I recently had the opportunity to participate in the state wide Special Olympics for Utah, specifically the track and field portion. I didn’t go as a parent but as a volunteer and I took my younger son to help me out. I wanted him to see with his own eyes what other families with special needs children looked like. The moment I walked out onto the field I felt as if I had entered a new world. What was most surprising to me was how familiar it all felt. As the parent of a special needs child, you spend a lot of time feeling as though you are in a place you don’t belong. It’s not that others shun me or make fun of my son, though that does happen at times, it’s more that the world around me is not one that I recognize. The typical concerns of a parent are not my own. The worries that are on my plate, are unfamiliar to most I come in contact with. So standing on this field and watching families of special needs children file into the stadium was of particular importance to me. It was so familiar and comforting even though each story was unique and different than my own.
At the beginning, all of the Olympic Athletes paraded down the track so that each team could be celebrated and appreciated for their attendance and their efforts. It was my favorite part. I didn’t just see athletes, I saw families. I saw families who had dedicated their lives to caring for a special needs child. I saw mothers who were so full of love and dedication and fathers filled with pride and appreciation. As I looked in their eyes and heard their cheers, I saw in that brief moment, a whole lifetime of frustration and happiness, worries and triumphs, moments of pain and moments of jubilation but most of all…. I saw pure, honest and sincere love! This day was a day to put all of those things aside and to just celebrate and have fun! My eyes filled with tears watching each athlete walk down the track knowing that each story was special and unique and for just this brief moment in time, I had the privilege of sharing in just a small portion of it.
Though many athletes grabbed my attention, there was one in particular that I won’t forget. Perhaps it’s because he reminded me of my own story though I knew his struggles were more severe than my sons. As he raced down the track and crossed the finish line, I could tell that he gave it his all. He had been practicing for this day for quite some time I’m sure. But things quickly fell apart for him soon after the race was over. Those of us at the end of the finish line, did our best to congratulate and celebrate each athlete as they completed their race. We wanted them to know that their efforts were recognized and appreciated even if they didn’t finish first. This particular gentleman began to celebrate with us by screaming as loud as he could. At first, I thought it was just his celebrations but it became apparent to me that at some point, those celebrations crossed the line into a perseverating routine that couldn’t be stopped. He was met at the gate by an older women who I assumed was his mother. I recognized her look of alarm. She was trying to remain calm but also knew she needed to help him down from this dangerous precipice. For the next 45 minutes, I could hear him continue to scream off in the distance as his mother tried desperately to calm him down. My counter parts assumed that he was just so excited, but I knew. I knew because I saw myself in his mother. It wasn’t fun anymore for him or her, it was that innate instinct to react to his surroundings that had now taken him away for a time. He couldn’t pull himself out of the moment.
As his screaming eventually disappeared from the landscape of people, I wondered about him. Was he able to stop and pull it together, or in the end, did they just have to leave for his sanity. My heart went out to his mother who I know had endured years and years of all of the emotions that go along with a story such as this. I wish that she would have known that I noticed her absence. I noticed her graceful and loving exit from this Olympic stage. I noticed her unending love for a son that would never experience a normal day. I’m confident that she didn’t look at him as a burden to endure or a problem to solve, but rather a son to be loved. That is what I took away from my experience on that day. There are mothers and fathers who diligently work in the shadows, loving a child that is difficult, but loving them fully and completely anyway. They don’t look for praise or acknowledgement but simply do their duty out of a love for their child that runs deep and carries with it the weight of the world. What a wonderful experience to be surrounded by parents such as this, even if only for a day!!
Have you ever experienced what this mother did? Did you feel like nobody noticed?