Nick, while we eat breakfast, "mama, I'm not trying to be mean but last night at the concert I saw a boy who is Steven's age but my height and with really short fingers." He pauses and looks into my eyes, questions on the tip of his tongue but trying to figure out how to ask without being cruel.
When I was in my prime babysitting era, Tyler was the boy I most often watched. He was the little brother of one of my brother's friends and he was a ballpark rat just like my Nick would become years in the future. Little brothers are always annoying (I should know... hi Geoff!) but the difference between Tyler at the ballpark and Nick at the ballpark was like night and day. Tyler was born with an extra chromosome and his face displayed the characteristics typical of a body like his. When people saw Tyler running around, they averted their eyes and tried to hide their stares. When people saw Nick running around, they smiled and engaged.
In fairness, not everyone turned away from Tyler and not everyone loved Nick. Reflecting back, however, I remember the protective, sad feeling of watching Tyler and I remember the proud, happy feeling of watching Nick.
Thinking about how we treat people with differences, especially those among us with bodies growing uniquely, hasn't always been on my mind. When I was the mom at the park, unsure of how to handle my kids' natural curiosity. We averted our eyes and I shushed my kids, afraid of offending.
Before attending a writing workshop last year, I researched the presenters. Kelle Hampton, mama of three, wrote a book titled Bloom and after reading the description I immediately ordered it. Her second baby arrived in the world with the same extra chromosome as Tyler; she did not know ahead of time and she wrote about the difficulty she initially had absorbing the information. As Nella grows, Kelle continues to write about the entire spectrum of feelings that come along with raising children, and especially about how important it is for us to collectively break down the barriers between us. One of her most recent posts shows just how much is possible when we ignore society's rules. http://kellehampton.com/2015/03/if-you-build-it-they-will-come-if-you.html
Last Saturday, I listened to a phenomenal lineup of speakers at Tedx Portland and watched from the edge of my seat as Karen Gaffney, a person also possessing a bonus chromosome, spoke. And, as I watched, I thought about Nella and the fact that because of Nella's wide-open minded parents, I anticipate watching Nella give a similar speech someday. After hearing Karen's story, and feeling wildly under-accomplished, I found her foundation's website and again marveled at the possibilities for all of us. http://www.karengaffneyfoundation.com
Finally, I met a mama earlier this year who is taking action with her daughter to teach kids not to be afraid of physical differences but rather focus on all of the things they have in common and to choose kindness. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-07-06/news/ct-choose-kind-met-20140706_1_kerry-lynch-family-member-little-boy
As all of the advice I've heard and read swirls in my mind, I dive in to the conversation with Nick despite my uncertainty. "His body grew differently than yours, didn't it?" I offer.
I add, "it is always okay to ask questions. I'm glad you are being careful but he's a kid just like you're a kid. Next time you're curious, grab my hand and we'll walk together to meet him and learn his name."
Maybe I don't have it exactly right. Some kids may not want questions. Some caretakers may grow weary of questions. We may not ask the right questions. At the end of the day, however, I'm willing to risk it if Nick learns there's a difference between being curious and being mean. I want him to be unafraid to befriend someone he might otherwise ignore, and to join the ranks of the kindness brigade.