As I sipped my coffee early this morning, I casually scrolled through my Facebook page. Buried amongst the copious amounts of baby pictures and political posts was an article from a local Idaho paper. The article was regarding a father’s Facebook post detailing the senseless and cruel bullying his son endures because he has Treacher Collins Syndrome. Dan, Jackson’s father, details what his son has lived through- the intensely cruel name calling, the brutal physical abuse, and he painfully describes that this abuse has driven his eight year old son to consider ending his life.
My heart is broken. I sat quietly this morning for the better part of an hour, tears rolling down my face. The emotional reaction wasn’t only because I worry this will happen to my child, it’s also because if a child with TCS feels pain – we all feel pain because one of our tribe has been brutally hurt. I don’t know Jackson’s parents and I’ve only now written to his father. But, when I study Jackson’s sweet smile, his perfectly shaped face, I see Landon.
Syndromes like TCS have incredibly similar facial features so that we may realize that we are one tribe. Each child belongs to us to help support, love and make sure that if they endure pain at the hands of others that they hear from us that they are loved.
Last weekend, while visiting family, we went to an art fair. Booths lined the roads with trinkets, clothing, paintings and games. Our girls immediately saw baskets of prizes and rushed to get in line to spin a prize wheel hosted by a local company. As we approached, a boy seated next to the prize table locked onto Landon’s face and grimaced. His arm stretched out before him and his finger pointed directly at her. “What’s wrong with her eyes? Do you see them?!” he yelled toward his father. His father immediately grabbed his arm and twisted the child toward him, leaning in for the lesson, reprimand, nothing that we could hear. I stood behind our girls and ushered them up to the table. I helped navigate the choice of fidget spinner, glasses or lollipop while Eric went over and introduced himself to the father. While Eric worked to create empathy and share kindness with the seemingly embarrassed dad, the boy was wailing from whatever his dad had said. We left quickly afterward, but I turned around, trying to catch the boys’ eyes to smile- an attempt to show him we were just another family. They had moved and we didn’t see them again. As I read Jackson’s story and recall the finger pointing at Landon, it’s easy to fear the world in which these children live. What I choose instead is to try to teach, to ask more of the parents I know and who read my stories here.
Parents, I implore you alongside Jackson’s family to sit this weekend and talk to your children. Many of you have emailed me the beautiful stories of conversations you have had with your children. You have generously shared comments your kids have made about wanting to be Landon’s friend, about how they plan to help change their classroom or school. But here I am asking again, because these conversations are required of us regularly as parents. Not once and done, but as a part of our running dialogue.
Tell your children Jackson’s story, show them photos of Landon and talk about how she loves Trolls and Moana and hilariously does the chicken dance when music plays. Tell them how these completely normal children with kind and open hearts are sometimes treated like they don’t belong. They are treated as outsiders simply because their cheeks rest lower than theirs. Their eyes are smaller and they may need help hearing with hearing aids. But these same children love and want to be loved just like your children do- just like we all do.
Ask your children if they know any children in their school that sit by themselves. Ask if there are children that have any differences that they’ve noticed. Hearing aids or different sized ears, and listen to the stories they may tell you. Teach them ways to show kindness. Describe what actions they can take to live a life of inclusiveness. If you and your family haven’t read Wonder, buy it here. Encourage your children to read it and talk to you about how it makes them feel, what have they learned, and let their natural kindness lead the conversations.
Children are not born to see differences. No one in Landon’s three years of school has yet to even notice something different about her except that they want a headband just like hers. One dazzling child has exclaimed that she wants bahas too. They learn to notice differences and judge them because we aren’t engaging as parents on how to understand them, nor are we giving them the tools on how to respond with kindness and love. We avoid these conversations because we think it will be too hard to navigate or assume they teach this stuff at school. I am asking you now to change that today.
I know there are a million things on our plates as parents. I know that the world is also a very scary place in so many ways right now. But this, this is also important. These are all of our children. Look at us, hear our stories, imagine yourselves as the parents of sweet Jackson. And ask yourself, how can you help us in our mission to change the world? How will you teach kindness to your family
Below is Dan’s Facebook post:
“My heart is in pieces right now…my soul feels like it’s ripping from my chest…this beautiful young man my son Jackson has to endure a constant barrage of derogatory comments and ignorance like I’ve never witnessed. He is called ugly and freak and monster on a daily basis by his peers at school. He talks about suicide…he’s not quite 8! He says he has no friends and everyone hates him. Kids throw rocks at him and push him shouting these horrific words…please please take a minute and imagine if this were your child. Take a minute to educate your children about special needs. Talk to them about compassion and love for our fellow man. His condition is called Treacher Collins. Maybe even look it up. He’s endured horrific surgery and has several more in the coming years. Anyway…I could go on…but please educate your children. Please…share this. This shouldn’t be happening…to anyone.”
And to Dan, as I wrote you earlier this morning- I see you, I hear you and I am sending you more love and continued strength. Jackson- you are one handsome devil. I would love nothing more than to meet you one day and cannot wait to write a letter with my children and send it to you. You are all loved very much.