I took Addison to school by myself today.
This is a big deal because normally I have to wake up Carter, buckle a baby into a carseat who just wants to get down on the floor and wiggle, and drag a bleary-eyed toddler to his car seat who hasn't really eaten breakfast yet. Along with a cutely dressed Addison, bag on her arm, ready to go to school.
We then normally drive the short distance to school (feeling much tension because we are LATE…again). I call her classroom when we're a minute out, and her aide meets Addison up by the front while I stay with the boys.
But today a sitter came and sat with the boys at home. This meant Carter could sleep in and that I could take Addison ALL THE WAY IN to her classroom. I tried to get her excited to show me her space, but she kept waving "Bye bye bye!" and refusing to hold my hand.
Something strange happened as soon as we set foot in that school.
Addison became a rockstar.
"Oh HI Addison!" The school secretary gushed while looking strangely at me with a "who are you?" face.
"HI ADDISON!" A student said while bending down to Addison's level (pretty sure she is the shortest student at this school.)
"HI HI HI!" a group of striped legging, ruffled mini skirted girls beamed her way.
Another parent dropping their child off stopped to say hi and smile widely at her.
Addison paused and waved to all, handing out smiles liberally and a sweet and almost shy "hi" in return.
Everyone looked happy- scratch that- thrilled to see her, and she fit right in- albeit obviously enjoying the extra attention.
At school she was no longer the sister holding second candle to a loud and boisterous Carter. At school she fell into her role of just being herself- surrounded by peers and older peers who seem to accept her just for the little girl she is. Confident, happy, social, stubborn (she really didn't want me to go in with her.)
She stood up straighter, smiled more enthusiastically, and became noticeably more verbal.
I was in awe and extremely appreciative that she had such an environment in which to grow and learn.
She led me to her classroom where we met Addison's aide. Addison immediately took her bag and hung it up neatly on her hook (with no prompting). She then went quickly over to where her classmates where having story time- ignoring me completely by this point.
I was immensely pleased.
Walking back out to the car without her, I had a huge smile on my face.
My heart was soaring with happy thoughts of this crazy world accepting my Addison so graciously. I was mulling over the respect and obvious regard demonstrated to her by peers and teachers alike. I was hopeful and serene. Joyful and feeling so blessed.
Just as I reached the sidewalk in front of the school, a girl who I would guess was early to mid 20s appeared out of nowhere walking her dog. This dog was quite curious and wanted to rub against my leg in the worst way.
I smiled and said it was fine, but this girl got quite agitated. Then as I continued to my car, the dog tried to follow me.
"No you can't get in her car." She said sternly, pulling her dog back.
I just smiled in return.
She straightened him back in front of her and continued talking to the dog.
"No you can't go with her. Retard."
And just like that I came crashing down. She just called her dog a 'retard' because he wasn't obeying- wasn't demonstrating what she thought was a smart choice- wasn't doing the right thing. A 'retard'.
For a minute I let this steal my joy. I started thinking about how far acceptance has come and yet how far it still needs to go. I recalled my shock when I learned that my unborn child would be mentally retarded. I remembered the pain when I first heard someone casually use that same word to describe something stupid or idiotic. I felt my happy thoughts drain away and make room for fear and sadness. Would the world surrounding Addison consider her lesser? A second class citizen? Less worthy of life? Would a thousand tiny actions and thoughtless words add up to make her struggle in ways that I can't even imagine?
As I drove away almost to the point of tears, I realized what I was doing and forced myself to forget the dog walker. I erased the memory of that word. I boxed up the negativity and burned it- refusing to give it a place- even in storage to pull out later.
I know that I tend to be oversensitive about such things. I know this. And as I reasoned through my response, I realized how I let one tiny, tiny word steal a huge victory and joy.
An entire school is accepting Addison and setting up a successful schooling experience for her VERSUS one girl in front of the school who maybe doesn't even realize how that word came across to me.
I'm calling it….. "Time of Overreacting…8:45am" (okay…Addison might have been super late this morning)
I wish that girl hadn't felt the need to express herself in such a way, but truly- there was no way she could know how that word would affect me. Maybe if she had crossed our path ten minutes earlier when I had the cutest little girl with me- maybe she would have chosen a different word. Mostly likely she wasn't thinking of my daughter when she said it. Maybe she just thought she was using cool slang. I don't know.
But I'm not letting her define or even affect in the slightest my daughter's acceptance or place in this world.
Words are so powerful. One tiny little word had the power to take away something truly wonderful from me- until I realized what it was doing.
Addison is a rockstar at school. She is learning and growing- her peers accept and welcome her. That is what I am going to take away from this morning.