. I
don't even have to get dressed.

And apparently, I don't have to sleep either.

So it was with that anger, (and perhaps a bit of self-pity), that I
trudged upstairs to my son's bedroom to see why he was awake. I
didn't need to turn on lights, I could follow the banging and clanging
of toys being thrown, a bed being jumped on. And by the aroma that
met me when I opened the door, I didn't need lights to tell me the
reason why my son was up clanging and banging.

So in the dark I changed my son so I wouldn't disturb the rest of the
family. I perhaps grumbled too loud as I tried to maneuver a diaper
on and off in the dark. I perhaps grabbed a stray arm that was in the
way of me cleaning him, a bit firmer than necessary. And when
diapers were changed, clothes changed, and sheets were changed, and he
went back to banging and clanging, I know that perhaps I said to him
way too angrily, "Go to bed!."

I'm not sure when he finally did go back to bed, but the next morning
at 9:30am when I was to pick up my other son from swim practice, he
was still sound asleep. He looked so peaceful, so sweet. Nothing
like what I heard just a few hours earlier. The guilt was quite a
mouthful as I recalled what I was thinking about him in having to be
up most of the night because of him. I hated to wake him up, but knew
I couldn't leave him to sleep while I went. So I woke him. Once
downstairs he was confused as to why he was turning to go outside to
the car, instead of in my bedroom to the tub, his normal routine when
he wakes up.

As I drove to the pool, I was now mad at myself, and not him. Mad
that I was mad about having to get up at night. Mad about being tired
all morning; and even madder that I had no one I could call to stay
with him when I have to leave - or just to give me a break now and
then. I was mad that my back still hurt after two weeks of pain. I
guess a decade of bending and changing and chasing and dressing had
started to take its toll. Along with nearing forty, adding ten extra
pounds; not to mention the lack of exercise because of taking no time
for myself, even when I have it to take. Too many other more
important things to do.

Then I happened to look in the mirror . Not the rear view mirror, but
the special mirror I have attached to my rear view mirror. The one
that allows me to watch my son like a hawk while I'm driving. So I
can see and hopefully dodge a drink he has launched my way. So I can
see when he's escaped from his seat belt and can pull over before he
gets to the front seat and grabs the wheel.

What I saw in that mirror humbled me.

I saw a little boy with blonde hair, sleepy eyes, and disheveled hair.
I saw my child in pajama bottoms that were inside out and backwards
because I had hastily dressed him in the dark in the middle of the
night. I saw a man, with a man's body, in a sleeveless t-shirt. A
man I admired and who was worthy and deserving of my respect. I saw a
child who tries so hard to navigate a world he doesn't understand, and
that doesn't understand him.

I saw my child who could not talk and who has autism, sitting there as
pure and vulnerable and as sweet and as innocent as a human being
could possibly be.

And I saw the real reason for my anger.

It wasn't the little boy in the back of the van sweetly grinning and
swaying his head to the beat as a song he likes came on. It wasn't
the little boy who couldn't sleep last night because he was wet.

It was society.

It was how society had slowly eroded my sense of self worth into
thinking that it was a burden to care for or clean up after someone
else. That the job of doing that, wasn't worthy of respect or an
honest wage. It was those subtle messages I am exposed to each and
every day, that say that to be worthy, you have to be beautiful,
perfect, smart, rich. I am none of those things in the world's eyes.
It was those messages I am exposed to everyday that say that I must
be self-sufficient and have a career. A title. A degree. The more
initials after my name, the more important I become and the more pay I
earn. I have neither, and get paid nothing. So what does all that
make me, or the job I do at home?

It was those messages that if you do have some sort of specialized
training or position, that you have to do something the world deems
worthy with it. I did go through a policymaking class that trains
you how to be a professional advocate. I am a part of an important
state agency council. But am burdened that because I have no help in
caring for my son, that the training and position is going to waste
because I am not able to go out in the world and put that training to
use. All I can do is stay home and feed, change, and clean up after.
No traveling to important places to work on important policies to
help pass important laws. No, the most important thing I do each day
is to remember to lock all the doors in my house so my child doesn't
run away or flood the bathrooms.

And it was that knowledge that had built up, that made me feel the
angry way I did in the middle of the night as I changed yet another
diaper, yet another set of pajamas, and yet another set of sheets; in
caring for my son. It was that knowledge that had built up that made
me wonder if that is all I would ever get to do. And if so, was it
worth it?

I was sad at how society places value and worth on so many other
things, except those things or people that matter most.

I was sad at how the jobs where you care for others, are the most
underpaid, understaffed, and ill-supervised.

I was sad at how society teaches that no, it's not worth it.

I was sad that at the realization that I had become a part of that

I was so consumed with finding someone to help me care for my son so I
could go out in the real world and get a "real job", a "real paycheck"
and do "really worthy things", that I saw caring for my own son as a
job that didn't matter. And by seeing what I did as just a job that
didn't matter - the person I was working for, my son, became an
object. One that didn't matter. One that had no feelings. By falling
into that trap, I understood why there was abuse in state schools,
nursing homes, and institutions. Some there probably felt as I felt.
That their job didn't matter. They were working for clients or
consumers, and not people. So what if they talked to them rudely. It
was just a client, not a person. So what if they moved an arm out of
the way bit rough. It just belonged to a consumer, not a person. So
what if they made them lay there wet or soiled a little longer..
After all, it was the middle of the night, who would know? Who would

I do.

And my Legislator should. My state should, and my federal government

And above all, society must.

I am not angry anymore, I am humbled.

At how God used my son, the least of these in the worlds eyes, to
teach me a most valuable lesson that all the beautiful, smart, rich,
degreed, important, initialed people in this world, could not ever
have taught me.

He taught me that all I have to do to define worth, is to look in the
special rear-view mirror of my car - and see what is worthy in God's
eyes. To see what's beautiful, rich, and intelligent in God's eyes.
My son's worth is that he is simply a child of God. Not enabled, not
disabled. Just a child. An individual. My worth is further defined
by knowing that in loving and respecting that individual that God
thought important enough to create, I am doing what is most important
in God's eyes as well.

Caring for him.
And that is something I will never let society take away from me again.

Yes my son, if caring for you is all I ever get to do, it is worth
it; and I'm honored to do it.

Please forgive me for the times I ever felt otherwise.

Written by Michelle M. Guppy
For all the Brandon's of the world and those who care for them .......


Laura Q said...

WOW TM, that was incredible!

How thought provoking. Thank you for sharing.

Call me when you get back from FL, we really need to have an IRL! Miss you and good luck to Katrina!

Kari said...

Thanks so much TM. I am sitting here crying really hard right now. But a good cry. I recently have been extremely frustrated as I cannot find proper child care and have been angry. As a single Mom I need the income. I also want to work again (in a nursing home) and feel like I may never get back there. Reading this has given me alot to think about.