Cerebral Palsy, Medical, Motherhood, Personal

I Wish I Didn’t Have to Type This…

I love the movie, Forrest Gump. I think it is a classic movie that shares some invaluable life lessons. These are lessons that we should all take the time to learn, and could definitely use a refresher on. For anyone who doesn’t know who Forrest Gump is, I suggest you stop reading this right now and go watch it. Get the popcorn, a blanket, a bottle of water (or whatever you drink), and get ready for a roller coaster of emotions, laughs, and pop culture references.

There are quite a few lessons I want to teach Mark before I leave this earth (hopefully that is a great many years before that happens), and these are probably the most important ones. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I would like to teach Mark to always be kind. The next lesson would be to stand strong in the face of adversity. Probably the final lesson that I hope would resonate with him, would be a quote from my dear Mrs. Gump, “Don’t ever let anybody tell you they’re better than you.”

That isn’t to say that Mark is the greatest kid of all time (although, who are we kidding here? He is pretty cool), or will become a perfect man when he grows up (everyone makes mistakes). I want him to understand that everyone comes from different walks of life. We have different backgrounds, beliefs, values, and cultures and they all need to be respected. Just because someone’s skin is a different color, or someone walks or talks a little differently, or likes someone of the same gender, does not make him better than them. This is something that I believe is extremely important to teach to our children in this day in age. I am glad to hear that new programs are being implemented in schools so that children can feel and become more inclusive.

But I never thought I would look into the eyes of an old “friend, after hearing them make a comment about my son. More specifically dropping the “R” word. You know it. Please don’t make me say it.

You see our kids occasionally play soccer together. This is Mark’s first season and he is one of the youngest kids on his team. He does what most 2-year-olds do. He plays with the other kids. He laughs with the other kids. He listens (as long as his attention span will let him), and my god, he tries his very best. Mark has Cerebral Palsy. Due to the severe tightness of his leg, he wears a leg brace called an AFO (you can read more about them here) all day, every day. Soccer is no exception.

It was a typical practice. Mark was running around and I heard my old friend mention to another woman how she didn’t want our kids to play together because of the poor influence Mark would be on her son. She didn’t want Mark to play soccer with her son- and that he shouldn’t be on any team. She would laugh and shake her head when he would trip or fall down. She would make jokes about how long it would take him to score a goal. Then she said it… clear as day- no room for misinterpretation, “Why can’t we just go? Why are we waiting on the retarded kid to score? He takes three times as long as everyone else.” To make matters even worse, we even made eye contact immediately after and she got very quiet. I heard it all and she knew it.

This woman is brilliant to a fault. She always has been. She is well respected in her field and has a bunch of degrees, certifications, and training experiences. At the end of her name in emails and even texts, she is sure to include the 5 post-nominal titles she holds. She is also very rude and no longer someone I would consider a friend. I hate the “R” word. I really do. It implies that someone is “less than” and that is simply not the case, especially in Mark’s case.

I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I don’t even think I responded other than by using very angry-looking body language. I turned back to look at the field to watch Mark dribble the ball through the cones and laugh with his friends. I wish I could just throw the movie down at her feet. I wish I would’ve said something. I felt the sinking feeling in my heart. The realization soon followed. This was someone I considered a friend. She is an adult. She has a son who is just 2 months older than Mark.

Some say you can’t cure a bad apple- it’s already rotten to the core. But can one bad apple really spoil the rest? Can one woman’s miscalculated words or thoughts be overheard by her child? Would it be likely that her son could begin to accept the idea that he is better than Mark?

It’s times like these where Mrs. Gump (Forrest Gump) or Ms. Abilene (The Help) would come in handy. The two of them could reassure Mark while I give an old friend a stern talking to.

I know he will experience bullying and criticism. I know he will be told hurtful things and he will someday question “why me?” I know I can’t always protect Mark but I will do my best to always protect his heart and his mind. I never want him to accept someone’s cruelty as a way to describe himself. I never want him to question his worth. I never want a cruel word to hurt him in ways that a Mommy hug can’t fix. I never want him to feel inferior, inadequate, different, or excluded.

I mentioned how I would love to have Mrs. Gump and Ms. Abilene be a part of my life. I think in times like these, Mrs. Gump would do a fine job at whipping everyone’s character into shape. Meanwhile, Ms. Abilene would comfort Mark and tell him “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Until I have someone like that in my life who can take on those roles, I will continue to do my best. I will reassure my son every day of the person he is. His character will be defined by how he treats others and how he treats himself- not by his conditions.