There are a lot of firsts we remember as parents. First words, first steps, first lost tooth...
But the first time somebody judges your child, and looks at him as less than equal to everyone else? That was not a first I was prepared for.
I guess we have been lucky so far, fortunate to be in a community where everyone has been accepting and loving. I'll even go as far as to say that they are all his "fans". People root for him, people say hi to him, people celebrate his accomplishments. The other kids in school are open and welcoming and accepting. But most of all, everyone around us treats him like just one of the kids. The standards are the same, the expectations are the same. Everyone knows that even though he might do things differently, or look at the world differently, that he is equally capable.
I explain to all of my children every day that we are all different. No two of us are alike. No two of us do things the same way, or experience the world the same way, or learn the same way or at the same pace. We are all different, but we are all equals.
And so the first time I experienced someone looking at him as less than equal, it threw me. It actually took me a while to even process what had happened. I think sometimes when you have been violated maybe it takes you a while to realize how wrong it was.
I walked out of the room thinking, "well she was a cranky old lady".
But then I thought about it more.
I thought about the words she used. I thought about the tone she used. I thought about they way she talked at him, but not to him or with him. I thought about the way she talked about him to me (in front of him!). I thought about the way she brushed him off, and brushed me off while trying to explain his needs.
She referred to "kids like him".
She said she "deals with kids like him almost every day".
She referred to his different needs in the classroom as "behavior".
She pointed and referred to another boy with special educational needs as "the other one".
It all seems so subtle that it would be easy to miss. It would be easy to pass off as something other than what it was. But that's the worst kind of discrimination. The kind that is so deeply rooted and ingrained that people don't give it a second thought.
The idea of "them". The idea of "the others". The idea that "they" aren't one of us, because "they" are different. It's the most dangerous kind.
The subtlety in a classroom of a teacher treating a child with special needs as separate from the rest will spread like deadly poison in the water. Kids would pick up on it, and they would start separating him, they would start looking at him as less than equal.
And it has no place in our schools.
Fortunately for us this was just a substitute teacher. One whom I expect to never see again. But I think she was a harbinger of things to come. I think she was a warning to me to be prepared for more of this, a reminder that it is out there.
I wasn't ready for it, and it stung me more than I had any idea it could. Perhaps my skin isn't as thick as I thought.
But my momma bear hairs are standing on end now, and I am ready.