By Julie Litz
The beginning of my first and only blessing of motherhood was a rocky one. I myself had undiagnosed celiac disease which childbirth seemed to aggravate exponentially and my daughter was born with multiple food allergies as well. Needless to say, in her younger age, before she was able to express herself, I was very careful to monitor her for any reaction, change in mood or disturbance of any kind for fear that it might be the beginning of a new reaction.
It was in this attentive time period that I began to notice some slightly unusual behaviors. While she clearly knew who I was and preferred my company to others, I would often catch her gazing upward, moving her eyes across the room intently at nothing but space. Even when I would try to solicit her attention, she sometimes ignored me and continued this aimless gazing. Despite this, she was normal in so many ways. She would laugh, coo, get excited and fuss for a preferred toy or food, but there was always a strange intent fixation on dead space. She would stare aimlessly shifting her gaze all over, mostly upward and across the room.
It was such a persistent and unusual behavior that even my own mother would frequently point it out, with a worrying look. I remember one instance in particular. We had gone shopping together and my daughter spent an entire 45 minutes leaned back in the cart, with her neck at such and angle that it was surprising pain didn’t prevent her from maintaining that position, all the while smiling and starting at the ceiling. I knew exactly what my mother was thinking. A friend of ours had an older son, who through his early years went from a healthy, thriving baby to severely autistic, unable to feed himself or use the toilet at age six. As I said, she would still engage with us and clearly have an attachment to certain people, however, whenever she began her gazing, there was no getting her attention, no intervening with whatever she was experiencing. In those moments she seemed detached and it was worrying.
Months pass by in this way, and I got used to this behavior, however, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t always an awareness of it gnawing in the back of my mind. Then finally, there came the moment of understanding. My daughter was at the age where she was just beginning to say her first few words and conveying herself more clearly through actions. I had finished feeding her and was holding her in my arms. I was hoping she would doze off, but then one of these ‘episodes’ began. She stared off into what I saw as empty space, giggling at absolutely nothing. Her head began to loll backwards in my arm and she followed the vacant air across the ceiling, back and forth with a silly grin on her face. She was so clearly laughing at nothing, I found it unsettling, and then came the epiphany. After a few minutes of this, she lifted her little arm upward, extended her fingers straight and then closed them on the palm of her hand, repetitively, the way a baby does when they first begin to wave. Then she spoke, “Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.” with the largest smile on her face. It was in that moment I understood what had been going on for so long. At that moment I was faced with a mixture of fear, relief and awe.
Fear because it is a mother’s first instinct to want to protect her child and that included screening who their child is exposed to. The uncle who has a habit of swearing and chain smoking inevitably gets less time than the grandmother with ever the sweetest words, but what happens when you can’t even perceive what it is that is interacting with your baby? After the initial fear, I realized it was irrelevant, because whomever it was, made her laugh and smile. Never once was she crying or afraid. It could have been my great grandmother who passed just a few years before or an angel for all I knew. It was not, however, anyone who wanted to hurt or scare her and I took comfort in that.
On the heels of fear was relief that this was not an indication of a physical ailments (although, many years later, I have come to understand those with certain types of ‘disabilities’ such as autism to be very spiritual and in tune beings, many times operating from a place that does not allow them to express themselves the way most others do).
Finally, I was in awe of the amazing creature I held in my hands and in that moment, I accepted that the most important thing I could to was be understanding of her experiences as she grew, whether I could perceive them or not. To be her support as she grew when she was knowing and others did not. Most importantly, this was the first in a series of events over the years that had led me to respect a young child as an old soul. It taught me to be quiet and listen to children because so many of them are speaking to you on a soul level, but as adults we are dismissive. We believe we know better and that the majority of what they contribute to the conversation is inexperience or imagination. Believe me when I tell you that it is often not so.
Our society spends an abundance of time and energy programming our youth into what to think, how to act and what their expectations for life ought to be. The next time you encounter a child who gives you advice or support, I dare you to take it. This simple act will legitimize them as a thinking, caring individual whose thoughts and emotions are important, it will bring the adult down to a place of humility and strengthen the bond between the two… aside from the fact that they just might be right… Children are receptive spiritual beings who are so young they still have an inkling of the fact that they are spiritual beings having a physical experience, not physical beings having a spiritual experience. The next time you see a child doing something out of the ordinary or thinking in an unusual way, sit back, observe and allow, because they just might be on to something you don’t know about yet.