Sometimes a superhero walks amongst us.
Two years ago my eldest son Ollie was just about to turn 5, and pretty much dressed as a superhero all day every day. At the time we were living in England. He and I were doing our shopping at the excellent local Sainsburys supermarket – Coles could learn a lot from them, I’m just saying. I remember the whole scene so distinctly. We walked in and grabbed a trolley. Ollie was getting bigger and didn’t want to sit in the trolley’s child seat anymore. So, because it was just the two of us (my other child was with his grandparents) I said ok, you can follow Mummy around. Ollie was being his usual active, excitable self, running and jumping and generally pretending he was Spiderman and the supermarket was New York.
That was when I noticed another little boy of about 7 in a trolley being pushed by his Mother. He was giving Ollie an extremely hateful look. I remember thinking it was odd, but I put it down to kids being kids (mostly gorgeous but sometimes strange) and kept looking for the yoghurt we needed in the dairy aisle. My little superhero bounced up next to me. This kid and his Mum must’ve also needed some dairy products because now they were right next to us.
Never judge a book by its cover
What happened next is legitimately one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever experienced. All of a sudden, I heard Ollie scream in agony. I turned to look at him and this child in the trolley next to us had two handfuls of Ollie’s hair gripped in his fists. He was literally pulling my 4-year-old child off his feet by his hair.
I shouted “Hey! Hey!!” pretty sharply at the boy, all while Ollie was still screaming and by now crying hysterically. In the commotion the boy’s Mother, with look of panic and shame that breaks my heart to this day, shouted: “He’s autistic! He’s got autism!!”. I looked at her and shut up immediately. We worked together for some time to open her child’s clenched fists and let Ollie down. Both of us were crying. Two strangers, women who had watched the whole thing happen, were crying. My son was wailing from pain and shock and had his arms around me. Her son was slapping himself in the face, hard.
A difficult conversation
I gave her a massive cuddle with Ollie still hanging around my waist. “Please, I understand, please don’t worry,” I said. I assured her that I’d explain everything to my son. She wept on my shoulder, all while apologising profusely. I felt guilty that she was even apologising and tried to stifle my own shock and soothe hers. She walked away with her child. That was when I had to calm my boy down and have a very difficult conversation with him.
Ollie had been hurt and couldn’t understand why. He also couldn’t understand why Mummy wasn’t furious with the other little boy, why I hadn’t told him off, or told his Mummy off.
So I tried my best to explain. Lucky us who live in the bubble where we get to bring up our kids without having to explain violence and illness. How unfair the world can be to innocent people. We should all be grateful every day that we are healthy, furthermore some people don’t get to have that luxury. It’s heartbreakingly sad that some children are not well, consequently we can hate the violent act but forgive the unwell child.
Children with special needs, children who are unwell, sometimes need extra space and tolerance. They have every right to exist alongside all of us and we have to make room for them. That it took my darling boy getting hurt in order to understand this makes me sad but I’m glad he learnt that lesson at such a young age.
The real superhero
The Mothers of children with special needs, especially kids whose afflictions can sometimes make them violent, are nothing short of heroic. The Mother of the little boy that hurt my son has more forbearance, love and genuine strength than any pumped-up man in a cape. These women move actual mountains every day powered by the most unbelievably patient love. They absolutely floor me; I haven’t been tested the way they have- consequently I don’t know if I could be that strong. I doubt it. They are the ones we should all celebrate and venerate. These Mums are the ultimate celebrities! They are the real superheroes.