Explaining People With Differences to 7 Year Olds.

I brought the boys to see the Mario movie today after school. I was pleased to hear them both say they wished we were seeing Aladdin instead. As we had been to Aladdin on Broadway over their April break and I love how much they loved live theater. It’s a passion of mine and I can’t wait to share more shows with them. Mario was more of me counting down the seconds until we could leave. I’ve never done shrooms or cocaine but I imagine the 90 minutes of the movie was a combination of a trip on both.

It eventually ended and even my twin seven year old boys seemed overstimulated by the whole thing. We had made dinner plans so we arrived at the restaurant to meet a friend and I was told within about five seconds of arrival by both boys, separately, that one of the hosts had one arm. As one of my sons was pointing he was explaining they had just had “Differences Day” at school and some people have differences and you should not point or talk about them loudly. I whispered to him that he was actually doing both- pointing and talking loudly- and he immediately stopped doing both. Well he dropped to a whisper but kept pointing. I lowered his hand with my own.

I explained to my other son, who asked why someone would have one arm, that there are many reasons some one may have just one arm. They can be born that way, they could have had an accident, an infection or illness, etc. He looked intrigued and also terrified because if it could randomly happen to this man standing in front of us then it could definitely happen to my son as well. I could see the wheels turning and him arriving to that conclusion.

***side note: Had I not done EMDR and exposure work in therapy about a decade ago regarding all my emergency department horror shows I would have had some major flashbacks and intrusive thoughts/images in this moment. I also likely would have over described any of the bad ways you can lose an arm from having seen some of these first hand. But I did the work, with a skilled and very patient EMDR therapist, so any memories were more like background noise that came and went without me noticing except later when I was writing and reflecting, and even then they were more passing thoughts, not disturbing intrusive thoughts. #exposuretherapyworks #EMDR #NursesAreSurvivors***

We then were seated at a table being waited on by a man with a moderate to severe stutter as well as some type of neurodivergence- my guess would be autism. I inwardly groaned. Not because of the waiter but because I knew I’d spend the next hour long meal prepping the boys around more differences people can have and crossing my fingers that they not say anything…well anything a seven year old can say. When the waiter walked away the first time both boys looked at me and were about to speak. I held up my hand and said, “Some people stutter, some people are different. It’s okay. Please don’t say anything about it to him, and just treat him as we would any waiter.”

They both processed this. Then they both said he talks funny. Then we talked about stutters again. Then they agreed he was different and we should be kind to people with differences.

To their credit, they did not say anything further to him or the man with one arm. Though we had many reflections after he would leave the table from them about people with differences including but not limited to a discussion about what else could make some one different, examples by my sons were: people could have no legs, people could not talk, people could be born green, and people could have no blood. I did not negate or confirm any of these ideas. I just nodded and said yes that would be different. My friend, who is a therapist, said, “But who is to say they are normal and we are all different?” to which the boys shook their heads and said she was clearly wrong.

The drive home was a little rough. I am legally blind in my right eye due to a cataract when I was three. I can’t turn my head and see the boys in the back without turning my head all the way around…and then I can’t see the road. So, any disturbance in the backseat becomes a much bigger issue for me much more quickly than some one who can see with both eyes. Growing up I did not really know I had a disability. It was never described that way to me. I didn’t “get it” until I met with my eye doctor when I was in high school. We were doing the depth perception test that we did every single time. I finally asked him if I have depth perception. He said “Minimally.”

My basket-ball coach in high school was generally unpleasant on a good day. But he usually left me alone because I would talk right back to him in front of everyone and he knew it. He chose his battles with me. But one day, after I made about ten foul shots in a row, and then completely air balled the next one, in a game, he totally lost his mind. I had no explanation. When I was meeting with my eye doctor I told him about that, and he said well you only make baskets based on your muscle memory, not on depth perception, you actually are probably the most skilled player on the court if you actually make baskets repeatedly. He explained that if there is any distraction at all to my “muscle memory” performance or if I don’t “remember” it precisely, that yes it makes sense I would air ball occasionally even after making ten in a row. Because if I leave the line and come back to it, and have been knocked around, and if something in the background changes, like if it’s after half time and we are at the other end of the court opposite from where we started, then my muscle memory has to adjust to a new setting.

I almost cried. I had no idea that my blindness was a disability and actually explained so many things in my life. It seems silly right? Like I should have known, having grown up since age three attending so many doctors appointments, and being told I was blind in one eye, that I have a disability. But it was never presented to me in this way. And I was finally old enough to ask these questions and understand the answers. The next time my basketball coach lost his mind because I air balled the first foul shot after halftime…I yelled at him “I’m blind in one eye!” After he got over the shock of me yelling back at him, he looked actually humbled and thoughtful. He then made sure I practiced foul shots on both sides of the court and after halftime at the new basket.

So we get home tonight, and because we spent the night discussing differences I sat the boys down and I said “Cover one eye”. Then I stood behind them. I told them to look back at me leading with their covered eye. They had to turn all the way around. I explained that I couldn’t see the road if I had to look back at whatever chaos is happening in the back seat. That I already am down an eye when I’m driving, and I can’t afford to take my good one off the road. I explained my eyesight is a disability, a difference, and I need them to help me and be kind about it.

This was one of the first moments I’ve had with my kids where I explain a problem, explain my rationale, and they actually understand. They felt bad. They understood why I flip out when they are not behaving in the backseat. And honestly I’m grateful tonight for seven year olds. Because three year olds could never have had this conversation. Three year olds would yell and cry and then make me want to yell and cry. It felt good to be able to have a dialogue about this. It also reminded me that being blind in one eye is a disability and I’m allowed to ask for help.

Many people mourn the loss of babyhood and toddlerhood. I gotta be honest, I don’t. I love having little people who can talk, understand, learn, laugh, hug, love, and voice opinions and questions and who seek to understand from their perspective as well. It’s hard.

Seven year olds are definitely hard. But so engaging and if any one can understand and assimilate some one with differences it’s a seven year old. They ask their questions, get their answers, and if the adults don’t make it a big deal, they don’t make it a big deal. They are onto Minecraft and basket-ball and over the guy with one arm, waiter with a stutter, and mom who has one good eye. They are fascinating little men and I wrote a blog post once that everyone wants a baby, no one wants a 2 year old. Well I am changing it to everyone wants a baby- but I’ll take my seven year olds. They are epic.