Saturday, August 22, 2009

Up Close & Personal

This article was originally published at

(cc) Douglas Cootey

I like to think my girls are bright—even brilliant. They’re certainly more brilliant than I am, though that may not be the grand compliment I mean it to be. I’m lucky if I can remember to put my pants on before I go outside.

I can’t say that they are perfect, nor are they all on the same level, but their development stands in stark contrast with my youngest daughter’s.

We almost lost her when she was three days old. Then we almost lost her again a month later. Both times she was hospitalized; each time was harrowing. And there was a price to pay: Brain damage. Cerebral Palsy.

Now she is a sweet, seven year old soul and such a delight in many ways. Her smile is one of those kinds you may have heard about that lights up rooms. Truly it does.

But she struggles with things my older girls handled easily and she generally lags behind two years developmentally. We take heart that she continues to progress. Still, it can be frustrating. She can’t read entirely on her own. Writing is difficult for her, and math seems currently beyond her comprehension. Then there are the social graces…

Take personal space, for instance. Today I found myself—after hearing another daughter shout “Too close! Too close!”—explaining that we can’t invade other people’s personal space. I taught her with silly examples, helping her laugh so that her fragile self-esteem wasn’t bruised in the lesson. I involved her sisters in the examples and repeated them a few times to drive the points home.

I told her not to get within an arm’s length of somebody, to ease into their space only if she knew them, and to not put things in people’s faces. I explained how fast movements in people’s faces make them blink and flinch. Then I had to explain what “flinch” meant.

I’ve taught her these points before, though the arm’s length visual aide was a new inspiration. With repetition she will learn and I have faith that she will one day grasp advanced concepts such as etiquette and manners.

After the lesson, I marveled to myself how remarkably blessed my older daughters and I were to have brains that were able to intuitively learn social graces. Then I laughed.

Me? Intuitively socially graceful? I’m the guy with the foot permanently parked in his mouth.

I quickly realized that none of us grasp anything intuitively. We all have to be taught the basics in the beginning. The difference is that some of us are quicker to learn than others. Besides, I certainly wasn’t a social whiz at seven. Heck, I’m not even a social whiz at forty two. In addition, it is unfair to compare her to my other daughters. We each move at our own pace.

Later, as she was going to bed, my daughter shook a new balloon excitedly in my wife’s face. I had to remind her again of respecting people’s personal space. Then I put personal space aside and gave her a hug.

It’s OK. She’ll get it eventually.

Douglas Cootey is a married, full time dad raising four girls in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah who has long ago overcome his aversion to the color Pink. Douglas blogs about overcoming AD/HD & Depression with humor & pluck over at the award winning A Splintered Mind. He also co-produces a podcast with his 17 year old daughter. The random thoughts of his addled mind can be found at DouglasCootey and SplinteredMind over on Twitter.