Thursday, August 27, 2015

PSA: Teach Your Kids

Friends, I have an important public service announcement. I say this as a parent and as a teacher. I know that some kids will learn social cues almost automatically and other kids need direct teaching. Please do the direct teaching.  It is critical. Four years ago I wrote this blog post. Unfortunately it has gotten worse as Madeleine has gotten older. Unfortunately she notices it now and takes it personally. **These thoughts are scattered because these words bring emotions. Apologies for poorly written posts and when I'm ready to share this professionally I will clean it up.

My girl is a strong one. I cannot know what she deals with in her heart and her brain every day. I cannot know what it feels like to know that she will always look different from her peers. She is so strong. She deals with this shit over and over and over again. She deals with adults staring or telling her "she's amazing" for doing things all-limbed kids would do. Or merchants giving her free ice cream (true it has happened many times). She deals with kids looking, ogling, taunting, name-calling, following her around, asking constant questions and running away from her. This happens daily.

We were in the airport a few weeks back and she said to me, "mom, watch how all these grown ups stare at my leg." And it was true. Grown men in suits and with suitcases almost tripping themselves to stare. Now, that is not a bad thing but the point is Madeleine notices it.

It is not uncommon for kids to ask questions and mostly this is fine. Teach your kids to ask questions. It is important in all aspects of their lives. If they are wondering and they are polite there should not be a problem. I have taught Madeleine to say, "I noticed you staring do you have questions?"  At least I have tried to teach her this but sometimes she growls.

It's true. My daughter growls at people. She is fed up and sick of "using her words". The non-verbal growl usually conveys enough.

Friends, I could write hundreds, maybe thousands of snippets about this issue. I could tell you about the time kids ran from her, or called her gross and creepy, or told her that only two-legged girls could play. I could tell you how she has cried about it and how she feels alone. About how she cannot look at Hannah Andersson catalogs because she is jealous that footy pajamas will never look 'like that' on her.  But instead I want to tell you one story.

Names and locations have not been changed because I don't care.

Yesterday we were at Pop Mounger Pool in Magnolia. If you are unfamiliar with Seattle I will tell you that Magnolia is an affluent neighborhood and it happens to have one of the only outdoor public pools in our area. It is a lovely pool with a twisty slide and a kiddy pool and a great hang out spot for many school aged kids and their families.

The kids (Max, Madeleine and Max's good friend) were eating up the last days of sunny summer at the free swim time. Max was playing with his buddy and Madeleine was doing her own thing and joining the boys from time to time. Madeleine is an excellent swimmer and very confident in the water. She is also cool with being alone and playing by herself.

With only ten minutes left of swim time I was hanging out in the shade and perusing twitter. Max's friend came up to me suddenly and said, "there are girls bothering Madeleine and I think there may be a fight". When I looked up I could see Madeleine getting angry, I could hear her voice and I saw two girls ages 7-10 with life jackets on near her. I swiftly walked to that end of the pool and as I approached the girls began to swim away. Madeleine was so angry and upset she couldn't talk to me. Finally she screamed, "I hate them! They are so mean!" Then Max, friend and Madeleine began to relay some things the girls were saying to Madeleine. They were taunting her. They followed her around to be mean! They grabbed her leg! That's right, they TOUCHED her body! to be mean. They said horrible things.....
*you are ugly
*your leg is gross
*your family must not love you because they cut your leg off
*your leg looks like a penis
*you can't swim
*you must be a baby because your leg is so small

Max and friend totally stood up for her. They told the girls to leave Mad alone. And the girls didn't stop. The boys were so quick thinking that Max stayed with Madeleine while friend found me.

I found the girls in the other pool and calmly gave them a lesson in respect, kindness and differences. At first one of them tried to deny it and then they just listened. But they never apologized. I wish I had known who their parents were. I wish I had told the life guard that they touched my daughter as she was coming down the slide and she hit her head and that is a safety concern.

But mostly I wish that parents would teach their kids kindness. Teach them that people are made differently. Not the talk of, "God made her that way" because many kids lose body parts or are burned and scarred later in life. Teach them that shit happens. That we all have something. That even if you are different you still matter. Everyone deserve respect. Live and let live. And get the fuck over it.

We cannot know Madeleine's reality. She kept saying to me, "mom, they said it looks like a penis". She told me she thought one of the girls was named Lola. This is important because if you think you know Lola you owe it to Madeleine to teach her.

For fuck's sake people, teach your kids how to be kind. I get curiosity but I don't get cruel. I will blog soon about books you can read to your kids or movies you can watch.  Please, start teaching them while they are young. Show them pictures of people who are different colors. Who live in different cultures. Who have bodies that are formed differently. Surround them with racially diverse people, with people who have Down Syndrome, with people who talk differently. It is a critical lesson in life and it needs to be directly and deliberately taught.


saturyne said...

Thank you for posting this. I have two daughters, aged 3 and 5, and I constantly talk to them about how we are all different. As my oldest daughter enters kindergarten this year (QAE, is that were your daughter goes?), I want to prepare her not just academically, but socially. We talk about people in wheelchairs, dwarfism, blind, deaf, facial deformities, Down Syndrome, etc - I even show them pictures if I can find them. I'm trying to start a conversation about it, so that it's not a big deal when they meet others.

When we go out to eat, my 3 year old sometimes points and shouts "mommy look! someone's in a wheelchair!" I always feel awful, because I don't want the person to feel ashamed. In reality, we talk about wheelchairs so much, and how cool they are, that they are probably excited to see one. Whenever we see someone in a wheelchair I make a point to say how wonderful that they are able to get around!

About a week or so ago, I took my girls to Zeeks, and as we sat outside a mom and daughter walked by. I think it was you! The girl had a prosthetic leg. My girls stared (which I hate, and it's so hard to combat child curiosity), but I took it as an opportunity to celebrate your daughter. I tried not to make a big deal about it, at the same time. I smiled, ate my pizza, and said, "That is so cool! She's got a bionic leg to help her get around." (I hope using the word bionic is ok....I was trying to add a cool factor to it) :) I really try to humanize any person we see that is "different." I immediately asked my girls, "Do you think she likes salami and bacon pizza like you do? What My Little Pony do you think is her favorite?" The kids realized she's probably just like them.

I really really want to know how else I can prepare my kids. I would be heartbroken to ever know they started or said something rude. I hope my kindergartner has the opportunity to meet your daughter. Your post broke my heart - I can't imagine being a mom and knowing your kid feels embarrassed, and hearing the cruel things other kids say.

My daughter's don't have physical disabilities, but they are different in their own way. They have two moms. While we're lucky to live in a progressive city, I know they will be teased or feel embarrassed at some point. We get LOTS of stares, and kids have asked them why they have two moms. Pretty benign for now, but I imagine it will get worse.

I hope your daughter knows how special she is, and that she can rise above the name callers. Kids sometimes see the differences first, not realizing there is so much more to us than a prosthetic leg, two moms, scars, etc. I was bullied so badly (for my teeth, hair, butt) I cried every day after school.

My kids would be honored to play at the park with your daughter. Hope they get a chance to meet!
-Carrie :)

Nicole Stoddard said...

This is amazing. I actually had a talk with my girls a day or two ago about how sometimes babies are born with no arms, no legs, one eye, etc. How it's normal and some people are just like that, but can still do anything they want to do. But I didn't cover the other aspect of it, when kids or adults lose a part of their body from an accident or sickness, etc. I will absolutely be working on that with them.

stardustlane said...

Could you please provide a description of the girls you saw? I know of a Lola in that age range and her mother is lovely. I would be very surprised if her Lola is the Lola from the pool, but I know that if she is, her mother would most definitely want to know.

Mark &/or Holly Haskell said...

A fantastic book that drives this point home is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It would be a wonderful read aloud for any grade school child to discuss and teach kindness and compassion in relating to others that are different.

bruna said...

I am trembling. This is all so touching. One of my greatest worries and duties as a mother is to teach my son to be respectful and kind to others. I put myself in your place and i wish i could hug you. I put myself in Madeleines place and i wish i could erase from her memory the words she heard from these bullies. But i put myself also in these girls´mothers place and feel pity in first place. I would have totally, totally lost my control if i saw my son doing something like that. I wish all the best for you, Madeleine and Max.

Kelly2 said...

I am so sad for Madeleine that she experienced this. A little boy in our neighborhood has autism to a moderate degree and his ways of play are quite different from our girls'. We have had the conversation numerous times about how all people are different. And that's OK! I hope it sinks into their little brains but this serves again as a good reminder to continue having the conversations.