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This is Ainsley. In my eyes she is perfect. Not every day, but most. Like today when she hopped out of the minivan and blurted: Rachel (not real name) said yesterday that the only reason I have any friends is because I have a disability. Rachel is a classmate. I listened to her words and the sounds of my heart breaking. As it does regularly – because I am a Mom. Biting cheek and tongue. I think I might have said, “Hmm. well that wasn’t too nice. What did you say?”
For the last week Ainsley has been asking me why people like her. I ask her why do you think? On this she often needs prompting, so I list some things to get her started.
“You are smart.”
“You are really athletic.”
“You are funny.”
“You are cute.”
“You are beautiful.”
“You have a great big heart.”
“You are brave.”
In this list I have never once said, “Because you have special needs.” And yet this child somehow has interpreted in her seven-year-old way that my strong, brave daughter needs to be slapped down verbally for whatever reason.
For the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter what my child’s special needs are. She could have MS, or FASD, or SPD, or autism. She could be blind or hearing impaired. She could be any age. She could be a girl or a boy. Adopted or not adopted. Pink, blue, purple, white, orange or black. It doesn’t matter – what matters to me is that some child has determined or learned that it is okay to be verbally abusive. Special needs or no special needs. This is the same child who last year went on the attack with a different friend and honestly made it a mission to wear the little girl down and isolate her from any other friends. Relational aggression, some call it. Bullying, I say. Call it what you will – it is often learned. Not always, but often. In my eyes, as a parent, this aggressive child also needs some help.
Today, before I left my daughter at school, quirky wonderful child, she is, I asked her to make sure she told her educational assistant what the other child said. Because, as my kids get older I am struggling, but trying constantly to encourage them to grow into their own best advocates. I will always have my child’s back. I will always stand up for my kids. But I also need for them to be able to do this long after I am gone. She assured me she would and that she had already told Madame T, the resource teacher at the school. Their desks have been separated, she said. For now, that works for me. But it still makes me angry. Kids say things to hurt with purpose sometimes. It is a harsh reality. Bullying happens at each and every one of our children’s schools. Even when Ainsley went to a private preschool, there were two girls as young as four who passed notes back and forth and told the teacher we don’t like her because she plays with boys. That was discouraged fast and acted on. Teachers there began separating the two note writers and facilitating more play one on one with my daughter and then as a trio. Guided play. Very supervised. The next year the one girl left.
My daughter will always be different. Today I celebrate that.
When I was a kid I was bullied a lot. Because I was smart, then because my Mom taught at my school, then because my Mom dated a teacher at our school and then because I was the “teacher’s pet” according to my peers. Oh, and also because I wore a lot of dresses. Oh yes and because I was friends with a girl who would never back down from a bully. She gave as good as she got and, with razor sharp tongue always had a come back. I got through it. I knew my mother was always in my corner.
What are your bullying stories?