There’s a reason why I first decided to write this blog. A friend had posted a Facebook video from a school graduation. It showed a boy with autism arriving late for the ceremony because a dismissive teacher had told his mother that it was on a different day. I watched as the agitated mom practically wedged her son in line and helped him take his rightful place at graduation.
All of the comments were pretty similar. They all involved people eager to “punch that teacher in the face.” The claws came out across the social media world and the understandable default emotion was anger.
I commented on the video, but my reaction differed from the rest. My gut instinct, while including disgust at this terrible act by a teacher, centered on the positive nature of the event itself. My exact post was:
That’s why it’s so important to educate young people about autism. The kids all seemed to understand why it was important for him to be there. Few people realize just how much effort that mother must have put in to get her son to that point. It’s actually a positive video if you minimize the role of the awful woman who made him move to the back of the line and focus on the fact that this kid graduated from a mainstream school.
Such an enlightened comment, right? I should pat myself on the back and celebrate with a Dr. Pepper for being such a modern day Gandhi.
Why then did I feel like such a massive hypocrite?
You see, up until that point, I had barely spoken about my son publicly. Even in that post, I hadn’t directly said it. Despite running a website for over a decade, I hadn’t used my platform to educate others about autism. Rather, I kept it private for personal reasons. I’m not entirely sure what all those reasons were. Well, maybe some.
A lot of it has to do with that false narrative that all parents perpetuate. It’s that ready-to-rumble mentality which springs out over the thought that someone might say something mean to or about their children. There’s this common idea that the world is out to get you. When your child has obvious differences from what most people consider to be the norm, your defense instinct shoots even higher.
It dates back to before I even had kids. Growing up, I was always a half step away from a confrontation for almost no reason. There was this underlying belief that everyone had an opinion about me or the people I was with. In my mind, it would be up to me to step up. The smallest glance or comment would immediately be returned with some sort of angry response. Everyone wanted to fight me and I wanted to fight them.
I always felt that way, but it got worse after I had children of my own. I would craft imaginary scenarios where strangers would comment about my child’s behavior and I’d go buck like Steven Seagal in the bar scene of Out For Justice. I was sure that there was a battle brewing and every time I put on my son’s little shoes to leave the house, I had to put on my fighting shoes in case shit went down at the Gymboree or an equally ridiculous location to expect a fight.
The day after that Facebook video comment, I wrote a lengthy article about Lucas for my original website. To be honest, I don’t know what I expected, but I was sure it would be negative. I was baring my soul for the first time ever and really letting people in on a matter that our family kept to ourselves. It wasn’t so much that I was stepping outside my comfort zone. I was obliterating it. I had no more comfort zone after I hit that “publish” button.
I didn’t want pity or sadness for our situation. That was another thing that had held me back. I never wanted people to think that having Lucas in our lives was sad. It was the exact opposite. I wanted everyone to know how, despite challenges here and there, we were a normal family. I wanted to shatter the myth that I was constantly being bombarded by people criticizing him in public or giving insulting stares for his actions. In reality, that has almost never happened. Ever.
Amazingly, the replies from readers were the exact opposite of my fears. They were supportive, loving, and positive across the board. All of those angry people who I left the house expecting a confrontation with for years never materialized. I started to think that, while negative people are definitely out there, they’re not as abundant as I imagined.
There’s a saying I heard once that truly changed my life.
You stop caring about what people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.
For every dipstick who might look at my family in a negative way, there are a hundred who won’t. For years, I had gone through my days worrying about running into that one person while building a wall that kept the other hundred out. It’s a lonely way to live.
I don’t do that anymore. You shouldn’t either. Life’s too short to worry about things that may never happen and comments that might never be made. If you’re always preparing for a fight that could never occur, you remove yourself from experiencing the great moments that actually do.