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.
The quick answer: A place for neighbors. It’s a place to get up to date on what’s going on around you, to tell a story, to share an idea or a bit of yourself. South Sounders created all the content on this page. Send questions, comments or feedback to email@example.com.
Stephanie Frieze …has always liked to write. Her experience includes three years at the University Washington School of Communications studying journalism. She had a stint at the Chinook Observer in Long Beach. Raised in Bellevue, she’s lived in Gig Harbor for nearly 18 years. She and her husband have a home in Ilwaco, where they spend as much time as possible. This mother of four loves books, spending time with family and the color purple. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorraine Hart …was born a nomadic mutt. She spent her life observing, writing and making music. She’s an unabashed carrier of the titles “hippie,” “feminist” and “liberal.” She’s resided in the South Sound since 1996 and is currently living above Joe’s Bay in Home. She juggles her time between being a caregiver, a writer, an artist, a musician, a minister, a wife, a mother, an advocate, a friend and a pilgrim – not necessarily in that order. Contact her at email@example.com.
Jaynie Jones …is a Tacoma resident with diverse career tracks in broadcasting, journalism, teaching, health care, desktop publishing, floral design, special event planning and photography. She’s best known as long-time KOMO radio personality Jaynie Dillon and was once a familiar voice on Tacoma stations KTAC, KBRD-FM, KTNT and KNBQ-FM. Formerly a resident of Tacoma’s East Side, she’s volunteered in the Eastside Substation and with Safe Streets. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Tracy Lebenzon ...is a blog contributor from Greenwater. Greenwater is the last stop before Crystal Mountain, Mount Rainier and the surrounding wilderness areas. When not exploring the next mountain peak or forest trail, Tracy also contributes to the Greenwater Community Council and the Explore-Greenwater.com web site. He writes about topics ranging from favorite foot, bike, and snow trails to community events, local merchants and politics. Contact him at email@example.com.
Joseph McGowan …is a chaplain who supports patients, families, friends, nurses and doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Being 67, he’s learned this about living: Meet people on their own ground and you will discover that this Earth is our special place to meet and support each other. His motto: Live now. Share yourself now. Every living thing you experience is a pure gift. Love all life unconditionally. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mizu Sugimura …is a third-generation Japanese American living in Federal Way. She’s married and a parent of one adult child. A lifelong resident of the Puget Sound area, she graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Washington School of Communications. and served on Federal Way’s Diversity and Art Commissions. Her interests are politics, art, the history of minorities in Washington and family history. She’s written a self-published family history about her paternal grandfather. Contact her at email@example.com.
Kim Thompson …is a Grit City native who was born and raised in Tacoma’s Old Town neighborhood by the gulch. She boasts that she’s a former Lowell Leopard, Mason Mustang and Wilson Ram, a short-time PLU Lute and a longtime UW Husky. This former corporate businesswoman is a wife, a mom, a school volunteer, a substitute teaching assistant, a writer and a born-again distance runner. She has convinced friends from Bellevue that Tacoma is worth the drive. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.