What Do You See?

 by Carey Handley

What do you see when you look at my daughter? I’ve sometimes wondered how other people see her.

I wanted a daughter perhaps more than anything else in the world. So much so that I wished for her when I was at the Wishing Door in a mosque in Cairo, Egypt followed a few days later by a wish tucked into a crevice in the Western Wall in Israel. My wish was for a beautiful, happy, healthy baby girl. It couldn’t have been scripted better. Within a month from that time, I found out we were pregnant. Let the joy begin!

Nine months later, we were presented with our wish-come-true…a beautiful, happy, healthy baby girl! Joy led to frustration and anxiety as our perfect girl couldn’t latch on for feedings and I was forced to come to the conclusion (after meeting with the pediatrician, nurses and lactation counselor – all who were unsuccessful in getting our daughter to nurse and equally unsuccessful getting me to be able to pump) that I was unable to nurse and she would have to be bottle fed. Not wanting to share what I thought was my first motherhood failure, I was judged severely by those who felt I was a horrible mother for choosing the bottle over the breast. As if it was a choice.

While I looked at myself as a failure in my first test, I looked at my daughter with wide-eyed wonderment. At four months old, the pediatrician said she had very strong legs for her age. I beamed with pride. Until I didn’t.

She started missing milestones and I started getting concerned. We were living outside the US, I didn’t have my mother to ask and it was the days before the Internet made research quick and easy. English was not the first language spoken where we were living in her first two years and I didn’t know who to ask. In weekly phone calls, my Mom would assure me that all children develop differently. I was confused and scared as she wasn’t crawling or starting to form words or even getting her first teeth.

I was back in The States for a visit one summer and I remember distinctly that I was on the phone with my husband who was still overseas. I told him I had good news and bad news.

The good news was that, at 10 1/2 months, our daughter was finally crawling! The bad news? It was backwards on her back. She looked like a crab who got flipped over and was trying to right herself. Well, at least she was crawling.

Her teeth didn’t start coming in until she was 16 1/2 months. By that time, we were feeding her table food…after all, you don’t really need teeth to eat. When her adult teeth came in, they erupted behind her baby teeth so the baby teeth stayed put. They were like shark teeth in little rows. She had to have nearly every baby tooth pulled under anesthesia.

And, then came all the diagnoses.

During all of this, my daughter retained her smile, her cheerfulness and her optimism. I tried to remain optimistic by not believing what the standardized tests said or the evaluations or the sad looks of teachers who said cruel, heartless things to me. I read books and articles about the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I recognized that my daughter has incredible Emotional Intelligence – very compassionate and caring for others. A tremendous sense of empathy. I focused on the positive aspects of my daughter. I never stopped believing that she would be more than just her test scores.

My daughter is beautiful. She looks like any other young lady which is a double-edged sword because people who meet her initially have high expectations for her capabilities. I find myself explaining that I have a daughter with Special Needs prior to introducing her to anyone. I guess it’s because I’m trying to protect her (and me) from people who make assumptions. Like the woman who questioned why my daughter wasn’t in college because “everyone should go to college” which had my daughter wondering why she wasn’t going to college.

But, all in all, I had watched her grow and mature to the best of her abilities. I bring her to networking functions and watch as people hug her and welcome her with open arms. I listen as my mother, who lives in a 55+ community, tells me that no one ever asks about me yet they all want to know when my daughter will be visiting again. They love her there and I love hearing that.

So, when you look at my daughter, are you seeing what I see? Are you looking at the beauty of her soul, the compassion in her heart, the joy in her smile? Are you realizing that the compliments she gives to you are heartfelt and genuine? Do you want to cheer her on like I do? Are you recognizing that she is doing her best even though she struggles every day? You will not meet a more honest, caring person.

If you take the time to listen to her, to accept her without judgement and to see the world through her eyes…when the encounter is done, you will be a better person for having known her, if only for a little while. She is that magical. I am that lucky.


Carey Nelson Handley is a Graphic Designer/Printer who is also the Special Needs Advisor for her husband’s law practice in the Katy/Richmond, Texas area. She has a 24 year old daughter with Special Needs whose challenges and struggles gave her a passion for helping others obtain alternatives for schooling, tutoring, therapy, medical care and social/employment opportunities. As a Special Needs Advisor, she counsels families on government benefits and programs for Special Needs individuals. Along with her AKC Certified Therapy Dog, Godiva, she has over 200 visits to nursing homes, daycares, schools and scouting troops. She is R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dog) Certified and worked as a volunteer at several schools for Special Needs in the Houston area. While living in Cairo, Egypt, she had several articles on mothering published in an English language magazine. She believes that giving her daughter a belief in herself is one of the greatest gifts she can give her.