Wednesday, September 04, 2013
The Weight of The World
Part of a little series I've been writing about the idea of grace. Click here to read parts 1 and 2.
Sometime in the early summer a group of friends and our kids attended a play at a local children's theater. We spent sometime afterwards mingling outside, moms chatting with kids running and playing. I spotted Lamp sitting in between 2 sisters who happen to go to our church. They were perched on the steps just talking and being adorable. These girls are sweet, kind and already friends of ours. I say that so you understand that Lamp is not new to them and that they are wonderful girls.
I sneaked behind them a little closer to get a picture of the trio and heard the older sister say to Lamp, Your hand kind of looks like a foot.
I know, said Lamp, in a deflated voice. My heart sank a little. The girl wasn't being mean, she was just being a kid--honest and blunt. But it was hard to sit and watch my not yet 3 year old have to handle that situation at this tender age, all on her own. I don't know what she felt, but I know she felt something.
A few days later I was talking with Lamp about going to preschool in the fall. She has been eager to go to school for a while. I explained that I wouldn't stay there with her, but I'd drop her off then pick her up just like we do for sister.
But the kids will laugh at me mom. This time my heart actually broke.
Why will they laugh at you? I asked, knowing the answer but wanting to address her specific concerns and help her verbalize them. I pressed and finally said, Is it because your arms are different? She nodded. I reminded her that she has many friends and they love her so much. I told her that when the kids get to know her they will love her too and will want to be her friend because everyone wants to be her friend.
Not everyone wants to be my friend. She said.
Once again my heart... she had remembered an incident from a few weeks earlier about a little girl at the story time who kept telling her she didn't want to be her friend. The little girl was probably about 3. The sweet part of the story is that she had a 5 year old sister who was right next to her and was actually scolding her, That's not nice. Don't say that. I want to be her friend. I was so grateful for the example of an older, but still quite young, sister. But still, I was heartbroken as I saw Lamp sitting there, expressionless listening to the words of a peer and knowing they were hurting her little spirit. In these instances I usually step in and try to coach and help the child understand. I know I did that to a certain extent here as well, but I honestly can't remember what I was doing and how I was reacting. When I play it back in my mind it was sort of like watching a bad dream where your reactions are in slow motion and you can't escape whatever darkness or impending doom is descending upon you quickly enough. However quickly I did or didn't react, the damage was done. The little girl had said hurtful things a few times and my precious baby sat there emotionless, taking it in, hearing these words and knowing it was because she was different.
I wanted to shrug it off and tell myself she didn't understand what was being said or why, but she couldn't stop talking about it as we left the bookstore. That girl didn't want to be my friend. That girl didn't want to be my friend. I tried to remind her that the other girl wanted to be her friend. And then I stopped. My baby was hurting and me trying to sweep away the bad didn't alleviate the pain. So I stopped, and I said, She hurt your feelings didn't she?
Yes. She hurt my feelings. She said as she buried her head into my neck.
She still loves going to story time, especially during summer when her big sister there with her again, but more than ever she chooses to remain on my protective lap.
We have officially transitioned to a place of knowing. Lamp knows she's different. She feels it and she sees it in the faces of peers around her. We knew it was coming someday, but someday is here.
And it can be hard.
People used to be surprised how well she talked for a 2 year old, now it seems that when people find out she's 3 it's her size that throws them off. She is so petite. If I had to guess I would say she's smaller than most 18 month olds. But 3 is still 3 no matter your size, and I think it's the fact that when I look at her dainty shoulders and petite frame I am even more astounded by the weight those little shoulders have to bear. Sometimes I can't believe she has to deal with burdens and heartache that come in the form of prejudice and rejection at an achingly tender age. Is it really prejudice when it comes from little children who lack the developmental skills to make rational judgements? I don't think it matters to her. And it's not only small children that we've had to deal with, so there's that.
But I also know she isn't the only child to ever have to do hard things. Illness, abuse, neglect, hunger, disabilities... all these things have happened to children her age and younger. And older. Life can be painful in all sorts of creative ways. I know my daughter hasn't been singled out.
Add this all to the fact that I'm having a hard time finding a preschool that will take her in the first place. I'm in the tough position of needing to be extremely honest about the extra help she will need while also letting them know how wonderful she is. That she was blessed with patience, kindness and a joyful disposition, not to mention she's smart as a whip. And while she sounds very needy physically, she is in fact quite independent and wants to do as much for herself as possible.
So far, no takers. (Since writing this post this has changed! Yay!)
Here is the point: There is part of me that wants to be angry. I want to be angry not that my daughter has 'handicaps' but that hers are on such public display, while most of us get to conveniently hide our weaknesses from the outside world. Wouldn't it level the playing field quite a bit if we all had to walk around with our handicaps clearly labeled on our foreheads: Arrogant, Liar, Manipulative, Bigot, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. And a part of me wants to cry foul and yell discrimination for these preschools who don't feel that they have the necessary resources to allow my beautiful and bright daughter to be a part of their school, because it really is more possible than impossible.
But I'm not angry. There is a part of me that wants to be... because there is a sense of imbalance and injustice, but I'm not. I really do think the preschools I've talked with wish they could make the accommodations, but right now they don't have the resources. At least they don't think they have the resources. I know most kids are sweet, kind kids who don't know any better, but can and hopefully will learn better.
But it still hurts--sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. If there is a lesson here, I think it is this. Often pain is a trigger that something is wrong and needs to be righted--a broken bone needs to be set, a deep gash needs to be stitched. The same often goes for emotional pain as well--betrayals, hurtful words and snubs need apologies and/or forgiveness. Pain is such a common trigger for justice and restitution, that our knee-jerk reaction may be that anytime we feel pain (or anger or frustration), we feel that someone or something else must be accountable for it. And I'm seeing this as a more and more common trend in society. Road ragers take out their frustration in increasingly more and more violent manners. Meekness is no longer a valued trait but rather a sign of weakness, because if you give me a dirty look or a cross word I will get in your face and show you that I will not back down.
But a lot of times life is just unfair. Really unfair. Sometimes painfully and tragically unfair and often there is no one to blame but life itself--accidents, illnesses, mistakes, misjudgments, and genuine ignorance. Trying to find a target for all of our pain, anger, and frustration will likely result in only more pain, anger and frustration--for others probably, but most definitely for ourselves.
I'm not a pro at this, as I've stated before meekness and humility are not natural to me. But ever since hearing that little word grace, and making a commitment on how I would react to those around us it has become easier. But showing grace to others is only half the equation... probably less than half.
As I've come to learn, grace isn't something just to be given, but also to be received. In fact, I'm willing to bet that my increased capacity to give grace to others is because I've been on the receiving end of grace as well. Being on the receiving end of grace, also means I don't have to make a person, a child or an institution feel responsible for the pain we sometimes feel in these situations.
If my faith and my theory are correct, grace can swallow that pain whole.
*art--no these are not my paintings, which is why I'm linking to the source. :)