If that doesn't sound like a bad country song I'm not sure what would. However, that was a brief part of reality today.
Most days I don't think of Gabe as being any different than any other child out there. Sure, he goes to therapy 4 days a week, doesn't walk yet and has to work harder at things than other children do. Gabe's differences don't stick out to those that love him but they sure stick out to others. And while our sweet boy doesn't notice this now, one day he will.
This morning Gabe and I were at the pool minutes after it opened. No one else was there and it was so peaceful, just me and Gabe swimming in circles, his sweet laugh filling the air. Not 5 minutes later though, the splash pad next door turned on and Gabe was drawn to the children playing there. I couldn't refuse his request of "go play please" and we headed on over.
I walked Gabe onto the splash pad close to a fountain and left him to play. Gabe splashed in the water, squealed when the bucket tipped over and laughed along with the other children playing. A few minutes after we arrived a little girl stopped in front of me and asked why Gabe was winking, why he wasn't walking. I responded with my usual "his eye just doesn't work like yours... he's still learning to walk.... that's how God made him..." and she ran off. Next a little boy followed with similar questions, receiving similar answers. A few minutes later another girl came over, a few years older than the other children and asked "what's wrong with him" using the nastiest tone imaginable from a child around the age of 8. I used the same responses again, she repeated her question emphasizing the word wrong when her mom called her over.
I was so relieved when her mom called her name assuming she would correct her behavior. She (the mother) told her to go play with him (meaning Gabriel) and the little girl responded "no, he looks weird."
And my heart broke a little (okay, a lot) bit. Little girl ran away, mom said nothing, and I couldn't help but cry. Good thing my sunglasses are so big or else it may have become awkward.
I was so angry. Absolutely horrified that that little girl would say Gabe looks weird. I was even more angry that the mother was okay with her child calling another a name. Children live what they learn... growing up it was not okay for me to call other people names. My parents wouldn't stand for it so I learned not to do it. Again... children live what they learn. Besides the fact that the old mantra "if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all" still applies in the 21st century.
But more than anger, my heart was overcome with sadness. Sadness that a little girl could so easily call someone they didn't know a name, sadness that her mom didn't step up and set it right and of course my heart just ached for Gabriel. Right now, Gabriel doesn't even know he is any different than the other children he sees at the park, splash pad and church. But one day he will and he will also hear the words of other children and adults. Words that can hurt, discourage and make him question his self worth.
We will do our best to teach Gabe that there is nothing "wrong" with being different; that God made him in His image and he is perfect just the way that he is. We will do our best to teach Gabe that it is okay to be different and that everyone is different in one way or another.
But we can't do this alone. We need other people to advocate for the well-being of Gabe and all other children that are differently-abled. We need to teach all children (and parents) that calling someone else an unkind name is not acceptable; we need to show love and kindness rather than judgement and condemnation. Our children will only learn to be kind, if we act kindly to others. Wouldn't that be a wonderful legacy to leave our children? A legacy of kindness that could just go on and on.