Yesterday was #InternationalDayOfHappiness and, as a result, I posted a couple of things on Facebook.
…this post is inspired by one of them.
(Warning: Just so you know, I might get a tiny bit Mrs Ranty McRantipants…but I’ll try not to. You’re welcome!)
Now, us parents of children with additional needs tend to be subjected to quite a lot of stock statements. Here’s just a few…
Special children are sent to special people – I’m not special. I’m just me. Ordinary. Forgettable. Bland, even. Often winging it. Mumming as best I can.
God only gives you what you can handle – Really? REALLY!!!
You get to have a baby for longer – actually, I don’t particularly enjoy trying to change my eight year olds nappy when out and about, as there aren’t many facilities around that meet her needs. I’d also like to eat a hot meal in a restaurant, undisturbed, rather than supervising/supporting someone else to eat theirs – making sure she doesn’t choke or throw a plate at someone’s head!
…and, of course, let’s not forget one of my all-time favourites…
”…but they’re always happy”.
Every single time I hear it, it makes me grit my teeth a little bit too hard.
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME!!!
Here’s a story for you. Let me take you back in time a few years…
Imagine Hannah, her daddy and I out and about in the city – a nice lunch somewhere and a bit of a mooch was on the cards. Nice! But first, Hannah’s daddy needed to send his watch in for servicing. He was busy sorting that out whilst Hannah and I were just mooching around in the jewellers, looking at the lovely sparkly things and minding our own business.
“Doesn’t she have thick hair” an approaching shop assistant said, whilst doing her ‘eyeing-up-and-down-to-assess-the-potential-customers-net-worth’ look. “Yes, she does” I said, smiling. This benign conversation continued quite nicely for a couple of minutes, until the first faux pas was thrown “What’s wrong with her?”. Okaaaaay, I thought, I’ll forgive her that one. So trying not to twitch I replied as gently as I could, “Oh, nothing’s wrong. She has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome”
“Ooh, never heard of THAT one” she said (at this juncture, I imagine my eyes roll around in the back of my head. I clearly wasn’t engaging in discourse with a neurosurgeon!). She then proceeded to advise that someone she knew – a friends daughter or distant relative or someone (I forget. I’d switched off by then) – worked in a Special School with ‘these’ children and how enriching it was for her. *groans*
More sermon/patter continued. I glazed over even more, but made attempts at smiling and nodding, politely and in a timely manner.
“…but they’re happy aren’t they” she said.
It wasn’t a question. It was a statement that I’d already heard FAR too often.
I was having a good day until then, but this conversation just had to stop. The red mist was coming down…oh dear!
“They?” I said, rather abruptly. “Sorry, who do you mean by they?”.
A shocked look, quite a bit of stuttering and quick thinking later, she then said much quieter “Erm…the children” (feeble!)
“Oh” I said, with a smile that didn’t reach my eyes. I didn’t need to say any more. The look had said it all, really.
She silently faded back behind the lovely sparkly things.
Conversation over. Phew!
Now, don’t get me wrong, she probably meant well; much like most people who say this kind of stuff. And I’d never want people to be wary of speaking to me or approaching Hannah…scared of saying the wrong thing.
But this stuff, this utter drivel, these placations, these stock statements, REALLY DO NEED TO STOP.
It’s often a constricted narrative…a completely misguided assumption.
…and it drives us parents ABSOLUTELY BONKERS!
Believe it or not, it doesn’t placate us. It doesn’t make us feel any better AT ALL. It often infuriates us. We don’t want to hear any of it. It makes us even more tired than we already are. Plus, it makes our dentist sad…because we’ve gritted our teeth a bit too much.
(Actually, on reflection, it would’ve been rather amusing if Hannah had done her usual trick: Lure the woman into a false sense of security, look cute whilst flashing those beautiful blue eyes, hold her hand…then swiftly go in for the kill and, with jaws locking, bite down hard into the bone, maybe drawing a bit of blood. I could’ve responded quite smugly then by shouting above the chilling screams “OH, IT’S OKAY…SHE’S HAPPY!”)
So, that said, I’ll let you into a little secret, shall I? But get ready, this one will blow your socks off!…
“They” aren’t always happy!
*gasps* I know! Shocking eh?
But WHO are “they” you may ask?
Actually, I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever heard people referring to children in general as “always being happy”….and if that is the case, then they clearly haven’t had much contact with children!
No, I think the “they” are kids with additional needs…the “other” ones. The ‘sort of’ kids, but not ‘proper’ kids.
I think, often, sadly, kids with additional needs are defined solely by their disabilities – people only see a wheelchair, some AFO’s, a missing limb, unique facial features or hear a noise which isn’t the ‘norm’.
Then, ‘they’re’ defined by just that. That makes them “them”. Transforming ‘those’ children into ‘they’.
Actually, I think, that woman in the jewellers held the seriously misguided notion that Hannah and her peers just sat in a circle all day somewhere, just banging a tambourine….being all….well…’happy’ *sigh*
Now I can’t change everyone’s opinions. Sadly. However, I’ve changed since that time. I’ve continued to challenge when I hear the “They” comments. And I’ll continue to do so! Because “They” are our CHILDREN and ought to be seen as children FIRST and foremost. And by allowing these comments to continue, by just smiling politely, by just taking it on the chin and not challenging, I’m allowing this ideology to fester.
The utterly depressing (and rather infuriating) thing is that I’ve heard it not just from the general public, but also from people employed to work WITH children who have additional needs. Which isn’t very reassuring at all!
If you’ve got to know a little about Hannah through this blog, then you’ll know that Hannah isn’t ‘happy’ when she’s writhing in agony when her reflux flares up. That Hannah isn’t ‘happy’ when she’s self-harming. That Hannah isn’t ‘happy’ when she’s being pinned down so that some medical professional can examine her. That she possesses a whole range of emotions…JUST like any other child…and that’s BECAUSE SHE’S A CHILD.
Children with additional needs more often than not and for the rest of their lives have FAR more challenges than the average person could ever cope with. Our children are often subjected to more medical procedures, more pain, more obstacles. Our children may see the world differently to you or I…and that may be confusing and scary and impact upon their feelings and behaviour. Our children often have to see a plethora of people – poking, prodding, testing, treating, ticking boxes. Our children are more likely to live in poverty, are more vulnerable to abuse, and are one of THE most marginalised groups in our society.
Not looking too happy in her new AFO’s!
So no. Sorry to disappoint. “They” AREN’T always happy.
But whilst Hannah might be perceived as a member of the “They” gang, whilst it would be impossible for her to always be happy, I’ll make damned sure she’s as happy as she can be.
Make no mistake about that!
So, that’s all for now, my lovelies.
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time