Thanksgiving is almost here! We’ve partnered with our sister sites The Recipe Club, Read It Forward, CrafterNews and Crown to ask authors to share a Thanksgiving memory. Here’s one from Michael Schofield, author of January First.
Thanksgiving is a family holiday that often forces us parents of special needs children to take our kids out of their routines and put them in an environment with people who rarely see them, let alone “know them.”
It is Thanksgiving, 2006. Jani, our only child at this time, is four, and her diagnosis of child onset schizophrenia is still two years away and far off our radar. All we know is that she’s “different” and extremely smart, having just tested with a 146 IQ.
There are plenty of other relatives’ kids around, but I’m shadowing Jani, while she continues to go up and down the staircase, hoping she finds something, anything, that will interest her so she won’t start screaming to leave.
I have to shadow her all the time in case she says something that is considered “rude” or “weird” by her cousins. I’m ready to swoop in to defend her because the last thing I want is for the other kids to say something mean to Jani or even give a confused look. I don’t want Jani to feel “different.” She is who she is, and I never want her to feel ashamed of that.
I’m upstairs at this point, avoiding extended family members like the plague. They aren’t bad people, but I’m sick of trying to explain Jani’s odd behavior to them. She’s bright and eccentric, but so was Albert Einstein.
Jani gets hungry and starts downstairs to get some chips.
As we enter the kitchen and family room I can feel the glances in our direction, as Jani is now talking freely about playing with her “Imaginary Friends.” I wish I could extend a giant force field around Jani to shield her from this “disapproval.” If I can feel it then so can she.
Susan is sitting at the adult table, trying to explain to one of the recently married young women why we are not forcing Jani to conform.
“She’s brilliant,” Susan tells her.
The young woman shakes her head over a wine glass and argues back. “But how is anyone going to see her brilliance if she isn’t normal and can’t function in society.”
Susan spots me, hovering over Jani taking some chips. “Well, Michael, what do you think?”
The young woman turns to me. “Don’t you agree that some conformity is necessary?”
I look down at Jani, who doesn’t appear to be listening, but what if she is? This “judgment” could sink into her subconscious.
I turn back to the young woman and smile. “Normal people don’t change the world,” I say.
She gets up from the table, wine glass in hand, and says, “Whatever,” while Susan looks at me, satisfied, glad to be done explaining Jani’s social eccentricities for the night.
As I think back to this moment, I can see how my statement is motivated by our denial that anything is “wrong.” I’ve come a long way since then, and so has Susan, but if I could go back in time I would still give the same answer. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for what we have, not lamenting what we don’t have. I am thankful for Jani, and I am thankful for everything she has taught me about being a father. She has taught me what Thanksgiving really means.
During Thanksgiving, there should be no future and no past. There should be only now. Celebrate the “now.”
Happy Holidays, Love The Schofield Family
Schofield blogs about his family’s experiences at janisjourney.org.