Aug 4, 2013: Judgment and a Slap in the Face from Reality

Happy first week of August! We’ve had a busy and mostly good week…with a little dose of not-so-great mixed in. But as usual, let’s start with the good—I’ll save the not-so-great for the end, in case anyone wants to skip it rather than being bummed out. 😉

Theo didn’t have swim lessons this week, so we crammed in a lot of activities, starting with a trip up to Elk Grove to see Grandma Diane on Monday. It actually wasn’t too hot up there, so we were able to take the boys to the park, grab some lunch, run an errand for me, and generally have a great visit! We didn’t get to see any cousins this time, but we had a good time with Grandma Diane and Murphy the Wonder Dog. 🙂

On Tuesday, it was back up to Sacramento to visit my friend Janeane, who will soon be moving to Reno. Her daughter, Alice, is seven months old, and I hadn’t gotten to meet her yet! Figured I’d better squeeze in a trip before they move. Alice and Sam were so cute together—they’re about the same developmental age in terms of what they’re doing, so it was adorable to watch them crawling around, checking each other out. Tiny Miss Alice makes Sam look huge (and decidedly orange!), which doesn’t often happen! And Theo had fun playing with Emma and Jamie, who he hadn’t gotten to see in about a year.

We continued the fun week with a Wednesday play date with Gavin. He and his mom came over on Wednesday so the boys could swim. They had a good time in the pool and spa, and then doing water balloons in the backyard. And evidently Gavin was very interested to see the “hotel” Theo lives in—is it any surprise that Theo tells people he lives in a hotel?? He loves hotels!

On Thursday, it was time for me to have some fun, too. Well, after an early-morning doctor appointment for Sam, that is. We had his 18-month well-baby checkup, and all is well. As usual, he doesn’t even come close to showing up on the typical growth charts—he’s in the 34th percentile for height on the Down syndrome charts and the 30th percentile for weight on the DS charts. (He doesn’t quite weigh 19 pounds yet.) In other words, he’s small even by Down syndrome standards. He’s holding steady on the appropriate charts, though, so there’s no worry about him failing to develop. He’s just tiny but mighty!

Not surprisingly, his bloodwork was a bit off, but not enough to be worrisome. His iron is dropping again (because he refuses to take his iron supplement), but his hemoglobin is fine, so he’s not anemic. We just need to keep trying to get iron-rich foods into him any way we can and hope his iron numbers come up. Ahhh, iron deficiency can be a cause of poor sleep, so I’m sure this isn’t helping his lousy sleep any!

Speaking of which, we made a final decision on Sam’s tonsils and adenoids—we will not be removing them at this point, and we’ll just deal with the lousy sleep. 🙂 We are, however, having tubes put in his ears. We’re hoping that will (1) make those persistent ear infections stop coming and (2) help him make a lot more progress in speech development. His pediatrician says she’s never seen a kid with fluid in his ears who didn’t make a lot of progress after having tubes put in, so she’s pretty optimistic. Monday, Sept 9th is the big day, and while I’m nervous about the anesthesia, I think we’re making the right decision. Still, I’ll be glad when the procedure is over and he’s awake and in my arms again!

But anyway, back to me (ha!). I volunteer as a proofreader for the Down Syndrome Connection’s twice-yearly newsletter, and as a thanks, the newsletter’s editor asked if she could take me to lunch. Actually, she asked if she could take me and the boys to lunch, but I was pretty excited about the idea of real, grown-up conversation, so I made arrangements to be able to go on my own. I wanted to try out Theo’s babysitter anyway, and Chris worked at home so I could leave Sam with him. (It was Sam’s naptime, so he just snoozed the whole time I was gone.) Theo did great at the babysitter’s house—she said he was so good with her two-year-old twins, and they had a good time. I knew he would be—he’s so sweet to other kids! And I got to enjoy a 90-minute lunch sans kiddos! Oh, it was heaven! I think I talked Jen’s ear off, as I was so happy to get some adult conversation. Ha! It was a delicious lunch, too. I had forgotten my gluten pills, so I just ordered a salad that I thought was probably gluten-free, and indeed it was. Delicious, too!

After lunch, I picked Theo up at the babysitter and headed home for some more grown-up chat! My friend Jisun brought over her three kids, with the idea that all five kiddos could play while we hung out. As it turns out, Theo was through being social for the day and decided he wanted to go to Costco with Chris instead, but that was fine, as Jisun’s oldest daughter was feeling a little shy anyway. So Chris and Theo headed to Costco while Jisun and I stayed with the four other kids and had a chance to relax (as much as one does with multiple kids around, anyway) and chat.

And we wrapped up the week with Sam’s first speech therapy appointment. Finally!! I’m hoping Kaiser denies us for speech therapy so I can keep working with Melissa, his speech therapist through Regional Center. Aside from the obvious (she comes to the house and I don’t have to pay a co-pay!), I just liked her. She was great with Sam, he seemed to really like her, and she owns a pug! What more could we want?! Actually, it’s fascinating to watch her work with him, too. I know very little about speech therapy, and speech is by far Sam’s biggest area of delay, so I’m very interested to learn more about it. On Friday we worked on showing him the reward system that we’ll be using to try to get him to imitate more speech sounds. Because gross motor is his strongest area, we’re establishing the reward system as it pertains to gross-motor activities: He claps his hands when we ask him to, and he gets a reward of watching a neat musical toy that he likes. He raises his arms when we ask him to, and he gets the same reward. Once he figures out that doing what we ask gets him a reward, we’ll move on to encouraging him to imitate speech sounds. And Melissa is also doing sign language with him simultaneously, because it’s nearly universal in kids with Down syndrome that they can communicate by signing much earlier than they can with formal speech. Due to the effects of low muscle tone on their oral muscles, speech itself just tends to develop late. It’s not that they don’t have words in their head; it’s that they literally can’t form them by mouth until they’re older than typically developing kids (usually at least three years old, though five years old isn’t terribly uncommon either). So, it’s pretty common to teach them sign language to give them a way to communicate. And although there’s some controversy about teaching kids sign language (some people think it encourages them not to bother trying to speak), I’m all for it. The majority of research shows that it does not impede formal speech development—rather, when speech does start to develop, sign language typically eventually fades. But until then, it’s a useful tool for kids and their parents. So I’m all for signing, and I’m excited to get to learn more of it from Melissa.

And that puts us into the weekend, which we kicked off with soccer (ha—like the pun?!) and then a trip to San Jose to celebrate Papa’s 67th birthday. Theo had great fun in the pool with Chris, and we had tasty pork tacos for dinner. Sam was his usual charming self, crawling everywhere and attempting to make mischief.

On Sunday, we headed over to our favorite park in San Carlos for a picnic of sandwiches and chips. We love that park because it’s big and shady, and there are always a lot of kids there for Theo to play with. And for the most part, it was a lovely day at the park. But, it was marred by one incident, and so now I’ll launch into the serious part of the blog. So stop reading now if you don’t want to be mad or depressed! Consider yourself warned… 😉

After we ate our sandwiches, Chris took Theo to the big playground, and I took Sam into the little-kid playground. It’s really neat because Sam now likes to get down and play! He mostly just crawls around and tries to put things in his mouth, but it’s still neat to watch him actually do something. He particularly likes crawling through tunnels, and this playground has a couple of them. So I put him in a tunnel, and he was chattering happily in there, trying to get the attention of a couple of little boys who looked to be about six or seven. (Don’t ask me why they were in the little-kid playground.) One of the boys announced loudly, “Look at that really ugly baby!” I was shocked for a minute—I must have misheard him, right? No one would be that cruel! But then the other boy laughed and said, “Ew! That’s an ugly baby!” There was another woman standing next to me who I assumed was their mother, and I thought, “Um, lady, aren’t you going to say something to your bratty kids?” They came out of the tunnel, laughing about my “ugly” baby and repeating something about him being “ugly,” and the woman next to me did nothing, so I stepped in and said, “I don’t think he’s ugly at all. He’s beautiful.” I said it in a tone to let them know I wasn’t pleased with their comments, but the little shits (sorry, but they are little shits) just laughed and said, “I think he’s ugly! He’s an ugly baby!” I repeated, “He is not ugly; he’s beautiful. All babies are beautiful.” I was furious, but I still thought the woman next to me was their mother, and I wasn’t going to rip her kids new assholes with her standing right there. (Okay, sorry for more profanity, but dammit, I’m still stung by this!) But then, as the boys laughed again, the woman said, “That’s not very nice,” and I noticed the boys run off toward another woman halfway across the park—and I realized that she was their mother, not the woman next to me. The woman next to me shook her head and just said, “Little twerps.” And I put a smile on my face and said, “Yes, lovely children, aren’t they?” and then chatted with her a bit about her baby (who I hadn’t noticed before).

But now, knowing that I was not standing next to their mother, I wish I would’ve said more. I wish I would’ve looked right in their nasty little eyes and told them that they were being nasty, hurtful people, and that it was downright cruel to be nasty about another child. I didn’t because I thought their mother was there, and I’m not the type to parent another person’s children when they’re right there to do it themselves—but I was wrong, and their mother wasn’t right there. And if I had known that, I would’ve said a whole lot more than I did. And I wish now, too, that I had grabbed Sam, strode across the park, and told their mother just what they said, in the hopes that she would talk to them about human kindness and compassion for others. And to be honest, if I had seen her later that day, I probably would have. But they disappeared after that, and I assume they went home. And in the heat of the moment, I was too busy being stung to stop and think that I really ought to go talk to their mother. I was too busy staring at my son and seeing only beauty, and fighting back tears that these kids had thought otherwise.

The truth is, I knew this would happen someday; I just didn’t expect it to happen this soon. When I was lying on the surgery table in the OR, looking at my minutes-old son and having just been told he had Down syndrome, the very first thing I thought was, “Oh my god, I have just brought this beautiful baby into a world that is going to be cruel to him.” I knew it because the world has been cruel to me sometimes. Not always, and not in a long time, but when I was little, I went through my fair share of heartache at the hands of nasty children (and even a few nasty adults). And so I don’t live in a bubble where I think my children will always be treated well—I live in a place where I realize that reality says my kids will face cruelty. And reality says that Sam will face even more of it than Theo, simply because he’s different than what society says is “normal.”

Because try as I might, I can’t think of any other reason why these boys would’ve singled Sam out and called him ugly. There were other babies in the same playground—several, in fact, all around the same age. But Sam was the one they called ugly—and insisted, to my face, that he was ugly. Why? All I can think is that it’s because he looks different, with his almond-shaped eyes and his little tongue that protrudes when he’s tired or working hard at something. To me, every little thing about him is beautiful, but to these nasty children, he looked different, and different equaled ugly.

It’s not the last time something like this will happen, I know. But it hurts. It hurts so badly. And when I try to brush aside the hurt, I’m baffled by kids not much older than Theo being so bluntly nasty. It’s one thing to say that behind someone’s back—kids have been doing that for years. But to say that to a child’s mother??? When I was little, we had a healthy fear of authority figures. We would’ve never spoken badly of anyone to his or her parents’ faces. I didn’t speak badly of people anyway, but I certainly wouldn’t have done so to an adult! I’m amazed at the audacity of these boys!

And it’s kind of funny that it all boils down to judgment. They judge Sam as ugly because he looks different. And the funny thing about this is, I was planning to blog about judgment anyway, even before this happened. It’s evidently National Breastfeeding Week (who knew?!), and I read a neat blog post from a mother who has tried to breastfeed all three of her kids, to varying levels of success. And the basic gist of her whole article was, “You know what? Breastfeeding isn’t easy! And it’s not for everyone. If you can do it, wonderful! If you try your best and it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up. If you don’t try it because it just doesn’t work for you, there’s no shame in that, either.” Actually, I read two blog posts on that subject this week, and I loved both of them for their lack of judgment. Because, frankly, the judgment associated with parenting really wears me down. Not just judgment about breastfeeding (though, as someone who has attempted to breastfeed both kids and had phenomenal success with one and not-so-great luck with the other, I’ve definitely felt the sting of judgment on that one), but judgment about everything parenting. It exhausts me, for example, that we are judged on how we parent Theo—some people think we’re too strict, while others think we’re not nearly strict enough. And I keep thinking, “And it’s anyone’s business because….???”

The truth is, we do our best. And I think most parents do their best. They do their best and they do what works for them…and do they need judgment about it? Nope. They need people to step back and say, “Hey, good for you for doing what works for your family.” The truth, too, is that we all judge each other, right? We all look at other parents and think, “Hmmm, I wouldn’t do it that way myself, but…” But the key, I think, is in keeping that judgment to yourself, rather than making suggestions about how the parent might better raise their child or making snide comments.

A friend recently told me that she had felt a little stung by a judgmental comment I had made on Facebook some time ago, and I felt terrible! I pride myself on not being judgmental, and here I had offended someone who I consider a very good friend. So clearly, I’m not immune to being judgmental, no matter how hard I try not to be. But I think I at least, for the most part, keep my opinions to myself unless asked, and I try to live by the philosophy of “to each his/her own.” I guess I just wish more of the world was that way, so we could avoid the “mommy wars” where everyone judges how everyone else is doing things. Honestly, it’s just exhausting, and how is it productive in any way??

And the little shits who made a nasty, judgmental comment about my baby boy? Well, I know that’s learned behavior, and clearly they learned from someone that it’s okay to be nasty. I can’t say who—their parents? Siblings? Other kids at school? I have no idea. But the truth is that if we were all a little bit less judgmental and a little kinder to each other, maybe kids wouldn’t pick up the idea that it’s okay to make a nasty judgment about someone and shoot off their mouths about it.

Maybe. I’d like to believe in a world where that could happen, anyway. In the meantime, I’m going to snuggle my perfect, beautiful sons and protect them in the best way I know how—by loving them fiercely and wholly, just as they are.

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