Saturday, February 8, 2014

Teasing and what to do

I learned yesterday that Maybelle's experiencing some teasing at school.

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.
But I also know that she's going to face teasing, harassment, suspicious looks, avoidance, throughout her life.  That's part of being a person with a disability.  I want to help her to respond to this behavior in compassionate, useful ways.  And I want to help myself to do that, too.

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.


  1. Grrr. I guess it is not helpful to tell Maybelle that some people are just shits. Which is likely not a fair representation of 5 year olds (or, likely those older than 5), and yet. Calm is good. My dad sent my brother for boxing lessons when he got teased and pushed around on the bus. Not such a good response.

  2. this made me cry.
    no answers, i think you have them all, but sending you and maybelle a big huge hug and kiss

  3. Of course I completely agree with you that Maybelle noticed and understood. It is the same with Anika that she doesn't visibly register how she is affected by others' actions, but she is impacted by it and it comes out in other ways or later.

  4. This post made me cry. For you and for Maybelle. I hate the way life in general is so freaking cruel and that there's really no avoiding it. I, too, remember a pretty heinous adolescence when kids were terribly cruel. And I, too, remember my father telling me to look at myself in the mirror each day and say, "I'm beautiful and I'm great." It hadn't occurred to me until now that he was probably dying inside for me.

    It's also been my experience that wherever there are kids who are ignorant or cruel or whatever, there are those who are naturally NOT. They will always be there with and for Maybelle, too.

  5. Still wiping my eyes, too....and want to share with you, Alison, that the moment I learned of Maybelle's birth and soon after of her "extra chromosome," my heart stopped a moment as I had an almost explosive elation for the "bigger picture"... for Maybelle and the impact she would have on little girls with disabilities growing into women with a focus on their ABILITIES, and that Maybelle, having you, Alison Piepmeier as her mom, would have your guidance at every step to ensure social consciousness along the way.

    And so it is.

  6. Your child --+does+-- belong. She's being being bullied. The majority of kids are bullied.

    Your child is healthy enough to attend school, stop complaining.

    But have you ever noticed how many of your posts are a humblebrag on how healthy your daughter is...especially when the majority of children - like my daughter with DS - are in and out of the hospital and have problems thriving.

    I've read your writing for a while, and it's rare for you to acknowledge how sick many of our kids are because your daughter isn't. You do understand that's how bullies act.

  7. My dad used to tell me to hit back harder, which was perhaps not the most effective advice but I certainly understand the impulse now as a mother myself. There's a boy in my son's class who is, shall we say, not kind, though my boy isn't been on his radar this year. I just found out he has some reasons? A history? I don't know if he has a formal dx but let's just say it's not the kid's fault. Doesn't make the mama bear any less ferocious.