I’m sitting in the bathroom stall sobbing. I’m pleading with myself to just get it together.
It all started an hour earlier at Meet The Teacher night. In the upper middle class suburban school district this is a crucial time. It’s critical to dress nicely, smile and for the love of all that’s holy, put on a little make-up! It’s all about first impressions and signing up for the PTA. You must remember all of your children’s supplies, labeled with their first name and last initial. Don’t forget the last initial! As luck would have it, 1/3 of the parents in the first grade were inspired to name their sons Jake.
Darn-it, I didn’t get to the classroom in time to be one of the room moms. Ok, I admit it, I hate being a room mom, but I do like to get there in time to sign up to bring little heart-shaped paper plates to the valentine’s party. A little commitment, but not too much. It’s a delicate balance. I always chuckle a little at this point in the new school year dance. I’ve caught myself again grasping for a morsel of suburban mom acceptance. I was silently chiding myself as I scurried to the 4th grade hallway.
Just as I was passing the other 4th grade rooms on my way to the resource room (code for Special Education), I heard my son’s name. I curiously turned to see two moms scrolling with pointed fingers down the class list posted on the door. Mom 1 sighs with relief. “I’m so glad he’s not in my son’s class this year,” she says. Mom 2 leans in with a mock whisper and says, “Did you know he had to have a full time aide all to himself last year?” That’s when Mom 1 admits, “I checked all the class lists, he’s not on any of them.” My curiosity has turned to horror and now a fairly blinding rage. I can’t believe they didn’t see me standing there.
Just as I was about to storm their little gossip party, I veered left and into the girls bathroom.
That’s where I find myself now. Squeezed into a tiny stall, head in my hands, mascara running. I’m silently screaming my hatred for anyone ignorant enough to gossip about a 9 year old. Eventually my fury turns to bitterness as I think of the blissful ignorance of their gossip. My final emotion is sorrow, this is where I land most often as my son’s mother.
With my eyes squeezed shut, all I can see is the handsome face of my son. His protruding ears, endearing brown eyes, and deliciously sweet hugs. Will anyone ever see anything but his disability?
My son has ARND (Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorder). ARND is caused by fetal alcohol exposure. My son’s birth mom was unable to stop drinking while she was pregnant. The body of a fetus is not equipped to process alcohol like the body of an adult. Therefore, my son was swimming in alcohol, deteriorating his brain before he even had a chance to take his first breath.
My son lacks a fully developed frontal cortex. He lacks the part of his brain that was designed for problem solving and cause and effect. In short, he is like a speeding car without breaks. His brain cannot communicate properly, so he feels emotions without an appropriate outlet and he has ideas without adequate problem solving skills.
I allow myself to cry a bit longer because this knowledge doesn’t change what those women were saying. It doesn’t change how others will see him. He will struggle his whole life. His brain will never heal. I dab at my now puffy eyes and remember his kind heart and his selfless generosity. I smile a little, thinking of the courage and bravery that he has in facing his challenges.
After splashing a little cold water on my face, I straighten my carefully chosen skirt and blouse. Finally, I exit the bathroom, clinging to the wise words of Taylor Swift, “Shake it off,” because I know that’s what my son will do.
Have you ever overheard others gossiping about your children or your family? How did you react?