Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Kindness

I have expected that it would happen.  I have been preparing myself for it.  I have considered the possibilities.  I have thought about the proper response.  But it has not actually happened…until today.

I know that Liam will get made fun of.  I know that he will be teased.  I know that kids are mean and lots of adults are, too.  I don’t know whether Liam will understand when kids are making fun of him or not.

Today was a beautiful day.  I had left work and was parked at the CVS Pharmacy where I meet Liam’s van every day, waiting for my boy to arrive.  I had the sunroof open, windows down, and was enjoying the five minutes of freedom that I get every day.  I noticed a group of boys, probably high school age, with their bikes, hanging out, also enjoying the nice summer day.

In my rearview mirror, I saw Liam’s van pulling in.  As I reached for the door handle, I stopped cold.  I heard one of the boys say, “Applied Behavior Center for AUTISM?  Oh my god!!”  The entire group then burst out laughing.  I know they weren’t specifically laughing at my boy, or the sweet little girly who rides with him, but they may as well have been. 

Inside, I was SEETHING. I proceeded to get out of the truck and head towards where the van had parked.  The boys were immediately silent.  Once I had retrieved my happy, smiling boy, we headed back towards the truck and towards the boys who were obviously staring and trying to get a good glimpse at what was inside the van.  Liam, in his perfectly sweet and innocent voice said, “The boys ride bikes to CVS.”  I smiled and said, “Yes, Liam, those boys rode their bikes to CVS.  Doesn’t that look like fun?”  I turned the edges of my mouth up, forcing a smile in their direction since I KNEW they had seen and heard our perfect exchange.  I’m certain that my smile was less than genuine.  A year ago, Liam would not have been capable of this “conversation”, and I was SO proud.  As I pulled away, I stole one more glance toward the group (who was still looking at us) and one of the boys gave me a sort of sheepish smile.  

I was so angry and hurt that I didn’t even know how to process what had happened.  I wanted so badly to tell those boys exactly what I thought of their laughter.  I wanted to tell them that they are all very lucky to live where they live and to have what they have and that they don’t have struggles like other children do.  I wanted to tell them that my boy is perfect just how he is and I how glad I am that he isn't a mean boy like them.  I wanted to tell them HOW HARD we have worked to get Liam enrolled in that school and on that van.  I wanted them to know all of the crazy twisted emotions that I feel every time I see the van.  (None of which involve laughter.)  I wanted them to be ashamed and to feel what I felt for one single moment.

I didn’t say any of those things.  I felt sort of sorry for them that they had never learned to be kind to others.  These boys will be men in a few short years and will have families of their own and run businesses and enter government roles.  I truly hope that between now and then they learn a few things about how to live among other people.         

I am so thankful that Liam is still oblivious to these sorts of things.  At this point, he can’t really even express the actual emotions that he feels, let alone respond in a way contrary to how he feels.  I don’t know how to go about teaching him how to respond with love and kindness, even when the feelings inside may not match.  I’m still learning this myself. 

I truly dread the day that Liam figures out that people are not always nice, and they won’t always tell him that he’s doing a great job or that they love him.  He spends his days surrounded by people who love him and who are working hard to bring out the best in him, and I wish that would never have to change.  I know it will, though, and I know it will be hard.  Maybe these boys were there today to begin to prepare me for this part of our journey.