As I've gotten older, one thing for sure hasn't changed, and that's how we treat one another. We're trying to combat bullying, but it's been around as long as mankind. "Misery loves company," certainly explains a lot, doesn't it. No one who is unhappy wants to be in the midst of joyful people, so it's become human nature to drag others down into the miserable mire of life. Whether you're the person in pain or the one causing it, I'm hoping the tagline from my story will strike a familiar cord with some: Our shortcomings don't define us unless we let them.
I'm quite certain by now anyone who knows me is aware of my autistic grandson, Spencer. My fear of how he'll be treated by his peers in a few years was my true inspiration to write Shortcomings. The title truly describes him. He had no choice in the matter, and he deals with his disability as part of life, no grumbles, no complaints, but then he doesn't know how to be anything other than who he is. For now, his peers are forgiving, understanding, and love him in return. He's probably one of the most popular children in his school. Everyone loves Spencer.
But for how long? Children aren't the only bullies. Some adults need to take stock of themselves and the examples they set. Although some forms of autism steal a child's capability to love and be loved, his 'disease' seems to have intensified his emotions toward others. Grownups who sneer, cringe and back away from his attempts at a hug need a lesson in understanding. Wouldn't it be a better world if we could all love unconditionally, like my grandson? Of course, this doesn't apply to people with touch phobias. They fall into the same category as those who need understanding and patience. Education about differences is key, and I'm hoping each author who writes about "understanding" is furthering the cause.
Although I geared my story to tweens and teens, I believe those particular years are the time most social problems begin. I drove school bus for five years in another life, and the older the children, the more pronounced their patience with one another and differences. Sadly, in my high school years, I admit to being part of the problem instead of the solution. I recall two kids, brother and sister, who were always denied a seat on the bus by their peers. I remember always sitting with someone else so I didn't have to become a focus of their displeasure when other riders refused to scoot over and allow them space. If I could go back and have a do-over, I'd gladly share my seat and bear the burden of being a bigger person. I can only imagine how horrific facing the simple approach of a bus must have been for them. I can't change how I acted, but I can be proud of who I've become.
Although in Shortcomings, I don't mention a school bus, I hope my message is clear. People with differences often punish themselves enough. Luckily, that isn't the case with Spence, but do they really need us to remind them that they aren't the norm? Of course, we can't be the one to change a person's opinion of themselves...they have to feel it inside, BUT, we can help them find self-worth by not tearing down any progress they may make.
Cindy shed her backpack and stashed it at the end of the couch. “Sorry. I should have let you know I’d be later than usual. I did a little tutoring in the library.”
Her mother’s brow rose in a suspicious arc. “Does this have anything to do with the phone call you got the other night?”
“Actually, it does. Cory Neil needed help with his math and asked me to meet him after school. I’m going to tutor him on the nights he doesn't have football practice. Is that all right?”
“Cory Neil, huh?” A teasing gleam sparkled in her eye. “I hear tell he’s the football team’s handsome quarterback.”
“Yes, Mother, it’s true, but don’t make anything out of this. He needs help with his math, and that’s all.” How could Momma assume Cory would be interested in a cripple.
“Well, he called you didn’t he? Besides, I heard while at the grocery story there’s a big dance coming up soon. You never know—”
“Stop it, Momma! Cory can have his pick of any girl at school. Why in the world would he want to be seen with me? For heaven sakes," her voice trembled. "I don’t even know how to dance. His interest in me is purely educational.” Tears of frustration filled Cindy’s eyes. She limped off to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
Within a few seconds, there was a light knock. “Cindy, may I come in. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sorry.”
Cindy lay across the bed on her stomach. She swiped the moisture from her cheeks, sat, and pulled her feet up under her. “Come in.”
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I just—”
“I know. I’m okay. Honest.” Cindy blinked back tears. “I grow so tired of being odd man out all the time. I know it isn't your fault, but why couldn't I have been born with both legs the same length, like everyone else?”
Her mother perched on the edge of the bed and put her arm around Cindy. “You’re so beautiful. Don’t you know that? Just look at yourself.” Reaching across to the dresser, her mom snatched the hand mirror and held it up to Cindy’s face. “Look at those beautiful blue eyes… and that long blonde hair. You don’t even have to worry about curling it. Your skin is flawless… and my goodness, you have the most beautiful teeth in the family—so straight and white. Why can’t you see what I see? Your defect doesn’t define who you are. We all have our shortcomings.”
Cindy peered at the mirror. Shortcomings? What an appropriate word. Tears peppered her cheeks. She plucked a tissue from the box on her nightstand, dried her eyes and tried to focus on the things her mother described. The deformity blurred her image. It didn’t matter what the glass reflected, it didn’t tell the whole story.
She pushed the looking glass aside and swallowed the lump in her throat. “Thanks, Momma. I'll be okay. I've just had a long day and I guess I’m tired. Really, I’m fine. Let’s go get dinner ready. Daddy will be home any minute.”
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Shortcomings – YA - Our Shortcomings don’t define us unless we let them. #musetag http://bit.ly/vrS87W