Friday, November 13, 2009

Of Mice and Men

In 2006, three families started a neighborhood club. At that time, our main reason for forming was to setup a babysitting cooperative. I would watch their child one afternoon and then they would repay me the next day or week. The group has since grown to 25 families, a website, guidelines and all types of activities and annual traditions.


Today, school was out so I put out an invitation for parents to come over with their kids to make turkeys using felt, feathers and glue. In the end, the house was full of seven boys and one girl – running around, creating turkeys and watching movies.

Ben was in the mix of all this, although he absolutely refused to make a turkey or watch Peter Pan. He followed the crowd or spent time in his room watching “Bob”, depending on his mood. On three separate occasions, Ben pulled the little girl’s hair. In his defense, she has lovely hair and the first two times, it was within inches of his hands. The last time, she had learned her lesson and sat a distance away with a bed in between. If Ben were not a persistent, determined and sneaky child, she would have been okay. Ben crawled into the bed, over the side and well you can imagine.

I have had my hair pulled by Ben and it hurts a lot. And when you are a sweet two year old girl, just minding her own business, it is frightening to have this very loud, red headed boy, twice your size pull your hair.
After one of these “incidents”, the little girl’s father consoled her. He said, one day you will read “Of Mice and Men” and you will understand.

The comment did not sink in right away. It was more like a bee sting that takes awhile for the poison to get to the blood. It took awhile for the Dad’s words to get to the part of my brain that could fully process their meaning.

And when it did, I was angry, shocked and mortified. I also had to clear cobwebs from my brain to remember exactly what that book was about – I had last read it in high school. And then I was even more upset that my son was being compared to a mentally retarded man who kills another human being. And then I thought, don’t jump to conclusions, perhaps I am wrong and the Dad meant something nice. I have been known to jump to conclusions and do ridiculous things, but I digress.

When Ryan came home I told him the story, and he confirmed my suspicions, that it indeed was not a good comment.

This story actually has a nice ending.

I remembered that another blogger had a recent posting about good and bad comments received by other people and decided I would write about what had happened today. That would at least alleviate some of the ill feelings I was having. I ended my comment with, “I don’t think I will address it with this person because it is not worth the emotional and mental stress.” And I meant it when I wrote it, but as soon as I hit the “post” button, I decided I had to say something if not for me or Ben, but for the Dad's own children who might only learn about people different from them by reading, “Of Mice and Men” or “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

So just a half hour ago, I wrote notes about what I would say to him. I had decided that a phone call would be best because I did not want this to be a public hanging and didn’t want to call a private meeting. And, well we all know how emails can be misconstrued and then forwarded to the world.

I kept my part brief and simple. I used these words and phrases:
  1. Felt the need to address an inappropriate comment.
  2. Acknowledged that the comment was not intended to be mean.
  3. Apologized again for Ben’s actions.
  4. Explained that comparing Ben to “Of Mice and Men” was hurtful.
  5. Offered books that are for children that talk about people with special needs, and one that specifically talks about Ben’s diagnosis.

The Dad’s reaction could not have been kinder, gentler or less defensive. He apologized profusely. He said all the right things, and genuinely seemed to mean them. He gladly accepted my offer of books to read to his girls. He admitted he was at a loss of words when his daughter’s hair was pulled. And he’s not sure how to teach his daughters about kids like Ben.

So this story does have a happy ending. This was my first time addressing a negative comment and having a very positive outcome. I am proud of myself for handling it maturely, carefully and with sensitivity. I am again reminded that the intentions behind people’s comments are not what we may make them out to be. They are typically unsure, even scared about what to say or do in an unfamiliar situation. But aren’t we all?



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