The other day we took the kids to a birthday party in the ‘burbs. We arrived bearing a gift and beer, and immediately made our way to the lush backyard where several kids were already running around.
Quite surprisingly, our toddler jumped right into the mix, grabbing sticks and waving them around, running in and out of the plastic jungle gym, pretending to cook and serve various varieties of soup for his hungry customers.
While running to get back to his “shop” with some fresh imaginary produce, I watched helplessly as an older boy pushed him violently from behind.
My son dropped to the ground and immediately began wailing. I ran over to pick him up and check for any injuries. And as many parents would do, I looked around for the parent of the bully and waited for an apology.
But this was no ordinary bully. This bully had Down syndrome.
His mother casually came over and said, “John (of course, not his real name) use your words. Use your words.”
She did not apologize to me or even ask if my son was ok. As I held him screaming in my arms I turned to see John sitting on the grass. I assumed that was how his mother dealt with similar situations. But I was not impressed.
After dusting him off I was finally able to get him to return to outdoor play, this time, staying within a few feet. Not close enough, it seems. Within minutes, as my son was about to triumphantly climb a small hill in the backyard, John came out of nowhere and knocked him down again. Once again, I ran over and scooped him up, and once again John’s mother said nothing to me or my wife about the situation. She simply said to her son: “He doesn’t want to play with you.”
As I brought him inside the house, red-faced and screaming, adults glaring at me, I became furious. “What happened? Did he fall? Did he lose his toy?” Concerned or annoyed faces abound.
“No,” I mutter angrily, “He was pushed.”
Here I leave things to the experts. I know nothing of Down syndrome. As I did not hear John speak at all, I can only surmise he does not speak much. I also cannot speak to the challenges of raising a son with Down syndrome. I only know that for two days my three-year-old son has been talking about the boy who pushed him over. He can’t get it out of his head.
My thought is this: regardless of her son’s disability, a response on her behalf would have been the right thing to do. She could have pulled us aside and told us how she deals with his violent behavior. She could have explained to us that no amount of discipline would work with her child. She could have said something. Anything.
Instead, she began following him around the yard (as she perhaps should have done from the beginning) and every time he came near my son with his arms outstretched (and my son screaming already) she said again, “He doesn’t want to play with you.”
What kind of message does that send? Of course he doesn’t want to play with your son. But not because he has Down syndrome, but because he is violent.
At the end of the day, a bully is still a bully. And not everyone is a “good” kid regardless of their situation.
I welcome any and all comments on this issue. Take me to task for being ignorant. Applaud me for being honest. Or just let me know if you’ve experienced anything similar.