Last week I met some friends of friends. They introduced themselves to my husband and me. They are a married couple with a small child. And as my husband was talking about his job, the guy kept saying comments such as: “I don’t know how you can work with kids.” and “I would never work with kids.” Or “Why would you have a career working with kids? “
At first, we simply gave him an awkward smile and continued with the conversation. Since his spouse also works with children, the conversation gradually would move to working in a school setting. And every time a comment was made, he’d say something to the effect of “Ugh, why would you choose to work with kids every day??!!”
Of course, I didn’t want to be rude. But I kept thinking: Well your spouse works with kids. My husband works with students. They are talking about their jobs. Maybe it is best to keep quiet and let them be?
But I didn’t say anything because if you are not going to say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.
But I had to get up and leave a few times to distract myself. I think I have gotten more protective of my family as I get older. Maybe it is being a special needs mom or something, but I just wanted to tell him to stop being rude. I felt his comments were hurtful, specially knowing that my husband is an assistant principal at a school. So instead of saying anything mean, I would get up and leave for bits at a time.
My husband was being very patient. He would redirect the conversation so that they would not talk about how much this other guy hated kids.
One of the many times that he mentioned he hated kids, I did ask him: I thought you have a son? He said he did. He never wanted kids but he loves his son. But he hates all other kids.
Major eye roll! Ugh.
Now I was thinking of ways to get out of this uncomfortable conversation and just simply leave.
But then, he started talking about potty training. He said he was struggling to get his son to be potty trained and he didn’t know what else to do. He said his son was three and by now, he should not be wearing pull ups.
I said: Well I don’t know about that. Each kid has its own timeline. He will be ready at his own time. Then I added that my son is ten and he is not potty trained.
He replies: Well it’s different. You are in a Special Needs Household. I know all about that.
Me: What do you mean you know all about this?
He starts telling me about his brother who is special needs. Then he says that because of the severity of his brother’s diagnosis, he, himself was overlooked. And a few years back he was finally diagnosed with bipolar and severe anxiety. He said since his son was born, he is trying to do better. He typically will stay up for days, and then sleep for days. But now, because of his son, he is being treated and he is trying to be more functional in society. He has already received three certifications at his job and wants to keep growing.
He mentioned that many situations give him severe anxiety. He said it was very difficult to talk to us, two complete strangers. But he wanted to put all his anxiety aside and force himself to talk to us. He said he wanted to do this for his son to prove to his son that he too can do anything he sets his mind to.
“How can I tell him he can do anything if I don’t show him myself? So I need to fight my fear and uncomfortableness for him. And being here, putting myself out here, and talking to you both, is a big step.”
And just like that, my feelings changed. Here he is, having an internal fight in being social, putting himself out there, and all I was thinking were ways to leave. I am a special needs mom. I fight for acceptance and understanding. I advocate for kids like my son. And yet here I was getting so frustrated with this stranger.
I always tell people to be more understanding with my son. His disability is not a physical disability. People do not notice right away that he needs patience and understanding.
And yet I wasn’t being patient. I was not being understanding.
All weekend I kept thinking about this person. About his internal fights. About how he is older, and people expect more from adults than from young kids. And just how much difficult life must be for him.
How should I handle this revelation?
Well I will too try to become a better person for my son. And the first thing I will work on is myself. If I fight for acceptance and understanding, I need to show it first. I need to be accepting, and I need to be understanding. I have so many things to work on.
And the first thing I want to do is to become better than who I was before.