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Pity Party.

August 6, 2012

To my beautiful, amazing circle, my Trusted Ones who Get It About Bobo, who provide us with chocolate and distraction and unfazed companionship—and who allow me to reciprocate when your own parenting or life rollercoasters take you for a dive. O my lovelies, this is not meant for you.

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There is a local children’s hospital which has billboards showing sick or special needs kids doing kickass thing with a big slogan below saying CURE PITY. Everytime I drive by it I feel like shouting “WOO!!!” and fist-pumping through the sunroof, although I might edit the copy to read PITY SUCKS.

I hate pity. It is a blindly uninformed reaction based either on helplessness or superiority, and is of no use to the recipient. Pity is felt from behind walls or rolled up windows, while sitting on lawn chairs. It frees up both hands to wag a finger while counting one’s own blessings. Ironically, my chosen field is one of pity’s many professional children. Social work education and supervision has fortunately evolved from there into a tough experience of being systematically (sometimes brutally) schooled to deconstruct, redirect,  and operationalize pity into action, collaboration, or even political protest.  My clinical training taught me to get over myself already, then to figure out how to be helpful. Which is not to say I don’t make a misstep in that department once in a while, but I try to be careful.

I get pitied more than some, not as much as many others who struggle much more than I do. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it even one little bit less nauseating when Bobo is having a meltdown and I watch someone’s face start rearranging itself.

Here are a couple of other ways Pity shows up.

Getting pulled aside at pick up to hear you say brightly,  “He actually had a really good day!!”.

Teacher/staff, I know you are trying to ‘accentuate the positive here’, but you gotta understand that everytime I see you stand up and approach me at the signout sheet my entire system starts bracing itself for bad news. You are trying to be nice, but if you do the pickup ambush thing there is no way my frazzled brain will hear you in anything but the adults-in-the-Charlie-Brown-cartoon way (wahwahWAHwah). Also, the adjective “actually” is a nice little reminder that in your eyes success is unusual for him, that one can’t expect much in that department.  I know you’re only 20 years old and this is your summer job, but here’s a salt shaker—the wound is right about at heart level. Have at it.

Anyone saying “I don’t know how you DO it”.

Well, shit. I don’t know how I do it either. Except, as a recent essay I read so poignantly said, he’s my son. And he has a nice smile.  (http://m.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/07/what-my-sons-disabilities-taught-me-about-having-it-all/260479/)

He’s what I have, so of course I do it. But that statement is dripping with the implication that my experience, and his, is somehow less than yours. It’s really hard, and I am often sad about the times Bobo tries to jump a  new social or regulation hurdle and comes crashing down. I am sad that in some ways he is so beautifully typical and gifted and in other ways we are not yet sure what he will be able to manage in life.  He and I are learning grace and acceptance together, and I’m not sure I would trade that for being able to handle being on an intramural baseball team.

I get it, I get it. He can be challenging, irritating, frustrating, shocking, even. But please, use your inside-your-head voice with that stuff. This is the experience of parenting that I have, and for me, it is normal.

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