It was a simple referral. "He's playing with kids that are too young." This was a worry about social development, there were no other concerns lurking behind those words. On a visit to the school, everyone had opinions. Having kids with disabilities in the school was new to all of them. Segregated schools had only recently closed. Now they were faced with new students who made them ask new questions.
I asked about the family and got the familiar familial eye roll. They didn't see what mother could add to the discussion but I was welcome to call her. Call her I did. As it happened she was free at that moment and I went over to visit her. Recognize who I was to her, another call from the school, a fresh problem to be dealth with. She greeted me with little warmth and we sat at the table to talk. "What's the problem now?"
Explaining that her boy needed to socially advance and stop playing with kids a grade or two younger, her face hardened. "What do you expect him to do?"
Automatically I knew the problem. Her son had been infantalized by this woman, she didn't see him as a growing adult. It took me a few seconds to lay the foundations of blame and in that time she regrouped and asked, "My son, was he still limping when you met him."
Embarassed I had to admit that I hadn't met her boy but that I had a bounty of information from the school. But I was interested, "Why is he limping?" I asked.
She explained to me that her boy, though he had lots of disabilities in lots of areas but that he was an expert in riding his bike. She was poetic, she said, "When he gets on his bike it's like he gets off his disability." Several weeks before he was riding home from school when local hooligans sprang out and using a bb gun shot at him, hitting him three times in the leg. He crashed into the ditch and lay there terrified.
Mom found out when the neighbour, the owner of the house where he crashed, the exact neighbour that was hostile to her son being in the neighbourhood called her and said, "Get it off of my lawn." She flew out of her house, gathered him up and took him to the hospital. While there she called the police. The police were unsympathic and said, "That's what'll happen when you keep them in the community."
Now she was hostile, "You're a consultant, tell me what to do. If I insist that they press charges everyone will take those other kids side. If I don't, I'm saying it's ok to hurt my kid. Tell me what to do." Now she was crying and I was apologzing. He was playing with younger kids because they were safer.
I talked about this at staff meeting and a social worker, hearing the story, said, "I want to meet that mom." I explained that mom had had too many people talking to her about too many things." The social worker exploded, "That's her decision to make, don't make it for her." I called mom and explained that we had a social worker on staff who wanted to meet with her. She sighed, then agreed.
On my way up we chatted. The social worker, a black woman, was eager for the meeting and peppered me with questions. When we arrived and sat back down at the table, the social worker said, "I came up to talk to you because I heard what happened to your son. I want you to know that I have two boys, I live in an all white town. I know when my kids leave my house they are going to get hurt. They will be called names, they will be excluded. So I've taught my sons two lessons, they are the same lessons you need to teach your son."
Her fingernail tapping on the table as she made her points, she looked intently at the other mother, "First, be proud of who you are, second, people who hurt you because you are different are wrong. Wrong."
She went on to explain that there was no excuse for violence or namecalling or bullying. "Anyone over 5 years old knows it's wrong." We need to keep giving that message to our children. They need to know that they don't deserve to be hurt, that it doesn't come with being different, that it's not ok and that it angers us."
We talked a while longer and as we left mom got up and hugged the social worker and then she wept crying hard against her shoulder. I quietly left to sit in the car.
Be proud of who you are.
People who hurt you because you are different are wrong.