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When a Woman Stared While We Fed Our Daughter Through a G-Tube

I would like to start off with a quick lesson in physics (please don’t tune me out just yet because I said “physics”). By definition, a magnet is a material or object that produces a magnetic field. The magnetic field is an invisible force responsible for the attraction of objects like iron and opposite poles, as well as for repelling other magnets with the same pole. The life of a magnet is full of what are called “magnetic moments.” Without getting too far off track, we will define a magnetic moment as an action that occurs between the poles and causes either attraction or repellence.

I’ve learned many lessons over the past three years as a parent of a child with special needs. There are many things in our lives that shape who we are but are kept hidden in the depths of our hearts and minds. Disability is not usually one of them. It’s hard not to notice the person in the wheelchair, the little girl who is walking “funny,” the boy who’s drooling everywhere or the teenage kid who’s yelling and screaming like a 2-year-old having a tantrum. Yes, disability is something we often have to wear for all to see, sometimes by choice but oftentimes not. It’s this exposure that allows what I like to call magnetic moments to occur.

My daughter, Elle, had only been out of the NICU for a couple of days, but as her father, I’d made my mind up that I wasn’t going to let her special needs stop us from doing anything, so we ventured out. My wife, Sharon, was much more hesitant; she wasn’t sure if it was the right time to be getting out. You see, Elle had a G-tube placed two weeks prior, and we were on an every-three-hour feeding schedule. After finishing a few errands to pick up some medications, we decided to go to one of our favorite lunch places. It was time to feed Elle as well. No matter how discrete you’re trying to be, it’s hard to hide the fact that you’re hooking up a tube to another tube coming out of your baby’s stomach.

Once everything was hooked together, Sharon sat in the booth and held Elle while I stood next to her holding the syringe, pouring formula into it. All of a sudden the syringe came out of the extension, and the formula dumped all over Sharon and Elle. Sharon sat there, soaked and almost in tears as she said, “I told you this was a bad idea!” I replied, “Everything is OK. We’re fine.” As I started to clean up the mess, Sharon whispered, “Now those two ladies are just staring at us!” I turned and looked over my shoulder. There sat two older ladies across the way watching us. We quickly finished eating, packed everything up and began to leave. As we walked out, one of the two ladies who’d been staring at us reached out and stopped Sharon. “Ma’am…” I froze and thought to myself, oh crap, here we go. Just as tears began to well up in the lady’s eyes, she shared, “I just wanted to tell you that you have a beautiful family.” I was speechless and didn’t know how to respond. I looked over at Sharon as she said, “Thank you” while crying.

Joshua Florence and her family

Over the next few months I’d often think back to that day. It was in that moment I realized that not everybody who’s staring is staring for the wrong reasons. You see, that day we had a magnetic moment. It was a moment, we were placed in a situation and realized we’d put our negative side out. Instead of pushing us further away with another negative, that lady recognized that we needed her positive side. It was something so small, something she probably will never remember, but I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Our lives are full of these moments, times were we see someone and realize they could use an encouraging word, “Hey — look at how awesome you’re walking!” or, “I love your wheelchair!” Or something as simple as, “Your daughter is beautiful” can impact a life and change the way they see world. You get to make the choice. Am I going to repel them away by not saying anything, or do I pull them closer, making them stronger? Life is full of these magnetic moments. Why not focus on making them positive?