Over the years, I have met hundreds of amazing people, simply by being Katie’s mom. This is one of many great stories I’ve been told.
When Katie was a toddler, I took her swimming at he local community center. A mom was there with her adult son. He was able to walk and talk, but an intellectual disability had been a significant factor in his life.
The mom told me that Jim was her second child. He had an older sister named Elizabeth. Elizabeth was only a year older than Jim, and a grade ahead of him in school.
One day years ago, their high school was having an assembly in the gym. This was Elizabeth’s sophomore year, and she was just starting to feel like she fit in. There were kids already on the bleachers who called her to come sit by them. She found her place, and waited for the assembly to get going.
Then she saw her little brother, sitting on the lowest step of the bleachers. This was his first year of high school, and it was hard for him to grasp new places and routines quickly. He hadn’t made any friends yet.
Elizabeth glanced at the group that had welcomed her in. These were the cool kids – the ones that would be cheerleaders, basketball stars, homecoming royalty.
She looked back down at her brother. Elizabeth knew, she knew, that if she aligned herself with him, she would never be accepted back into this group, back into this pack of kids that would rule the school.
“Excuse me.” Elizabeth said as she grabbed her jacket and stood. She could feel their eyes on her back as she made her way down the bleachers. She held her head up.
Elizabeth settled in next to Jim, and he looked over at her. A fabulous smile broke the clouds around his head.
The assembly was boring, as most are, and went until the school day was over.
The next day was amazing. But it was amazing in a very unusual way: nothing changed. Noone said, ‘Hey Lizzie! This isn’t the resource room!’. Noone stuck their nose in the air as she went by, or threw a cold shoulder or condescending glare at her.
Sometimes we make assumptions about people. A lot of the time we’re right- that’s why assumptions are formed in the first place. But sometimes we let our perceptions of what others think act as a barrier to being true to ourselves. And sometimes, when we overcome our barriers, we find they really weren’t that big.
So. Sweet story. What does it have to do with Katie, or me? Not much, but I liked it. And I do think that it had an impact on me – after all, I still remember it many years later. I think that it was a bit of a boost for me during a time when all I wanted to do was stay home with my screaming baby and not deal with all those people glaring at me. People who wanted me to control my kid. People who would ostracize us, or turn a cold shoulder.
Those people were as much a creation of my perception as anything. I have gotten braver about taking my child out in public. Granted, she doesn’t scream all that much now. But if she does, I don’t stress too much about it. I am much, much more likely to have people approach us in a gentle, almost reverent fashion, wanting to learn more about her.