When my brother turned five my mom went back to work. It was an adjustment to say the least but we would go to our neighbors house after school. Her sons were older, and nuts, and usually not around. I remember watching a lot of soap operas and playing with a lot of Legos. It was quiet and we could walk right home at 5:30.
Several years later when we switched schools, things became more difficult. For all of us. My father was hardly ever home and my mom was working more, too. And my brother was happily unruly. It became a real struggle for my mom to find somewhere for us to go after school. My fake grandma didn’t drive so it had to be somewhere we could get to on the bus. One of the homes we stayed at was of a boy we knew who’s mom was, in fact, a babysitter. Which meant the house was lousy with toddlers. Their basement was full of musical instruments which can seem like heaven when you adore music and your parents can’t afford even one. I wasn’t “allowed” to play any of them and was forced to watch on while the other kids did. No reason given except that “these are only for us”. One day, for a moment, I got to quietly tap out Chariots of Fire from the sheet music at the Xylophone. He heard me and ran to the basement to take the mallet from me. Because I hadn’t asked permission. When I did, he said no. That I would break it because I didn’t know how to play.
A second house was home to another child we knew along with a teenage brother and sister who were the worst individuals I’d ever known in my life. And I was terrified of them enough to hide in the bathroom most of the time. They had a trampoline, another pure luxury in my eyes. And I was never allowed to jump on it. Only to watch. It was common other kids from the neighborhood would stop by. Kent would “allow” them to jump. And always told me there was no room for me. I was made fun of for my ears, my lisp, the spaces in my teeth and for “being poor”. No one ever did a thing. I never did a God damn thing. These are only a few and, until recently, they are still some of the most heartbreaking memories of my life. And they’ve carried with me for the duration. Not surprisingly, being excluded, ignored and teased still do not sit well with me. But I still hang around and take it. Just like I did back then. In hopes I’ll eventually be accepted. I have doubts that will ever change.
My youngest daughter is scarily similar to me and my emotional makeup. When I saw her hang up her bicycle two years ago because the three brothers across the street teased her for using training wheels, my heart was in pain for her. Two years she went without that childhood freedom and experience. Without that independence. Two years she went without growing that basic skill. When Toys R Us went out of business I bought her a razor scooter and she’s been riding it every minute she’s able. But we spent last night outdoors with some other kids and she happened to notice her bike. Fondly. She laughed and said “I haven’t ridden this in forever.” I saw her remember why she’d given up, and then she said something I was never able to verbalize at her age. “I felt ashamed when they made fun of me.” I got a wrench and took the fucking training wheels off.
She’s a foot taller now. And a scooter balance pro. I held the back of her neck, and in the rain, in ten minutes she learned how to ride her bike without those damn training wheels. And, with confidence and courage I never had, proudly paraded past the Gavin boys on her maiden voyage, “hiiiiii!” as she rode past. And she played with them the rest of the night. Because you don’t write off people who mistreat you out of simple lapse in judgment, she didn’t miss out on what will probably end up being one of the best memories of her childhood. Not the worst. I do not believe in Karma but I sure as hell still believe in The Golden Rule. And my own converse addendum…If you wouldn’t like it done to you…don’t do it.
Quiet people who don’t fight back are more than just easy targets for casual abuse. I don’t give a damn how old a person is, I can guarantee the ones you’ve accused of being ‘too sensitive’ have suffered hurts long carried, important to them. You may then walk off with no further thought. Free from burden. But we live in the wake of that rejection forever. I can guarantee that too. I have been powerless my entire life because I don’t fight back. Because I’m soft spoken. Feeling left out, weak and not accepted because I was different. And feeling shame for the things I couldn’t do. I don’t want that for her. I want JJ to beat those odds. And she is well on her way. She refuses to be left behind.
To celebrate the important night, I went and bought shakes for all the kids in the neighborhood. Even the little assholes across the street. Because I’m positive they’re hurting about things, too. Something. You can never know.