Little things

It’s the little things that matter.

I know everyone says that but I really, truly do believe it. Maybe I have a low bar, but I choose to think little things make the biggest difference.

Allow me to ‘splain.

So, I have three kids. One has challenges, as we all do, but hers come with actual, bonafide labels. Among them is the inability to interpret social cues, those things that are so instinctive and automatic for many of us aren’t for her. At all. When you get to high school, that shortcoming is a hugecoming — even though, if you ask me — all teenagers seem to be on pace to looking like they have sort of behavioral disorder because they’re so used to staring and interacting with little cell phone screens that their ability to make eye contact and conversation with actual humans is seriously impaired.

When you have a special needs kid, you harden your heart. You have to. To not would mean dying inside every day when your kid struggles or is hurt by intolerance. Something bad happens? You sympathize but then you encourage toughness. Shake it off. That kid’s the turd, not you. Just move on.

Most fellow students are pretty patient, even nice, although occasionally I’ll get a text message in the middle of the day about someone saying something hurtful. A few kids are downright awful. Like the boy — heaven help him if I ever track him down — whom my kid had a minor crush on and she was gutsy enough to admit it to him. In a text. He texted back that he liked her, but as a friend.

OK, that’s fair.  And honest.

Then, after some time passed, came the second text.

“Actually, I do like you.”

My heart dropped because while I do like to think the best of people, I am quite familiar with teenage boys. Sure enough, his next bubble of text was “Can u send nude pix.”

It’s probably not fair to deem someone who’s not yet a fully formed person a jackass, but I’m going to do it anyway. Jackass.

So those are the people in the world you worry about and are always on the lookout for — along with the Nigerian princes who email their sad-luck stories. So many jerks out there who prey on the defenseless.

But then, then, you come across people like the young woman at the doughnut shop who waited on my daughter one morning and noticed her confusion and nervousness when she haltingly placed her order. When the kid was out of earshot, the young woman leaned in and confided that she suffered from anxiety. It was pretty bad when she was a kid, she said, but now she had it under control.

“So, don’t worry,” she said. “It’ll get better.”

I nearly cried then, I do cry now. So much for the tough heart.

Then, there was the young woman, waiting outside the school office with my daughter. They both smiled when I drove up.

My child was practically vibrating as she ran up to the car, saying her friend — everyone is a friend — had something she wanted to ask me.

“Is it OK if we go get pizza after school Wednesday?” the girl sweetly asked. “My grandma can drive us.”

I needed a pacemaker at that very moment because my heart skipped about 10 beats.

“I love that she includes me and asks me to do things,” my kiddo said, as she slid into the passenger side.

This is a young girl who’s been asked to maybe two birthday parties in the past six years. No one invites her to hang out after school or sleep over or go to dances or football games. So going to grab a slice after school might seem like a little thing, but it’s not. It’s pretty epic.

And today, this girl turns 16. I’m not going to say sweet 16 because I am also quite familiar with teenage girls. I even was one. Once. A looooooong time ago. They’re messy (literally and figuratively), complicated, wonderful creatures and just like someone wouldn’t dare face down a rampaging elephant without a tranquilizer gun, no parent who comes in daily contact with a 16-year-old girl should be without a tranquilizer gun — or at the very least, some protective armor. Their sharp barbs sting like no other. Now, multiply that times 100 when you’re talking about a special needs teen. They’re tougher than the norm. Hard to believe but true.

She’s been excited about this upcoming birthday for, oh, just the entire past year and insisted on a special dinner with all her friends. She made invitations and pestered them daily well before the RSVP date. Some started backing out this morning, sigh, but others said they would come and I hope they do. Please. So part of the motivation behind this post is pure selfishness: I feel like I need to send positive, pleading vibes out there into the universe on her behalf. Showing up would be such a little thing to do, for them, but it would be really, truly be a big thing — and make for the best 16th birthday.

2 thoughts on “Little things

  1. Lots of love and positive vibes being sent your way for a joyous birthday for your special Capricorn (we Cappys stick together). As the mom of a 34-year-old special needs woman, I concur with the doughnut clerk- it does get better. But you will still cry from time to time because who wants to become THAT tough? A while ago, a relative congratulated me — “You have 2 wonderful children. ”
    “Um… I have THREE wonderful children,” I replied. She was very embarrassed. She just hadn’t counted my daughter in the category of “ordinary family” — she put her in the “special family” category, apparently. That hurt even though she didn’t mean it. So… a few private tears and then onward.

    And I agree with you — all teens belong in a “special” category of some sort.
    (BTW, you should report that offensive text message to the school)
    ANYway– I’m sending positive birthday vibes that are so strong that they will go back and change the past if this party has already happened! Hang in there Mom.


  2. Charlotte Ocean Lowe December 29, 2017 — 11:58 pm

    Hey Kirsten,
    Remember me? Yeah, I know you do because we’re friends on FB.

    I’m writing to say that before I was a reporter I taught in the schools, on the rez and for a time, specifically with young adults with special needs (developmentally disabled as they were called then). Published a book of their poems called I CAN BE LIKE OTHER TREES.. I continually wanted to steal their lines but restrained myself.

    Your daughter doesn’t sound like the students I taught in that group–but close enough.

    I am now going to blow horn: I’m really good at teaching writing to special needs kids and grown-ups. Award winning .. Long tenure–13 years with the AZ Commission on the Arts. Just sayin’ is all.So you don’t think I’m completely nutty writing you about this.

    But. If by any chance you or/and you would like your daughter to have a sample dip into poetry or other creative writing I’d be happy to volunteer for informal sessions.

    It’s a special joy for me to teach special ed writing because–you might recall I am an occasional cripple, since birth–and I like to enable us all to express our unique journey in life. Special needs kids often seem more normal to me than the allegedly normal.I spent a lot of time before age five at the Comstock Children’s Clinic..A young woman from the UA performed a puppet show for us and it changed my life–and probably a few others. We played puppets afterwards, even using our fingers dressed in bed clothes, to act out our lives.
    I toughened up there. I was expelled–in first grade (St. John’s Catholic Church on Ajo) -for defending myself from being teased about my crutches. Pues—

    We ( those who are physically or mentally different) often have irregular experiences. As we used to say at the paper, “It’s all copy”.

    If one of my students had writing difficulties I handled that with taking dictation and teaching line breaks (breath units) –as in when they verbally pause, the poem line ends. Self-expression, hearing it read back to you, or reading it aloud yourself, is a way of making yourself evident and important to society. It’s also more fun than a diary.

    You’re a fine writer and you may already be doing writing with your daughter. Bravo you for writing about your and her experiences on this blog.
    But should you wish a little (free) extra art curriculum for your daughter I am available. Plus it would be fun to see you again.

    My phone is currently dead and it’s replacement is being re-ordered. But message me on FB or by Email and I’ll get back to you if you’re interested.
    It’s a little bit of an odd offer I know. But then you’ve always known I just a wee odd.

    All the best,
    Charlotte (Lowe)


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