Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Hand You're Dealt

My husband is notorious for his amazing memory. He swears he can remember being as young as a toddler. While I have my doubts on that, he has proven that his memory is exceptional, with the ability to recall specific days down to what he was wearing. I, on the other hand, am not so lucky. I can hardly remember what I cooked for dinner last night, never mind specifics of my childhood.

I can recall a handful of nonspecific bits for each year I was in school. For example, in the 4th grade, I studied the Osprey for my final project. I remember it eats fish, and that I only picked it because someone took my other choices. What those choices were I have no idea.

I remember helping my best friend write a letter to her new teacher that same year. Her mom had died a few months earlier and she was moving to live with her dad in another state.

I remember in 8th grade, that I had my heart broken for the first time. I remember how my sister and her friends came to my rescue, in a way I didn't know I'd regret in five years.

I don't remember my first day of high school, but I remember getting lost in it a few days before, on an adventure with my closest friend, hoping to get an upper hand over the other freshmen.

I went to one of the largest schools in my home state. My graduating class had something like a thousand students, give or take. My sister was only two grades ahead of me, so I had the benefit of being escorted to classes by various upper classmen my first year. It was also because of my sister that I took a Sociology course my sophomore year, the teacher being one of her favorites.

He wasn't one of mine. Sociology just wasnt for me. It was however, for the brightest kid in class. I couldn't tell you his name to save my life, as I never talked to him. I do remember that he was a lefty, had brown curly hair, and was a grade or two ahead of me. I was insanely jealous and intrigued by his perfect grade, and his seemingly lack of effort to attain it. He just knew everything.

Now, my sister usually drove me home. She wasn't lucky enough to win a spot in the senior parking lot, so we walked to the track parking lot, across the street and down the road. One day, after my last period sociology class, I was surprised to see my mom waiting for me instead. My sister had gone home early and I didn't know to take the bus.

As we were pulling out of the parking lot, the boy in my sociology class was walking to his car. One of the strongest memories I have of my entire life, is what my mom said in regards to him that day.

"They let him drive?!" She had said as if she was tempted to call the police and report him.

See this boy, while shy in class and brilliant (honestly he was probably valedictorian of his class), had a limp. A very noticible and perhaps in some areas of his life, disabling limp. It was as if his knee wouldn't bend, and his leg was half an inch shorter than the other.

"They let him drive?!"

I'm ashamed to say that I don't remember if I ignored her, scoffed with her, or defended him, but those four little words would forever be ingrained in my mind.

I would briefly forget about them, but they would always come back. I suspect that if my mother had known how bad her health would get in the coming years, and how bad her limp would be, she probably would have kept her mouth shut at the boy I secretly admired, who didn't let his disability stop him from being like everyone else.

When Caiden was about a year old, and I suspected his delays to be caused by cerebral palsy, I found my thoughts back on that day. It occured to me that, I didn't know why that boy had that limp. I didn't know if maybe he too had been born early and that disability was a result of it. I found myself wondering what knowledge I could have gained had I befriended him. Would his friendship have prepared me for the drastic turn my life would take?

I was petrified that as Caiden grew my mother would scoff at him much the same way she did that day. I knew if that was my mother's reaction to that boy, certainly other parent's and their children, my classmates, scoffed at him too. Was that to be my son's fate as well? To receive disgusting stares, dirty remarks and constant ridicule?

I was quite honestly relieved when his doctor said it certainly wasn't cerebral palsy. And for a while, I fogot about that day.

Then after a lengthy conversation with my mother in law, it came back. Maybe it wasn't cerebral palsy, maybe it was autism. A disability more widely known and understood, and yet scoffed at just as much as a physical one such as a limp.

I worry that instead of being like the brilliant boy I hadn't really known, would he be one of those kids who everyone flocked too and was kind to, yet who would turn their backs and make cruel jokes about. I worry that even without the physical signs of his disability, he will be scoffed at behind his back, that he will be thought less of because of the disability label. That he will be called things like; different, broken, undesirable, abnormal, strange, weird. Will he even comprehend those things?

To the boy in my high school sociology class; I'm sorry for what my mother said, and for what others have likely said. Also, for not openly defending you. I'm sure you're in college now, or doing something as brilliant as you are. I want to let you know that even though we never spoke, and I can't recall your name, you made an impact on my life. You showed me that even with a disability, a person can be great and offer something truly unique to those around them. While I'm sure my mother in her ignorance, would stand by her comment, I applaud you for overcoming those barriers and showing the world that you don't have to accept the hand you're dealt.

Whether my son will grow up to understand any of this, is still a future that is hidden from me. If he is one of those people who gets scoffed at, I will be the first and the loudest voice to defend him. And if he grows up a "normal" kid, I hope he will lend his voice to others. That he will understand and appreciate that being a little different; walking a little skewed, talking a little bit slower, or clapping a little fast, isn't a bad thing. Its what defines us from everyone else and makes us the individuals that we are.

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