I’m sitting here in shock and horror that the only possible post that’s worthy of our parenting blog at this moment is one that is yet again, about senseless, horrific acts of violence.
This one hits much closer to home for me, though. When I saw several alerts cross my Twitter feed on Wednesday afternoon about a mass shooting on the 1300 block of Waterman Ave of San Bernardino, California, my stomach dropped to my feet.
Not only was the locale a mere 20 minutes from my home, but I knew that address to be the approximate location of the Inland Regional Center, an organization dedicated to supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Why would I know that?
Because my sister has developmental disabilities. She’s also a member of and participant in IRC. And thankfully that day – she wasn’t there.
Thursday December 3rd, is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Did you know that? Most people don’t. It seems like people with disabilities are only really paraded about in the media with any regularity during autism-vaccine-conspiracy outcry and the Special Olympics. For all of their other day-to-day real life existence (and for their friends and family supporting them), these publicized stories are but brief moments in their life and not nearly as significant as the everyday struggles they encounter.
And when I say struggles, I’m not patronizingly talking about their possible inability to articulate something, or walk, or whatever else we lump in with our societal idea of disability. I’m referring to the level of discrimination, lack of acceptance, brutality, rejection, and cruelty that they often endure because of their conditions. My first thought when hearing of this shooting was that this was a hate crime, and at the time ofwriting this piece, there’s no clear answer as to if that’s indeed the case. Leslie and I discussed this briefly, and she was surprised. Why would people hate people with disabilities? she asked. Why attack them?
And much like all of you are likely telling your children, about this shooting, the Paris attacks, the shootings before that, and before that, the answer is some variation of “sometimes people hate people for reasons that make no real sense, and then they do horrible things, and we don’t know why.” It’s what I told Leslie. It’s what I told my sister. And it’s all I can tell myself.
My intent for this post was originally to write about how each and every one of us should embrace our differences and how disability is a crappy and clinical label for a type of difference between some people and others. To hold up the banner of ability, of the struggle and triumphs a person witnesses and participates in as the family member of someone who faces each day the same way that each of us does, only with a much taller mountain to climb.
Instead, I watch my friends’ Facebook feeds fill with an outpouring of emotion, and from the fleets of those who have children, so many anguished comments about not knowing how to explain this to their kids – again. So I began sending a link to child psychiatrist Dr. Gail Beck’s post on talking about public tragedy with kids to everyone I knew.
But even this isn’t really enough.
Explaining scary things and scary times to children is not that different than explaining things to certain groups of people with developmental disabilities, particularly developmental delays. I know for a fact that there are some parents who read this blog who are parenting adult children with disabilities, the ones whose children will never completely grow up, move out, or move on with their lives. I say that with understanding and affection. It’s a different parenting road we all have, the families of people with disabilities, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I just want you to know that Dr. Beck’s article is just as applicable to you in your capacity as a parent of an adult-aged child as it is to parents with young children.
For my sister’s part, she was grief stricken by what happened. I rushed home from work to find her curled on the couch, watching the news. We’ve talked a bit since things have calmed, and the one thing that she said that chilled me to the bone was this:
“What if my friends are dead?”
What in the world can we even say to questions like this?