When Other People Think Your Kids Are Apples

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.

Melanie Dale

Writer at Unexpected
Melanie Dale is a minivan mama and total weirdo who stinks at small talk. Her laugh is a combination honk-snort, and it’s so bad that people have moved away from her in the movie theater. She adores sci-fi and superheroes and is terrified of Pinterest. Author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends and It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose, she’s also a contributor for Coffee+Crumbs and an advocate for Children’s HopeChest. Her writing has been featured on Parenting.com, Scary Mommy, Working Mother magazine, Deadspin’s Adequate Man, Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience, and Today’s Christian Woman, and she’s a panelist for MomsEveryday TV. Living in the Atlanta area, she enjoys recording her podcast, Lighten Up with Melanie Dale, and blogging at Unexpected.
  • Stephanie Thompson

    Can I like this post infinitely? We navigate a similar path. I have become a “seer”-I recognize other families living in an alternate universe that intersects the one with which we engage on a daily basis. It sees life from a much different perspective, affects my priorities and even my friendships. I advocate, speak, and write about it in order to educate. “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.” Thank you! I see you!

  • LOVE that someone gets me and my littles. It’s hard. We’re all doing a great job and more moms need to be giving each other boosts instead of tearing each other down. <3

  • This is so, SO good. I have 2 teens on autism spectrum. The challenges have made me a better “seer” too, like Stephanie says in her comment.

    I laughed when you said “as a mom I am awesome but I look like I suck.” Yes! Here’s to all the moms who really do not suck as much as they appear to. We are crushing this parenting thing–and if we support one another, maybe it won’t crush us.

  • Joanne Peterson

    Melanie, this is spot on. I live in the trenches with my kids who experienced early trauma. I also laughed right out loud in a few spots. I liked your book “It’s not fair”. Also spot on….thanks for putting these things into words.

  • I loved your post!!!!! Yes, I too want others to see how spectacular my children are. To see them through my eyes. I want them to understand that they have overcome the impossible. Oh the stories we could tell of just how insensitive others are and the ridiculous things they say. If they only knew but I am glad they don’t. I would wish mental challenges on anyone. They have no idea the battles we as parent fight or why we do what we do. I was that person a long time ago. The one who looked at others and thought if you only would discipline,oh what I didn’t know. Soon I will be announcing a closed facebook group just for those that love someone awesome with a mental illness. We need to stick together and support each other. Thank you for your post.

  • I love this. Thank you, thank you!

  • Katherine Thompson

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for writing this article!