When children are different

by Wolf Pascoe on August 23, 2011

McCarren ParkThe scene unfolds like a play.

Stage directions: Nick and I in the park on a night ride. The sun just down. We pause to rest on a grassy hill near the toddler sandbox. Few children remain.

Out of the dark, a boy emerges. He’s about Nick’s age, and even in the poor light, I can see something odd about him–the way he inclines his head, his arms churning the air.

He grips the handle bars of Nick’s bike.

“What’s your name?” he says.

“Nick.”

“Ride over there and then ride back,” he says.

It’s as if he’s playing Mother-May-I and it’s Nick’s turn to be told.

Nick shakes his head. “I don’t want to,” he says.

The boy gives Nick detailed instructions, pointing out the exact route his bike must take.

“No,” Nick says. I don’t want to do that.”

A man approaches, in no particular hurry. I know immediately he’s the boy’s father. We make eye contact for half a second, and in that interval have a telepathic conversation. The conversation goes like this:

Man. He’s no danger.

Me. I know.

Man. He’s got–

Me. I know.

Man. Thanks for not intervening. I’ll take care of it.

Me. No worries. We both love our sons.

The man puts his arm around the boy.

“Did you ask if you could touch the boy’s bike?” he says.

“My name is Brandon,” the boy says to Nick.

Nick regards him.

“We’re going to be going,” Nick says.

Brandon has released Nick’s bike.

“Can you say goodbye to the boy?” says Brandon’s father.

Nick and I inch our bikes away.

“Bye,” says Brandon.

“Bye Brandon,” I say.

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IT’S PERSONAL

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soccer fieldNick and I ride over a soccer field. You have to be careful here. The grass hides little rises and holes that can upend a speeding bike at night. We stop on the far side and look back at the sandbox.We can still see the man with his son.

“That boy was kind of nerdy, wasn’t he?” Nick says.

“I think he’s one of those people who’s brain works different.”

“Like how?” says Nick.

“The wiring is different. It travels in circles more. Slower.”

“That boy was weird.”

“He wanted to be friends with you. But that’s how it comes out sometimes when the brain works different,” I say.

“I don’t want to go back there.”

I think hard about what I want to say next. I look at Nick and smile. We’re both out of breath from the dash across the field.

“You know,” I say, “You were very nice to that boy. You answered his questions. You said what you wanted. That was just right.”

Enough, a voice in me says. Don’t push it. Let this thing be. Leave Nick his feelings.

We cruise more, always circling the sandbox. Nick wants to go back there, but he’s waiting for the boy and his father to leave. I can’t help but feel he’s making too big a deal out of this. It’s as if Nick has a sore tooth and can’t help touching the spot with his tongue. I resist the urge to say something. I listen to his complaints, wanting them to stop. Finally the boy is gone.

It’s getting toward bedtime and we need to be home, but Nick isn’t willing. Something in him is not finished with this. We ride over to the exact spot where boy first approached us. We get off our bikes. The moon has just risen over a grove of trees. Nick looks away from me and stares into the distance, but I’ve never felt more connected to him.

“Dada,” he says.

“Yes?”

“That boy.”

“Yes?”

“Am I like him?”

My breathing ceases. The circling around, the need to watch the boy, the compulsion to stay. Everything becomes clear.

Nick was different once. When he first came to his school, Fern Hill, an un-school really, he couldn’t talk. For a long time, things didn’t go well. A few other kids were different, too. There was a slow girl, children of various skin colors, a boy who couldn’t pick up on social cues.

Fern Hill, despite all its focus on listening and feeling and allowing and valuing, despite all its compassion and skill and humanistic power, couldn’t protect any child from being different, not really. It could only help them deal with the responses to those differences. And when you’re young, you just want to fit in. Only much, much later do round pegs become prized and sought after by square holes.

Not often do I know with sureness what my job is as a father. Most times I find myself groping in the dark, scared, fighting wrong impulses, fighting Nick, fighting my past. Every once in a while, though, the stars align, the way is open.

“No Nick,” I say. “You’re nothing like him. Not like him at all.”

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RELATED POST:

Talking to Trees

The Story of Language

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YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

Where was Einstein on the Autism spectrum?

B&W Image credit: McCarren Park at Night by Luke Redmond (Creative Commons, non-commercial use permit).

THIS JUST IN:

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A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference for women bloggers, called BlogHer 11. What was I doing at a blogger conference for women? Ah, there you have me. But I wrote all about it and the post was just published on the Blog Her web site, where you can check it out for yourself: Man Person at Blog Her.

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EXPRESS YOURSELF!

Are you different? Do you know anyone who is?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Alameda August 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm

the things we do and say to make our kids feel good about themselves, yet deep in ourselves we, at times, wonder.

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Wolf Pascoe August 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Most times, for me.

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Sirena August 23, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Correct answer to Nick’s question! We’re all different in our own ways and no one is like anyone else. Loved this story.

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Wolf Pascoe August 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I like that. Thanks, S.

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BigLittleWolf August 23, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Perfect pitch, Wolf.

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Wolf Pascoe August 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Thanks, BLW.

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pamela August 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Wow. I am so blown away by this gorgeous writing and how well you navigated these tricky waters. I think I would have jumped in sooner to “fix” things. I am so glad I read this. Such a wonderful reminder to let our children unfold. Thank you!

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Wolf Pascoe August 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Pamela,

May I please be sent more readers like you?

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Charles August 25, 2011 at 3:38 am

Wolf- it’s so touching, the way you parent so consciously and caringly. I continue to be moved by the complete way that you embrace being a father.

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Wolf Pascoe August 25, 2011 at 7:20 am

Thank you, Charles. Just thanks.

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Barbara S. August 25, 2011 at 6:58 am

I commend you knowing when to hold back and then actually doing it! That’s always been a challenge for me – still is! “Only much, much later do round pegs become prized and sought after by square holes.” – this is so true, and unfortunately many of us have tried to conform to the square holes by then.
Barbara S. recently posted..Phone Calls, Heartbeats, Hugs

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Wolf Pascoe August 25, 2011 at 7:22 am

I am always trying to fill the square holes in my heart with round pegs.

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Amber August 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm

BLW recommended that I hop over and read your wise words; I am glad she did. My little brother has Asperger’s syndrome, long before I figured out what was different about him, and helped my mom get him properly diagnosed, I knew there was something odd. He was very intelligent, but could not understand social cues. Of course there were more indicators, however that is what stuck out in my mind the most. That and the screaming fits that would last for hours.

What made my heart the warmest while reading this, is your assurance of your son that he is not like that boy. Not because he doesn’t have his own differences, but because the fear he obviously had of being similar to a strange person who he clearly had trouble understanding (not unusual, of course). Allaying his fears helped your relationship of trust between you and your son. What an important relationship. I am developing this with my kids who are very young and still trust me completely. It isn’t easy!

As for my brother, he is different in how he views the world, but that doesn’t make his perceptions any better or worse than my own. They are his and very important. This is the message I got from this story.

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Wolf Pascoe August 25, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Amber,

Thanks so much for your visit, and your comment. One never knows how words will reverberate. Every one of us has his or her notes to sing, and how lovely when we can hear the harmony of the world. I think your kids are very lucky to have a mother so attuned.

Blessings.

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notasoccermom August 26, 2011 at 10:15 am

I came here from BLW’s site. I love your comments there and wow love it here.
What a beautiful story you tell and with such beautiful writing. I feel your love for your son in this writing but also your love for the other son. I will be back for sure.

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Wolf Pascoe August 26, 2011 at 11:15 am

notasoccermom,

Thanks for visiting and welcome.
(Big Little Wolf is an inspiration to us all.)

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Kate August 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Powerful. Thanks for sharing that private conversation. I learned so much and maybe have an idea of how I would handle that conversation with my own son.

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Wolf Pascoe August 27, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Thanks, Kate. Glad to see you!

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Lucas August 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm

A beautiful and deeply insightful story. Thanks Wolf!

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Wolf Pascoe August 29, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Thanks for visiting, Lucas!

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Susanbeth September 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

What a generous and expansive world you offer Nick. He is encouraged to feel his feelings and express them, WHEN HE chooses. Your writing, particularly the interior dialogue between “the fathers” is so poignant and touching. My heart breaks for the father of the child who is “obviously” different, and not because his son is different, but because he feels the need to thank you for not intervening. He is so grateful for your decency and humanity. This tells us that he is not used to having his son treated with such acceptance, and therein lies the heartbreak! I am always inspired when I read your posts, Wolf. You bring your whole self to the page, and it often seems that you are both the father and the son. You remember….and it makes you an incredible father and a remarkable writer.

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Wolf Pascoe September 8, 2011 at 11:55 pm

The father. . . feels the need to thank you for not intervening

Thank you, Susan. I never thought about this, but of course, it’s why the father is such a touching figure.

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The Exception August 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I had no idea where this post was going to go when i started reading. I found the post only because I noted “The Sun Magazine” just below it… and I am struck again by your words. I am a square peg raising a daughter who is far more than a square peg because he is my daughter and because we live in one of the most round holed areas in the country I think. (If only I could move her to somewhere like Northern CA!) I am legally blind and have been since the age of nine; she is the only sighted person in our house (because it is just the two of us) So she has had to face being perfectly herself and the music of her own heart for years if not her entirely life. The only child bringing mom to Father’ day, the child who doesn’t have a car, the child who spends her free time in the ballet studio working, at the theater absorbing, or exploring the woods; the child that doesn’t play soccer; the child who is so worried about her mom simply walking down the street or not getting lost. The last is unfounded as I am totally fine getting lost and appreciate what it has to offer – and I have lived all over Europe and the country, on my own, which she knows… but it doesn’t stop her concern; and it makes her that much more different.

In my house we celebrate diversity. She is raised so differently than her peers. i will never forge a second grade friend telling her how differently and great her life was because it was so different.
To date I have a child who is spending this week at spy camp and who has recieved applause from cars driving down the street as she celebrates life and gives her own ballet shows without understanding that everyone is watching when she uses the sidewalk for a stage. I have a child with empathy and compassion – and yet she continues to be challenged by the diffrences that my disability brin to her life.

It is love that accepts; it is a wonderful heart that allows us to see the beauty of diversity and differences… and it is a strong heart that allows us to continue to continue to have integrity in the light of our uncertainties and peer pressure.

This is much longer than intended – the point being that I believe that it is so wonderful to teach our children to allow themselves to feel; to accept others; to acknowledge the perfection of themselves as human beings that are unique and bring their gifts to the table; and to respect others. Your actions toward Nick and the other boy and his dad were thoughtful. Thank you for sharing this experience.
The Exception recently posted..A Different Reality?

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Wolf Pascoe August 9, 2012 at 12:51 am

So many layers to this. Thank you for gracing this page with your deep understanding.

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