This weekend, we took a bike ride to the park. It was a gorgeous, unseasonably warm October afternoon, and our kids needed to get out of the house. After a 10-minute-long bike ride in which my son moaned the entire way that his legs hurt! (it turned out that his tires were severely deflated, but being the awesome parents that we are, we only figured it out after we yelled at him to “keep up, slowpoke!” about 20 times), we dropped our bikes and headed for the playground.
About five minutes into our playtime, I noticed a rather loud woman yelling periodically at her kid from the bench behind me. Her son appeared to be the same age as mine (about seven), yet she was screaming at him to “watch out for the swings!” and “don’t run so fast!”. I immediately began to judge her as some overbearing helicopter parent. But I stopped quickly, reminding myself not to be so swift to judge others’ parenting techniques. And then, she did something that I just couldn’t ignore.
Two 12-year-old boys walked into the playground. The woman immediately called her son over and very loudly told him, “not to look at, or talk to that boy Stephen.” The boys looked a bit rough-around-the-edges, and I recognized one of them as being a former classmate of my son’s (in his special behaviour class), so I figured one of the kids must have given her kid some trouble at some point in the past. Then, the woman (also very loudly) added, “and don’t say, ‘hey there’s that kid with Aspergers!’” Hmm, I thought. OK so she knows the kid has special needs…not sure why she thought she had to tell her son (and the whole playground) that. I immediately got edgy, but I kept my mouth shut. Things quickly started to deteriorate when she began telling the other parents in the playground that the kid was a BAD KID (“I even heard he broke some girl’s ribs this summer!” she shouted, “and that friend of his is in a special violent offenders class!”), and then moved on to provoking the kid by yelling, “you’d better watch yourself” across the playground. The incident ended with the kid throwing sand at the woman and her son, my husband intervening and attempting to calm him down, and me very sternly telling the woman to leave.
The entire event only lasted about 20 minutes, but it had such an effect on me that I just can’t shake it from my mind. I can’t help but think that there must be parents that have said similar things about my son. A small part of me even worries that our son will end up like those boys when he gets older. But the thing that really bothers me is that I am not sure if I would be much different from that woman, if I didn’t have a child with his own challenging behaviours. Of course, I would never resort to calling a 12-year-old a psycho (she seriously called him that) or taunting and provoking him. But if that kid had bullied my kid in the past, I could sort of see where she was coming from.
My husband and I have spent the last four years in various therapy sessions, parenting classes, and doctor’s appointments in order to try and help our son. But what we have realized is that it has also helped us a great deal. We have become more open minded, more tolerant, more loving, and more honest with our kids. We have learned to celebrate the tiny successes, and that bad days will pass. Most of all, we have learned to accept our child for who he is, challenges and all. Although the days are hard and progress is slow, I don’t think I would change this experience for anything. I truly believe we are better parents, and people, because of it.