Oh, sacrosanct bovine…I was doing fine, I swear, and then we went to the pool. Now I’m here, all of forty-eight years old, hyperventilating like the little kid I was in the playground when someone insulted me and I couldn’t respond immediately. My response now, as then, was to simply gather my things and leave…
I pride myself in being a frequent traveler along the high road, but today I wish I was not so dignified. I wish I could turn around and comment on someone’s parenting right to their face, but -I admit- I am both oozing dignity and a horrible coward. That and I was taken by surprise.
Let me explain:
This morning we had to make a rush trip to the store because we couldn’t find J’s swim trunks. On our way back we stopped for lunch so it wasn’t until nearly three that I finally managed to get him into his new flamingo-print board shorts and down to the pool. He immediately parked himself on the step…that’s what he does. J sits on the step and there he stays until he’s good and ready to get into the water…say around August.
Today he went in and actually made a more proactive attempt to get farther into the pool than he usually does this early in the season. Today he reached mid-July depths. This, mind you, is an excellent sign. The kid is not just apparently adjusting well to the decrease in his medication, but he’s also enunciating more, trying to spontaneously express what he wants and actually stepping out of his comfort zone and into the pool. Good stuff, right???
And then the kid with the big mouth showed up and we had to go…
Harmless seeming enough, a dad and his two young children approach the pool. A heavy Southern accent, but a happy, open smile from the dad and the little girl who walked past us. Into the water they went, and little whatisname (maybe all of seven or eight years old) immediately starts teasing his sister and commanding attention. The little girl, maybe five years old?, makes her way past J and tries to engage him in conversation. He smiles, but -of course- doesn’t respond to her chattiness with anything other than a grin. The little girl, I can hear from where I’m sitting because J has asked to SIT, is telling him the water is nice and come in and see. J does nothing other than smile, and I sign from a distance GO WATER PLAY and SAY HELLO. He just smiles, but he’s not rejecting the little girl’s friendliness, he’s just being…well…autistic.
Up on the terrace, sitting in the shade, another member of this particular party is strumming a guitar quite soothingly. J smiles at the sound, and I sign to him LISTEN GUITAR. And he signs GUITAR back to me, and smiles even more broadly. His eyes lift up to the sky and he closes his eyes, clearly enjoying this little bonus around the pool.
TGG is sunning himself nearby, enjoying his day off and getting ready for class tonight by just plain ol’ chillin’ out. When he sits up and comes to me, I see the little girl becoming more insistent and, because she comes closer and makes the water splash a bit, J lets out a little AH-AAAH that indicates the water is cold, but not unpleasant.
I tell TGG to sit near J and help him say HELLO to this little girl, and TGG promptly moves over to his side and I can hear him saying SAY HI. The boy with the long blond hair starts approaching his little sister, and she splashes him playfully and, here it comes, clear as a bell we hear:
DON’T SPLASH HIM. HE’S JUST A DUMMY!
As I feel my shoulders tense up, I see TGG’s echoing this reaction. To my left, out of the corner of my eye, I see the dad still in the water, looking at his kids with a stupid smile on his face. And wait to see if I hear so much as a low “hey, come here” directed at his son, or perhaps some movement in the boy’s direction.
I hear the boy say the word DUMMY again. I look at TGG and I can tell he’s looking back at me. I sign DID THE BOY JUST CALL J DUMMY? TGG’s face says YES better than any sign could. I wait a couple more minutes, and then I motion for J to get up and come get his shirt. Without making eye contact, we calmly gather our things, and leave…
As we walk away from the pool area, I verbally ask TGG if he heard what I heard. Yes, he says, that kid called J dummy. That’s when I feel like I’m going to cry, and simply hook my arm around TGG’s and guide J towards the Mail Room because he’s asking for the key. On the way up the hill, I have to talk TGG into not going back and saying a thing or two to these people…
I don’t know where they live. I know there are three families that have moved within a few doors of us in recent days, but since I don’t particularly keep looking out the window to locate the new neighbors, I don’t know where they live. And even if I did, what would I do? Ring their doorbell and tell them “teach your child acceptance?” Leave a note on their door that says “he’s not just a dummy?” Post a note in the Mail Room for the whole neighborhood to see stating that my son is as valuable as their children and…what????
It’s not my job to teach other people how to raise their children. It’s not my job to teach other people’s children that they are being offensive. I’ve taught my children how to behave. I think I did it again today, though perhaps it would have been better (in the eyes of others) if I’d taught them to face up to an unpleasant situation by making it a “teachable moment.” If the dad heard what his son said, I’m sure he either doesn’t think it was that offensive (kids will be kids, I guess) or he’s mortified and will tell his wife about it when they go home. Maybe they’ll be embarrassed. Maybe they’ll think it’s no big deal. Maybe I’m overreacting.
At the end of the day, all we can do in this household is echo John Mayer’s words: We keep on waiting.
Waiting on the world to change.