Something happened the other day.
It didn’t happen when I was around. My husband was the one who witnessed it.
“I have something I want to tell you, but I feel like I shouldn’t,” he said.
Of course, he had to tell me then. There was no way I was going to let it go.
He and our daughter Ellie were at a place playing and she had to stand in line with some other kids in order to do an activity. The kid who had to stand in line beside her said to his mom, “I don’t want to stand by her. She is weird, and I don’t like her.”
There it is.
The first time one of us has heard it happen.
I mean, I have had friends say the “r” word in front of me, but I wasn’t THAT offended. Just more annoyed at having to be in that situation. I have had friends talk about how their “typical” kid was mistaken for someone who was “special” and how they quickly explained that there was nothing “wrong” with their kid. The whole nothing-wrong-with-my-kid-thing hurt my feelings, but I wasn’t crushed. People stare at Ellie, but I like to think it is because she is creating such a comedy scene that it is hard to look away.
But this time, when Ben told me that another child didn’t want to stand next to Ellie because she was weird, I actually felt my heart crack.
I knew it was coming one day. I am sure it won’t be the last time and honestly, it probably isn’t the first time, just the first time I am hearing about it.
I have been thinking about it for a while. Tossing it around in my head and wondering how to process it, trying to name the emotion that I feel – offended, sad, grief, anger, annoyance, confusion, relief, clarity – not sure if I would share with the world.
I mean, maybe that kid said that because she is a girl and he knows that girls have cooties. It may have had nothing to do with her Down syndrome or at least that is how I have been rationalizing it.
I don’t blame the kid. I don’t blame the parents. Ellie IS different and weird and all kids call that kind of stuff out. There is nothing that isn’t normal about a child noticing when something is unusual. Just like there isn’t anything wrong with a parent educating their child on how people are different.
Jack, my first-grader, has had a mohawk for over a year. I don’t love it, but decided that the way he wants to style his hair isn’t worth a fight. Just last week he told me about a boy he knows.
“He’s just weird and I don’t want to be around him,” he told me.
“What? Jack, everyone is weird. That is what makes people interesting,” I told him. “Is he fun? Is he a nice person?”
“Yes, he is always nice to me,” Jack said. “He is just different.”
“Ok, well, you have a mohawk. Does anyone in your class have one?” I asked.
“No,” he said proudly.
“So, you’re different from everyone else?” I asked.
“I like being different,” he said after a few seconds of reflection.
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