A few months ago I met up with some friends for dinner at a fantastic venue. Dining over tapas, it was one of those wonderful situations where one great friend leads to meeting another group of friends, and occasionally it goes a level or two further. This particular night I was introduced to a friend of a friend of a friend who ended up giving me a new perspective on my experiences life and what I could do with them.
That night, as chance would have it, Danielle and I sat near each other and hit it off. After hours of sharing stories, experiences, and insights (along with the others with whom we enjoyed that evening) we left dinner having exchanged contact info. I enthusiastically agreed to be the topic of a post on her blog since I had a unique perspective on living with a disability and could give a voice to those who don’t have a voice of their own. Well… it turns out that in answering a handful of questions via email I may have been somewhat wordy; and that led to a suggestion to create a blog of my own! Here we are.
One of the first questions she asked for her blog was about challenges I experienced in school. I don’t remember exactly how I responded, but in the months that have passed since my initial 4-page response, I have reflected so much more than I ever anticipated. It’s very much related to feelings of attraction, which I will touch on in a future post, but in my years of grade school education, there were definitely two or three phases I experienced.
Though there were obviously the physical challenges such as climbing the rope in gym class, spherical doorknobs, and carrying 10 pounds of books around before we were allowed to carry our backpacks around school during the day. But the biggest challenge dealt with the people. My peers. Those kids who were my age, yet I was able to see them evolve at vastly different rates sometimes.
Being Treated Differently
The challenge with peers is going to be the focus of this post, but I want to briefly touch on the challenge of just being treated differently. My family made a concerted effort to not treat me as inferior or unable to do things. Sometimes this was out of the true desire to see me grow into a completely independent person (which I was thankfully equipped and prepared to do). Other times it was out of pure necessity in not having the luxury of receiving special treatment. It was made clear to my first teacher in school that if kids were moving their desks, I moved my own with them rather than letting someone else do it for me. I could do what other kids could do.
I remember learning how to use scissors in kindergarten. I’d already learned this, thanks to my grandfather, but for some reason a well-meaning teacher decided to try and teach me the “right way” to use scissors rather than the way I already figured out with the guidance and suggestion of others who already were getting a decent idea of how I approached these tasks. I still use scissors my way. 😉
Interacting With Other Kids
But as prepared for life as we can be raised to be, learning how to be independent and as self-sufficient as possible… we can’t fully prepare for how to deal with others’ reactions and interactions. It’s difficult to be taught how to handle the curve balls thrown at you by other people going through their own journey of life. We sort of need to figure it out for ourselves, don’t we?
On Being the Target
In the earliest years at school, I found myself making connections with the adults because of the fear of being made fun of or bullied by other kids my age. I don’t even know if it’s because of my arms or because I was truly an uncool kid. More likely it’s just because kids can be cruel to each other. I wasn’t unique with being made fun of or ridiculed. But in my story, I bonded best with adults at that time because they were the safe people to be around. While there were many genuinely good kids to be around, I knew it would be safe with the adults and I think to this day I have been able to form and keep close connections with people generations older than I am. This may also be a result of being an only child with more exposure to adults than kids, as pointed out by a dear friend (in fact the initial friend from the story above) and a fellow only child.
On Being the Trophy
At some point it becomes cool to be friendly with the freak. But it’s not genuine. I became a novelty; a prize to proudly display in your trophy case of friendships. “Yeah… I’ve got the jock, a cheerleader, a nerd, two minorities, and the handicapped kid!”
I remember an event on the playground in elementary school where one of the “cool kids” shouted, obviously dared to do so, “I’m friends with Jim Hutchings!” We weren’t friends. He barely talked to me. To this day I still don’t know what about me made his friends dare him to do this.
I wasn’t completely innocent either. In middle school especially, even I got caught up in making fun of others or (more often) just disappearing into nowhere when someone else was getting made fun of, being thankful that it wasn’t me. Any attention away from me was good in my mind back then. But that’s not right either.
On Being the Friend
Then there’s a point where people evolve into what I believe is a true embodiment of what it means to be of strong character and maturity. When a person not only sees past the superficial, but actively dismisses it, they know what it is to be a good human being. It is a telling observation to see where people fall in the spectrum of wanting a victim, a trophy, or a friend. Some people (thankfully many I encountered) moved onto that last phase rather quickly. Unfortunately some still haven’t.
But my story is universal. There are many kids who had it worse off than me. Some with conditions far worse, and many others who are picked on for no reason at all other than kids being cruel. The lesson is universal as well. We’re all on our journey through life, growing up and living with different backgrounds, issues, experiences, and perspectives. Be a good human being. Few people are entirely innocent of being a jerk at some point in life. But we all should be obligated to be a jerk less often!
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Spot on, as usual❣️