Getting laughed at doesn’t feel good. Most of us have probably had it happen to us on a number of occasions, whether it’s our hairstyle, weight, height, or clothes. I’ve done it to people in the past, if I’m going to be honest about the topic. I try not to be judgmental now, especially about differences. Being Marshall’s father has made me a better person in that regard.
I pick my kids up at 4:30 from their caregiver in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, on the way home, we stop by Quinn’s school and play in the playground. Quinn runs around, burning off some excess energy, and Marshall stomps around, watching his brother on the monkey bars and laughing his innocent little laugh. Today, we decided to hit the playground and kill some time before dinner.
Quinn runs off, Marshall starts his walk, and I call Bridget’s stepmom Julie. A couple of minutes into the conversation, I see a little girl walk up to Marshall and say hi. “Oh, a little baby!” she says, and points him out to two of her friends. “Look at his funny fingers! They’re so tiny! Ha ha!”
I excuse myself from the phone call and hang up so I can pay attention to what’s going on. I don’t step in right away, though. I have enough faith in humanity (and children) that it’s going to turn out okay. “That kid looks creepy. Look at the creepy kid. He’s so creepy.” They laugh. They point. Marshall, oblivious to the words, laughs and waves at them.
My heart breaks, and inside, I start to seethe. I look up at them as they walk across an elevated walkway on the playground structure. I say, quietly but sternly, “You do not – ever – make fun of people for the way they look. EVER. It’s not nice. Do you understand me?” Thank goodness I’m a teacher and I have these talks all the time, because I’m not sure I would be able to control my anger and disappointment otherwise.
They nod, walk off, and I hear one of the boys mutter, “Let’s get away from the creepy kid.” All this time, Quinn has stopped playing. He has heard the words, right from the start, and is crouching on the structure, listening. I ask him if it’s okay if we go home early, I’m not feeling great, and when we get home maybe he can watch something on Netflix instead.
“Is it because those kids were being mean? I’m not feeling too good now too.” My heart breaks again. It aches for Quinn because this will only be the first of possibly thousands of times he’s going to hear someone say something mean about his beautiful little brother. I sit him down on the bench and we have a quick chat about how it made him feel. He says he’s okay, but I can tell that it has affected him. He doesn’t complain about the chat. He just listens and converses with me, like he’s suddenly ten years more mature. I kiss him, and off we go, on our way home.
I break down when we get home after telling Bridget about the playground. I’m angry even though they’re just kids. Just kids, but also just like the kids who are going to be around Marshall once he goes to school in just under three years. I hope they remember my words today. Maybe one day, they’ll see someone making fun of Marshall and suddenly remember the look they got from his father.
I’m sorry, Marshall, for any ignorance you will encounter, and I’m sorry, Quinn, because the responsibility and burden of being his friend, big brother, and protector will not always be easy to carry.