Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sometimes It's a Cruel World (or Why Birthday Parties Sometimes Suck)

"EWWWWWW! She's so gross!!"
"Yuck! Don't touch her!"
"Ahhhhh! Run Away! She's crazy!"
"Ew, look at her!"

The pack of little boys aged 3 to 6, were running up, screaming, laughing and mocking another child. This child, much older than they were, was sitting on the floor drooling profusely on herself, making funny sounds, staring and laughing at nothing, and flapping her hands wildly in the air. The child at the center of their verbal jabs and laughter was MY child. My CB. She was their freak show. They were openly and unabashedly teasing my child. My defenseless,happy, totally different and unique child.

And a knife stabbed into the flesh of my heart. The part that beats solely for her.

I was at a friend's child's birthday party with all 4 of my girls. I am always hesitant to take CB to parties and events where there are people there I don't know as well. I worry about the reactions of others and about what CB may do... how she'll act... what everyone will think. Sometimes I'm worrying that she'll start humping the floor. Other times I'm worried she'll crap in her diaper and I'll have no where to change a 5 foot tall 80 pound girl. Sometimes I'm worried about her breaking the hostess's priceless heirloom or that she'll push, scratch or kick a 15 month old who got too close. Sometimes I worry that she will slip out the back door and get herself halfway to the interstate before we find her. Seldom have I worried about mean, brazen teasing. I guess now I can add that to my list.

Though this type of thing doesn't happen to us too often when it does, I usually feel like I'm going to spit venom and go postal on the brats. I'm always able to hold back and instead use it as a "teaching moment." This time, however, my reaction was notably different. This time, I was oddly calm. Or perhaps not calm. More defeated. Numb. I brushed it off... let it go.

So, what did I do? I wish I could say my actions were noble, but they were the actions of a woman who was defeated by the cruelty of the world in which we live. I silently walked over to CB, lifted her up under her arms and quietly escorted her into the next room away from the boys. A place where I could see her and where other adults could bear witness and address their OWN children so as I wouldn't have to, because I'm just exhausted mentally and physically. Sometimes I don't feel like I want to educate every single person about CB's disabilities. I don't want to give preemptive explanations, autism lessons, or apologies. Sometimes, I don't want to feel different. I don't want HER to be different. I just want to go to a party with all my children and not feel like everyone is staring at her, let alone making FUN of her. Treating her as if she were a gross, twisted side-show or demented trick pony. Sometimes I just want a mental break from how others see her disability and just want to go out as a family and feel "normal."

So, life goes on. Forgive and forget. They were children and I knew many of them and knew they were good kids. I also felt like I understood why I responded the way I did - with resignation.  With silence. I gave myself a break. I owed it to myself, right? I can't be "on" all the time.

Then, today, I thought about it again, and I felt the sudden pang of guilt and shame, because I realized that my decision to stay silent was a selfish one. Self preservational perhaps, but selfish nonetheless. It was selfish because I put myself and my mood above my own child's value - a vulnerable child who needs me most. I am her only voice. And whether she notices or computes or cares about the teasing is a moot point, as is the fact that I'm tired or embarrassed or drained. The voice I use to educate, yell, cry, help, heal, forgive is not only my voice, and my crusades are not mine alone. I owe it to all children and adults who are seen as less than valuable or beautiful simply because they have disability that isn't "pretty" and makes others uncomfortable.

I owe it to all of them. I owe even more to my little girl. I am her only voice, and I let her down when I chose to stay silent.


Stimey said...

Oh, sweetie, don't be too hard on yourself. You're right, you can't be on all the time. But if you are interested in giving me those kids' addresses, I will happily go to each of their houses and curse at them for you.

I'm so sorry.

Michelle said...

I'm so sorry Alicia. I'm crying right now. It hurts me so badly and I'm not even the one in your shoes. It must be so exhausting - on a multitude of levels.

Children are sometimes cruel, as you know - especially when exposed to someone "different." I know you are fully capable and do a great job explaining, teaching, etc, CB's condition to people of any age. But you don't always HAVE to. And don't beat yourself up if you don't. Sometimes it's okay to just be. Perhaps "educating" others isn't always about teaching them or defending CB. Do you think it helps to alleviate/divert your attention from some of the things you're feeling? When you don't confront, there's no way for you to channel all of the raw emotions that surface as a result of CB's condition. Just a thought.

You haven't been defeated and neither has CB. She's already winning, because she has a mom who loves her unconditionally. She's blessed and I know you feel the same way. It's evident - without you ever saying a word. Love you both :)

erika said...

I'm so sorry, Alicia. Your post made me cry. What you experienced is my ultimate fear for my daughter. Please don't beat yourself up. You are an excellent mother, and you are doing a wonderful job as a voice for your daughter. And as for educating people, the mocking kids' parents should have intervened and used the moment to educate their kids. And they should feel guilty, not you.

tiffrutherf said...

These are hard moments arnt they? But your "teaching moment" only ends here if you let it. Heres what I mean. Sometimes we are not in the mood to teach, like you said we are tired or angry or whatever the case maybe. Now that you are feeling better use this time to "teach". I have learned so much from you by reading your are always teaching me something...Why not send the host of the party this post..Just so that she can understand how you felt..or write a letter your writing are so eloquent.
"You teach people how to treat you"..and you can "teach people how to treat your child". If nothing is said they will think its ok and its not. By speaking up, you may make these kids BETTER people..The moment has not past, it has only been delayed!

Its tugging on your heart..listen to that "little voice" what does it tell you to do?

Elizabeth said...

You know, I disagree that you let your daughter down. You did remove her from the situation. You were honest with your feelings which is the ultimate gift. I felt sick when I read this story. I felt pissed. Who the hell are these children? I don't care if they're children or not; they should know better. I'm sorry -- this could happen to any and all of us. I wish that someone had been there with you to witness and take over, give you a break.

I so understand your exhaustion.

tiffrutherf said...

OMG did I come off sounding mean? Now that I re-read my post I sound mean...Im sorry. Youve been threw enough and here I come...I sorry again.

michelle said...

Alicia, go easy on yourself. We all need to give ourselves a break sometimes so we can continue to go forward. The challenges you face are astounding. And that you have the grace to NOT go postal in situations like this is amazing. It may feel like you let yourself down, but you did not let CB down.

Claire said...

I have been lucky. My daughter has never been teased. I was told by a good teacher/friend that kids with severe and notice-able challenges like my kid get treated fairly well, but kids who look normal, and can walk suffer mercilessly. I'm sorry for what happened, but I agree with Elizabeth. The only thing I might have done differently is add a line like, "let's move away from these very rude children, C.B."...really loud.

Cristie Ritz King said...

I'll ditto what everyone else said about being too hard on yourself. You are right. You are her voice, but you are "speaking" to way more people now with this post. You are her voice here too and you can be sure every mom who reads this will teach their kids and then watch a little more closely to make sure they never put someone in the situation you and CB were in at the party.
It still sucks and my heart hurst for you.

Queenbuv3 said...

I'm so sorry you had to deal with this situation. I can understand the feeling of being tired of educating everyone all the time about Autism and accepting peoples differences.

We all do things in the heat of the moment that in hindsight we wish we had done differently. It's ok to make a mistake or just not be super human all the time. You do the best you can in any given moment.

Just the fact that you take your daughter out is helping to educate people that there are PEOPLE with disabilities in this world and that is just as important as speaking out against intolerance. Thank God we live in a world where our children are in school with and see people with disabilities out in public. When I was growing up they were in institutions or locked away in some bedroom like a shameful family secret.

You are a great mom and you are doing what you can and you need to give yourself permission to not be perfect.

Holly (fearlessfolks) said...

I agree with you, we are our nonverbal childrens only advocate and voice. I have been lucky, my daughter has never been picked on, but then we are never invited to parties, either.. But if this did happen, I would think it would be a teaching opportunity to help those kids (and adults,sadly) understand what we go through. I've learned that kids really do want to learn more about what they don't understand!!

Alicia (aka Dr. Mom) said...

What would i do without you guys and your amazingly supportive comments? Everyone's words mean the world to me :). youre all the BEST! -- Alicia

Stephanie said...

Actually, I think you handled it just the right way, Alicia. I admire you for wanting to seize these teachable moments. But we can't fight every battle, y'know? You removed your child from the situation and made sure *those children's parents* would have to take responsibility (as they should) if it happened again.

I know I've said it before, but you're a beautiful, beautiful writer.

Corrie Howe said...

Thanks for vulnerability and honesty in sharing your pain and your struggles.

Single Dad / Disabled Daughter said...

Sorry, I don't think you did anything wrong. I fight many, many battles, but not all. Some are better to walk away from and let others fight. Such as their parents. And yes, in general, bday parties for other kids do suck.

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

Oh, Alicia. No guilt allowed. You did what was best. I firmly believe it. Sending a big embrace to you, my friend.

Colligan's Corner said...

I'm a friend of Michelle's and just read your blog for the first time. I am so sorry for your experience. For what it is worth, I too, in general dislike going to children's bday parties. Kids are kids and without supervision, they react as kids react who do not understand. They need to learn. BUT it does not diminish the hurt a child OR PARENT feels when those same children are "honest" and cruel. I will pray for you and your children and hope that one day, I have the priviledge of meeting you. God bless you!
Tracy Colligan

Catherine said...

I am sorry this happened to you and your daughter. This should not have happened and I wish other parents had seen this and addressed the situation. For you, it was enough that you had to deal with your daughter right then and there, and you were right to remove her from the ridicule and bring her to safe harbor and let her know she is loved by you.

Beth L. Gainer said...

This was such a moving post. You are being way too hard on yourself. Sometimes it's not worth trying to educate others. Sometimes it is.

Kids can be cruel, whether making fun of an obese kid, one with glasses, or just about anyone.

It's a shame that these kids were so insensitive; their parents are the ones responsible for their kids' level of respect.

It hurts to hear about all you, CB, and the rest of your family go through, but give yourself a break and don't be so hard on yourself.

Anonymous said...

I keep thinking about this and wondering what I would have done in your shoes and really if any of those women at this birthday party were truly your friends they would have taken their child aside and explained to them CB and that its not polite to point or call people names...I guess I'm a little more sensitive to this type of situation having a sister-in-law severely disabled so I pay very close attention to people's reaction when they see her and I make sure that I explain to my 3yr old when we are out in public that it is not nice to point at people or make fun of them...its the parents responsiblity to educate their children.

Gertrude said...

I'm really touched with this post! I remember my cousin, Miley, who is a twenty-two year old disabled girl. We loved her so much that when we see some strangers staring at her because of her disability, feelings of being hurt swell in. Her disability is not really that bad, she was able to finish college and worked as a production assistant in a nearby factory. The company laid off some employees because of economic reasons and Miley was included in those who became unemployed.

Recently, my Aunt enrolled her in a top caliber company offering worker compensation program for disabled individuals. I must say, the company's straightforward and practical approach to run reemployment services programs will surely help my cousin. Thanks for sharing this post, Alicia!

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