Daughter was approached by a classmate in Earth Science to work on the biome project together. Daughter had already decided to do hers on the Rainforest. Classmate wanted to do Tundra. "Oh, well, I guess we can't work together, then."
"That's okay. Everybody else turned me down, too," he told her.
"I totally didn't turn him down to be mean," she told me. "But I want to do Rainforest. And he wants to do Tundra. I feel so bad."
She approached him the next day and offered to work on the project jointly if he wanted to do Rainforest. He eagerly agreed.
He is one of the Others. We all know who the Others are. We know them from our own childhoods. We know them from watching our own children interact in preschool, elementary school and beyond. We see them and, if we're very lucky, we think, "Thank God my child isn't an Other."
I remember the Others from my childhood: Frances in fourth grade and Robert during junior year and that idiot savant from college who worked on the newspaper for me and would shout out at 2 a.m., "Typo! I found a typo!"
If we're only terrible people, we think bad things about them or maybe we talk about them when they're not around. If we're worse than terrible, we berate them or say, "Ewwww, he touched you! Now you have cooties!" or we shun them or we trip them when they pass us in the crowded hallway or we ridicule them as they sit by themselves at lunch.
He came over to the house today to work on the project with Daughter. I knew him as an Other as soon as he crossed the threshold into my house. Daughter had told me that classmates, including mean bitches she knew in elementary school, had been starting rumors that they were dating and one had said, "Ewwww, he touched you! Now you have cooties!"
Less by choice and more by necessity, or so I tell myself, I stayed nearby as they worked and talked. I helped them choose the animals and plants to include in their diorama. I worked at my computer and I listened in as they chatted.
I couldn't help but fear what would happen to Daughter were she to become his friend. "Daughter is now one of my very good friends," he said in the Jeep as I drove him home. He could only name two other friends he has at school. He suggested on several occasions that Daughter and he could have a playdate every Sunday from now on. He repeated the suggestion to his mom when I walked him in so I could meet her in person.
They live in a motel. This family of five. It is only temporary, until they find another place to live.
I have rambled on and on and on. There is much more to say. There is much more stage to be set. There is far more conversation to relate: between him and Daughter and between Daughter and me.
But you probably get it already, yeah? My sweet Daughter sees nothing wrong with him. She talks of how mean kids are to him, how they pick on him, and how, when they're not picking on him, they are shunning him.
"He is a little different, don't you think, Daughter?" I ask.
Animated, she says, "The next time I see someone picking on him, I'm going to say, 'Hey, you leave him alone! We're all different, you know.'"
That's not where I was going with it. I was going to encourage her to steer clear of him, to not be weighed down by his baggage, to not be "caught" associating with an Other. I couldn't find the words to articulate all that to her without sounding...
Without sounding like the terrible person I am.
My Daughter deserves far better than me.