When my son started preschool, I was nervous kids would make fun of him.
He initially wasn’t talking as much or as well as his classmates. Both teachers have commented how much more he is talking in just a couple of months and how he is easier to understand.
I’ve written about Cub and his uniqueness before: he may not speak as well as kids his age, but he can read anything, spell, and loves maps. Last night he corrected me when I pointed to a country on an unlabelled map. I said it was Israel. He proceeded to tell me, “Israel’s not in Africa. That’s Eritrea.”
I was so pleased when Cub seemed to blend in with the kids who had been together for months, and if he or they were aware of their differences, I didn’t see it on the occasions I was in the classroom: kids would often ask him to join in playing and he eagerly sang along to all the songs and joined in activities. And Cub would come home and talk about his friends, rattling off all their names. It made me wonder when kids start to notice differences?
My heart broke a little at a recent preschool day. Cub was “helper” since I was a parent helper, and one of his jobs was to read everyone’s names who were at school that day so they could say “here!” While he can read each of their names, his pronounciation isn’t as clear as that of his classmates, and one of the boys started imitating how he was saying names. I don’t think a five-year-old is capable of being malicious, but it was obvious he noticed Cub was different or not saying it right, and he and his friend were getting a kick out of it.
My heart hurt partly because Cub talks about this boy at home and seems to really like him. I was so glad that he either didn’t understand or care the implication of someone mimicking him saying “Pub” for “Cub.” It was also the first instance where I saw someone make fun of my child for being different. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It hurt me much more than it hurt him!
It reminded me of the book I’m reading right now, Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson. The author is a writer who, out of desperation for income, takes a job driving a bus of children with special needs. In one of the chapters, he reflects on a few cases where he sees kids or adults making fun of his passengers. In more than one instance, he gets out and confronts people (which, upon reflection, he doesn’t recommend: he actually threatens to punch the dad of one mean kid and gets into an awkward altercation with said dad).
So, I’m not planning any altercations with any preschoolers or parents! Far from it. It was his realization that hit home for me and came to mind: he realized his outrage at people wasn’t helping him or the kids he was trying to protect.
“If anything, my actions merely called attention to matters they had learned to dismiss, having developed strategies to cope; I was the equivalent of an amplifier, forcing them to hear a frequency they had taught themselves to tune out.”
Man, when I read those words, I was really struck by them. It’s funny how the world works: funny that I was reading this book and had just read this package, which then popped into my head today, when I really needed it. We all want to protect our children and we would do ANYTHING to protect them. But sometimes you can’t. The world keeps turning, there will always be someone saying something mean or rude (as kids or adults – sometimes I think adults are worse), and you can’t always be there to stand up for them. They have to learn how to stand up for themselves or learn how to celebrate their differences and be proud of them. We have to do our best to install pride and confidence and kindness in them.
Speaking of kindness, the teacher gently asked the boys to stop repeating Cub, and then one little girl, after Cub said her name, turned to the teacher to earnestly say, “Teacher, Cub did a really good job on my name!” The teacher suggested she tell Cub, so she walked over and told him. I wanted to hug her and cry. I’m tearing up writing this now. Cub was of course unphased by it all.
Our kids don’t need us to protect them, and we won’t always be there anyway every time someone hurts them, intentional or not. They need our love so they can go out into the world and stand up for themselves with the knowledge we always have their backs.
And in the end, kindness always wins.
“You’re not always capable of changing the world – and sometimes it’s hard to protect even your little patch of it, the garden where the most beautiful flowers grow. But you have to trust the resiliency of those flowers. They have made a life in that inhospitable soil, and somehow they manage to survive.” ~ Craig Davidson