Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com
I caught my son glaring at an older student at the crosswalk on the way home from school. Just as I was about to discipline him, I realized it was because that older kid was looking at Nathan curiously, and maybe, with a little bit of disgust because of his differences.
Big brother was defending little brother with a mean face.
That’s what you call a conflicted parenting moment. I was equally proud that he was standing up for Nathan and disappointed that he used “mean face” to do it.
I haven’t seen Mac advocate for Nathan much. Maybe he would with more opportunities, but he typically doesn’t have to. We live on a friendly cul-de-sac where the families know each other well. And well, everyone knows Nathan. When neighbor kids come over to play with Mac they always say “hi” to Nathan too. One boy lovingly pats him on the head every time he sees him. Another seems to have a personal goal of getting Nathan to laugh. Another trademark greeting from one of Nathan’s kindergarten friends is a smothering bear hug. And they are always willing to share their snacks even though Nathan can’t eat most foods.
What they feel for Nathan is reciprocal because when kids are outside playing, he wants to be too. When Nathan has PT on a sunny day, his therapist will take him around the sidewalk in his walker. He usually heads to the house two doors down and knocks on the door. That sweet mom who has a million other things to do, including work, lets him come in and walk around her house.
Our neighbors are amazing when it comes to inclusivity and modeling kindness. They don’t fear differences. That’s what Mac is used to. That is how he sees people treat his brother.
Later when we got home, Mac and I talked a little about mean facing that kid and what he could do differently next time. We came up with a few things:
Smile and say Hi.
Say, Just because he looks different, you don’t need to look at him differently. He’s a person too.
Or, He can’t talk, but you can still talk to him. If you have questions, I can answer them. (I wanted to add, I’m a smart aleck and can tell you anything you want to know, but I didn’t.)
You can communicate more effectively with kind words, than a mean face.
Mac and I talked a lot about how the tone of what you say is going to dictate how the experience goes for you. If you say things with a sarcastic or mean voice, it’s probably only going to make that person defensive or turned off. Just like mean face. Saying something like:
Do you have a problem?
Or, What are you looking at?
Those things aren’t going to go well, not just for you, but for brother too.
The whole interaction and follow-up conversation was a reminder to me how I need to be open with others too. Most adults don’t give my son repulsive looks, but I need to be careful that I don’t give my own version of mean face. I need to be warm and friendly even when I’m in a hurry, trapped in a waiting room, or when a sweet old lady wants to ask a bazillion questions.
Sometimes I feel like I’m just explaining Nathan’s differences, and not sharing who Nathan truly is. Introducing Nathan is not just about describing his differences, but translating to a world who might otherwise not want, or have the opportunity, to know him just how bright his light shines. He…
Is super content to shake his favorite ball or hug his stuffed puppy.
Giggles when he knows he’s being silly.
And he is the cuddliest little guy once you’ve earned his trust.
Nathan knows when you are uncomfortable with him. That makes him uncomfortable too. But if you are willing to learn his sign language, he loves to “talk.” And he loves to worship Jesus too.
We can help you communicate with Nathan…in his own way.
Nathan doesn’t usually walk home from school with us. But when he does, or whenever we are together and get “the look,” I get it. Nathan in his wheelchair, or walker. Mac dragging a bouncy, disobedient puppy along by the leash. And me trying manage the whole circus. I know we aren’t the picture of a typically normal family and that’s okay.
In order to build a bridge from “normal” people to us we need to be kind faced and say things Nathan would probably say if he could. We are not merely his advocates, but his voice and his means for interacting with the people he so desperately wants to know. Probably better for everyone if we don’t use “mean face.”
My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!
Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!