I've finally reached the point where the staring doesn't really bother me on most days. It's just that Sunday wasn't one of those days.
So when I looked up in church to find a blond six year-old boy staring wide-eyed at Collin in his push chair at the end of our row - eyes unfocused, movements uncoordinated - I clenched.
When the staring gets to me, this is what happens. I mentally and physically tighten, bracing myself against a blow, or maybe shrink wrapping myself around my cherished, amazing boy to protect him from harm or prying.
But then I thought: Wait a second. What exactly are you protecting against here? The little boy wasn't sniggering. He wasn't pointing or mocking. Even if he had been, Collin wouldn't have known. He was smiling and dancing to the music with reckless joy, totally oblivious to this boy's stares. So...
It's me. I'm the one who has a problem with the stares, and not because of Collin. Well, at least not wholly because of Collin. True, he is most precious to me and I cringe at the thought of other people looking at him like he's an oddity or a pitiful sight. But more than that, I don't like being the object of stares. I don't like us being different from everyone else so obviously and so relentlessly. When people stare, it makes me feel isolated and more aware of my struggles.
It's not pretty, but it's the truth.
But another truth is that most of the time, I don't even know why people are staring. OK, maybe they're rude or nosy. But maybe they have a family member with special needs and they feel drawn to Collin. Maybe they wonder why he's so happy. Maybe they're just trying to figure him out, with no malicious intentions at all.
I looked back at this boy and realized that that was precisely what was going on. He was trying to figure Collin out. Having never known a kid like him, he was trying to understand what he was seeing. Why would I not want that?
So, I let out the breath I had been holding and unclenched. I tried to relax and gently get myself out of the way so I could watch this boy learn what he could about my son.