Today my kids got these . . . I don’t know . . . lip spreaders at church. You know the ones I mean? The plastic thingies that pull your lips away from your gums and make you talk funny like you’re at the dentist? As we walked out of church, my kids start chanting “Apple!” over and over, because without your lips, it’s alllll “asshole.” We died. We were a snort-laughing, asshole-chanting bunch of miscreants tripping through the parking lot. I have created monsters. Jesus take the wheel.
There was a time when this kind of behavior would’ve embarrassed me. “Kids, we have to learn to lock down the crazy when we’re in public.” But I think years of people not knowing what to do with us has finally forced me to surrender any last need for putting on airs. The general public will never understand us, and that’s okay.
Them: “Is she adopted?”
Me: “Two of my three kids are adopted. Bet you can’t figure out which two.”
Them: “You sure have your hands full.”
Me: “Full of something.”
Them: “Back in my day we used to spank kids when they acted like that.”
Me: “Bend over and let me practice on you till I get the hang of it.”
We have a cocktail of exciting things going on in our family, things like trauma, mental illness, ADHD, and autism, not to mention the general difficulty of them being stuck with a really weird mom.
Some of my people have some special needs, but they’re the kind that aren’t easily recognizable by casual friends and random people at the park. People can’t see what’s going on inside my kids’ bodies. They don’t understand the history. They just see a crappy parent who clearly has no idea how to discipline.
Them: “I don’t let JohnnyBob ride the bus because of the bad kids on it. I heard a kid stabbed someone with a pencil the other day.”
Me: “Huh. Weird. I know nothing at all about a hypothetical event like that.”
For some people with different abilities, there is a visible explanation for certain things. That boy is in a wheelchair; therefore, I will not expect him to walk over to me. But people can’t see some kids’ reasons for the way they behave. Some reasons are hidden from view but just as real on the inside. That kid is on the autism spectrum; therefore, I will not expect said child to shake my hand and make eye contact. And that kid over there experienced early childhood trauma; therefore, I will not expect that child to behave appropriately with me as a stranger in Wal-Mart.
I admit, sometimes I wish people could walk a day in my shoes and understand. But why do I care? Why do I let strangers get under my skin . . . which should be thicker by now after all these years? Sometimes my kids are little apples, and I adore them. But not everyone sees what I see.
I want people to take one look at my kids and see how amazing they are, how they’ve overcome unfathomable circumstances. My kids have learned new languages and crossed continents, survived unspeakable trauma, survived my freaking womb, and experienced sensory input in heightened, terrifying ways. They’re the most resilient, hard-working people I know, and every day they rise to fight another day.
As their mom, I am also fantastic. But most of the time, I look like I suck. “Is that your kid ripping up an entire bed of tulips at Disney World?”
No one sees it. No one sees the work we’re all doing, going to therapy and meeting with teachers, calling doctors and adjusting medications, filling out reams of paperwork and trying the latest exercise or diet tweak that will prevent meltdowns, increase awareness, cure zombies, and achieve world peace.
I used to steer away from labels. People said, “Let’s don’t label anybody. You don’t want a label that will follow your child around.” I used to push away the idea that medicine could help. They said, “Too many parents push drugs on their kids. They’re just too lazy to do the work of disciplining them.”
But those people are wrong, because labels and medicine can help our children rise up into the incredible people they are and shine as their true, unique selves. I’ll give you a label: overcomer. Here’s another one: self-aware.
If you have a child with a hidden special need, a child who flies beneath the radar, one who falls into the crack in the system between “normal” and “special,” if you feel unseen and misunderstood, me too. I see you. Secret handshake. Our kids are awesome . . . and so are we.
You never know what battle someone is fighting on the inside. Good rule of thumb for strangers who want to comment on my kids: don’t be an apple.