Friday, June 12, 2015

Left Out

It happens.

Unfortunately for Elena, she has experienced two in-your-face episodes in the last month. The first was a birthday party at our local pool; E was there swimming, basically walking in on the party prep and realized she wasn't invited. Jason packed them up and left before the party started. Hearing "I guess I forgot to invite you" was a crushing blow for E. She spent a lot of the day crying, despite my best efforts.

I know it happens. I know this family, and they are nice people. I know everyone can't be invited to every party. And I know that the birthday girl and Elena are not particularly close. The sting was very painful though, and as a parent, it is hard to see your child hurt.

And I know it's not unique to Elena. I feel like it will happen more for her--but I could be wrong.

The second, she was invited to a birthday party with lots of classmates.  Another pool party, which for Elena is not a great fit. I decided not to bring her swim vest, as I thought it would alienate her even more. The water was ice cold, and kids weren't in there very long. Elena stayed in the shallows with one or two other people, and the rest of the kids were in and out of the deep end.

During pizza time, I carried E's pizza and silently followed her to where she decided to sit. Most of the party were sitting at a picnic table, laughing and eating. Elena walked to the corner of the table and asked to sit where there were a pile of towels on the table. Two girls near her end turned to acknowledge her, looked at her, and then turned their backs to her and ignored her. Didn't move anything so she could sit. Elena looked at their backs for a second, put her head down, and walked away.


I have never seen this before. It was so...mean. I just followed her lead--she walked to a chair where another girl was sitting and asked to sit with her. I put her pizza down and walked to a table where a few parents were sitting (yes, they saw the whole thing). Soon, E and the other girl were eating and laughing. I sat in silence. So did the other parents, for a while. Then one said "maybe the girls didn't know who those things belonged to", which I snapped wasn't the case (I tried not to be negative, but I couldn't help it). I took a deep breath and made small talk.

Look, I know it takes effort to include Elena in something like a pool party. I can see that not coming naturally to some of these other kids. I actually think it's a big deal for someone to decide to change their manner of playing so Elena can take part, or be part of the group--it's not instinctive. But it took actual effort to be mean to her in this case. And that just plain sucks, and it's the first time I've actually witnessed it.

I got up to move the car (it was down the hill, and I didn't realize there was a handicapped space closer to the pool--and with my knee, it was going to take a while) in case Elena wanted to leave the party early (I know I did). When I got back, the kids were eating ice cream, at one table, including E (there were a few chairs pulled up to the table) and they were laughing and happy.  I don't know who orchestrated it, probably the other grown ups. We ended up staying late.

Later that day, I had a discussion about friendship with Elena. Did she think the girls at the pizza table were treating her like a friend? Did she consider them friends? Sometimes I worry that she doesn't know what a friendship should feel like. I guess this is a process that a lot of kids go through, which is comforting in its typicality but burns all the same. Elena had some great insight during our conversation, where she told me the girls who were mean were not in her class, so she does not know them as well and does not hang out with them at school. I guess that explains a little. There was also an older girl (sibling?) who obviously was someone to impress--the social hierarchy was very easy to witness developing, for anyone who remotely cares about that sort of thing. Some kids at this age care a lot, some not at all. It doesn't bother Elena much, which is to our advantage. For now, anyway.


Danielle said...


Double sigh. If Elena's trajectory is like mine, she is now at the age where things are going to change for her socially. It seems to follow a developmental shift where "fitting in" takes on more and more importance, and so being different is less and less acceptable. I would like to think it won't be that way for Elena- the world is supposed to move forward- but many of my friends with CP (especially girls) struggled with increasing social exclusion throughout public school. Even though Elena seems to be doing really well right now, I think you're right to assume she will have more experiences like this than the average kid.

I don't have great advice, because there isn't much you can do to stop it. But I would say that the biggest thing that helped my self-esteem bounce back from some of that stuff this finding one "safe" circle of friends where I didn't have to be the odd one out b/c we all have disabilities. For me that didn't come until university, but maybe you can help her cultivate it now (?)

This stuff is so hard. But my impression of you is that you're pretty wise, and thus good at knowing the right path to take it tough situations. Elena has a capable guide in you.

Margot said...

Hi Amy,
Unfortunately being left out or bullied happens to everybody both able bodied and disabled. The way my family dealt with it was to make me aware that my CP would sometimes make me a target of bullying and staring as well as curiosity because in all honesty I don't walk the way other people do. I was only flat out bullied one time in my life and managed to scare the bullies off so it never happened again. Most other people I know were not so lucky which ended up inspiring me to write my film Drama Sighted
which was showcased at an anti bullying event in April. As I have gotten older I still get some dirty looks now and then. Most of this comes from jealously or insecurity on the other person's part and you need to let Elena know that it is always the bullies problems that caused it, not Elena or her CP. I see Elena growing into a beautiful blonde and perhaps these girls are jealous. Being left out of the first party because she was not invited however I don't feel is bullying so much as it is a bit of rejection and Elena will have learn to handle rejection. Lots of adults who are able bodied don't even know how to handle rejection. The poster "Danielle" is right, I felt finding other people with CP and other disabilities wonderful to have as friends because they fully understand my efforts to work with my body. btw here's a recent post about the work I do with my body Enter The Faun What’s in a Brain? as you know I work with Gregg Mozgala who has CP. No friendship should be based solely on the disability aspect though or the friendship just won't work.
On a side note, I think the rock climbing PT is a very interesting idea. Any exercise like that is good for people with CP whether it is labeled as PT or not.