Maybe because I’m teaching a Women’s Studies course this Spring, and maybe because Carol of Words’ post about hugs really resonated, I’ve been thinking a lot about waiting rooms as empowering spaces lately.
I think this is a safe generalization: When you have a kid with a special need, you spend a good amount of time in waiting rooms.
These waiting rooms are different from the typical pediatrician’s or dentist’s. The waiting rooms I’ve frequented over the past few years for/with McDiesel are the waiting rooms of specialists—play therapists, occupational therapists, pediatric psychiatrists. When we wait for the pediatrician or the dentist, the only sound—besides maybe some coughing or whatever—might be mothers softly reading picture books or kids playing on DSis. As parents, we are not there to make friends or to socialize or to chit-chat. We are there, waiting for our child’s name to be called. We are there to see the doctor or dentist. We are there to get results. We are there to make things better.
In McD’s OT’s waiting room, the waiting room where I spend the most time on a weekly basis, this is not the case. Here, the same group of mothers whose children have the same Wednesday morning appointment slot, wait. These women talk. A lot. About everything.
The diagnoses vary; the struggles vary. But two things do not vary in that waiting room: it is full of women (occasionally a father) and the children are all boys.
I have attempted to bring reading and/or work with me to the waiting room, but it’s impossible to concentrate amid the lively discussions that inevitably ensue—about the desirability (or otherwise) of covering forehead lines with bangs, about relieving neck tension by sleeping one night on a hard floor, about the latest developments in an ongoing debate with school administrators over an IEP. I mostly just smile and nod, but still I know a surprising lot of very personal information about a small group of women whose names I’m not even sure of. I know about their family history with anxiety, their first-grader’s problems with a girl bully last year, how sorry their sister with three kids is that they could only have one.
The atmosphere, despite the circumstances—which are sometimes heartbreaking in the form of preschoolers with feeding tubes or absentee fathers—is (also surprisingly) cheerful. Being in that waiting room is like being inside of a real-live blog. Here is a handful of (essentially) strangers brought together by some degree of common experience, sharing their ideas, telling their stories. They talk candidly about frustrations, failures, strategies, triumphs and they receive support, feedback, edification, suggestions, encouragement, sympathy. It’s borderline anonymous like a blog. Or a support group. Mothers of Boys With Special Needs Anonymous. OT Waiting Room Mothers Anonymous.
So I have been struck lately—although I haven’t offered up my own story on Wednesday mornings and probably won’t—of just how empowering a space for mothers the waiting room can be. Even though no one expects to get quick results and, on a hard day, we’re not even sure we’re making things better.