We watched the fantastic movie Wonder last night.
Once the movie ended, our oldest cried because he understood a little too personally what it was to be the weird kid. While his personal struggles pale in comparison to Auggie’s, and he adequately understands that, he couldn’t help but feel a heaviness on his heart for his own story.
“Other kids say I’m weird. I don’t like being weird.”
See, with his giftedness comes some rather social awkwardness when paired with children his age. Unless he’s spending time with kids who view and process the world in a similar way, the everyday school environment can be a struggle. Frequently, our son has come home crying because he asked several people to play with him at recess and they all refused. Or because his classmates were telling others not to be his friend. Or he was called “weirdo” (a name that affects a nine year old like any other hateful word).
Now, we understand that some of this comes from his natural-born leadership abilities which, at nearly 10 years old, project themselves as trying to take control. And we’re working with him on that. We also understand that he struggles with emotional overexcitabilities, which means that he feels things more deeply and his heart is hurt more easily.
But, to other kids, he’s awkward. He’s a crybaby. He’s that kid that gets special treatment because he has something called anxiety.
When he was in first grade even his teacher treated him as if he was a problem, calling him out on his errors in front of the entire class (literally “let’s talk about how Eli messed up”) and mortifying him. Thank God for his third grade teacher who recognized his struggles as the expectations at school got more difficult, and fought beside us for him to have accommodations that have helped him begin to thrive again.
And our youngest — who was recently diagnosed with sensory processing disorder — at his most overstimulated moments, gets aggressive, self harming and even harming others. Thank God we recognized what his struggle really was and got him in occupational therapy, where he’s already making progress.
So let’s look at this from a different perspective…
What if our boys didn’t have parents involved like my husband and I? What if we treated our youngest son’s aggression like a phase? What if we didn’t recognize the warning signs that our oldest son’s anxiety was getting out of control and failed to get him in therapy?
What if either of them had these struggles and was in the foster care system? What if teachers treated them like they just had behavior issues and failed to see the bigger picture?
Kids are being bullied by their peers, but no one stops it. Schools claim “no tolerance for bullying” but then, when a kid defends himself against a bully, he’s punished and told he is wrong too. There is often no real recourse given for the actions of the bully, or the same “punishment” is given for both students, which fingers to the bullied child that how he was being treated — like a lesser human being — is of no importance. I’ve seen it, in person, several times over. And naive parents who think “not MY child, she’s not a bully” are real and only make things worse. I think of the Florida teacher’s post that went viral this week in which she states that, 20 years ago, parents never cussed her out or blamed her for causing their child’s bad behavior, like they do now.
Because, the truth is, in every school, in every city, in every state there are children who struggle like our sons struggle but nobody sees it. Nobody sees them. There are kids everywhere that are socially awkward, so no one talks to them. They disrupt the class because of their sensory needs and are sent out of the classroom for bad behavior. Their home life is miserable but no one cares to notice. Or at least no one pays attention long enough to see it.
Don’t think this epidemic of violence has to do with home life (or not enough to really consider it)? Well, let’s look at how that’s changed. I recently participated in a marriage conference in which the speaker, Jefferson Bethke, took a hard look at the American family over the last hundred years.
1901 saw the birth of the assembly line in industry and this trickled into all aspects of life. This was a huge shift in how we divide and fracture families. 1945-60 is known as the greatest economic era in US history and the birth of the Western family. Both developments changed family dynamics and how they’re organized in society.
The Western family of today has a perpetual reset button according to Bethke… always a new family, deleting the past, losing that multi-generational focus and no longer working to build a legacy. The Western family is focused on the individual. Each generation only has about an 80 year memory, forgetting their lineage. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows the names of their great grandparents or what they did for a living, and certainly not their great-great grandparents. Do you?
The classical family model that dominated before the industrial age was focused on passing the baton of legacy, a 1000 year memory. Parents worked not to find their success, but the success of their children and grandchildren. Family was a team rather than the Western family club model of today.
Bethke explained that clubs unify through a shared interest or activity, which is not that strong of a bonding agent. Teams, however, unify through shared identity and mission. Teams utilize individual strengths for maximum impact TOGETHER. Clubs focus on individual growth only. And today’s Western family is more like a club.
So, yeah, you won’t ever find me calling for the banning of guns (though I’m all for metal detectors in every school). Just as you won’t find me calling for the banning of knives or cars or any other items used in violent acts. Because, for me, it’s not the tool used, but the person that is using it. And that person often starts out as the socially awkward kid in elementary school.
What you will find me calling for, as the Mom of a weird kid, is compassion! For paying attention. For setting aside ourselves long enough to let others matter. Even the most awkward, the weird ones, the difficult ones. Because they might actually be the most in need of love, friendship and a chance to live abundantly.