Like many 11 year old boys, my son loves to ride his bike. He loves the freedom of the road, the challenge of finding cool neighborhood bike routes, and the wind in his face. Biking is his ultimate freedom . And that freedom includes neighborhood rides to the sports card and memorabilia shop and the local park. Great exercise, exploring one's community, and catching some sunshine was the goal for Saturday, isn't that enough?
Apparently, for some bullies in a car, it was not enough.
As my son waited on his bike at the light on a busy street close to our home, some teen boys in a car yelled at my son, called him names, and pelted melted cupcakes at him.
What were those kids thinking? I think I know. I suspect it went something like this: "Hey, see the fat kid up there on the bike? Let's throw this at him. It'll be funny!" (Or something said far cruder, I imagine).
The cupcakes were thrown at my son's face, but he blocked the throws and it splattered over his favorite t-shirt and shorts, his right arm, socks, and shoes. The perpetrators drove off instantly. My son was humiliated and upset. He called home on his cell phone (yes, he has one, a move that at first we thought was crazy to do for someone this age, but now take great comfort in the fact that he has one). He told his dad what happened. My husband jumped in our car immediately and drove the few blocks away to get our son. After loading up the bike and our son, they drove to get my daughter and I, who happened to be out on a neighborhood walk at the time, to tell us what happened.
And what happened would upset any child, but my son is not any child. He is on the autistic spectrum (high functioning) with some added conditions. Life is not easy for my child. The fact that he can even ride a bike (despite some impaired fine and gross motor skills) is a big deal. He's worked hard, despite huge challenges to earn his independence on his bike. He has to work harder, plan further, and deal with some issues that no child should ever have to deal with. While he is a big kid, medications to treat his conditions, pack on weight, something he struggles with every single day. The hardest part of it all and the most difficult to stomach, is that my son has been the survivor of bullying in the school system and elsewhere multiple times. He dealt with the following: being called dumb, slow, weird, disturbed, and fat. Some of these cruel peers from his mid-elementary school days, did receive punishment for their poor behavior. Most didn't. I even had some of them do this right in front of ME, in a bold and uncaring move. Even adults in my community, who were either unwilling or unable to have understanding, said inappropriate comments within an earshot of my child. Each day is work for my son. Each day is work for our family. Each day presents challenges.
And now this.
But there is a good news story in all of this. Really.
After being very upset when my son returned home, he did something rather unexpected. He handled the situation very maturely and wisely. He said, "I am mad about this, but I am sad, too." He remained calm, despite it all. In the past, my husband and I would have expected a tantrum, tears, depression, and/or anger due to his conditions. Not here. Although he did say, "I don't think I want to ride my bike anymore." It was then, that as parents, our hearts got crushed. My husband was even reduced to tears when our son had left the room, he was so shaken. We were so angry, sad, and disappointed. We wished we would have caught the horrid people that did this and had a word with them. We wished life wasn't so unfair. We wished, since that this happened on a busy street, that some caring adult would have stopped to help, offer a kind word, or something. This did not happen. Nothing happened but injustice and cruelty. And even though we worked hard to show love, kindness, and support to our son for the rest of the evening, it was still hard to breathe and think. We wondered if this would be a big setback for him and this worried us to no end.
But it was this 11 year old, developmentally and learning disabled child that turned it around in less than a day.
First thing this morning, my son declared, "I am going to be riding my bike A LOT." And this is what he did! He went out on ride after ride, stopping back at home to refuel with food, water, rest, love, and support. And time after time, we sent him back out again as he wished, seeing a boy more and more restored. He returned more and more tired, thirsty, and sweaty, but triumphant. It was pure joy to see this strength of purpose and sense of being.
You see, he took back HIS community. He took back HIS streets. He took back HIS freedom and fun. He took back the fact that despite disabilities, he had the RIGHT to live his life. And he taught us to do the very same in the face of adversity.
So, to the punks that assaulted my son: you LOST. To the adults in my community: if you are a parent, grandparent, relative, neighbor or someone who cares about children, what can you do to break the cycle of bullying for any child? How can you stand up to adversity on behalf of children? How can you send a message of love, and understanding? These questions should be treated, just like the boy who wouldn't stop riding. Keep riding, keep going, and keep going strong.
Reader's note: this piece also appeared on Gritty City Woman and the national blog, Autism Sucks, a safe place for families to vent, share, and learn. For those of you who have autism in your family, please check this blog out. For those of you who are not touched by autism, but want to get a peek inside my communities world, it's worth a look.
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