Monday, January 12, 2009

A Heavy Burden

This past Saturday was Kevin's 12th birthday, and Michael took him and a few of his friends to an arcade for the afternoon. Michael was telling me a little while ago on the phone that on the drive there, "the boys were being boys" and one of Kevin's friends made a retard joke. Apparently Kevin was visibly uncomfortable, but didn't say anything to his friend. Later, Michael told me, he (Michael) pulled the friend aside and kindly explained to him why that term might be hurtful to some people. Really, I think the kid was just making a very common joke out of ignorance. How many 11-12 year olds really understand the term "retarded" and all its implications?

Still, hearing about this little exchange hurt me, and made me feel almost physcially sick to my stomach. I was surprised and disappointed, too, that Kevin didn't say something to his friend. Kevin, who has become so vocal at school about Down syndrome and disabilities.

I sat down with Kevin a little while ago and asked him about what his friend said on Saturday. I asked him how it made him feel. He kind of shrugged and looked away from me. Then he got kind of choked up and defensive and said that he felt like I was attacking his friend. Again, I felt hurt and disappointed. Was he taking his friend's side over his brother's?

This is a fact of being 12, I realized. He wants to fit in with his friends. He also wants to do the right thing. He loves his brother. He's torn. He doesn't want to alienate his friends because of his brother. I understand this on an intellectual level, I really do. It's made me start seeing, though, what a heavy burden this is for him. I told him that his friend probably made the joke because he doesn't know any better, but that it's up to us, Finn's family, to always stand up for him because he might not be able to stand up for himself. I told Kevin that it's our responsibility to stand up for all people, because we're all part of the human race and it's not right to put anyone down. I know Kevin understands this. But I also know that it's still hard for him.

11 comments:

Nicole O'Dell said...

That makes me sad. You're so right in how you see it, too. He feels frustrated to even be in a position to have to defend someone (which he sees as "choosing" someone) over another.

Tough burden for a 12 year old to bear. But, he'll do what's right...he just needs time to figure it out now that he's been faced with it.

My name is Sarah said...

This is Joyce. Hi Lisa. I am actually working on a post on sib support, it has been one of my passions. Can I recommend a book. Our oldest son TJ actually participated in an interview with the author when he wrote it. It is written as a "slam" book (remember those) for young teens that have a sibling. If you go to www.siblingsupport.org and click on the publications tab, it will be listed. There are actually several that might be helpful to your family.

Jeanette said...

Lisa, I read your post and thought that your son actually handled it okay. He may not have stopped the comment in it's tracks, however he took some time to think of how to talk to his friend and he did so later. I have done this as well as an adult and a parent. Sometimes the heat of the moment may not be the best time. The offender may not hear your point of view if they are defensive. Pulling them aside privately may sometimes be more effective. Just a thought.

The other bright side of this is that it may have been the first time he has had to handle this situation. Having gotten that shock under his belt, maybe next time he will be more emboldened?!? Take heart that he did handle it and didn't let it go.

I think of the same thing for my two boys. As a matter of fact, that was one of my first concerns when I got the amnio results... How would this affect the boys? Unfortunately, my step son had to deal with his mother's cold response when he told her that his sister had DS. He was 7 at the time and her response was "Well, I'm glad it wasn't you". (yeah, I know... piece of work, eh?) I am going to check out the book that Joyce recommended.

Lisa said...

Jeanette, it was Michael, my husband, who pulled the boy aside later and talked to him, not Kevin. I'm not mad at Kevin, not at all. The whole thing just made me sad. I guess there is a part of me that hopes Finn's siblings would kick anyone's butt who would say something against Finn or the "class" Finn belongs to, but I know that's not realistic. As much as it makes me sad for Finn, it also makes me sad for Kevin to be in such a tough position.

Jodi said...

Lisa, I think all your kids are going to do exactly that when someone makes fun of Finn. I think the concept of 'retarded' is too abstract at this point. How can it possibly apply to the adorable, sometimes grumpy, baby brother they know and love?

Ruby's Mom said...

I think though if someone were to actually say something directly to Finn,like when he gets older,that Kevin wouldn't let it pass he would say something.
Right after I had Ruby my sister-in-law came over to visit Ruby and while she was visiting she used the r word about something and I didn't say anything because I knew she said it because of her own ignorance.You can bet now though I will never let that go again without saying something.Maybe Kevin regrets not having said something and doesn't want to tell you.It's so hard to know what kids are thinking sometimes.

Jen said...

This is exactly the kind of situation that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I am so not looking forward to my kids getting older and having to deal with stuff like this.

I like what you told Kevin, though. Good stuff. I'm going to check out that book that Joyce recommended.

Shannon said...

My brother was born with kidney disease. Both of his kidneys failed at birth and he wasn't supposed to live more than a month. My mom gave him one of her kidneys and he just turned 18 this past October. Growing up, he was made fun of a lot because kindey disease usually comes with certain physical traits. He was extremely short, pudgy, and his gums grew over his teeth. School kids can be so mean because they honestly don't understand yet. They just don't. I remember I would get so mad when someone would make fun of him, that I was just bottle it up and cry. I never said anything to anyone, because I didn't know what to say. I knew they wouldn't listen to me. I knew we were "bigger" than them. So, I would just cry out of anger when I got home. Kevin, from what I can tell, is a very smart and loving child. He knows it was wrong, but maybe he feels like he can't do anything about it right now. When he gets older, rest assured, he won't let anything slide. I believe all siblings that are close would do that for eachother. Disability or not.

Lovin Mama said...

Oh Lisa, this has to be the hardest thing for a mother. I know. A boy at my dd's school made a comment about people w/ Ds. The school took swift action, but the damage was done. My dd doesn't want anyone at school to know her sister has Ds. I cried after she told me that. On the up side, the boy later apologized to her on his own. (((hugs)))

Megan said...

Lisa - I can feel for Kevin as I have, honestly, felt like sometimes it's not worth the fight. Like every moment isn't (and doesn't have to be) a teaching moment about the "aRe" word. I think that reading the books will be great, but I also think that Kevin needs to have the autonomy to chose to ignore an ignorant comment that a friend made because we, as adults, have done that same thing.
Oh, and I agree on the concept being too abstract at this point. Finn is a BABY, first and foremost. The focus, imo, should be on that. As the sibs grow and learn with Finn, they'll each learn their own ways of coping and dealing with the situations they encounter.

audy said...

Twelve is a tough age. All that peer pressure, confusion, wanting to belong, liked, etc. Finn adds a dimension that in the end will be GOOD for Kevin and his siblings. At least, that's my take.

Quote from Lisa:
"I guess there is a part of me that hopes Finn's siblings would kick anyone's butt who would say something against Finn".

Oh, they will....