It was Spring break last week so we stopped for Gelato and headed off to the park. I like this park because it was refurbished so it was more special needs friendly. There is a set of swings that are made over-sized with extra support just for kids like Christian. There is even a sign on these swings that explicitly says that the swings are meant for children with special needs.
We've been to this park before. There are usually two swings available but this time there was just one. Literally one. Well, actually none. There was one swing occupied by five able-bodied kids and one swing was missing.
We sat down on a blanket with Christian and watched all those kids climbing all over that swing. I was fine waiting until they were done and just hanging out while Lola and my friend's children played. We watched the kids get rough and one girl fell off and got caught under the swing, started crying, and ran off. The ring leader, a girl of about eleven, kept on swinging the rest of the kids in that one swing higher and higher. Then she got on the swing and stood up on it with the other kids in it at the same time.
Seeing as how the other swing was completely missing, probably because of the same type of activity, and seeing as how I had just seen a little girl fall off and get hurt, I yelled over at the girl to stop standing on that swing and that's not how that swing should be used.
She got down but kept rough housing with the swing, pushing three other kids on the swing at the same time higher and higher. We had been waiting for them to finish with the one swing meant for kids with special needs. There was another regular swing set in the park, by the way.
I finally just got up and walked over to the ring leader and said, "Okay, you need play on this swing appropriately. This swing is meant for children with special needs and there is a regular swing set you can go over there and use. I've already seen you stand on this swing and I saw the other little girl fall off and get caught because of how you were playing on it. So if you're not going to use this swing correctly, you need to get off." Or something like that.
She nodded her head "okay" and then left. I went to sit down and another blanket of moms that had been watching this ring leader and all the kids swinging mouthed to me, "Thank you!" I gave them a thumbs up.
See, I wasn't just the crazy lady at the park. There were other moms looking along and thinking this ring leader had to be stopped.
I picked up Christian and walked over to the swing. We got to swing! He smiled in one position, cried in another, and almost fell asleep in the final position we tried.
Then came the summer camp kids. A kid with a green shirt about eight or nine years old ran up to our swing. He positioned himself closely on the side, almost in front of our swing so that we might hit him.
And this is what happened:
Kid: "Hey! Can I swing on that swing?!"
Me: "When we're done swinging."
Kid: "What's WRONG with him?!"
This is the part I usually do one of two things. I either explain that Christian is different, he has a brain injury, etc. Or I ignore it. And I bury it somewhere inside or cry about it later.
But instead I chose a new route.
Me: "Nothing is WRONG with him. He has special needs. Now, back up."
He ran off to play elsewhere.
And I didn't feel bad about it at all. In fact, I felt like I was standing up for my kid, who surely can hear what other kids say about him.
I felt so NOT SORRY for what I did that I announced it. To Facebook. In a triumphant roar, I told our story, like I've done so many times before.
And you know what? Someone had a problem with it. I think I was accused of complaining and basically being unkind to a child who was just a wittle baby of eight or nine years old who didn't understand and that I should have taken the time to simply explain to him why Christian is different. There were harsh judgements made about how parents of children with special needs should act from someone who has zero children with special needs.
So this lady obviously DOES NOT know me. If she knew me she'd know that I educate people about Christian on a daily basis. A DAILY BASIS. And sometimes it is too hard to respond to the hurtful words of others so I just ignore it and feel bad about it later. This time? I stood up. I wasn't as patient as I should have been. I'm human. But guess what. It's not my job to teach all the time. I'll teach nineteen times. The twentieth time I'm tired.
But you know what else? My friends, my loved ones...they know me. They spoke for me when I couldn't and didn't know any of the commentary about my post was actually happening. They know I rarely, if ever, complain about our lives. They know that we educate, we connect, we try and support other parents - parents of all types of children. They know me. They know I'm not perfect. These are my people. And they roared for me.
Out of all this I realized three things:
1. Never, ever make judgments about how parents who have children with special needs should act IF YOU DON'T HAVE A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS.
This is the story of Christian and his family. On July 8, 2009, Christian suffered a near drowning at the age of 11 months old. Miraculously, he was brought back to life and has been fighting ever since. Because of the lack of oxygen to his brain, Christian experienced an anoxic brain injury. He is now relearning everything from moving to eating to even thinking. As his family, we're faithfully and devotedly along for this beautiful ride as Christian's journey is still being written.