Little Heart . . . Big Thoughts

“I would rather be dead than have to live with the pain and difficult stuff that some people with special needs have to go through.”

Elliot’s words after a long, difficult conversation about our evil world and the difficulties from it.  His words somehow literally knocked the breath out of me.  I had to grab hold of the wall so I wouldn’t fall into the floor.  I immediately felt like a failure — I must not be doing a good job of disability awareness with him if he thinks he would rather be dead than to live with difficulties and hardships.

My children are very sheltered.  They have never watched the news.  They are unaware of much of the evil in our world.  Paul and I have carefully shielded their little ears and eyes and minds from things over the years.  We are very careful of movies they watch and books they read.  Very carefully as the need arises they have been exposed to some truth of the yuckiness in our world.  But only a little at a time.

We have a neighbor across the street.  He is big and is in 8th grade.  He has cerebral palsy.  He walks but with a severe limp.  He has use of one arm.  Socially, he’s quite delayed.  And he’s only recently been able to be outside and play with my boys.  My boys, of course, are accustomed to playing with Chloe and other kids with disabilities so thankfully they are way more understanding and patient than the average 4th and 6th grade boy.  I have been so proud of them for all the time they’ve spent sharing the basketball and the goal with our neighbor friend.  I should mention that this neighbor friend can sink the basketball with that one “good” arm like crazy — you would be amazed to see it!

(But my boys are also learning that they have to set up boundaries with our neighbor friend.  Most of their friends understand boundaries at least to a degree, but this particular neighbor friend doesn’t quite get the whole boundary / body language / personal respect thing.)

Well, yesterday while we were gone on our pancake feast, this neighbor friend helped himself into our house when he found the front door unlocked.  All he did was grab the basketball from the entryway, close the door, and then go hang out in our driveway playing basketball.  Yes, inappropriate for him to go into our house, but no harm done.  I had a little talk with him about it (funny story that maybe I’ll share later), and assured my boys that I would do better at locking the front door from now on, and all is fine.

But my boys were quite bothered — Elliot was spooked, and Zippy was mad — by the fact that this friend had just helped himself to our house.  I tried to explain that it would be just like Chloe walking to our neighbor’s house — she wouldn’t do it to be naughty or to do something bad, she would just do it because she was curious or because she knew that there was something inside that she really wanted to play with.

Anyway, the whole experience opened up lots of conversations about this particular neighbor friend.  We talked about him, and I took the opportunity to brag on my boys and to thank them for being such good friends to him.  I also acknowledged the frustrating parts of being his friend and the importance of our learning to set boundaries in a kind and compassionate way that will help teach this friend without hurting his feelings or confusing him.  Some really good conversations.

We also laughed as we talked about some of his quirks and funny ways.  He’s a great kid who has come a long way, and since we can so relate to having him around, it was fun to talk about him and some of the things he says and does.  He has only recently begun calling Elliot by his real name (although since he can’t pronounce his Ls, he calls him “Air-iot” which makes us smile).  Before that, he always called Elliot “Zoe!”  He calls me Ma’am or Mrs. Ma’am.  He asks me at least once a week if I’m Zippy’s mama.  He sometimes hugs me when it’s time for him to leave — he’s nearly a foot taller than me!  He changes his voice from his post-puberty deep voice to a very high-pitched squeaky voice and switches back and forth, back and forth.  Etc.

But the other, heavier conversation we had for the first time was the fact that this neighbor friend wasn’t born with cerebral palsy.  He didn’t receive the brain damage from lack of oxygen during birth . . . his cerebral palsy can’t be explained as an accident where something just went wrong.  No, he has cerebral palsy because he was abused as a young child.  Because of the harsh and cruel abuse from his father, this child and his family are now very much a part of the world of people living with disabilities.  I had not shared this fact with my children because I wasn’t ready for them to know that part of the cruelness in our world.

But as sometimes happens, Elliot had heard from another neighbor the truth of this child’s story.  Elliot didn’t believe it when he had heard it.  He didn’t want to believe it.  He couldn’t find anything in his framework that would match a father and that level of cruelty.  He needed to know if that story was really true.  So with my precious and gentle 11 year old, I had to have a tough conversation acknowledging that there is that level of cruelty and sickness in our world.

He had lots of questions, and it was painful to watch his little mind and heart try to process that cruelty.  He needed to know whether or not his friend knew the truth of why he is the way he is.  He needed to know what happened to the boy’s father.  He needed to know if the man was always that mean or was it just that one time that he was so mean.  He needed to know if the badness and meanness in that man is as bad as it gets, or are there people who are even more bad and more cruel than he is.

And then he made the statement that knocked the breath out of me.  “I would rather be dead than have to live with the pain and difficult stuff that some people with special needs have to go through.”

What an honest, thoughtful statement coming from a little boy who is so tender and wise.  And since he is so okay with people with disabilities — after all it’s the only thing he’s ever known — I know it’s not the disability or the living with the disability that he was referring to.  He knows he could live with a disability.  What he can’t imagine living through is the cruelty and knowing that someone who was supposed to love and take care of him had hurt him so severely.  THAT is the truth that he thinks he couldn’t live through.

It was a heavy conversation to have right at bedtime.  I prayed that God would fill his heart and his mind with peace and comfort and understanding.  I prayed that his dreams would be protected.  And I thanked God that my children have no understanding and no framework for such cruelty.  Thank you, God, for protecting my children.  And thank you for the compassion that you have given them for other people.

And then I walked out into the dark hallway and cried, mourning over another piece of Elliot’s innocence that was erased tonight.


12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by papa on March 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    thanks for sharing this..I have so many thoughts I dont know where to start! Children are soo honest it hurts really are thoughtful as you help your kids look at the world we live in, but at the same time protecting them as much as you wise you are!! I have lots more I would like to say but Im not sure where to stop …so I will just stop now. I’m so proud of you and wish my mom and I could have talked through “life” like you guys do.


    • It’s amazing when I have such deep and connecting conversations with my kids — I feel so privileged to be included in such times. Such a window straight into their hearts. Mmmmm, sweet!


  2. Posted by Laura on March 2, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    I have had a very different approach to the “real world” with my kids. We do censor the TV and movies that they watch. We do make sure that the books they read are appropriate. We are very careful who we let then spend time with away from us. But, since I see so many young people who have had their lives ruined by the people that are supposed to love them, I tell my kids about them to let them know how lucky and blessed they are. However, I also see a whole lot of kids that have ruined their own lives by the poor choices that they have made. These are the ones that I really want my kids to know about so that they understand the consequences of their choices and (hopefully) will not make the same mistakes that these kids have made. So, my kids are probably a little more savvy about the world than yours…HOWEVER…the other day I had a hard conversation with Katie. It was the night before she turned 12. She is a thinker and she decided that she did not want to turn 12. She really got a little bit hysterical, sobbing and the whole bit. The reason that she gave was that she would be a teenager soon and that teenagers were bad people. Well, she should have just slapped me in the face. Did I do that to her? Have my stories about my students and their woes made her think that way? Of course! I learned that we just can’t compare our stories with others and that there are some situations that just “are”. I have learned that sometimes some “things” should just not be repeated, even to make a point. (Just in case anyone that cares is reading this, I have never broken any FERPA laws here!) I need to protect my children more from the evils of this world…remind them that THEY are not the evil…(and that teenagers are not bad people).

    Bless Elliot’s little heart. However, this was very good timing for him to learn of these things. It is not much longer until he will be in middle school and that is a WHOLE NEW BALL GAME! This is part of Katie’s problem too. These kids are in an environment with much older and “more experienced” kids and there is no filter ANYWHERE! He needs to know that there are bad things out there and that he will always have a sounding board in you. (You have done a really good job with that part!) I will admit that I probably said too much too soon with my kids, but you and I have to realize that our kids are growing up! It is very much a better thing for them to hear it from us than from an “unfiltered” source.

    Keep up the good work Kelly. You are a great Mom!


    • Very well said, Laura! And interesting little window in Katie’s heart and thinking about teenagers. Bless her heart! Glad she was talking to her mama! 😉


  3. Posted by Ronda on March 2, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Thank you, Kelly. I am crying right now. But I will be praying for Elliot, your sweet family and your neighbor.


  4. You have raised some amazing kids Kelly! You should be so proud of yourself. What sweet spirits they have.


  5. I am constantly trying to find the balance between protecting my kids from the world and preparing them for what is out there. Caleb has always tried to grow up too fast on me, and is wise beyond his years. I am always amazed at the kids he knows who are allowed to watch unrated movies, as well as rated R ones.

    I am azamed at how well you handled this whole situation!! Great job!


  6. Oh, sweet Elliot. God bless him. You are such good mama!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: