The kids were happily crammed into a crowded table at their classmate’s birthday party. They were carefully painting their plaster sculptures, chattering and bustling, sharing paints and cups of water for cleaning brushes.
Brooke was hard at work painting her plaster clown. From the looks of it, not a single color on the palate had escaped her brush.
From a couple of seats away, Katie glanced down at her sister and called out encouragement. “Brooke, you’re doing a great job!”
A little boy across the table from Brooke chimed in.
“Yeah, you’re doing a great job making a mess, Brooke. Nice mess. What a great job. You’re just dumb.”
He barely finished the last sentence before Katie angrily shot back.
“Stop making fun of my sister.”
“But she doesn’t even pay attention,” he said. “Watch this.”
He looked right at my baby girl, diligently painting her project and he shouted, “Hey Brooke, DOYNG!”
She didn’t flinch. She kept painting.
“See?” he said, looking around the table at his captive audience. He looked smug, having proven his point. “She doesn’t even pay attention.”
I took a step closer, but a clear, determined voice from across the table stopped me in my tracks. I know that voice better than I know my own, but there was an anger in it that I didn’t recognize.
“STOP IT!” said the voice. “STOP MAKING FUN OF MY SISTER.”
“She doesn’t even know,” the little boy said flippantly.
The voice got stronger, clearer. “It doesn’t matter if she knows it or not. STOP making fun of her. You don’t make fun of ANYBODY. EVER.”
I felt like a raw nerve.
I was proud.
I was angry.
I was torn to shreds.
For all of us.
Hot tears ran down my cheeks in the car on the way home. My stomach churned with the bile of anger and fear. Is this what happens at school? Is this Brooke’s life when we’re not around?
The kids are getting older. They’re seeing the differences. They’re seizing on one another’s vulnerabilities. It’s what kids do. Hell, it’s what adults do.
He may be right; she may not know. She may not understand. I’m not convinced. She sees so much more than we think she does. But even if she doesn’t know now, she will. Then what?
Can I protect her from the sting of ignorance?
That little boy is not a bad kid. Not by a long shot. Later in the party, Brooke yelped sharply when the kids were crowded into a line. He was the first one to ask her what was wrong.
I’m debating calling his mom tomorrow. If I do, I’m going to start the conversation by telling her that she’s got a kid with a heart. I haven’t yet decided if it’s the right thing to do. It would not be an easy conversation.
But how else do we do this? If not by changing perception and talking to each other – building understanding one tough conversation at a time, then how?
I’m taking suggestions.