Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Really Hard Questions

Ever since he was tiny, Kevin has asked a lot of questions. Somewhere along the way, he went from "why?" to "Why is the sky blue?" to "What is the atomic composition of air?". I haven't been able to answer his questions for a long time now and I point him in the direction of the computer or library.

Sometimes the questions are down right weird.

"Can I pretend that tampons are dynamite?"

Or hilarious.

"Mom, what's a weinerie?" (pointing to a sign that says "Winery")

And then, out of the blue, come the big questions. The ones that matter. The ones that you really want to get right. We were sitting outside on our front porch this summer chatting with the neighbor when Kevin joined us, looking very thoughtful.

"Mom, am I special needs?"

Out of all the questions my son has ever asked me (and believe me, he is Mr. Nonstop Questions) this was the very fist time I was speechless.

Is he special needs? And if he is, do I tell him? What will it do to him if I do? Will it devastate him to know that he's different? Surely he already knows that. But he's actually aware that he's different, will me acknowledging that make him feel like some sort of freak? The kids make fun of Special needs. They call him Retard. Really, he's not my own definition of special needs anyway. He's not physically or mentally handicapped in any way, he doesn't have Downs Syndrome or Autism. I'm a paraprofessional after all, and I've seen many kids far worse off then Kevin. Besides-he's gifted, doesn't that even it out or something?

I wish that I could say that I had some witty answer for my child, or some reply worthy of a great parenting moment. Instead I sputtered and carefully measuring every word, replied, "No, I don't think so."

Kevin's blue eyes looked at me with...was it pity? Then he shook his head sadly.
"I think you're wrong. I'm different from other kids. I learn differently, I need different things. Those things are special. So that makes my needs special. I AM Special Needs."

I immediately felt ashamed of myself. All these years I have advocated for Kevin, bolstered his self esteem and told him that his LD is not something to hide but to be open and honest about. I've told him that it's only a tiny part of him, and tried to teach him to just be comfortable with who he is. Here I was, his mother, and I felt like I just failed an important test. I couldn't even be honest enough with him to tell him he had special needs. I had talked the talk but I wasn't walking the walk here.... I had folded under pressure.

Then, I thought for a minute. Obviously those lessons that I had worked so hard to instill had stuck, and here was my child, bold enough to challenge my opinion. He had just done something that I was suddenly insanely proud of. He had told me that I was wrong.

As a kid, I never questioned adults. I just did what I was told, and took their words as gospel. To be perfectly honest I've always tried to teach Kevin that he has to question, think for himself, and disagreeing is okay. Of course, this comes back to bite me in the butt occasionally because let's face it...he's a strong willed child. But honestly, I don't like robots. I like kids with spice. I want him to think for himself and have his own convictions. To have him stand there and tell me that he felt that I was wrong, and why, just made me grin from ear to ear. He was right. I WAS wrong.

At that moment I caught him in my arms and apologized.

"It's okay Mom. Even you mess up. I don't mind being different. It's not bad. It's just special."

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