At first, my fears from my own childhood were only about myself. Would they stare? Would they care? Would they whisper? Would they point? Would they laugh? Would they be scared? Would they shout aloud their questions about me for all to hear? But most importantly, would they get the fact that the most noticeable thing about me was actually the least important thing that I otherwise cared about?
But now I was an adult and it was no longer about me. As Ethan and I waited for the kids in his Kindergarten class to line up for his first day, I took in the panoramic scene. There was a flood of mothers and also some fathers standing with their own five-year-old children. It was clear that some had older siblings already enrolled, since those mothers seemed grouped together, comfortably chatting away with their friends while their kids stood close-by. For the rest, this was a new experience, but the excitement of a new school year was without question in the air. Some kids appeared to know one another from nursery school, and so they too filled the air with audible chatter and laughs. “Finding Nemo” had been a hit film with this crowd and so, at one point, a group of girls belted out a loud and solid, “First day of school! First Day of school!”
Although Ethan had one friend from nursery school in his class, for the most part he knew no one. As the kids lined up per class, I looked over at our eldest son, his blue eyes glinting back at me. “Have a wonderful day, E!” I shouted out. “Bye Mommy! See you after school!” He said with a wave of his one finger. To say that my stomach was in knots was an understatement. I froze with fear. I had purposefully kept my hands largely in my pockets while waiting for the teachers to come, to ensure that my very differently-shaped hands would not cause a distraction on his first day. But I knew that was simply a temporary deferral. What would happen when he walked through those solid wood doors? Would they stare? Would they care? Would they whisper? Would they point? Would they laugh? Would they be scared? Would they shout aloud their questions about him for all to hear? But most importantly, would they get the fact that the most noticeable thing about Ethan was actually the least important thing that either of us otherwise cared about?
Lately it has been nearly impossible to not think about the concept of fear. Of course, most recently the alarming events in Boston come to mind. But let’s face it—there are countless reasons, both domestically and internationally to make one want to cower at home and never leave the yard. Even when I tried to escape watching the horror of real-life, television drama was there to pinch-hit. On a recent episode of “Glee” (FOX), (typically a mindless guilty pleasure,) students were crouching behind a locked door praying to not alert an uninvited perpetrator to their presence. Watching, I could not help but think of the children being hidden by their teachers in the closets of their classrooms in Newtown, CT this past December. I don’t doubt that was intentional on the part of the show’s writers. But most times, thankfully, our fears are not created from horrific and unexpected events. Rather, they are actually quite personal and happen during every-day experiences.
As I sat and drank my coffee recently, I opened up the paper and read an article quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt from his 1st Inaugural address in 1932. Of course, the most memorable line was what was quoted: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Many don’t know that the phrase was actually not in the original draft of Roosevelt’s speech. It was added at the last-minute and its impact was powerful, for it represented a rejection of being paralyzed. Given FDR’s own private battle with Polio, he might just as likely have been speaking about his own fears and not just about the country’s battle with the Great Depression.
Thinking further from my vantage about the concept of fear, I couldn’t help but consider that the only thing more difficult than having the world judge you based on your physical difference is to have to stand by and watch your children be the objects of judgment and scrutiny– simply for being themselves. To me, that is what has been the scariest. To feel utterly helpless and frozen with fear.
And although FDR’s phrasing was catchy and motivating, in truth, I am not sure actually whether I have ever feared “fear” itself. Simply put, I think what I have feared more is the fact that I cannot control cruelty lurking around the corner. Although those events have been extremely rare, like terrorist attacks themselves, when they hit they penetrate deeply. For example, just the other day I saw a nasty comment written on a young blogger named Caitlin’s site (she also has a limb difference and blogs at www.streamofcaitlinness.com.) The comment to Caitlin said, “It’s not about being shallow or open minded. People with deformities are just weird. If we make fun of you, deal with it. God’s little mistakes.”
As long as there are new people to meet, it is inevitable that my children (and I) will continue to be the objects of questions, stares and even fear. Those things are hard but ultimately manageable. However, feeling that your child might be the object of cruelty and mockery is what has been my greatest fear to overcome. So is it possible to overcome this level of fear? The answer is a resounding yes. I was reminded of it by Caitlin’s response. She swift replied, “Thank you. [Expletive] You.” And then matter-of-factly shared it on Facebook as an example of someone being cruel. It seems Caitlin has discovered her own strength and uses it to repel jerks and their commentary. This is one girl who is not afraid.