I am an invisible minority.
When people see me, they see a wife, a mother, a farmer. What they don’t see are the things that define me and my life the most.
For some reason, current statistics seem hard to come by in Canada. Whatever the reason, www. learninfreedom.org suggests that in 2013, only 1% of school-aged Canadian children were homeschooled.
According to www.abbacanada.com, approximately 2,000 Canadians adopt each year (most of those adoptions are international). If the current population of Canada is 36.29 million on a quick Internet search, that means that very few Canadians are adopting each year.
What are the chances that someone is both a homeschool parent and an adoptive parent?
We are a homeschool family that has adopted twice through the foster care system. One of our adopted daughters struggles with several uncommon behavioral issues that have baffled specialists; the other is one of only three children in our entire region that has a G-tube (gastrostomy tube) inserted in her abdomen. I would say we are a minority in a category all our own.
Much work has been done over the past decades to bring to light some of the struggles many visible minority groups are dealing with. I believe this has helped many people immensely. The problem is this: what happens when people do not understand you because there is nothing obvious (to them) to explain your differences?
This spring, I was taking the kids to the local pool to go swimming every Friday afternoon. This just happened to be the same day and time a special needs group also attended the pool. Most people would be outraged if a lifeguard or instructor berated or yelled at a person with Down syndrome or another mental retardation. Others would likely step in to defend the person. What about when the issues are not so obvious to the human eye but exist nonetheless? For us, instead, I have found we often flounder and feel like we are flopping. It isn’t appropriate to enter a room and say, “We have special needs children. Please don’t critique our parenting or expect miracles from our children—we are doing the best we can.” So, when my daughter stuffs food in her mouth, chews it, packs it in her cheeks, and then gags and spits it all out into the garbage, people assume we are just letting her “get away with it.” People do not understand that this precious child very easily could have died as an infant and that due to damage to her brain, she does not feel hunger like she should. As a baby, she slept round-the-clock and did not wake for a bottle or show any signs of hunger. At two months of age, she had a nasal-gastric tube, and people could clearly see she was struggling (most people in our area were completely surprised to see a child in a car seat hooked up to a feeding pump attached to a thin tube that ran down her nose). While a G-tube in her abdomen is so much better for her long-term, people don’t “see” the feeding issue anymore. It isn’t obvious. Babies who don’t feed in the normal way often come up with some quirkiness later on in life, hence the food packing, gagging, and spitting up partially chewed items. Our daughter just does not feel the satisfaction of whetting the appetite, so it’s like her brain says, “Why bother?” To someone on the outside who doesn’t see the slight bump in her shirt where the fabric pulls just slightly over her G-tube, she looks just like any other adorable, almost 5-year-old. She smiles; she plays; she laughs. The fetal alcohol syndrome indicators are invisible to someone who doesn’t know what to look for. The low set ears, the low set thumbs, the smooth, flat upper lip are invisible unless you are trained to look. And so, it is easy to say this child is hyper and was probably fed too much sugar and that she probably won’t sit down because she is never made to mind.
Our other daughter has a serious and rare condition that creates chaos at times. Headbanging, hair pulling, and other self-injury, including biting herself, shock people to the core. If she spits at us in public or strikes out at us, it is not uncommon for people to say, “Wow! That child needs discipline!” As if that would just solve the complex brain issues that they can’t see: the wires that are crossed or disconnected are locked behind a “normal” exterior. Once, when she was almost 5, we were grocery shopping. I heard a family talking about how ridiculous it was for such an “older child” to have a soother (or pacifier). It took a moment to realize they meant my daughter. My daughter looked at me, eyes wide. They had no idea that this soother was one of the only things that worked to stop the hours and hours of headbanging, that otherwise, she would have to be swaddled and held, rocked constantly or she would try to hurt herself. I tried not to, but I had to. I turned around and blurted out, “She is adopted, and she has special needs!” My eyes stung with tears as the woman in the family turned red and stammered that she was so sorry, that she didn’t know, that she just thought we hadn’t bothered to wean her from the soother. In other words, that we had just been lazy parents.
Many years have passed now with us being a visible minority. I have coolly swum across the hot tube at the pool to explain and help someone understand that spanking my child when she punched her sister would not help at all, thank you very much. I have been blunt; I have probably even been rude. I fully acknowledge that these precious kids are my responsibility and that others may choose to judge and to not make allowance. But I have a choice too. That choice is to have a voice, to educate people, to not accept it when my kids are excluded, always in trouble, cut down, or rejected. I teach them the words to say. Sometimes it is an apology for real behavior gone wrong; sometimes it is a gentle reproach. One of my daughters, in response to constant questions from strangers, now explains her bandaged face as side effects of excoriation. And if someone replies, as they often do, “And what is that?” She can, at the age of 6, calmly reply, “Go home and look it up.” When people will listen, explain. When they won’t, journey past.