Don’t judge a kid by their cover


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.

Posted on November 13, 2013 by Holdin' Holden 8 Comments
Holdin' Holden

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  • I agree. There’s really no such thing as normal! Each and every one of us are unique in our own ways. My oldest suffers from severe asthma problems……only in the summer! she’s allergic to everything outdoors in the summer. She used to get severe eczema which dissolved into asthma. Her eczema used to cover her entire little legs.. And there was nothing I could do. She used to cry and cry and no matter what I did, everything hurt her. I was so relieved when she grew out of it.. Til she ended up in the Hosp overnight from a severe asthma attack instead .. We have it under control but sadly summer is not a good time for her when it should be ! My 2nd daughter also has eczema problems .. But hers I found a medicine for that works but it hurts a lot.. And I learned that the more dry her skin is, the more she reacts. She’s allergic to grass… Green beautiful lawn grass.. She also has asthma problems but mild and only really show when she’s sick. But she also has ADHD… And THAT is craziness enough in itself haha my son is the only healthy one.. With no asthma, no rashes .. Nothing. Such a relief! Tho don’t tell him cuz he doesn’t like being left out while his sisters get special treatments! Haha! He’s my klutzy one, more injuries than I thought possible for a kid to get at such a young age! But… I love them all.. Equally and abundantly. They’re my babies…

  • Oh sweetheart, have faith. My son was not as challenged as your child is, but he was deaf until 3 1/2 from fluid build up, developmentally delayed, and pretty severely ADHD. It was challenging, frustrating, and amazingly a huge growth experience for me.
    But, as hard as school was for him, he graduated. He was almost 20 when he finished, and was living with friends and working almost full time when he did it, but by golly, he DID it!
    And now he’s 32, the pesky annoying little kid (other peoples words) grown into an amazing man who is admired and respected almost universally within his peer group.
    You will make it, he will make it, and you will both be so much stronger for it. And you already rock, just keep doing what you do!

    • I didn’t write the blog because I’m struggling or sad or need encouragement. I’m confident in Parker and in my skills as a parent and my knowledge on how to handle any hurdle Parker experiences. I wrote it for everyone. Kids don’t all fit into the same mold, and I think people forget that. That’s why I wrote the blog. Though I do appreciate the sentiment of the comment- the blog was more for the kids than for me.

  • Exactly.

    The snapshot is all people see. And being human, we do it ourselves.. and I always hate when I do it.

    I’ve been there with the food… I’m still there honestly, Making sure he eats enough so he can grow… YUP… I think we may have shared a table during the 1 hr long 1/2 PBJ sandwich.

    We learn what works.. as you said WE ADAPT… even if it totally goes against what we swore we’d never be.

    I just want him to be happy, healthy, and loved….

    Great post.

  • I missed this one when you posted it the first time THANK YOU for posting this again My son has alot of mental issues going on possibly more than I know. No one ever believes there is something wrong with him his “father” doesn’t even believe it 10 mins is no way too tell weather something is wrong with someone or not everyone looks “normal” too others until they are around longer I am with my son 24/7 and I just realized the other day while going through pics that he doesn’t smile like he did when he was a baby every pic had a smiling happy kid he’s now 5 and I have too force a smile from him and if I don’t get that pic right then and there too bad … It breaks your heart sometimes but we know how far they have come and what they can accomplish in the future I don’t have too fight mine too eat I have too fight him too not eat so much but no matter what the fights are about in some way us parents that are dealing with health issues in our kids somehow have something in common weather it’s pb & j eating or “snapouts” that last 2 hrs

  • My younger sister has a heart problem. She is five years old and still the size of most toddlers, and it took her longer than most to hit certain milestones due to her issues. I get tired of hearing “She’s better now, don’t worry so much!” or “Why did it take so long to potty train her?” They do not understand that she asymptomatic and will never be “cured” or that due to her small size and heart defect she will never be exactly like other kids. I always read this blog to remind me that they just have a snapshot, and not everyone makes that mistake. Thank you. 🙂

  • Ugh so true! I always get “aww how sad, but really be thankful he looks so normal!” when asked about my oldest who’s now 11. So frustrating! He had a rough start…He was 7 weeks early. Had fluid on his lungs, and was on an oxygen halo with iv’s for nutrients for weeks. He wasn’t allowed to eat orally until the fluid cleared up for fear of aspirating more into his lungs. He had to be fed with a syringe, and my finger until he learned to suck. He didn’t talk until he was 4, and was very behind, he did speech therapy until last year. He has Aspergers, dyslexia, obsessive anxiety, and has a touch thing (where he has to touch/pet/rest his head on you/be in contact at all times when not running like a wildman going to shit, which is a hard one to explain, cause most see a normal child with no boundaries, which is wrong), and the social emotional skills/level of his little brother who’s 8. He was getting “swept under the rug/left behind” at school, besides serious bullying issues. So we have started homeschooling this year. In the end though he is still a very sweet, playful, talkative, VERY smart, young man. Who just looks at the world/learns differently. But upon meeting him, until you really get to watch him/really know him/interact over time with him, you’d never know the things we struggle with. I love this post. 🙂 <3 Thank you.