When a Girl in My Son's Class Laughed at Him for Being Short
Last week my son Finley let me know that a girl in his class laughed at him for being short. He told me, “She just said, ‘You’re short! Haha!’”
Finley will always be short. Osteogenesis imperfecta is a form of dwarfism. Being short is part of him, and I suspect it will cause some frustration in life. Kids already pat him on the head and talk about how cute he is, or say he’s like a baby. That fires me up. You think he’s a baby? That “baby” has been doing math in his head and reading since he was 4. (Simmer down, mama!)
But here was the clincher about that “you’re short” comment. He laughed too. He said it was a joke, and it was kind of funny. Also, he said the girl is his “friend,” and so she probably wasn’t being mean… “Right, Mom?”
My blood was bubbling like the gravy under spuds in a shepherd’s pie. There was so much for me to unpack here. First and foremost, my very quick anger that is right under the surface, as I am sure it is for many other disability mamas. We tend to be a sharp breed of women with tempers taut as slingshots, ready to fling a rock at anyone who hurts our kids. Do not mess.
OK, so first: A kid laughed at your body, son. She made your body a joke. Your body is never a joke. We do not make open observations about the bodies of other people unless it is a compliment. And even then, make sure it is a neutral compliment that does not objectify others. Better yet, keep your yapper shut.
Second thing, your body is not a joke to you. Your body is no joke. It is a body we thought might never walk, that we prayed would feel no pain. It is a body I have kissed and smelled with delight. It is a body I have pushed into a sturdy splint to help you, even when it’s painful. It is a resilient, gorgeous piece of flesh and bone that I am in awe of daily. It heals and goes on. It is no joke.
Now listen, I know. These kids are 6. They might not yet know that you cannot or should not openly mock someone’s body for whatever differences it has from yours. You think it, you say it – that is the kid code. Plus according to Finley, this girl is his friend. The very fact that she is his friend means she’s not making fun of him… right?
And that’s where I get stuck. I do not know. And I know that “You’re short! Haha!” is the least of my worries for the mockery he might endure from his peers’ “witty” young minds. But I want this to be taught to my child and yours, because if a presidential candidate never learned that we don’t openly judge, mock and touch bodies that aren’t ours, I can surmise that many other children also did not.
We all need to remind our kids that other people’s bodies are just that… other people’s. We also need to remind our kids that their own bodies are beautiful and deserve respect, regardless of how they look or how they are different. Respect yourself enough to call it when something is not funny. When someone talks about you or your body in a dismissive way, know that person might not have cruel intentions, but tell them what you will not stand for. Have pride in your body and know that no one is 100 percent happy with their own.
It seems like it should be easy, but I know it is not. I know that my reaction to this comment from his friend was surprising to Finley. I could see his confusion. But I think he brought it up because deep down he knew it didn’t feel good, and he wanted to know my opinion on the topic. I’m glad we had the conversation.