In the midst of the December whirlwind, we recently attended an extended family party with lots of cousins we hadn't seen for at least a year and all of their children, many of whom we had never met. It was a lot of fun visiting and catching up with everyone.
While we were there, we were also given a brief glimpse of some of the social challenges that our little Charlie might have to face. The kids were all running around and playing, Charlie among them, when some of the older children noticed his eyes. They commented to Forrest that his eyes looked red, and then, keeping their distance, they came to the conclusion that he was creepy. Forrest calmly explained why his eyes sometimes appear red, and told the kids that he thought it was pretty cool. They all walked away, not sure what to think about it.
When Forrest told me that story, my heart broke and I got tears in my eyes. I know they weren't intending to be hurtful. And I know that Charlie's eyes are very different, especially to someone who's never seen him (or a person with Albinism) before. But it was still quite painful to hear other children refer to my precious son as "creepy."
In contrast, at the same party I was standing in line getting food when I heard another young girl ask her mom about Charlie and his white hair. I was so grateful when the mom told her daughter that he had a condition called Albinism, and then turned to me to ask more about it. She explained his light coloring and vision difficulties, and then also mentioned another child in her daughter's school with the same condition. I can't even describe how refreshing it was to have someone ASK. What a great example for her daughter.
Nearly everywhere we go, I see people turn and whisper to their neighbor. People point and stare, many people smile as they do so to make it seem less awkward. But so few people ask. Sure we get comments like, "look at that towhead" and "which one of you had the white hair when you were kids?" and (from old people) "his hair is as white as mine!". Sometimes when people comment I do take the time to explain that he has Albinism. But most of the time I just nod and smile, or say he's very special or unique. Because he is. But I really appreciate it when people just ask me.
I know it's difficult to find the right words to use. How do you ask without being offensive? But if you are honestly trying to learn more about a person without passing judgment, they have no reason to be offended. I think children often learn to be bullies because of their parent's unintentional teachings. Parents who point and whisper and stare will teach their children that those with visible challenges are scary, creepy, or weird. Parents who aren't afraid to talk to and ask about those with difficulties will teach their children that they are people too, and not something to make jokes about, shy away from, or treat cruelly. Please don't inadvertently teach your children to be a bully.
I know Charlie is different and I know he will be faced with a lot of bullying in his life. But I also know that Forrest and I will pour our hearts and souls into teaching him to be the bigger person. Also, Forrest is determined to teach him karate, just in case.