I am often discounted, both by people I trust and people that haven’t yet had the chance to earn it. For some, I lose credibility immediately upon choosing a positive perspective of any given situation over a negative, when the choice presents itself. It does in nearly everything. Not that I always choose the rosy glasses – 50/50 when dealing with adults, 70/30 with the under 10 set. It’s more reflexive than anything.
When I share my small tales of Addie’s fairly rich and connected life at 6 years old with other parents of kids with differences, I am patted on head, told that I ain’t seen nothing yet, essentially that people are evil at worst, clueless at best, when it comes to counting in my child with cognitive, communicative and medical differences.
There are times I offer my stories or my intentions for projects and work related to meaningful inclusion for those with differences, only to get in return the dismissive smirk from parents of older kids purportedly in my same “boat.” The look (or sometimes actual words) that says, “well, aren’t you darlin’? I used to think that way before I knew better. Best of luck when the truth dawns on you, hun! You’re best to shelter your child from any social or practical expectation outside our world now, but experience will tell you that soon enough. Carry on with your imaginative play and I’ll meet you in the real world – the disability ONLY world, when you’re ready.” Pat, pat, pat.
I am impotent against this. I can do nothing. The reality is that my child is 6 and just finishing kindergarten. She is a blue eyed, curly-headed blond who beams at any worthy-to-her being and clearly has some developmental originality to her. Attention (often mistaken for inclusion) is a reflex for 90% of the older-than-her female population who have ever borne a child or intend to parent one day(this begins at age 8 and on up to 100), and for 30% of the male population in general – which is saying something. The girl, much like a newborn, is everyone’s business and they often feel compelled to tell me how dazzling her hair is or her eyes are. She clearly attracts notice and general (albeit surface) positivity at this age and size. The facts are stacked against me. I can’t help but look like a rube, oblivious to a strong wind behind us, smiling widely in the mistaken belief that we clip along by our own power and worse, that we expect to continue to direct our destiny.
I get the view that we should shrug our shoulders and come to terms with the fact that the world has not evolved with our kids in mind. I understand the experience, the exhaustion, the disappointment it comes from. I really do.
But I don’t hold it as fact and it does not guide me. Instead, I choose to believe in people, to believe in children, to not judge based on poor choice of words, or the social slippage of a prolonged glance. In our family, we hold out after something leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. We wait. We wait for the good. In waiting for the good, we are seen smiling, trusting, expecting. Maybe the wide-eyed look does imply something short of savvy. But people, young and old, prefer to rise to expectations over failing to meet them, particularly when they are so elemental to meet.
I have lived that as true, seen it play out. When a child stares at my beloved because she is different, I can chose any number of responses. My immediate response shapes what I internalize about the other’s intentions (often not the other way around for me, contrary to standard belief), what my witnessing children internalize. When a child stares or points, I can fling a bitter retort at the parent , stomp away, or sulk, thus cementing the impression of evil that was one of my options for perspective: an impression that would guide my approach to everything and distract me evermore from recognizing genuine interest and intentions towards my child, buried in unfortunate vernacular or differing interpretations of manners. It leaves a nasty stain, in truth – a stain that would seep and overtake my daughters’ faith in others, as well. I fear this is all too common an evolution of outlook.
This choice to see evil in murkiness puts the other person, no matter how virtuous or even ill-intentioned they may be, in flight or fight mode. There may be a follow up dig or a retreat. Either way, if I choose it, I have wasted something and cheated both my daughter and the other human involved.
I can witness a lingering look, swallow anything that might need swallowing, and turn it into an introduction. “Hi! I see you are really interested in Addie, can I introduce you? She has the very same beach towel as you!”…or..” you have gym shoes on, Addie has gym shoes, do you like to run? Addie, can you show him the sign for “run?” Yes, now you try… Yep, she talks. Not with her mouth, but with her hands and a computer. Computers are cool, huh? Addie, show him your…page…”
Kids greet my daughter by name, genuinely happy for the chance to say hello and get a sign from her, based on these very beginnings. Often, their parents are impressed and charmed by their child’s nonchalance to difference, which catches on like a virus. Suddenly, our families are not so hush, hush disparate after all.
These are very kindergarten conversations, I know. Easy, elementary, basic. Trickier when you’re talking alternative music, Abercrombie and Fitch, Twilight and beyond. We get that the gap is as small as it’s ever going to be.
And I’m not always in the mood or mindset to hand out the benefit of the doubt that is so very often withheld from my daughter. Some days I say nothing. Some days I walk away with my mind imprisoned considering acidic or cathartic zingers I could have hurled, ruminating for hours. But I don’t hurl anything. My child and other children – maybe yours - seemingly outside the trajectory, would bear the brunt of my bitter choice to further separate my family from others.
My husband, both my daughters and I, we are willing to work with things as they are. We trust general intentions until we collect enough evidence to contract our faith in any given person or group of people. We believe and promote the idea that we are connected just because we are human.
I’m not sure that those who dismiss me and my work started out in the same place. And therefore, I don’t accept their dismissal. Instead, I worry about – and continue to work for, all children. Especially theirs.