Every Monday thru Friday, at 2:30 PM on the dot, Parker and I leave our home and drive a few blocks to pick Holden up from school. Every Monday thru Friday, we get out of the car and make the long (seriously long) walk from the parking lot, into the school, sit down in the cafeteria and make small talk with all of the parents, family members, and daycare providers while we wait for the kids to be released so we can take them to their next destination, wherever that might be.
These people may see Parker 5 days a week, but they only see 10 minutes of him. 10 minutes of happy chatty Parker who is extremely personable, but easily irritated when the word “girlfriend” is mentioned. Of course when these people see Parker every single day, they are going to ask questions, just as I ask them questions to get to know each other.
These questions are never easy to answer; not for me. Happy chatty Parker may be the happiest chattiest kid on the planet, but those 10 minutes each day never give the full picture. Not of Parker or anyone else in that cafeteria. It’s a snapshot of someone’s life. When those questions begin being asked, I’m not sure what to say. When what should be harmless comments are made, I’m not sure how to react.
How old is he? Oh, he’s such a little dude!
Is he going to be starting school next fall? I bet he’ll love school!
A 10 minute snapshot never shows anyone the full picture- and Parker’s is panoramic. He IS the happy chatty kid these people see Monday through Friday… most of the time. After spending the majority of his first year very ill, he had to spend the next two years in occupational and speech therapy just to try to catch up to what other kids his age were eating and saying due to the delays and issues that prolonged sickness caused. He made AMAZING strides, but we still struggle.
Every meal is a fight just to make sure he gets enough to continue growing. This can sometimes take an hour of sitting at the table and telling him to chew. That’s why he’s such a little dude.
We have to work with him on his speech constantly, because not many people can understand more than 40% of what he says.
For those reasons, we don’t know if he’ll be starting school in the fall or if he is going to need more one on one attention before a classroom setting will be good for him.
It’s disheartening, and it’s hard- and it takes more than 10 minutes to really describe that to people who only see happy chatty Parker. Still, when Parker starts getting frustrated because someone who knows nothing about him jokes that he should speak English, I try to explain to them the reality of the situation so maybe next time they’ll know not to poke at him.
“But… he looks so normal” they say.
Thanks, I think? What IS “normal”, exactly?
I know that no one means any harm at all, and I hear that comment quite often. From the outside, Parker seems just like every other child… or I suppose the impression people get that every child is like- but no two children are the same. They may not all have struggles, but you can’t always tell just by looking, or just by being around them for a snapshot of time.
Of course, I didn’t enter into parenthood thinking any of this would EVER happen. Holden had such a routine first two years that Parker going through so much in such a short amount of time really threw me. I didn’t think I’d have to spend hours at the table just trying to get a kid to eat half a PB&J. I swore I’d never be a short-order cook, and that my kitchen would have two rules: eat it or starve. I have to admit that I would go to visit my brother and his son and when that kid refused to eat anything but chicken nuggets for almost every meal, I thought “I’ll never let my kid control me like that!” -but who was I to judge based on a snapshot? Parker changed all of that. I had to adapt; many of us do. And many of us that don’t, don’t understand. I’ve heard all kinds of things from all kinds of people, like “eventually he’ll get hungry and eat!”- and while that’s true for normal kids, it’s not true for Parker. And at this point, I again have to ask- what IS normal?
Kids are as unique as snowflakes. They have different likes and dislikes, different favorite things, different personalities, and of course- different experiences. If no kids are exactly alike, is there really a “normal” at all?
We’re all taught growing up to never judge a book by its cover, because on the inside could be something entirely different. We should apply the same philosophy to kids.
I’m not saying to treat any child differently from another, but don’t expect them all to be the same.
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