She's had a cold, or allergies, or something, for weeks now. She's perfectly healthy--no fever, loads of energy, sleeping soundly--but her nose is producing impressive amounts of snot. She's gotten very good at getting a Kleenex, wiping her nose, and throwing the Kleenex away. But her wiping isn't always effective.
At school this week, she had some sort of snot incident, an incident which involved nose-wiping, but perhaps not ideal nose-wiping. And four kids in her class started laughing at her. By name. And not in a funny, "Oh, Maybelle, that is some outstanding snot!" kind of way.
The staff couldn't tell if Maybelle noticed or understood. But let me assure you, she did. I just know it. She can't always communicate, and she doesn't always visibly register what she's hearing, but even if she looks totally distant, when I ask her, "Maybelle, what did I say?", she answers correctly. In the last couple of weeks she's been saying, "No laugh!" when anybody in this house laughs around her. This makes me think that this teasing wasn't an isolated incident.
The staff, of course, is the best in the world, and they talked to the four kids about bullying. It wasn't in a "Don't tease Maybelle because she's different" way. It was in a "We don't bully anybody" way. In other words, they didn't differentiate Maybelle, framing her as especially vulnerable, uniquely unable to wipe her nose. They said it's not okay to bully anybody, and I think that was exactly the right approach. She's different, because everybody's different.
Even though the folks at her school were ideal, it still breaks my heart. I know that five year olds are experimenting with all sorts of boundaries--hell, Maybelle does that with me every single day, in ways that are often very irritating. I have no way of knowing if their teasing of Maybelle was part of their teasing of the kids in their class, or if the teasing was because they've begun identifying Maybelle as Other, not part of their community, an outsider.
She's been part of their community since they were all two, so it's a big deal if she's getting nudged out. Now, let me assure you that there are many kids in her class who are allies and advocates. One girl who Maybelle adores acts as a sort of big sister, helping Maybelle to learn new stuff. A boy in her class apparently goes home and tells his mom, very happily, about Maybelle at school. She's told me about him, but I didn't know who he was, and now I do. She does have a community there.
|Maybelle at the park, sitting comfortably with a mother and daughter.|
I told another mom this story, and she said that things like that make her Mama Bear come out. I told Trey, and he said he felt a similar ferocity: don't mess with Maybelle! Even though these kids are kids, not trying to be hostile or hurtful, it's easy to feel the claws come out, the teeth emerge.
This reminds me of my junior high years, when I, too, was teased and harassed--in ways that were, in fact, consciously hostile, meant to shame me. I'd come home, and at night, after Trey and Aaron and mom were upstairs, doing the going to bed routine, I'd talk to my dad. I'd cry. He was incredibly supportive, telling me that I'm an eagle and of course the sparrows are going to lash out at me. He'd tell me funny ways I could respond, and I'd laugh, and feel better, feel loved. It's interesting looking back on those conversations: I suspect my dad wanted to rip those kids' throats out. But he didn't let me know. His calmness helped me to feel that everything was okay.
I'm not angry right now, just sad. I can give Maybelle calmness, and absolutely unconditional love, respect, admiration, support.
And yet it breaks my heart. My girl deserves to belong.