“(snicker, snicker) Look at him in the pram! He’s a big baby!”
I remember when I was pregnant with James, my first child. Julian and I were talking about how worried we were about what we’d do if our son was bullied. I hadn’t even met my son, and yet the thought of him being teased or bullied brought me to tears.
Of course, back then we had no idea, no idea at all, about the fact that our son would be born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. There was no family history of any serious illness, so why would we ever think something would be wrong with our unborn child?
Well, something was wrong with our child. And though he wasn’t diagnosed until two years later, it turned out to be something VERY serious. And terminal.
His muscles are dying. Every single one of them. And do you know the worst thing? His heart AND diaphragm are muscles. Yep, that’s right, this disease sucks BIG TIME!
James will be 8 in May and, even though the disease is progressive, it has really taken hold this past year. He needs help getting up off the floor or the couch, he can barely climb stairs, he can’t walk very far. His poor little body is letting him down. And so he relies on his special needs buggy more and more. He’s actually getting a wheelchair in the next few weeks, his first one, but he’s not handling it very well at all. And I don’t blame him. Not that I’d let on.
This year, he has started taking his buggy to school every day. We push him to and from class in it. Most of the kids barely notice, as his school has many kids with special physical needs, in wheelchairs and with walkers. So most children barely bat an eyelash. But you do get the occasional ones who do, and they can be rather nasty.
Today, after I picked him up from his class, we were walking with Charlyse to the car when she turned to me and remarked on what 2 girls were saying about James. They were laughing and pointing at him, and calling him a baby. And it hurt. It hurt me, it hurt Charlyse, and most of all it hurt James. He’s seven. He should be allowed to be a little boy for just a little longer. He shouldn’t be forced, at 7 years of age, to address or even acknowledge the ignorance of others. He’s a little boy, and he’s too young to be made to realise that the world isn’t nice.
When Charlyse told me about the girls, I turned to them and saw them laughing and pointing at him. Immediately, the Dragon Mother in me awoke. I stormed over to the girls and told them he’s not a baby, that there’s a medical reason why he’s in a buggy, and that laughing at him is not acceptable. They told me they were just joking, and I informed them that what is a joke for them is very hurtful for others. I told them that if I find out they’re still teasing him after today, I will go to both their mothers and teachers and have words with them. And then I said “you don’t want to mess with me!’ And I walked off.
I hate bullies. I hate them with all my heart. I hate how they can tease children and make them so miserable that some even take their own lives. If my children ever make a remark about someone’s physical appearance (if they have Cerebral Palsy, have autism, are wheelchair-bound, or have had an amputation), I explain to them what possibly happened. I want them to know that everyone is different and that it’s okay.
I posted a photo the other day of a woman walking through my local shopping centre with her skirt pulled up over her breasts. It was almost identical to the Walmart pic that went around last week, which is why I posted it. The Walmart pic made me laugh. And yet, I was making fun of these women by laughing at these pictures. It took a friend to make me realise what I was doing – I was being a bully. And I felt totally ashamed of what I did and immediately removed the pic. Shame on me. I, of all people, should know better.
And so I don’t blame these girls for teasing James. Chances are they have learnt it from their parents or others around them. Kids are born innocent and grow up reflecting their environment and the people (and comments) they have been exposed to. If tolerance and acceptance started at home, our children wouldn’t have to be exposed to such heartbreaking ridicule from others.
Hopefully these young girls have learnt their lesson and won’t tease him, or any other child, again. That’s me hoping with rose coloured glasses. I know, in my heart, that there will be many more occasions where my inner Dragon Mother will raise her ugly head to ward off the animals circling her baby dragon. And each time they do I shall defend and protect him, and hope their jibes won’t do permanent damage to my beautiful boy’s soul. He’s gone through enough already, and this disease has barely taken hold.