Parenting the Profoundly Other

“Good morning, sweetie peetie,” I greet Temma each morning, my own eyes still half-shut when I paddle into her room. Her eyes are most often open as if she has been waiting for me. She startles a bit at the sound of my voice, her arms and feet lifting up and her eyes becoming even more round with wonder. I can see the faintest upturn at the corners of her mouth. I stroke the side of her face and she makes a slight sound, sticking out her tongue in greeting.

To describe my daughter to you as “profoundly other” is not to separate her from more able-bodied humanity. Nor is it to say that she is from some other alien world or spirit-world that we cannot know (although this may be some of my meaning). For me to describe Temma Day Lowly—a twenty-eight-year-old young woman who looks to be a strange child whose hands, arms and feet are twisted, whose tongue is often sticking out and drooling spit, and whose eyes are focused somewhere else—as profoundly other is my attempt to find some way to tell you that she shares a common, made-in-the-image-of-God humanity with me and with you.

I once overheard our good friend’s seven-year-old son defending Temma to some neighborhood kids. They stared and asked, “What’s wrong with her?”

Hearing their question makes me think of Jesus’ disciples when they encountered a man born blind. They asked him, “What’s wrong?” “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”

“What’s wrong with her?” brings back twinges of the shame and guilt I felt for many years after Temma’s cardiac arrest at day two of her life. My shame from feeling that I am not good enough to birth a healthy baby; my guilt in believing that l must have done something wrong, made some grave mistake deserving the punishment of a brain-damaged child by an angry God. The mistakes replay in my mind. I should not have brought her home from the hospital so quickly; I should have had more milk for her; I should have fed her formula. I should not have worked all nine months. I should have eaten more, eaten better, taken more vitamins. I should have insisted that we go to the hospital before we did. I should not have worked as a waitress for so long. Like blankets we used as kids to make a tent, I crawl under the doubt, blame, shame, anger, rage, and guilt, a canopy that swallows me up.

I try to walk more slowly when I’m out pushing Temma in her wheelchair, listening for the answer the parent might make to the kid’s inevitable question when they pass by, “What’s wrong with her?” The first response of the parent is a “Shh.” I rarely hear much beyond that. But telling the child that Temma has a broken brain, which was our friend’s son’s response, will only tell you the wound she carries (and that I carry with her). I could then add a long list of diagnoses that result from her broken brain, that fill her big, fat medical charts.

I could tell you that Temma is developmentally at the level of an infant, that she communicates with me through her cries and gurgles, and occasional, very occasional, smile and even less occasional laugh (at least what her father and I believe is a laugh). Yet this description may only help those of you who are currently living with an infant. You read into your infant’s eyes and coos that she is relating with you and her world in infant ways. Yet you soon forget how she was as a baby because she changes so fast.

“Does she know who you are?” you ask. And I reply that she may know our voices like an infant knows her mom’s smell, her dad’s singing voice, a light turned on making her eyes blink, the feel of someone close to her. Remember how it was when you had a baby?

No, for me to say that Temma is “profoundly other” is to try and tell you about her living and being in this world with a profound beauty and wisdom that is difficult to experience because it is so other than what you know. I can’t tell you how I know she is beautiful and wise. I can only tell you that to experience her as one of your tribe is to set aside what you know, to bend over–a “camel going through the eye of a needle”–and enter a profoundly other world where all that you may expect or even desire to see, hear, and do is set aside. Here you are welcome to simply be.

“Stroking your daughter’s head, brushing her hair each day, make these acts your spiritual disciplines,” Sister Kathleen Flood teaches me at The Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation.

I weep. I want something different, some spiritual practice more holy, more pious, like prayer or fasting. “I feel like I’m betraying God’s call to be a Pastor, an ordained elder of word, sacrament, and order,” I tell Sister Kathleen.

“No,” she insists. “You’re not betraying your call. You’re fulfilling it.”

Slowly more of my expectations slip away and I enter again this profoundly other world. The disciplines are changed, the rules simply to offer up our beautiful, broken selves and be with.

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5 thoughts on “Parenting the Profoundly Other

  1. I so appreciated this piece in so many ways. I’ve been reading Kathleen Norris’ “Quotidian Mysteries” and found your daily stroking your daughter’s head and brushing her hair such beautiful examples of what Norris is talking about–finding the holy in the mundane things of life.

  2. Hi, Sherrie, I have just joined Redbud and through that link I am meeting you and your family here for the first time. Apart from the occasional poem, journalling, and professional writing, I began to understand my call to write when I healed our son of schizophrenia. That odyssey began 10 years before with his healing from dyslexia and my healing from fibromyalgia (CFS) just prior to his first psychotic break. Please let me share my learning and journey with you. Amplified music has been known to heal severe epilepsy; have you exposed Temma to music through headphones? You might want to try focused listening for your CFS. I taught myself neurology to be able to explain to anyone who would listen the mechanism of Daniel’s healing, which explains hundreds of thousands of other healings through music. The vibrations, especially of the higher frequencies, stimulates the tiny muscle of the middle ear thus strengthening it so that more sound energy can reach the brain. “I would not give you false hope,” as Paul Simon sang many years ago; but I would be delighted to share my experience for whatever it might avail you of strength and refreshment. Laurna Tallman

      • Hi, Sherrie, Our son Dan was 16 when he was healed of dyslexia at The Listening Centre in Toronto, a Tomatis Method clinic. Almost “inadvertently,” I was healed of the CFS from which I had suffered for 8 years after listening to filtered music for a total of about 7.5 hours. The staff could not explain Dan’s dramatic healing nor mine; they just knew that sometimes the method worked spectacularly well and sometimes not at all. Usually, the Method was at least modestly successful, I gather. Dan was already an addict; I think only a little pot thrust him into his first psychotic break. Despite my intense interest in behaviour, I had never dealt first-hand with schizophrenia. My learning curve was slow in some ways, but guided by the Holy Spirit in some remarkable ways. It took three years for me to learn that a very small amount of one medication worked better for him than the massive doses of several he received in hospital. (I have reason to believe he was experimented on.) Seven years later, I would realize that even a minuscule amount of the meds prevented healing. No one expects to heal a schizophrenic, but I did twice. Dan has had no further psychosis once he learned how to care for and protect his ears. That has been a slow process because he has struggled with addictions that were made much worse by his meds (I could go on about this, you realize!) Eventually, I discovered that the music treatment that had healed his dyslexia and the CFS of three family members was unnecessarily complex; simple CDs of classical violin music and ordinary headphones had the same effect. The second time I used that method, forcing right-eared listening with a wad of Kleenex over the left earpiece, I decided to try to find out how music could be healing not only my CFS but severe schizophrenia. I began to read everything I could find on the brain; studied the neurology of the ear using standard texts. I had noticed several things about Dan’s symptoms over the years, had even tested some of them and doctors had brushed off my questions. I could see music was working, but what was changing? When I saw a chart online of the differing propensities of the two cerebral hemispheres, I realized within moments that the treatment of Dan’s right ear was making him “more left brained.” It took me a while to discover how: the smallest muscle in the body in the right middle ear can be strengthened so that it better conveys sound energy to the left half of the brain, making it dominant in the integration of the two halves of the brain.
        That is the source of our sanity, capacity for learning, and the control that allows us to achieve every conceivable state of consciousness. It is the mechanism by which we awaken and sleep. Damage to the stapedius muscle creates the range of aberrant behaviours we call “mental illness” but also “stuck thinking” of a wide variety. Tomatis knew that the ear also controls other body systems: respiration, cardiac and circulatory function, hormonal secretions, the digestive organs, the immune system. His knowledge of the neurology of the ear, which I found before I published and allowed me to correct what I had learned from standard texts would have led him to what I discovered if he hadn’t gotten involved in psychiatric theory. My work expands on and corrects his. The ear is more essential than the eye to the regulation of body systems. It is the timing mechanism of the body. As my discoveries multiplied, I knew I had to write about what God had led me into. My husband and I set aside other goals to form our own publishing company to disseminate this learning. My writing is aimed at the educated public and professionals and while readable tends to be scholarly. This is enough for you to ponder now, but let me know what else you want to know and I will continue to share. If you prefer email, I am at rtallman@xplornet.ca. Blessings,
        Laurna

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