Late last Friday afternoon I saw a quick news bit about a boy in Australia who has been bullied due to his dwarfism condition and that his mother posted a video of him breaking down, wishing he could die. The bit ended by praising all those who contributed to a GoFundMe campaign so he can go to Disneyland. I then Googled the story and posted an initial opinion on my Facebook feed with one story link describing the situation in more detail; I commented that I had mixed feelings about same. I subsequently deleted replies that were debating whether or not the story was true. My mixed feelings were not about the veracity of the story but rather how the mother handled her son’s distress by sharing for all the world to see…and then “reaping” the benefits of, if you will — in a more suspect way than not.
Those who know me know that I have a dwarfism condition — now for 52 years since birth in 1967. Those who don’t know me can read about me at www.justcallmegeri.com. Diastrophic Dwarfism, a rarer form than Achondroplasia, the type that the young boy has, is what I have lived with for over 5 decades. I don’t dispute this now 9 year old boy has been made fun of his entire young life. I found stories about him from a few years ago, one referencing a dog he received to be a companion and to help him deal with his different-ness. Certainly I can relate to being made fun of in public and yes, even by adults. (Some have heard and/or read about the Kohl’s story) “What’s wrong with her?” or “what happened?” are questions I heard well into my 30s, even 40s, mostly from children, but at times from those old enough who should know better. I still hear some of the former when out in public, which is unfortunately not as often these days after several surgeries went awry the past ten years. The most egregious questions were those asking about Thalidomide (a drug expectant women in the 1950s were given that resulted in birth defects) and many actually insisting that I must have been a Thalidomide baby when I stated I wasn’t. One would think I would know the cause of my condition, a recessive hereditary one.
In my presentations to school children about my life story and experiences growing up, I share that I was more fortunate than not in that I wasn’t bullied a lot from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. Yes, there were a handful of incidents that I knew about (because happened to my face), but I was mostly left alone to be just Geri. I also share that I’m grateful I didn’t come of age in the social media age. Surely I would have been targeted much more. On the flip side, because social media was not around during my formative years, there were no videos or pictures to post that may have gone viral. Nothing that would get me invited to appear on Ellen or any number of talk shows. Instead I heard and still hear my Mom’s (now gone nearly 5 years) voice that I wasn’t to expect a red carpet everywhere I went/go or that nothing that would be handed to me on a silver platter. Life was indeed tough and I wasn’t dealt a “fair hand” to be sure, but that I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself or think that others would automatically. In fact, I would more often than not chaff at special treatment such as being invited to the head of the line in a busy bakery during holidays when I was still upright and walking. (Admittedly, I don’t mind as much these days as my limitations have increased.)
In my 52 years trying to figure out my purpose, I have wanted – and this is not easy to type – to die at various times. The few times I was made fun of especially in Middle School I didn’t tell anyone, not any of my sisters let alone my parents or teachers. Life is definitely more complicated these days especially with the blessings and curses of social media. Bullying can be rampant, anonymously so. Praise and positive attention can also result from postings of good and bad behaviors.
I do not believe this young boy made up stories of being mistreated to the point of him wanting it to end…to the point of him declaring he wants to die. And while awareness continues to be needed of all those on the outside, on the periphery, those to be targeted because of differences, I disagree with how this mom went about to bring her son’s experience to light. In my opinion only, I felt she exploited her son’s pain and made it very public to intentionally garner sympathy that would perhaps result in enough attention to “reward” that pain. I don’t know if I’m making sense. And I absolutely know my Mom would never have done similar even if an option back then. No doubt some reading will take exception to my take on this story. Some might even argue that I’m jealous (I have even asked that of myself) that social media can shower praise and vacation trips on various folks with various kinds of trying circumstances these days. I wrote similarly after the Boston Marathon bombing that suddenly turned those significantly injured into heroes.
There are countless folks around the world who live in trying circumstances, due to congenital disabilities (either physical or developmental) or acquired life changing injuries who the public will never know about. Do more folks described above deserve GoFund campaigns to send them on trips to Disney or other destinations, no. Is this a nice perk of being different, perhaps?! Should it come about by exploitation … no … again, not in my humble opinion. When there is a legitimate need for assistance, then folks should ask.
I sincerely hope this boy’s experiences are “real,” not because I want him to have suffered or continue to, but because I don’t want people to have been fooled and more importantly, I don’t want folks’ generous natures to have been taken advantage of so that they may be less generous in the future. I do not believe people deserves rewards just because. I sincerely hope, too, that others do not take this as an example to garner sympathy for a magical trip. After the high of such a trip, the underlying behaviors remain. I hope the mother, school officials and parents involved handle such bad behavior with those perpetuating such first and foremost.