Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Son, the Cretin

   It most often happens at the grocery store. My youngest son and I have a routine every Sunday afternoon - he goes with me to shop for the staples of our existence, milk and toaster pastries. It has become a safe harbor of sorts and jealously guarded time together. It is a busy time at most stores. Typically after church and Sunday dinner, children often come along for the grocery shopping ride. It is from them, my youngest's peer group, the uninitiated, that I see the stares.

   He is almost eleven, and except for a very limited number of words - "mamma" and "uh-huh" - is non-verbal. Muscle spacticity in his lower body and a recent growth spurt have aggravated gait problems. He has sensory processing difficulties, a catch-all term meaning he does not experience sight, sound and taste sensations in conventional ways. To compensate, he contorts his body into positions a yoga instructor would envy. It is his way of experiencing and coping with sensations I process in much different ways.

   Hence the stares as we navigate down the bread aisle. I am not complaining, my older boys would have stared too. And there are the perks. For example, I have a handicap placard that allows preferred parking near the front of the store. There are several of these, the best or which is my son never has a bad day. Never. A lesson for me there.

   I could rattle off the medical specialists and sub-specialists he has seen, the specialized clinics he has visited, but no soap on the cause and effect issue. The august lineup of professionals includes two geneticist, both M.D. Ph.D's. Neither can yet answer the question of whether his condition is a freak chromosomal anomaly or more sinister: Something that will be passed down generationally. This complicates family planning for his older brothers.

   My sensory perception has changed because of him. My view of the world. My view of the law. Most of all, my view of the fallen, of which I count myself. I wonder about the way generations before me would have viewed him. Words like imbecile, idiot or cretin would have been used, contemporary slurs all. Cretin, however, originates from 18th century french and means, literally, Christian, or one who is human despite deformities. But then who amongst us is not in some measure both divine and  deformed?

We look forward to seeing you somewhere between dairy and produce this coming Sunday.

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