“That Kid Looks Creepy”

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Creepy?  I beg to differ.

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.

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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.

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Hands

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I’m in the midst of spending my first summer at home with the boys.  Last summer, Marshall was still going in and out of the hospital with every cold he caught, so we didn’t end up spending a lot of time together at home.  This summer has been one of fairly good health, so other than scheduled appointments and an MRI last week, we’ve lounged around the house a lot, gone to parks, and run down just about every Pokemon we could get our mobile phone hands on (that sentence is going to sound really dated in a few years). 

You’d think with the good health, things would be great, and in many ways, it has, but the calm before the approaching storm (more on that later) has given me the time and space to digest what’s been going on, and frankly, I’m angry.  I’m resentful, and I shouldn’t be by now.  I just can’t let it go.

Now that he has been out of the hospital for his longest stretch yet, Marshall appears to be making up for lost time developmentally.  He’s playful and he’s learning to communicate.  He’s on the verge of walking without holding on to anything.  Watching him interact with Quinn is a joy to behold.  Sometimes, I’ll ask him to touch Daddy’s face, and he’ll reach his little hand out as far as his stiff shoulders will allow, and he’ll gently touch my cheek. 

His hands were the first indication the instant he was born that something unusual was going on.  I remember seeing his fused fingers, and thinking maybe he had some sort of sac covering his hand, but in my mind, I knew something was up.  I’m not the only one who had a hard time holding his hand at first.  It was difficult to feel the lack of a space between his digits for a long time. 


I love his little hands now.  The feeling of a hand that smooth and unbroken on my face is still shocking, but there is nothing softer than the palm of his little curved hand.  He has adapted incredibly well to the limited mobility in his fused fingers and his small bent thumb.  He picks up food and toys with ease, and delightfully bangs away on the piano day after day.  It’s also the hands of other children his age, though, that bring up the anger in me the most. 

It’s ridiculous that I can’t get past this. I’m going to be honest – I still cannot look at photographs of friends’ newborn babies without getting angry, and I hate myself for it.  I can’t bring myself to “Like” Facebook posts where I can see fingers, and the mere sight of those damned Anne Geddes photos of babies in flower pots makes me hot with rage.

My rage is for my son’s surgeries in the past, and the one he’s about to have at the end of this month to separate his fingers.  My rage is for the fact he’ll never be able to bend his fingers like mine when he wants to play the piano or hold a pencil.  My rage is for the surgeries on his skull that he’s going to have over the course of his childhood.  It’s for the looks and stares he will have to endure, and for all the doubters who will write him off before they give him a chance.

Most of the posts on this blog over the last year have been pretty positive.  I try to keep it that way in case new parents of a child with Apert syndrome come across the blog are looking for comfort or perspective, but the reality is, I suspect a lot of people in my situation probably have bouts of anger and depression over the cards their child has been dealt.  Thank goodness for the internet and the presence of an online community of people who can lend me their experience and wisdom.  I’ve had a lot of comforting words sent my way by parents who have gone through everything I’m going through now, and for that, I thank you (especially you, K.M.S. – you have no idea how much everything you’ve told me means).

Maybe the anger I feel is what I need to carry me through the doubts that float around my head all the time.  Perhaps it’s the fuel I need to fight for my child when the public system is inevitably going to try to tell me he can’t do this or he can’t do that.  I don’t know. 

In those times, I look at his little face and his hands and wish I could switch places with him and take away all of his pain, all of it.  All of it.  Right now, tonight, I hate this world, but tomorrow, when I pick him up and he lays his sweaty curls on my shoulder, hopefully things will be alright.


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As I mentioned earlier, we’ve noticed that one of the things that makes Marshall happiest is music.  He does a little dance when he hears music, he’s mesmerized when I play the piano or ukulele around him, and a few times a week, he’ll sit on my lap at our piano and pound the keys for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time.

On August 30th, Marshy is going is scheduled to go into Sick Kids for an operation to release his fingers.  This eight-hour operation is a big one, and it is going to be really interesting to see how he reacts to having fingers for the first time.  His fingers will never work like mine – he won’t be able to make a tight fist, and his thumb is shorter and at an angle – but this should still make an enormous difference for his development.

I’ve never thought about how lucky I am to have my hands.  It will be exciting to watch as Marshall discovers his.

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“That baby looks different.”

 

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The boys hangin’ out in the car.

 

For a time in my teenage years, I was obsessed with the 1985 movie “Mask”, starring Cher and Eric Stolz, for a few reasons. First of all, Stolz played the role of a real person whose last name was Dennis, and secondly, the young man he portrayed had a rare condition that caused his face to be very, very different. I could not stop wondering how he survived the daily stares and comments without snapping.

I am almost passed the point where I am too nervous to hold Marshall up in the air like the opening scene of The Lion King and declare, “This is my child!!!” I make an effort to treat him the same way I treated Quinn at this age.

But I’m still a little nervous, knowing that sooner or later, it’s going to happen.

Well, it happened.

 

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Dropping Quinn off at camp.

 

I’ve been dropping off Quinn at his hippie outdoors-all-day camp each morning and picking him up in the afternoon, always with Marshall in my arms.  I love holding that sweaty meat sack in my arms, watching him curiously scan his surroundings with his big eyes.  The view is way better in the park than in a hospital room.

I’ve noticed some parents noticing.  For all I know, a few may already know about Marshy (more on that later). A lot of kids have noticed too, which was inevitable. Quinn is so used to Marsh he’s oblivious to the quick glances in his direction. There have been a lot of, “Oh, he’s so cute!” because he really is bloody cute.

On the way back to the car, I heard an older boy behind us say to his mother, “That baby looks really different.”

I froze inside but tried to act like I hadn’t heard anything.  I needed to think about what I should do. I continued buckling Quinn into his car seat when the boy’s mother spoke up.

“Oh, you mean his beautiful curly hair? It’s so nice.  You had curly hair too when you were his age.” And with that, I exhaled, got into the car, drove away, and never said a word. One day later, I still don’t know what I should have said, or if I should have said anything. I appreciate the mother’s response.  I think her words were a good answer in that situation.

I know kids have no filter and say whatever comes to mind. I don’t think this boy meant any cruelty; it was just an observation.

I love my little sweaty fluff, and I can’t let my anxiety about situations like this keep me from going out and showing the world how amazing he is.


 

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Out for a sweaty walk on a hot day.  I love to kiss his sweaty feet.

 

On another note, with summer holidays upon me, I’ve been spending a lot of time out and about with Marshall. Apparently, through the power of social media and Bridget’s online omnipresence, Marshall is a bit of a local celebrity.  Every few days to a week, I am stopped by someone who recognizes him. Just this morning, a mother out with her daughter stopped me while crossing the street to tell me she reads this blog. We chatted briefly and we introduced our kids to each other.

It has been uplifting to meet strangers who have entered our lives through Marshall’s journey.  Thank you to everyone who had been following along. Every time you stop to tell me you know Marshall, it gives me the hope that Marshall is going to leave this world a better place than it was before he entered it.

 

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Taking a bath in a sink.  Awww…how cute is that?

 

Marshy the Teacher

 

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Happy times in my classroom

I never wanted to be a teacher – at least not until I became one.  The Asian immigrant parent’s dream is for their child to become a doctor or a lawyer, or if that fails, an engineer or perhaps a classical musician.  I avoided practicing piano like the plague, I was awful at math (hey, I break stereotypes, okay?), I didn’t yet have Bob Odenkirk’s Better Call Saul character as a legal profession role model, and I barely (BARELY) finished my Bachelor of Science degree in physiology.  An Asian immigrant parent’s dream child I was not.

Somehow, my dad convinced me to apply to teacher’s college and here I am, fifteen years later, still plying my trade as an educator.  I’m lucky to have the job, but it’s hard not to feel like a fraud sometimes when I hear how some of my colleagues always dreamed of becoming a teacher.  Don’t get me wrong – I think I’m pretty good at what I do, and I make it fun for myself (and, yes, my students), but some days I wonder how much of what I teach them will really stick in their minds as they move through the educational system.

We’ve been reading Wonder together over the past few weeks, and my class can’t get enough.  They beg me to spend more time on the book.  If they had it their way, we would do nothing but read Wonder.  It’s a fantastic book, but it’s also an emotional slog for me to get through the chapters and to discuss and analyze with them.  Some chapters hit too close to home.

After one earlier chapter, during which the protagonist’s sister talks about Auggie’s craniofacial difference, I had to pause to catch my breath.  I saw one girl lean towards another and whisper, “I think he’s going to cry.”  I didn’t cry, but I was definitely steeling myself to tell the class about my personal connection to the book and what it meant to me to read about Auggie’s fictional-yet-all-too-real struggles.

The class was stunned.  And then stories about their own experiences with being different or knowing people who were different poured out of them.  At the age of eight or nine, they’re still quite innocent, and the empathy and compassion in their eyes was so real.  It was all I could do to hold myself back from embracing all of them and thanking them for being my students.

Last week, Marshall paid them a visit.  Even before they knew his condition, they wanted to meet my children, probably just to confirm that I am, in fact, human, and not a sixty year-old ex-supermodel like I tell them I am (part of that is true).  Since explaining Marshall’s Apert syndrome in broad terms to them, they’ve been feverish in begging for a visit.  And so, twenty years younger than I became a teacher, Marshall stepped (or was carried) into a classroom for the first time in the role of an educator.

A lot about this visit has terrified me.  My coworkers still either don’t know about Marshy or haven’t let on that they’ve found out.  I still don’t know if I can handle talking about Marshy, other than to say that I love his sweaty cuddles and the way he calls to me with his single-toothed smile.  Bridget thinks I’m too paranoid and that no one will even notice if she passes them in the hallway.

I’m also terrified of showing this much of my private life to my class.  It feels like I’m crossing a personal boundary that I’ve kept in place all my career.  If ever there was a good time to make an exception, though, Wonder and Marshy are a pretty good reason. Sometimes I hope that maybe meeting Marshall as a baby will spare him a small bit of hardship at school in the future.  A quick little calculation tells me that maybe one of my current students will be one of Marshall’s high school teachers.  Who knows?

Seriously, though, knowing how amazing my students are, this is as safe a place as any for me to share the joy I get from Marshall with other people, and start to let go of the fears I have of letting him out of my protective bubble.  I can’t hide him, I don’t want to hide him, and it’s time I start to show the world how beautiful my boy is.

My class made me feel so proud of the young men and women that they are becoming.  I had to hold my emotions in check constantly because I didn’t want my personal struggles to colour their reactions to meeting Marshall.  They sincerely gushed over how cute he is, and exploded in joy when Marshy said, “Dada” a few times.  It looked like Marshall knew he was getting a lot of attention, because he would turn his head to the side and slowly glance at them with a big smile on his single-toothed face.  Yet the whole time, for some stupid reason, I was worried about others teachers walking in and my big “secret” being revealed to my co-workers (I’m at a new school this year).  Bridget couldn’t care less, and walked down the hall with Marshy, stopping to talk to a teacher down the hall.  I don’t know why I am still scared to talk about him at school.

It’s not shame.  Honestly, it’s not.  I think I’m still trying to envelope him in my cocoon in an attempt to protect him for as long as I can from stares.  His visit to my class, though, has given me so much hope.  There are at least twenty children who are going to grow up with an understanding of and empathy towards facial differences, and that makes my anxiety feel a little less scary.

I got a few notes in student agendas from parents thanking me for introducing my little boy to the class.  The notes were full of genuine emotion, and though those parents may never find this blog, I thank them for their messages.  Little by little, Marshall and my students are teaching me so much about humanity.

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Smiles in the sunshine

Retarded

This is what Tupac would have looked like if he was a bi-racial Apert baby.
This is what Tupac would have looked like if he was a bi-racial Apert baby.

I grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, in the early- to mid-1980s, at a time when my neighbourhood felt like it was about 98% white.  Just the other day, I took Marshall for a drive in the old neighbourhood of Kingston and McCowan, and while it’s a little more multicultural today than it was thirty-five years ago, it still has the feel of a homogenous suburb.  I remember a family trip to Salt Lake City to visit what must have been the one Chinese family in the state of Utah, where the Chinese teenager of that family mentioned how hard it was to be in a city that was so racially undiverse.  At the time, I thought, “Hell, doesn’t look that different than home.”

We used to throw bad language around like it was an old baseball and we were major leaguers.  I don’t know when kids start swearing today, but when I was a kid, we said anything and everything.  There’s that delicious feeling of rebellion when you do or say something you know you’re not supposed to, and frankly, no one really taught me not to.  I’m not talking about your usual cursing; we would use horrible racial epithets that, for us, were just another word.  It’s hard to understand the power of certain words when everyone around you is white.  Everyone.  I understand that there are distinctions between “white” and “white”, but as far as I’m concerned, with a few exceptions, if you’re white, you’ve started with at least +1 to your life stats.

So, some of the white kids around me would casually throw words like chink and n—– around.  I never even thought of the meaning of n—– while I lived in Scarborough, not when I was about as different as it got at good ol’ St. Agatha.  I clearly remember an exchange student joining out school for a half a year when I was in grade four or five.  He was from Botswana, and probably had the darkest skin most of the people at the school had ever seen.  I recall thinking, “Thank god he’s here, because he’ll probably take some of the bullying heat off me.”  (It didn’t happen.)

Anyway, once I switched schools and saw more of the city, I quickly learned that my use of the English language needed some altering.  Running around somewhere at my new school in grade seven, I let rip the n-word.  An older student pulled me aside and told me, “We don’t use that word around here,” before explaining to me why.  I was stunned.  It wasn’t just another word like “asshole” or “stupid sack of shit.”  Why hadn’t anyone explained this to me until I was twelve?!?

Of course, I can honestly say that since that day, I have not used that word, except perhaps in academic discussions with black friends about the use of the word.  Using it when I was ignorant of its meaning and origins was one thing, but I couldn’t say it now.

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“Retarded” is another one of those words.  Yes, yes, I know that it has a proper dictionary definition, and at one time, it was widely used in formal language.  I still hear it being used to describe children who are cognitively delayed in some circles, including many American publications, but on the whole, it’s now most often used as a pejorative term: “You’re being retarded” when someone is doing something you disagree with, and “That’s retarded!” as an exclamation of surprise at someone’s or something’s stupidity.

I stopped using it this way around age twelve as well, as have many of the people I know, but it is still very commonly heard, especially on the internet.  I also hear kids say it at school, which is when they get the polite lecture/discussion with me.  Unfortunately, I know of teachers who have used it in class as well, which is disheartening but, sadly, not all that shocking.

My greatest fear about Marshall is the unknown surrounding his cognitive abilities.  So much is still yet to be revealed as he grows, and hopefully all is okay, but there is a chance…I’m loathe to even think it because it’s too hard still.  Knowing this makes the use of “retarded” by people around me sting that much more.  Will they refer to Marshall as a “retard” when he’s not in the room?  Maybe I’m being too sensitive about it, but when it comes to this, I feel like overly sensitive is the right thing to be.Besides, if you know there are a large number of people who feel strongly about it, do you have to use it when there is a plethora of other choices?

We’ve worked so hard in recent years to curb the use of “That’s so gay”, yet on the internet, we still see it all the time (on that note, is there a lamer, more juvenile insult than “butthurt”?).  I have some, but little, hope that “retarded” goes the way of the dinosaurs, but given the amount of support the Confederate flag still garners, I’m not holding my breath that North American society is progressive enough yet to stop using such disparaging language.  A crack-addled racist homophobic sexist mayor (no longer, thankfully!) in the largest city in Canada, sports team owners insisting that nicknames like the Redskins and Blackhawks are acceptable, and an American presidential candidate who thinks Mexican immigrants are rapists – I weep for our future.

I have vowed to gain two pounds for every pound Marshall puts down in a show of solidarity (and sloth).
I have vowed to gain two pounds for every pound Marshall puts down in a show of solidarity (and sloth).

Pride Week, Peter Dinklage, and Skee-Lo

Me and Marshy making faces.
Me and Marshy making faces.

I said goodbye last week to a pretty important part of my life.  I had been teaching at a school on the other side of the city for the past five years.  It’s a wonderful school with wonderful teachers and wonderful students.  I taught a lot of incredible kids there and got to know a lot of fantastic teachers.  After five years – the longest I’ve been at one school so far in my career – I decided to try and find an assignment closer to home.  I managed to land at a school much closer to home – about five times closer!  Saying goodbye to my Queen Victoria school friends was hard, but I guess sometimes life makes the decisions for you.  Being closer to home next year will mean more time with my kids before and after school.

This week has been a momentous one for LGBTQ rights in America.  Here in Canada, same sex unions have been legal for a decade, something that makes me even more proud to be a Canadian.  In my mind, I’d like to think that the types of people who have fought so hard to de-marginalize the LGBTQ community are the same types of people who would stand up for kids like Marshy who are different from most of society.  I have had a few friends who I didn’t know were gay for years after first making their acquaintance.  They kept that part of their life a secret for fear of ostracization and hate.  I don’t blame them.  As liberal and welcoming as we Canadians like to think of our beautiful country, we still have a lot of work to do.  I’ve got the Marshmallow in my arms right now, and looking at his beautifully delicious cheeks and fused fingers, he’s not going to be able to keep his Apert a secret.  For him, I wish for a welcoming and loving society that will wrap its arms around him and keep him safe.


Game of Thrones is a hugely popular show right now and although I am not a fan, I have felt compelled to watch for fear of ridicule.  I actually find it a bit boring – 50 minutes or so of boredom followed by a final 5-minute roller coaster ride.  Still, I love Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister, the most interesting character of the show.  I’ve been a fan of him (the actor, not the character) for quite a few years now, ever since I saw him in The Station Agent, a wonderful little 2003 film.  Both that film and his current starring role make frequent reference to his stature.  It makes me so happy to see how successful he has become, but I also shake my head when I think of just how difficult his childhood must have been.  I’m guessing at all of this.  I suppose I could do a quick Google search and maybe find out that his childhood was amazingly free from bullying, but I would have a hard time believing it unless he grew up on Mars.  When’s the last time you saw a new television star who wasn’t a typical tall, conventionally handsome/beautiful white person?

Remember that early 1990s rap hit “I Wish” by Skee-Lo?  I loved that song.  Everyone loved that song about wanting to be taller.  It was silly, it was safe, and it was fun.  I imagine Peter Dinklage hearing that song on the radio one day while he walked down the street in New Jersey.  He would have been in his mid-twenties, his theatrical career already started.  Through the headphones of his Walkman, the DJ plays this new hit.  As the first line – “I wish I was a little it taller” – hits his eardrums, Peter stops in the street.  People were already staring at him, but now the blank look on his face makes him even more noticeable.  He knows people are going to tease him about the song.  Some idiot is going to see him walking down the street one day and pull up along side him, cueing up the song on his tape deck, thinking this action will be some sort of tribute to him.  And yet, this was probably just one of thousands of bumps in his road to success, just another possible source of ridicule, just another weapon people could use to keep him down.  In the end, Peter Dinklage won.

If anyone knows Peter Dinklage, tell him the next Tyrion Lannister is in my arms right now.  I hope he doesn’t shoot me with a crossbow when he grows up.

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Note: Marshall’s head was caught in the gravitational pull of my planet-sized cranium and was unable to escape.

The Consequences of Looking Different

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Yawning on the swing.

Toronto sure looks different now than it did in the early 1980s when I lived in the suburb of Scarborough.  Today, it’s hard to walk down the street in any neighbourhood other than the Bridlepath – where, let’s be honest, no one walks unless it’s to the door of a Bentley – without seeing people of various ethnicities.  It might be hard to believe, but I remember a time when the opening of a new Chinese restaurant was a big deal in Scarborough because now you didn’t have to travel to Chinatown in downtown Toronto to get some food from the homeland.

My brother and I were two of maybe a dozen East Asians at the school.  To be honest, I can only name four others (all from the same family), but there were probably a few more.  Even the one guy from our class born in Jamaica was white.  At that Scarborough Catholic school, the Hotel California of 1980s educational institutions, if you weren’t white, you stood out like a sore thumb.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy going to school; I had a couple of great friends and I liked running around and the schoolyard at recess, playing basketball, baseball, or whatever was the flavour of the day.  Oh, if only Bernard didn’t go to the same school.

Bernard discovered me quite early on during my six years there.  My earliest recollection of him dates back to grade two, although it’s entirely possible he had already found me the previous year.  Bernard was the worst bully I’ve ever known.  Looking back, Bernard was clearly taking all of his anger about himself and projecting it on to easy victims, but at the time, none of that mattered to me.  He was shorter than most of his classmates.  By all accounts at the time, he was not doing very well academically, to say the least.  He was unremarkable academically.  And he channelled all of that towards me.

Bernard loved to taunt me.  His favourite thing to do was to pull back the corners of his eyes and call out to me across the schoolyard.  “Chink!”  Call that out in public today and you might have dozens of faces turn to you, but at that time, it was pretty obvious he was talking to me.  It was always about my physical appearance, never about anything else.  It was always about my eyes being different than everyone else’s eyes.

Those run-ins with Bernard – and there were hundreds, if not thousands, during the six years I spent at the school – have clearly shaped me.  I’m hyper-sensitive when it comes to race relations, although I have given myself permission to make fun of East Asians.  I definitely don’t put up with racism and bullying in my classrooms, and enjoy having frank and sometimes uncomfortable conversations on these topics with my students.  And it’s likely that some of the anger and resentment I carried into adulthood stemmed from those times I had to deal with Bernard’s physical and emotional bullying.

At the end of the day, though, I have to forgive Bernard.  It is obvious in retrospect that he hadn’t thought things through carefully when it came to the bullying.  Or, he didn’t own a mirror.

The funny thing is, Bernard was South Asian himself.


I’ve been taking Marshall out every day for a walk in the stroller.  I usually stop in at a local cafe and get a coffee, but he stays in the stroller for that quick transaction.  Then, I’ve been taking him to the neighbourhood toy store where he is always enthusiastically greeted by our friend Erin.  She rushes over to tickle his feet and as long as he’s awake, she usually scoops him up for some cuddles.  At this point, I tend to step back and consider my options.  At first, my instinct was to go and browse in the corner of the shop to deal with the anxiety of Marshall being in plain view.  With warmer weather finally here in Toronto, and Marshall’s tendency to sweat like Patrick Ewing in a double-overtime playoff game, he’s usually in a short-sleeved, legless onesie (I’m sure it has a specific name, but it eludes me at the moment – a halfsie?  quartersie?).  His fused fingers and webbed toes are clearly on display.  Without a hat on, his head and face look different than a typical three-month-old.

Recently, however, I have forced myself to stay in sight, taking ownership of him when someone inquires about him.  I hold my breath and wait for people to say something about his differences, but it hasn’t happened yet.  Maybe it’s the clientele, but people have either not noticed, which is possible I suppose with a quick glance, they are too polite to say anything, or they don’t care.  A few weekends ago at a wedding, a fellow attendee at the table clearly noticed and did a quick double take, but that was it.

Bridget found an article online a few months ago written by the mother of a child with differences.  In it, she asks that people who notice her child is different come forward and ask questions.  It’s more awkward for the child to notice parents hushing up their children or acting embarrassed when there is pointing.  Personally, just reading about someone being approached with questions makes me queasy, but I think I understand the thinking.  As tough as it is for me to face this publicly, one day, Marshall is going to start to notice the stares.

I’d like to think that as a society and as educators, we’ve progressed quite a bit since the early-80s, but I don’t think that’s actually true.  I think that teachers are much more aware of bullying today, identify it as a problem quickly, and there is much more dialogue.  I do not, however, think there is much less bullying as a result.  Maybe it’s just something kids go through in trying to establish a playground hierarchy.  I see it all the time.  It’s much more subtle today than the open fisticuffs we engaged in routinely, but the subtlety almost makes it crueler.  I would much prefer Bernard’s invitations to fight over any cyber-bullying that happens today.  At least in the old days, we got some exercise out of it.  I kid, of course.

When I was seven years-old, I got really sick one day at school.  The teacher took me to the office and had me call home, where only my grandmother was available to pick me up.  I called, but when she answered, I wouldn’t talk.  I was ashamed that I spoke Chinese, especially given that in that environment, my lunches with white rice in them were considered weird and exotic.  Somehow, my wonderful grandmother figured out what was going on from my silence and the muffled admonishments from the teacher and principal in the background.  She picked me up, and I went home, my face hot with shame that I would deny my heritage when in fact I wanted to be so proud of it.

As I’ve said before, I really do love Marshall’s beautifully fat face.  Bridget hates it, but I love to cuddle him and call him my little Rob Ford.  I like to feel the sweaty fat folds on his forearms and yes, I am still enjoying the brushing and picking of his cradle cap.  And yet, I feel the same shame I felt thirty some odd years ago when I don’t show him off the same way I proudly paraded Quinn around the neighbourhood when he was the same age.  I don’t fold back the cover of the stroller when I buy my daily coffee; instead, I quickly pay and head back out onto the sidewalk, always breathing a small sigh of relief.


I would guess that Bernard teased me each day because, despite the possible absence of a mirror at home, he knew that he himself looked vastly different than 95% of the school population in that 1980s Scarborough Catholic school.  His skin was dark, and in that sea of white, he would always be the first person noticed in his class photo.  Maybe I was his daily therapy, his only outlet for the fears and frustration of not having someone else there he could relate to and share his love of whatever his version of my white rice lunches might have been.  Or maybe he was just an asshole.  I don’t know.

Marshall is going to have his share of Bernards, no doubt.  Until then, Bridget and I are going to have to build his self-confidence and his sense of self-worth so that his Bernard’s taunts roll off him harmlessly.  I hope he embraces his difference and somehow, in some way, loves himself so that he doesn’t feel ashamed of who he is, because he had no choice in the matter.

Brothers asleep after a car ride home.
Brothers asleep after a car ride home.