Monday, June 1, 2009

22. Assumptions

Today I read a post on another blog (the fabulous "Finnian's Journey"), and I had so much to say about it that I just decided to address it with a post of my own. The subject: how moms and dads handle strangers' questions about their child's development. You can read the post here.

Last week I had a similar experience. I was talking to someone I had just met, and she was asking about my job and my family – all the routine, small-talk stuff. Eventually the fact that I have a ten-month-old came up in the conversation, and her eyes lit up. And as they did, my tension level began to rise.

Here we go, over the cliff...

"Oh, ten months old. Such a wonderful age! Let's see, I bet he's crawling all over the place by now. Maybe pulling himself up, right?"

If my life was a movie, this scene would have been playing in slow motion. And as she spoke those words, the camera, fixed on my face, would have captured the transition from smile to thousand-yard stare. Because at that moment, my mind was shifting into overdrive. I was playing a mental game of "Choose Your Own Adventure," trying to size her up, trying to decide how much to tell, what to leave out, how to change the subject, and finally, how to end this conversation.

After a pause that was just a little too long, I answered:

"He's working on it."

Exhale.

She said something else about how she loved babies at that age, maybe asked me another question - I don't really remember the details because I had shut down by that point. And here's where being a guy helped quite a bit: I realized that I had just played the "uninterested dad" card, and she had bought it.

End of conversation.

It hurt a little bit, because I know her impression of me was probably not a great one. But in reality, I was operating in survival mode, trying desperately to protect us both from a very uncomfortable exchange. She had no idea how hard I was working to guide her safely through the minefield.

What can anyone learn from this? Well, probably nothing. She didn't do anything wrong. But please be aware that innocent exchanges like these aren't always so innocent to the other player. Your assumptions can actually be really intrusive and really unwelcome.

And that stoic guy with the thousand-yard-stare? He may just be the most loving dad on the planet.

13 comments:

Lisa said...

I love your honesty and eloquence, Dan. It's so cool to get a dad's perspective.

Ruby's Mom said...

Dan I love your blog!I found it through Lisa at Finnian's Journey.

Anna said...

I am finding myself doing the same thing. Telling others excitedly about new daughter to be..... then leaving out the down Syndrome part. I went into this thinking everyone we knew would be so supportive and found out otherwise. The child you are adopting has DS?! Why would you choose this? I try explaining, but after so many look back with glazed eyes I forget what my soul and spirit were beckoning me to do...
Your words sing off the page/ screen!

Lisa Lindsey said...

It is like you are standing on my shoulder at the time I experience those moments... well put, and well played. Although, people tend to be less accepting of the "uninterested mom" card - a bit hard to play that card... but great work in that mine field!

Jen said...

That's a great response. Mind if I borrow it?

Since having my son with DS, I am very conscious of asking questions and making assumptions. You just never know who you're talking to and what their experience has been. I'm glad I am now aware of this, but it sure makes idle chitchat with strangers challenging. Good thing I have always been one to avoid that anyway. :)

jonashpdx said...

Yeah, I'm with Jen -- I've learned through this experience not to set my expectations on anyone else. Now anytime somebody has a new baby, instead of asking if they're doing a specific thing, i just ask what's new.

It is sometimes easier being the dad 'cause you don't get as many of those kinds of questions, I guess... but that's definitely a double-edged sword.

Monica @ Monkey Musings said...

This is how most of us begin our public journey as parents to a child with Ds. As to the "Is he walking yet?" question I get asked all the time, I answer the same as you. "He's working on it." He's 18 months old and surely he would be walking, running, climbing, etc., but for now we're chasing a fast crawler and cruiser and general destroyer of all things paper. Nice blog from a dad's perspective.

Adrienne said...

It really is nice to get a Dad's perspective- thanks for sharing!

Ria said...

Very interesting dad perspective. Thanks for sharing. My husband agrees with your strategy. I too have the same response "He's working on it" or sometimes "He'll get there" then leave it at that.
Today, at the YMCA where I take Matthew for preschool gym, another mom asked me "Is he walking yet?" Matthew was right in front of me on all fours. I didn't take any offense to her innocent question though. Maybe I've gotten used to being asked? And also, I guess a question is different from an assumption "I bet he's....blah" So anyway, I told her he was working on it and told her how he has been pushing his toy shopping cart at home and letting go occasionally, as if testing his own abilities. It was a nice light-hearted conversation. :-)

Hector and Jennifer Varanini Sanchez said...

I have to say that yes, it is SO refreshing to get a dad's perspective. Thank you!!!

Tausha said...

Put so well. My husband just encountered that yesterday, he said, he getting there and walked away feeling exactly how you described it. Good to get a Dad's perspective.

Tricia said...

I think "He's working on it" is a GREAT answer to questions like that! I really do! I mean...he is, right? We ALL are constantly working on it it seems! :)

Perplexing Situation said...

ha, I always wonder who is comfortable with Mar having DS and who is not.