And so it begins.
I knew it would happen at some point. It was bound to. James is different from most kids and different isn’t good when you’re a child. Different gets you picked on. But he’s only two, I thought I’d have a few more years before I’d feel compelled to come to his defense with another child. Turns out it starts a lot earlier than I realized.
We spent Monday morning at The Perot Museum of Nature and Science. It was our first time to bring James. We talked about taking him lots of times, but I usually find a reason not to go. There’s always the fear of him getting sick, but in addition, it’s just hard to take him places. It’s especially hard to take him places where he’ll be free to roam around other children. He LOVES other children, but he gets over stimulated quickly and has no impulse control. There’s the constant struggle between exposing him to more kids so he can learn what to do, and trying to teach him what to do, then expose him to more kids.
It’s hard. I’m always second guessing myself and feeling defensive. It’s easier to have him around other preemies, but even some of their parents don’t understand. They don’t have the child who gets excited and walks up to other kids with arms flailing. As hard as I try to run interference, inevitably James makes contact and some sweet child thinks James is hitting them. They don’t have the child who bolts the second they gain freedom. James can be out of arms reach in an instant, and then it’s a game of chase. And, they don’t have the child who licks anything and everything. I laugh about it, and even included it in our scavenger hunt last week: “A photo of James licking something from another state.” Wrong? Probably, but if I don’t laugh about I would spend a whole lot of time crying. This is the struggle in my head when we’re invited somewhere. This is what I weigh out each time when deciding if we’ll go. This time we went, next time, I don’t know.
James loved The Perot. He had a blast running around the children’s area at the museum. He smiled and laughed, running past other kids. He climbed stairs and went down a slide. He walked over small bridges and tried climbing the rock wall. From the moment he was out of the stroller he never stopped. And of course neither did we. We both worked to keep him safe and watched him closely around the other children as they played. James made several loops without incidence, then I watched as two boys looked at James, grew very serious, and stood together to defend their blocks as he came near. James didn’t care. He ran around them, laughing, and didn’t give them a second look. As he passed them, one of the boys looked at me and said, “He’s crazy.” He wasn’t smiling or playful when he said it. He was serious and he didn’t want James anywhere near him. I was stunned and completely caught off guard. I’ve used those exact words to describe James before, but it sounds completely different when someone else says it, and they mean it.
Just two little words from the mouth of a child, but they cut straight to my heart and brought tears to my eyes. My son was being judged by another child for actions he can’t help, at two years old. So many things ran through my head as I tried to figure out how to respond. I started to ignore it and say nothing, but that’s my precious James he’s talking about. Saying nothing wasn’t an option. So I told him he’s not crazy and that’s not a nice thing to say – I’m sure he’ll remember those wise words… Next time I’ll be prepared. And there will be a next time, I’m certain of that. This is only the beginning. We have years ahead of us of being judged as parents and watching James be judged by his peers. Preschool is just around the corner. How will his classmates treat him? What about his teachers? I know I can’t protect him from everything, but it sure is tempting to try.
As I relayed the day’s events to my mom she cried a few tears with me, then she reminded me of how much the kids at daycare loved James. He was only there a couple of months, but his classmates loved him. They wanted to help him and tried to take care of him. They knew James was different but they embraced that and it was ok. I’m so thankful my mom reminded me of that experience. That’s what I will remember and focus on as we prepare to send James off to preschool in August. Between now and then I will work hard at convincing myself that not only will James love it, but he will be loved.
I wish I had great words of wisdom and comfort to offer, but of course there are none. I felt the lump grow in my throat as I read your post. And then I started thinking about how we all, even as adults, often shield ourselves from those who are different. One thing I’ve been trying to do in the past couple of years is to take notice of others around me who are often invisible or ignored due to their “differences” – the homeless person sitting on the side of the road, the mentally challenged person in the grocery store. I’ve tried to make eye contact, smile, engage with them. And then say a prayer for them. But I’ll be honest, my first thought often is to look away or try to assess what kind of danger they might pose. It’s just so difficult. I think your Mom gave good insight. Those who know James, love him. I remember growing up with a girl who was around my age who had Down’s Syndrome. She was a normal part of the neighborhood – she came to birthday parties, she played tag and hide and seek and kick the can with all of us. We knew her since we were babies, and she was simply accepted. James will have that, too. But it will be those who don’t know him who will make the tears come to your eyes. Because we all, kids and adults, can let fear of the unknown cause us to be insensitive to others. Continue what you’re doing – speak out for him, educate others, and in the process change the world one person at a time. Love you Alison!
Thank you so much Faye. I love what you’re doing to notice those who are often invisible. Sometimes we adults are the worst offenders of shying away from someone who is different. Acceptance can start with us, one person at a time. When you smile and say hello another passerby may notice and may begin to think about the same thing. What a ripple effect we can have!
Beautiful, and very true, words shared above. And I so agree with everything Faye said. Tears did come to my eyes as well, reading your post. And haven’t we all felt that when our children were made to be “different” in some way or another? Acceptance from others outside our family is difficult in the world we live in and it shouldn’t be. I know it is the society we live in, which is so sad. I am so sorry that this happened to you and James. My heart hurts for the pain you received. Please don’t worry for preschool. Easy for me to say I know, but children are so innocent and they will accept him just as he is. It kinda reminds me of when toddlers speak to each other……we didn’t understand anything they said, but they sure !!!! My sister has twins that just turned 4. They would babble and had their own language, and we had no idea of what they said. They knew what the other needed, whether it was their blanket, paci, or toy. Same will happen for James and his friends at school. And I’m thinking that maybe he’ll follow their example for such things are running, playing, eating (and licking too!!!). And if I were to judge you as a parent……Hummmm, I’ve have to say you are the best there is. You are doing what you have to do for James. I know you will never stop doing what you have to do…..Hugs and prayers to all of you.
Thank you so much for your encouragement. I really appreciate it. Been some tough times this week with that happening Monday and having his first ARD meeting to enroll him in Special Education today, but I’m thankful for every bit of it…they are all experiences we get to have because he’s here with us! So I will do my best to smile through the tears and keep on going. 🙂