Wade wore these boots to kinder the other day.
These boots are hand-me-downs from his cousin. Just like tops and pants and other things.
They are pink.They are not embroidered with unicorns frolicking in meadows of daisies and fairies. They don’t exude scent of geranium with every step.
They are simply pink. And he likes them.
He wanted to wear them, I said ok.
No big deal, or so I thought.
When I turned up for afternoon kinder duty, Wade was in a mood. I was told that he had been getting comments from other kids.
4/5 year old kids.
The teachers handled it really well but I’d never seen this before. Yes, he does play on his own a fair bit and the other kids do need encouragement to include him in games because he doesn’t always follow the rules. Sometimes he can be hard to understand and stubborn but I truly felt kids saw more than this.
They see pink boots.
Then one kid…right in front of me…says, “Wade is stupid”
And I saw red.
I am a big believer in the right to inclusive education. I like to think I have strong convictions and am not easily swayed by the opinions of others. I pride myself on working out what I think—not trying to align myself with what everyone else thinks.
And here I was seeing Wade being singled out for being different and my mind instantly ran towards doubt. Like a flashbulb, I saw his future and saw years and years of bullying lying ahead. I instantly doubted my resolve and thought I was being selfish for wanting a normal life for him. I wanted to throw those boots in the bin and home school him where I could hide him away from the world. I wanted to protect him.
Ok…I am prone to a bit of over reaction but my feelings really surprised me.
The doubt that engulfed me so quickly came from the realisation that, in that moment, I felt like I had to choose between subjecting him to isolation and bullying, or forcing him to dress him in a way that would appease ‘normal’ people and finding places for him to hide with his ‘kind’
….and that didn’t feel like a fair choice to me.
Pink is a colour. A gender should not own it and a person should not be isolated for choosing to wear it. The only reason kids think this is because we condition them to.
But my reaction was about more than the boots.
I’m not naive. I know Wade will struggle socially at times. But when I ask myself why, I get so angry at the answer.
Is he aggressive? No.
Is he rude? No.
Is he dangerous? No.
Is he spiteful, hateful, scary? No.
Does he do anything that should cause kids to push him away for their own benefit? No.
He just learns things more slowly. He just does things differently and because we are conditioned to fear difference, I felt like I have to try to make a square peg fit a round hole. There is nothing wrong with the peg. If I make it round, I have to remove bits of it. I have to make him something he is not and constrained to fit some notion of acceptability that doesn’t actually mean anything. When did we all agreed on round as the acceptable hole shape and square is not allowed?
Ok… I know… They are 4 and 5 year olds.
And if Wade didn’t have a disability, I would be calming myself with the idea that kids are horrible at this age and everyone gets subjected to this at various times. That with time, the kids will work it out and that’s how childhood works.
But I don’t get that luxury.
I get the conditioning that says society doesn’t like difference. I get the constant messaging that there is something wrong with Wade and he should make himself like everyone else if he wants to be a part of the world.
I read stories telling me that people with Down syndrome should not allowed to be born, can be easily prevented from being born, or can’t have normal adult relationships or tales of parents murdering their children because living with a disability is so hard…
…and it hurts. It hurts because I feel like we are behind the 8 ball before we even get started. That the mere presence of his extra chromosome is licence for people to make all sorts of assumptions and predictions and decisions from the moment he was conceived.
According the media and social media comments, it is ‘understandable’ and in some cases preferable if I:
– make him wear clothes he doesn’t want to wear
– hide him away in special or segregated education,
– Make him pack envelopes in a sheltered workshop for work,
– terminated him when I received the diagnosis,
– forcibly sterilise him,
–or even think about killing him
For his own good.
..and this is why a pair of pink boots brought me undone the other day.
There’s nothing wrong with the boots. There’s something wrong with a world who thinks that isolating and bullying a person is more commonplace and understandable than just letting someone wear them.
There’s something wrong when these ‘options’ that I read about in the media every single day are seen as more reasonable and understandable than making the changes in our thinking that will allow for difference.
We’re keeping the boots.