“So when are you going to put Cami in the SuperFogeys?”
It’s Spring of 2007 and I’ve just told my wife about this new character I’m going to introduce called Dictator Tot and how it’s based on our oldest daughter Elora, and this is what she asks me.
“I dunno. Haven’t thought about it. Maybe I won’t. I can’t just stick her in there. There has to be a good reason for it or it’ll just be stupid.”
“You have to put Cami in. You have to. Cute little Cammers.”
“Okay.” I think about it for a minute. “Okay, I know just how I can fit her in and when I can do it. There’s a storyline coming up later that she’ll be perfect for, but you’ll have to wait.”
And so, here, two years and some change later, Cami appears right on schedule. Honestly, it wasn’t just for story reasons that it took this long. Being the parent of a special needs kid has its challenges and talking about it is just about my least favorite thing to do. Not because I don’t love Cami and don’t think she’s just about the most brilliant and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen (she’s definitely in the top 3), but because conversations about Cami still have to adhere to the two-side rule of communication. (I talk, then the other person talks. Repeat.)
Unless you’re the parent of a special needs kid yourself (and a lot of times not even then because the needs, being the special thing that they are, are as unique as the kids themselves), you don’t really know how to talk to a parent of a special needs kid. It’s an almost universally uncomfortable topic for other people and that comes across during even the simplest of exchanges.
Some people let their curiosity get the best of them because they don’t know what else to say, vomiting their “educated” guess as to your child’s condition as if a) it matters and b) the discovering of it will somehow allow them to move past their discomfort (it doesn’t).These people almost always have a third cousin whose kid has Down’s and are very quick to tell how little they know about him.
Some people resort to platitudes. My favorite is the one that says that my wife and I must be really special ourselves to be entrusted with the care of such a special spirit. As if we’ve won some secret lottery that they themselves are grateful they never got a ticket in. It’s a comforting falsehood meant only for them. Special needs kids are born to both the loving and the crack addicts.
Some people have mental blocks when it comes to your kid. They see them, they seemingly recognize that there’s something not quite right there, but then it’s like they forget. They’ll go on and on about how their 9-month old just got up and started running one day. Meanwhile, your kid sits on the playground with the other kids running around her. And she’s four.
Some people just don’t talk to you at all. Sometimes, that’s kind of nice, but those people always stare. It’s weird and it makes you feel weird.
And then there are the people who just listen. Who ask honest, simple questions and remember to let you talk and let you tell them how you feel about it, instead of telling you how you should feel. These people accept your child and you at face value, without comparison or judgement. They aren’t always going to know the right thing to say, but they’re in tune enough to recognize when they haven’t. We call these people our friends.
Everything in the above comic strip is true. No one has ever accused us of dressing up Cami like a senior citizen for a laugh (though we did once consider doing it for Halloween) and no, we’ve got no idea what’s wrong with her. She’ll be five-years-old next March, but most people assume she’s about two. Her vocabulary consists solely of the word “hi,” though she does know a few basic signs like “please” and “thank you” and “more.”
Cami is very social. She loves everybody and will go to just about anybody to give them a hug. She doesn’t need the walker anymore, thankfully, though she’s still pretty wobbly. Watching her walk on her own brings me intense joy, every single time. She is the sweetest, most pure thing on this planet. She has been the source of my biggest smiles and I’ve never cried harder than when when I’ve wept for her.
I put Cami in this comic strip because I wanted to pay tribute to her in some way. As an artist and a parent, I can combine my creations in any way I want. But also…I just wanted to say the things I never get to say. That aren’t always appropriate to say. I wanted to “come out” in a sense. I’m tired of not talking about her. She is not be hidden.
I couldn’t have done this as recently as a year ago. Part of the reason I’ve waited this long isn’t just for story reasons, but also because neither I nor my wife was really ready. They say that having a special needs child is like grieving. They’re right. You have so many hopes and dreams for your child and they all go up in flames in a fire that never stops burning. Over the past 4+ years, we’ve gone through all the stages and it’s only recently, after all the experts and tops in their fields have weighed in and come up with nothing–no diagnosis, no treatment, not even any idea as to how long she can expect to live or if her brain is firing on all cylinders–that we’ve finally just accepted.
I am Cami’s parent today. Yesterday has so much pain in it that I don’t think about it that often. Tomorrow I know nothing about and I’m tired of guessing and fighting against that. I accept, totally, who Cami is today. I love her for it. I don’t know what’s next and I don’t have to know. I don’t even really care any more, because now is when we have her.
How grateful we are for that.
UPDATE – I’M GOING TO SAN DIEGO COMIC CON
Don’t want to take away from the spirit of this post, but some things suddenly fell into place and I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be making a two-day appearance at the San Diego Comic Con, on Friday and Saturday.
You’ll find both my wife and I at the Shocker Toys booth, #3849. I’ll have books to sign and sell and will be doing free sketches as well. Hope to see you there!
The cover to SuperFogeys Origins 1 on Tuesday. On Thursday, we catch back up with Jerry and Spy Gal.