My Thoughts about a Boy in Australia

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.

Rewards?

Rewards?

Beauty and the Beast – More Than A Fairy Tale

MeThis weekend opened the long awaited live action “remake” or re-imagining of the Disney animated modern classic Beauty and the Beast, a movie near and dear to me for many and some complicated reasons. No longer a “cartoon” film but one with live actors, this version is likely to affect me even more.

The “original” premiered back in the day – a phrase I use too much as I get closer and closer to 50 this coming October. And really 1991 wasn’t all that much back in the day considering I started out in 1967. Disney’s great new era of animated features began two years earlier with its release of the fabulously entertaining The Little Mermaid. I don’t remember why I wasn’t fully enticed by Ariel (though I can guess) at the time but when Beauty and the Beast was released, I became a grown up fan of each new annual animated feature. Brain cells storing the memory of my first viewing of what would become an Academy Award Best Movie nominee are long gone, but I do remember being as enchanted as countless little girls wanting to be Belle. And I remember being hopeful for the message that I spread today…that people need to look beyond what is on the outside…that people who look different are regular people …not to be afraid of but worthy to befriend and perhaps even love. I didn’t relate so much to Belle (though I loved her love of books and her feisty independence) as I did to the Beast. Though many believe I have self-acceptance of my body differences there was a long time when I thought I was a freak, a grade or two below Beast level and to be honest, those thoughts rise up every now and again.

Belle, the plucky village girl dreams beyond the typical role of a woman in a provincial village with “stuck in the past” residents including the overbearing and chauvinistic Gaston. Gaston only wants Belle because Belle doesn’t want him. And later when Gaston discovers the Beast, he becomes enraged – how could anyone turn him away for a head horned pawed covered with animal fur man beast? This story “as old as time” does not need me to recap how it ends. Instead I write this about how Hollywood and Society still don’t understand how this is too much an one sided story and why it affects me so personally.

The summer before I was to enter college a well-meaning important person in my life had wanted me to be careful at campus parties. Though Smith was and still is a women’s college, male students from surrounding colleges as well as town residents were known to attend house parties. For various reasons that can wait for another blog, I did not participate in usual HS social activities. My inner party animal (pun intended) was waiting to get out. This person knew I was excited to leave home and enjoy all that college had to offer yet worried I was too naïve and inexperienced with partying situations. She later told me she agonized over how to properly prepare me for potential danger. She finally blurted, “Geri, be careful at parties where guys are likely to drink too much and become drunk. A group may see you and decide to make wagers as to who can fu@& the handicapped girl…” Horrified is too much an understatement of how I felt in that moment. I could be seen as a freak experiment? I had finally emerged from my almost 5 year self-imposed moratorium on talking to the boys in my class because in 7th Grade the all too common puberty related self-doubts took a stranglehold of my self-esteem.

I had always known I was different – having congenital deformities of all parts skeleton. I wore unbending prosthetics and my malformed arms/hands/fingers only reached below my bust line. My below the waist body is even more weird — my ugly legs and feet that don’t allow me to walk. I had been used to stares in public and questions of “what’s wrong with her?” as early as I had conscious awareness. I was actually an outgoing little girl, as plucky as Belle herself I believe until adolescence and hormones took over. And I had talked to, even kicked at times, the boys in my classes up until 6th Grade. Finally by the time 2nd half of HS Senior Year arrived, I emerged from my shell and began communicating, however difficult, with some of the guys. Yet I waited too long and I was not invited to my Senior Prom – again chalking it up to that no one wanted to go with the funny looking Geri even as I had grown up with all my classmates in our small school district.

And now this special woman was warning me that again I could be seen as freak just as I was keen to start a new chapter of my life, determined to push myself out into the world – even if it was an all-female college.

See the connection now as to why I feel a kinship to the Beast? Yet life is not a fairytale with all happy endings. No magical transformations swirling in cinematic glory. And the Beast was a guy who was loved by a woman – the way it is generally in both reel and real life. Many more men with physical disabilities are likely to be married. We see this in many more feature films and our everyday world. Women are traditional caregivers. In my many hospitalizations over the years, several in rehab settings, I’ve seen women therapists have relationships with their male patients. The Boston Marathon, while horrendous in its initial terror and tragedy, has in time brought out stories of nurses and other health care providers who have married male survivors with various life changing injuries/conditions. And while I, embarrassingly, have never been in a romantic relationship, I have nonetheless been interested in a few gentlemen over the years. And a couple of times, mothers of a two men I liked would intimate that I should not get my hopes up, that I was not wife material and could not provide a home – in other words, I would be a burden. For those who don’t know my background, I was abandoned by my biological parents at birth – was I too much a beast baby and perhaps would be a burden? These questions have followed me throughout my life.

I still want to see this new version of Beauty and the Beast, for the music I love, for the banter between Lumiere and Cogsworth, for the fairy tale ending that true love sees beyond the beastly exterior. I still want to have that hope for myself.