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Talking about Disability, Talking about Ability...

Penny and I went to a birthday party yesterday, and I met another mom. She said, "I have a child with special needs, too." She pointed out the window. "My daughter is ten. She's the one with the walker."

Over the course of the afternoon, I found myself watching this woman's daughter, whom I will call Abigail. Abigail fed herself pizza and meatballs. Abigail's body looked like spaghetti. She could crawl, and walk with the walker, but she couldn't navigate the stairs. I didn't hear her speak more than one syllable, and their meaning was often unclear to me. Abigail was also thin and tall and beautiful, with smooth skin and kind eyes and a gorgeous smile.

And I didn't know what to say.

I wanted to get to know Abigail, and her mom, and yet all I could do was watch and smile. I thought about asking, "What is her diagnosis?" Or, "where is she in school?" Or, "Do you like your therapists?" But all those questions seemed wrong, somehow, focused on figuring out Abigail's "problem."

Driving away, I finally hit upon what I wish I had said. And honestly, what I wanted to know: "What makes Abigail special?" "What are Abigail's greatest strengths?" "What are the things you love most about your daughter?"

Those are the things I want to share about Penny. I'm more than happy to explain her diagnosis, and the fears and questions and concerns it brings. But I'd rather tell stories about her strengths. So, to conclude this post, I'll share one of those:

The birthday party caused Penny to miss her nap, so it was a looooong afternoon. Lots of tears and she bit William and refused to go to the potty and on and on. At the end of the night, in her pink pajamas, hair combed, teeth brushed, she said to me, "Mama go to bed like Penny?"

"No, sweetie, I'm going to stay up a little longer. But then I'm going to bed. Because I'm a sleepy Mama."

She shook her head. "No. A good Mama."

She got a big kiss.

I can only imagine that Abigail's mom could have told me a story like that, on some level, if only I had known how to ask.

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