Unlike the rest of my colleagues, I have the task of writing a column twice a month. It was my idea, so I guess I really shouldn’t complain — but at times it’s tough.
The idea for a twice-monthly column came to me shortly after changing my column title from ‘Bottom Line’ to ‘Mommy Musings.’ The upside of living in the community where you work, is that people let you know what they think of your work. This of course can also be the downside, as you don’t always get it just right and people let you know. Then, of course, there is the occasion where they mistake the work of a colleague as yours and let you in on their displeasure.
It’s a slippery slope, I guess you could say.
So … what to write? Up to this point I have done nothing but ramble, which if you know me, you know I do — often — this is a good example of that.
The thing I seem to struggle with most recently is the job of working mom.
Now, before I expand on this I feel the need to acknowledge that this is a bit of an oxymoron. If you are a ‘mom,’ well, chances are you are always ‘working.’
With that said, I feel the need to confess that since my son has entered elementary school the challenge of being all things to all people seems to have intensified — significantly.
I was the kid who loved school from an early age. As that kid, turned grown-up I of course want the same for my children. So much of who I am today came from lessons learned on the playground. Perhaps for some of you, this is an over statement, but for me it is totally the truth.
One example that immediately comes to mind is my first playground experience (at the age of 8) after we moved from the city to suburbia. The lesson came at the expense of a boy with Down syndrome, but it is one that stuck with me.
Back in the day, we played on a ‘jungle gym.’ Remember those? I sure do.
On this early fall day, I was on the jungle gym with a bunch of other kids during recess. Eventually we were joined by a boy with Down syndrome who was a part of the ‘Special Needs’ class at our school. As soon as he reached the top, the jungle gym became vacant. Words like ‘cooties’ and ‘monster’ were surrounding me as the mass exodus was made.
Simply put, I was confused. Left on the jungle gym with this little boy, we continued to play and have fun — just the two of us.
Later that night I recounted the encounter to my mother. Not yet knowing the word ‘Down Syndrome’ I described the boy and my mother understood.
One of my mother’s older sisters had ‘special needs,’ this would be my Aunt Elaine. Aunt Elaine had a wonderful and special relationship with all of the grandchildren. She lived her whole life with my grandmother and when my grandmother passed we were all fortunate to share her. By share her, I mean she lived for a time with many of her siblings and their families.
Aunt Elaine bathed me as a baby, sang to me, rocked me and loved me, as any Aunt would. I did not know she was ‘different.’
So, that night at the tender age of 8 I learned that my aunt and that little boy were ‘different.’
Ironically, long before the term ‘special needs’ was widely used, it was how we viewed my Aunt Elaine and others like her. She was an amazing breath of fresh air. Always smiling, laughing or singing an Elvis Presley song, she was the ‘light’ in our family.
I still recall my mother sharing with me what a blessing Aunt Elaine was to our family. How her ‘difference’ reminded us so much about life and joy and living. Simply put, she was a child in a grown-up’s body with a heart as big as the house she lived in.
So what did I learn that day at school? Oddly, it was not compassion or even empathy, quite honestly because I truly saw nothing wrong with this boy or my aunt.
That day, some 35 years ago I learned about ignorance and tolerance.
I realized in my 8-year-old head that the children fled because they did not know better. They were ‘ignorant’ as to what made that boy and them different, as well as similar to one another. They just had not been taught in a way that they could relate to.
As a child who did not react in the same way on that day or any of the days that followed, I learned tolerance. Not tolerance of those whom are different physically, but rather tolerance of those who do not know any better.
Playground lessons can be tough, but in time they are valuable.
My one wish, is that I am able to help my children through mysteries of school and the out-of-classroom lessons half as well as my mother did.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.