My son, Joe, is 3 years old. He laughs a lot, loves a good book, and could listen to Bob Marley
all day. He’s a picky eater, but a great sleeper. He exudes charm and sweetness, and I’m not
just saying that because he’s mine.
He is also developmentally delayed. Global developmental delay is what they call it, meaning
that he’s well behind his peers in every area they test for these things. At 3, he’s just starting to
take his first tentative steps, can’t yet feed himself, and has yet to utter his first word.
Usually there’s an explanation for this—premature birth, brain injury, maybe a genetic
syndrome. Joe was definitely not premature, and his tests for everything else came back
normal. So we just call it Joe syndrome, or excessive cuteness syndrome. He’s in a great
special-education preschool, and gets multiple therapies each week to help him become the
very best Joe he can be.
I can go all day without thinking about Joe’s delays, but there are moments when I realize how
different he is from his peers. And I see the mothers of those peers notice it, too: I’ll catch a long
stare at the playground, or overhear part of a hushed question at a birthday party, maybe get an
oddly rueful smile from someone as we pass in the mall.
Here’s what I want those mamas to know:
1. It’s OK (great, even!) for your kids to ask questions about my child, if they notice
something different and are genuinely curious. I have rehearsed all kinds of kid-friendly
explanations for glasses, nonverbal communication, etc. Give me a chance to use them,
and let your kids learn something!
2. I still have a lot of “typical” mothering experiences to share. Pregnancy, childbirth, sleep
drama, teething … I went through all of these like most mamas, so when you have
questions about them, don’t ask every mother at the table except me. If it’s something I
don’t have advice about, I’ll let you know.
3. No pity, please. Don’t give me the sad-clown face when you ask about my son —he’s
making great progress, and we have lots to brag about! Yes, there are hard parts, but
they are completely outweighed by good stuff. No one wants condolences for who their
kid is; congratulations are always more in order.
4. The worst question: “They didn’t test for that when you were pregnant?” Well no, they
still haven’t come up with a test that explains his issues, but what are you saying? That if
they’d told me who I was getting, I should have quit and started over? I asked for a child
and I got one. That’s a win.
5. Please, please, please think twice before saying things like “Gah, my 3-year-old will
not SHUT UP” or “I swear, I wish my daughter was still just crawling.” You’re talking to someone who would love to see her child walk and talk— don’t wish it away from yours.
And definitely don’t joke, “You’re so lucky that he can’t walk, hahaha!” (Yes, that was actually said to me.)
Even if my child is different from yours, they probably have a ton of things in common. (Read that first paragraph again!) That means you and I do, too. Be sensitive, but please don’t avoid or pity us.
As Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”