My husband and I ate dinner last night at Ikea with my folks and my little sister, Janny. It turns out that Ikea, of all places, is Janny’s favorite place to eat dinner. She was in a relatively good mood last night, especially when she got to eat Ikea’s beloved chocolate cake for dessert. Janny will do anything to be able to eat chocolate cake, which is always a bonus for my mom (who will sometimes use that to leverage good behavior from her). It works most of the time, and last night was no exception. However, going places with Janny is always a risk. You never know when she might throw a tantrum over the smallest thing or say something inappropriate to someone. By inappropriate, I mean patting the belly of large woman in her 60’s, and asking “Baby?” Some might laugh at this assumption, but I assure you that this particular woman did not. She’s learned not to pat people’s bellies over the years, but other bad habits she’s picked up have just stuck. I’ve learned over the years that going places with Janny can sometimes be an adventure, other times a complete disaster.
Janny can never go anywhere without talking to at least five strangers, and last night was another example of that. As we were finishing up our meal, the two of us left the table to use the restroom. As we were returning, there was a woman walking with a significant limp in front of us. My mind started to move into gear as I realized that Janny would try to say something to the woman. I’ve learned from prior experiences that she always wants to talk to people who walked, looked or talked differently. I immediately tried to distract Janny and to walk the opposite direction as I knew she would make a bee-line for the woman. It turned out I was too slow. Janny raced off and when she reached her, she put her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Help you?” She asked the woman. The woman stopped and looked at her. It was obvious the woman was having a little trouble with walking but she was there with her family and didn’t really need “help.” I butted in, as usual, to try to smooth the situation over. I never knew how people were going to react. Some people feel blessed by Janny’s attempts to “help” them, others feel insulted. “Come on, Janny, let’s go!” I said as I tugged on her arm, prying her away from the lady. By then, the woman seemed to have realized that this short, red headed girl who also walked with a slight limp was trying to “help her.” She told Janny, “Oh no, I’m fine sweetie. I just had back surgery.” I sighed a sigh of relief. We had made it without offending her. Janny wanted to say more but I quickly escorted her back to our table.
I began thinking about Janny’s perpetual need to talk to people who walk, talk, or look differently. I’ve always wondered if she knew that she was different than most people, and if she did, to what extent? She’s never really shown that she’s aware of her disabilities. She’s never complained about having to ride a special bus to her special school, or about the special shoes she wears which are different sizes. She doesn’t complain that my mom buys all her clothes for her or that she can’t do most of the things that other people can do. She’s never asked to drive the car or to cook dinner.
And yet, she immediately notices when another person is “different.” Not only does she notice, but there is a sense of belonging she displays with those who aren’t your average run-of-the-mill people. She always wants to give these people a hug or a pat on the shoulder. Or both. And it makes me think that she does understand that she is different from most people.
I don’t really know for sure. But the beauty is, whether she understands fully or not, she doesn’t seem to care a whole lot. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an expert at displaying her will, just as any young child is. There have been times when she’s thrown a fit because she wanted to be independent when cutting up her food or because my mom said she couldn’t have chocolate milk with dinner that night. But for the most part, she’s just Janny, a special girl who lives a unique and special life, and who wants desperately to talk with the woman in the wheelchair or with the man with the cast on his arm. And I love her for not ignoring these people, whether they need help or not. Sometimes it’s an adventure, and sometimes it’s a disaster.