Last Saturday, Spencer and I had the afternoon to ourselves. Saturdays and donuts are the most glorious match made in heaven, so bing, bang, boom, a quick, but not difficult decision, we went to my favorite donut spot in town, Brother’s Brew. I unbuckled his seatbelt after I parked and then helped him out of the car. He has this little skip jump he does when he’s excited to go somewhere and he was doing it on the way up the street. Every once in a while, someone would pass by us and Spencer would stop and say his signature “HI!” He doesn’t say a lot of words, but “hi” he has down. He says it with so much conviction and volume, most people are caught off guard at first, but once they realize they are just being greeted by a 3 foot tall, adorable little boy (usually wearing a Utah Jazz beanie) they smile and say “hi” right back.
If you ever find yourself on our neighborhood beach in the summer, you might even get a big ole “HI!” from Spence. Whenever we make our way down to our spot, he waves and says “HI!” to nearly every person along the way. We started calling him The Mayor because of this.
So my youngest son, who is nothing but joy and love, walks into the donut shop, he says “HI!” to a handful of people before we pick out our donuts. I ask if he wants milk or juice. He picks milk. (mih) I ask if he wants to find a table to sit down. (YAH!) We walk towards the back of the shop and on our way he gives out a few more of his signature hellos. (HI! HI!) We sit down and I start breaking up his delicious donut in small pieces for him. It’s easier for him to eat the smaller pieces. It has pink frosting with Fruity Pebbles. I don’t know if he was grinning from ear to ear because of the donut, or the alone time with mom, because he can’t put more than two words together, but I’d like to think it was probably both. I’m grinning back at him, also happy for our alone time together, then I hear a very loud “hi” coming from a few tables away. It sounded nearly identical to how Spencer says it. Then I hear giggling. Then another Spencer-like “hi.” More giggling. Spencer didn’t stop smiling, but I did. I notice a group of kids sitting together, with faces hidden behind a curtained room in the shop. I hear the words “little boy” and more giggles and then some shushes.
I am not naive to think Spencer would go through this world without any heartbreak because of who he is as an individual. But I'm just optimistic enough to think I can do my part in stopping some of the damage. As much as my heart shattered for the brief cruelty I heard, I know what might be in store for him as he gets older. I'm on a mission to spread the message of inclusion and kindness to all who will listen.
I have been over the moon blessed by a circle and tribe of people who are nothing but love and support to my son with disabilities. In fact, the people that know me best, that know Spencer best, treat him exactly like my other children. They want to know what he’s up to, how school is, if he’s having a good day. The people that love and know Spencer best, don’t walk up to me in a grocery store and ask “how high functioning he is.” Or pull me aside at a gathering and tell me not to worry, because they’ve already talked to their kids about how different Spencer is and all the ways he is different than them and they (the 3 and 5 year old) shouldn’t worry when he does something strange. (thank you?)
The people that know and love Spencer best, just love Spencer. Of course they know he’s different, but that’s not what defines him. They know he loves going on walks outside and that he loves puzzles and goldfish crackers, he loves to cuddle with his dad, and when you ask for a kiss or a hug, he will lean in ever so slightly and offer you his forehead.
Honestly, 5 years in to this adventure with Spencer, I’m still figuring out how to be his mom and give him what he needs to have his best life. Most days I am calling audibles all day long. But there are a few things I know for sure. Talking and mocking in hushed voices behind a curtain or a keyboard or any other guise, damages. It breaks hearts and it pulls us further apart as a family of humanity. Whenever we choose "otherness" over kindness, everyone loses. I know this post might raise some questions that some very well meaning adults have about how to react and teach your typical kids how to act around atypical kids like Spencer. Good news! I have a whole other post ready to send your way in a few days. In the meantime, I’ll give you a few basic guidelines.
Don’t use the word “retard or “retarded.” It’s never OK. Choose another adjective to describe why you don’t like something.
That’s really it for now. Just one guideline. And it’s mostly for the ignorant dude in Costco who said it about 5 times in 1 minute. I regret not telling you to your face it’s not OK vs just staring you down. I have some good stuff for you non-ignorant folks coming soon. In the meantime, if you’re lucky enough to live where we do, and you like donuts on Saturdays, you just might get a “HI!” from my favorite Mayor.