I had to take a break from the news.
I used to hear people say this and get kind of upset – why wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on in the world?
I do want to know what’s going on in the world. I want to hear the bad things – we need to hear about the problems before we can fix them as a society. But I also want to hear the good things because our spirits need a little help most days. We don’t hear enough about the good things. The news is mostly people killing other people these days – which has always happened, I suppose, we just didn’t hear about it every two seconds. Do I think – especially as a woman – that we need to know where crimes happen and be aware of what’s going on in our community? Yes, wholeheartedly. But I also want to hear more about some firefighter who saved a cat from a tree and made some kid’s day.
I understand these things are the downside to a connected world.
But then I read this story, about a community coming together for an autistic boy’s birthday party after no one showed up, and it warmed my little heart this morning. Humanity is still good. We just hear about it less.
We hear a lot about how kids are mean – and I think they totally are. I don’t have a child so I don’t know particular circumstances surrounding all kids today, but I know kids have always been mean. I think we hear about it more – and I’m a little thankful for that part of the equation, because it gives us all an opportunity to fix the future.
I think often about the kids I grew up with in suburban white-people world. My family was lower middle-class, but middle class nonetheless. There were one or two apartment complexes that bussed to our schools, but I was mostly on the lower end of things. There were also a lot of extremely wealthy people at my schools.
In elementary, I was chubby. I was weird, mostly because I’ve always been pretty weird. I took medicine for ADD and got in trouble a lot – mostly for talking too much when I wasn’t supposed to. I liked books and music and my imagination – and not really other kids much. Field Day was literally my least favorite day of the year because I hated the idea of having to participate in three athletic activities – some of which included the three legged race and a bean bag toss. This is what I thought of as an athletic activity in my youth – I don’t even think I need to explain that I was always, always the last kid to finish assigned running when we had to do that. In fifth grade, I had some health stuff happen where I basically missed an entire six weeks of school. I had to wear an eye patch at one point and was blind in one eye when I returned. I had to wear glasses. I couldn’t go to a whole day of school for weeks after a few surgeries. Not to mention, at the beginning of the whole thing, I had gotten sick in front of the entire class – to this day, I still refuse to drink anything artificially colored orange. And I was still chubby.
So I didn’t have a ton of friends. I still remember at sixth grade graduation when a classmate told me my shirt had ridden up and he could see my belly. It was mortifying.
I was overweight until the summer after my sophomore year of high school – mostly when I got tired of feeling weird. I lost weight because I got tired of boys not wanting to go out with me and getting made fun of. It was completely superficial and had nothing to do with feeling better about myself or being healthy.
But I still made fun of other kids. I think maybe because I felt so bad, and I didn’t want to feel alone in that. I wanted other people to feel bad sometimes, too. There was one girl in particular I think about a lot. When she was born her brain didn’t get enough oxygen, and we were relentlessly mean to her because she handled social situations differently than the rest of the world and because she learned a little differently. I still remember her mom being one of the kindest people I’ve ever met – to an entire grade level of kids who made fun of her daughter or simply weren’t her friend because they didn’t have to be. There was another girl who – looking back – had some problems processing social situations, as well – and was kind of angry and we weren’t nice to her. There was a boy who never showered – I remember now that he lived with his grandmother off and on, and I’d assume now that showering was probably not the biggest problem in his world. But we were still so mean to that poor boy.
I remember watching a Louis C.K. sketch one time where he explained he thinks kids are mean – and they don’t really realize what that means until they see the look of hurt on another kid’s face. Which I think is pretty true. Eventually kids realize it doesn’t feel good to make other people feel that way.
No one ever came to my birthday parties. My birthday was always during spring break and I also didn’t have many friends. My mom never made me invite the entire class – because she wanted birthday parties to be economical on her end – but she always made me invite the kids who got made fun of more than I did. My mom is a teacher and also has a fantastic heart. I am so thankful for this. I was never thrilled about it – and often, those kids and my handful of other best friends were the only ones who showed up. The cool kids in fourth grade didn’t give a shit about me. They were football players and cheerleaders and had more money than I ever will. My mom never participated in the PTA and was never one of the cool moms, so those kids didn’t care about my birthday party. She made a lot of my clothes and I think maybe bought me three $20 shirts the entire time I was in school – because it was dumb to spend that much money on clothes that were going to fall apart – my mom is also a very smart lady. But those others kids’ moms – the ones who did come to my parties – knew that kids need love, and sometimes that’s all that matters. I’m thankful for them.
And then I think about kids today. For me, it’s pretty easy to remove myself from the situation completely – I obviously don’t have any children – and don’t know much about what’s going on in their world. But I know they’re our future, obviously – so it’s important to think about what’s going on with them here and there. I know their grammar scares me a bit, but that can be remedied. I do feel lucky that many of my friends are teachers with great hearts – who also grew up in similar situations as everyone in the rest of the world – and know what it feels like to be made fun of and also how it feels when you realize you hurt someone. I’m thankful they’re around to teach them what to do and what not to do.
I also know many of my friends are their parents. I know without a doubt they are teaching them what’s right and wrong. I know there are parents like the ones in the article – who would show up at a stranger’s birthday party to make a kid’s day. I know they are police officers and firefighters and teachers, also – changing the world a little at a time.
Will there always be people who don’t force their kids to do things they don’t want to – like go to a birthday party they don’t want to or participate in a sport they have no interest in playing? Probably. I’m thankful my parents were not those people – and that my friends are not those people.
I feel hopeful for the future. I believe kids today have so much access to amazing things – educations and resources to change the world, much more easily than ever before. I believe some of them will. I’m excited about that. I’m thrilled to see the beautiful hearts many of them grow up to have – simply because their parents made them go to a birthday party they didn’t want to.
I guess i just wanted to feel a little hopeful this morning.