Friday, July 6, 2012

Making Eye Contact.

I mentioned in my blog post yesterday that I've become better at stick-handling questions about Seth and Lizzie.  That's true.

But last week I realized something that has changed about me in the process.

When I was in Vancouver a week ago, minus children, I went for a couple of walks along the beach.  I also went into restaurants and a few stores on my own.  And I was conscious of the fact that I was greeting people with a 'hi' or a head nod, and looking perfect strangers in the eye.  The restaurant staff, the parking lot attendant, the kid sitting on the bench by the sea, the stranger passing by in the opposite direction, the airport staff - they and many others all got a smile and acknowledgement from me.

I was conscious of this because that was the old me - the person before Seth and Lizzie entered our home.  It was the me that Geoff used to shake his head about when we'd go for a walk and I'd greet everyone we passed by, whether or not I had ever met the other person.

Last fall, I noticed that by making eye contact with people/strangers, the kids and I immediately became more susceptible to strangers' comments about how cute the kids are (which is fine...they are cute!), which invariably led to the questions that weren't always of the welcome variety.  So, tired of my smile or eye connection opening a door to strangers' questions, I deliberately stopped looking strangers in the eye when I had the younger kids with me.

That strategy has actually worked quite effectively.  When I'm with the kids I walk through stores with my head a little down, or my eyes and attention deliberately focused on the kids' movements.  I don't make eye contact, and I don't get nearly as many questions as I did six months ago.  I really think that these things are connected.

What I hadn't realized was how pervasive it had become not to look passersby in the eye.

I'll be honest:  I like that old me a little better, miss that person a little.  I really and consciously enjoyed, last week, holding my head up and engaging other people's eyes with my own and giving them a smile that reached my eyes.  And I got some great smiles and looks in return.  I'm not a particularly extroverted person but I do enjoy making connections with people, and I'm interested in making this world a friendlier, warmer place.  If truth really be told, the real me (the one that wants warmth even with a stranger) is interested in people and what makes them tick, and my observations of the world can happen so much more genuinely through eye contact and a smile.

So when I said yesterday that I'm better at managing people's questions, that's true.  But I have also wondered since last week if a good chunk of that has more to do with how I've adapted myself to my new circumstances than an improvement in my stick-handling ability.


  1. This is so true for me as well. I am normally a very outgoing, social person. I am also a bouncy, energetic, kind of person.

    Well having a child with PTSD means that not only can I not engage people in conversation, if I do, it needs to be with very little inflection in my voice (little changes can set my son off), if I focus on someone for more than a brief moment, it sets my son off, if I laugh too much, dance, sing... it all can set my son off big time into a full blown fight or flight response.

    Oh and the eye contact thing I also learned very quickly. Never ever make eye contact, focus on the ground, child or your hands at all times.

    It sucks that to be the parent my son needs I can not be me. I have come to terms with it, but I wish someone had put this kind of information out there when we were in the process of adopting. I could have prepared myself better.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment Dancin' Momma.

    I feel badly that you must go to such lengths to be the mom that your son needs, especially given how unlike yourself you need to be in order to make things work better for him. That's just plain hard and it DOES suck.

    You've got a much deeper/harder situation than I do, though, and I frankly admire what you're doing to meet his needs. Though your son might not appreciate that his mom is really a Dancin' Momma, I hope you never lose sight of it!