When individuals or groups make connections based on setting aside a group as intrinsically different, we've othered them and the cost is being paid in shootings and suicides that we are forced to compensate with loss and cultural anomie. We have done this based on race, sexual orientation, gender, disability and any other thing that could make one person believe they deserve more than the person next to them. I do my best to keep an open mind and love each person because they are a person and that is enough. I can't think of a group I'd discriminate against except maybe rapists . . . the irony sounds like, "they were asking for it." (And yet I will objectify random men with errant fantasies because I can. Don't ask me to justify it. I can't. I won't.)
About six weeks ago my middle (autistic) son had a meltdown. Meltdowns happen, but this one was bad and there wasn't much peace I could offer him. I'll drop it on you, but you might need a minute afterward. I did.
He was having a hard time with math and decided he would never be able to get a job to support himself. It occurred to him that one day his parents would die and there would be no one to take care of him.
At 13, my child has absorbed the idea that he is disabled and can't take care of himself. It is right in front of him and all around him. He is sensitive and sweet but he's also aware of what others say and has no way to protect himself from the fears of what could be because tomorrow is uncertain and he is aware that he is different. He knows that he's been othered by strangers and loved ones alike. He has violent moments and I really don't have to wonder why.
Wow. Right?! This is the main reason why my goal is to be a financial powerhouse and set up a trust account where they can eventually live comfortably off of the interest. Or I just need to set up an amazing life insurance policy.
A couple of months ago my oldest (autistic son) admitted he's not as exciting as another kid. His Dad's current relationship has built in play dates and these kids are full of what makes a cool kid envied. Kid1's shoulders slumped a bit, and his deepening teenage voice lowered in shame as he admitted he isn't into sports or breakdancing. (Kid3 is and they get along fine.) My response was typical of me.
"Has it occurred to you that he might be the boring one that wouldn't have a clue where to geek out if he was thrown in with your friends, and that your friends would probably welcome him before his friends welcomed you? That makes you the exciting one to me."
Growing up, I was a loner by nature, but that didn't stop me from joining drill team . . . running for office in the student body (and winning that popularity contest) . . . dancing on stage as well as the steps of City Hall . . . singing a Les Mis solo in high school and later having a nipple slip while in costume for a Moliere play On the same stage . . . learning to take down a really tall blonde god in karate . . . squatting for a bump in volleyball . . . learning to ollie off of a curb on a fat skateboard . . . swimming on a team each summer . . . or half of the other non-structured ways I played that my kids don't. I did these things, but valued my alone time to be stuck in my head. I was an emo kid before there was a name for it.
I don't get all of the things my boys love. It's not for me to learn. What they love has nothing to do with how I love them. Their superpowers are in technology and it looks like anime and gaming. Kid1's talent is in his artwork that I will frame and hang around the house. Child’s Play and Raising Gamers is a whole post on this. Go on, read it. This will be here when you hit your back button.
My kid brother studied marketing and has a clothing line. I'm not part of his demographic and even if he offered it, I'm not made to wear his clothes. I'm a Mom. By some accounts on various dating sites, I'm beautiful with a great body and an amazing smile. You don't get the vapid selfie moments that are all over my Facebook and Instagram, so I have to give you their word for it. My point is that my brother is looking for girls that wear their Daddy issues in the skin they expose. These girls go out in mini skirts that give the illusion that they are in fact weather proof. I used to be that girl. Now I get cold and I'm not her. He's looking for the up and coming young men that need to prove their virility and success most nights in clubs and bars all over the southland and Vegas. I am not made to wear my brother's clothing line but I'm so proud of him. He can doctor up my resume any day. (Then I'll edit out the lies.)
When I watched Man of Steel with my boys, there was a scene where young Clark Kent hid in a closet. He was having a sensory meltdown. He could see and feel and hear too much and it was hard to just be. He was going through everything an autistic person feels from time to time. I pointed out to my kids that Superman can see and feel things that we just don't. We would never call him disabled, and since autism offers those same super powers to a lesser degree, they are not disabled. They are my super heroes. They gave me smirks of disbelief but I stand by this.
I plan to watch Finding Dory because I hear great things about Ellen Degeneres's portrayal of an othered child in the way she is constantly apologizing for who she is and feeling that she is not enough. Really, it was just this post on the Mighty. I plan to watch it alone because I tend to ruin movies for people that want to be entertained because I can't shut that part of my brain off. (I saw Superman vs. Batman with my Dad last and I don't think he's looked at me the same since I shared my thoughts on it.)
There is a flow of ideals that filter from well meaning people to my sons who can't ignore what they hear. There is a struggle to show them that it's okay to be who they are and being themselves is perfection. I try to fill them with how amazing they are every chance I get. It looks like more concern for them than broken things that I've had longer than they've been alive and it smells like stinky hugs from boys who don't enjoy wearing deodorant (might be a teenage boy thing).
Showing them it's okay to be in their skin means when Kid2 starts chewing his shirt because he needs the oral stimulation, I don't make him feel bad about a destroyed shirt. It's a shirt that will be replaced, but his self worth is only what we build it to be. They don't make eye contact often because according to Kid2, he gets easily distracted. I once heard an interview given by an autistic girl. She said that faces have too many areas to focus on and it's hard to pick one thing, so she looked away instead. My kids are okay with eye contact sometimes but other times it's too much to ask. They will often be destructive. Paper gets chewed into giant spitball wads. Couch cushions get stabbed with pens and scissors. Even beloved toys get destroyed. I have an ammonite that is broken in half. My kid destroyed a fossil when nature couldn't. I don't get angry anymore. It just means a need for a fidget was huge and the broken item filled a need. One day my house may look like a museum but it won't feel like home.
Kid1 gets angry with my more destructive Kid2. There's an ongoing boundary issue. I've had to learn the difference between a melt down and a tantrum. A tantrum is intentional. A melt down can not be controlled and it happens when I've failed as a mom to see when they were reaching their tipping point. Kid2 punching grandma was a tantrum. I know this because he would have never punched me. When anger looks like aggression it usually means they have reached a limit of their needs and wants being put aside or ignored. It means there is too much noise or they are over stimulated. Or the teasing needed to be stopped sooner. (They can go from playful to murderous intent fairly quickly and I don't encourage horseplay.) Something needed to be adjusted for them and they can no longer soothe themselves and it looks like a tantrum or they are being loud or they need to lay in bed in sweltering heat under a blanket because they need to reset themselves and stimming movements are not helping anymore. A blanket fort is also a good place to hide the anime porn.
At the end of the day, accepting who they are means I have to meet them where they stand. It started with my not forcing them to hug people. If I tell them they can't control their bodies and must give an adult a hug, I have just invalidated their gut instincts that may be saying to stay away.
Forcing them to give affection (in a really extreme set of glasses) can look like grooming them to be victims of abuse. Hug this person that makes you uncomfortable because making me look like you are affectionate and well adjusted means more than what you feel. While you're at it, keep quiet and respectful because this is an adult, and their thoughts and feelings mean more than yours.
I don't force haircuts anymore. It's their hair and I won't touch it as long as they brush through the tangles daily. If they want to be home, we stay home. If it's not a school night and they want to stay up, I let them. Even if random laughter wakes me at 4 in the morning. (Yes, I'm editing at 4 and this will suck later when I'm on my way home from the beach tonight.) On a school night, we try to stick to routines and rely on melatonin. If it's the middle of the day and they are tired, I let them sleep. It's about letting them decide what is right for them and showing them that their needs are important to me and to them. There is value in their needs and desires. There is nothing more important than what they think or feel. I ask them questions and their answers are never wrong as long as they answer with the same respect I offer.
I think all of our relationships teach us what we need to learn to help the next person grow. I learned to mother my sons from daughtering my Dad (yes, I make up words and you'll get used to it). I love him deeply. He will never be what I hoped for as a teenager, but the day I decided to love and accept him as he is and meet him where he is instead of demanding he take my designated route to where I wanted him to be was the day I found healing. I know that he loves me and will always do what he thinks is best and that is how he expresses his love. I know my kids will surprise and amaze me but not if I'm too busy looking for ways to measure them up to someone else's ideals and expectations. I find there is a great reward in flexibility and learning to meet someone where they are. Sometimes they'll surprise me and return the favor. Sometimes they'll want to stretch because they can feel the warmth of my sunshine.