Lately, I’ve been wrong, I think. About my approach to the Red. Bailey’s “special” nature has given rise to an assortment of challenges for us as parents, and there isn’t a day that goes by that the latest manifestation of his condition doesn’t send us into an emotional free-fall. I’ve never shrugged and scratched my head over a child more than I have with this boy.
At the very heart of my dilemma is a single burning question: do I, as his father, treat him differently because of his background and his diagnoses?
Is it fairer to Bailey that I give him preferential treatment? Or will that lead to a harder life for him once he is grown?
The facts of Bailey’s condition often collide with people’s perceptions of Bailey’s condition. A perfect example is how school administrators took his early diagnosis of mental retardation and ran with it, opting to throw him exclusively into a classroom with children who were clearly MR. In this manner, Bailey started school – his very introduction to learning – by modeling children who were fed, who could not speak at all, and who had to be changed. After we met him for the first time, on the drive home, I turned to Corrine as I drove and said “There’s no way that boy is retarded.”
As it turned out, we were right. We advocated for his inclusion in mainstream classrooms where he could be among children his own age. And the immediate effect was like watching a hatching chrysalis. Everything about Bailey grew: his vocabulary, his confidence, his sociability.
Lately, however, he’s regressed, the absolute reasons for which escape us. We have our suspicions and we’re taking steps to eliminate certain elements from his life that seem to be the cause of distress for him.
But it doesn’t resolve a lingering doubt that I have about my parenting approach to him. I am tough on Bailey. I enforce the same kinds of restrictions on him that I do his younger siblings. I can be harsh at times, even. Gabrielle and Griffin respond to this. They learn that there are consequences to poor behavior and (for the most part) learn from the experience.
But they also respond to my love, too. As most children will do, they both soon forget a particularly harsh lesson learned, and are climbing up into my lap.
With Bailey, not so much.
He repeats the same offenses again and again, and creates all new kinds of ways to act out. Meanwhile, my overtures of kindness and love waft by him like a kind of ineffectual breeze.
So maybe it’s time that I give in and surrender to the notion that while he is not retarded, he certainly is different. That his type of personality, combined with the mess of jumbled history he has been forced to endure, requires a separate plan for him.
I am not afraid to say I have failed, or that I am wrong. I am afraid of the dark, however. And right now, it’s suffocating me.