My son is a quirky kid. He talks about airplanes 99% of the time, he doesn’t like video games, and his natural energy level makes hiding the sugar products on the top shelf of the pantry a necessity. He has cleft scars that make his lip a little puffy, his speech isn’t always clear, and he lacks the ability to discern whether the kids around him are enjoying his antics or looking for an escape hatch. His Chinese, stick-straight hair is usually sticking up somewhere on his head, he is not concerned at all about his volume, and he is not persuaded by what other kids think is cool.

My kid can be a blast, a refreshing breath of energetic air.

But he’s different.

We’ve had a lot of therapy over the years. Recently, his behavioral therapists and I tweaked his program to focus almost completely on social interaction. Executive functioning is handy, typing is a solid skill, but connecting with other kids will improve his quality of life. My son wants friends.

A few times a week, my son, his therapists and I go to a park near my house. I live in Central Phoenix, which is a diverse area.  Less than a mile east from my modest ranch home are multi-million dollar estates that celebrities rent for golf vacations. A mile or two in the other direction is a cluster of apartments where whirling police lights in the parking lot are a regular occurrence. The nearby park we frequent has all walks of life: retired power-walkers, baby boot-campers, dog people, panhandlers, frisbee golfers, black kids, white kids, Hispanic kids, my Chinese kid.

In therapy sessions at home, we teach my son the rules of social interaction he doesn’t naturally pick up. For example, “Hi, I’m Jax, what’s your name?” is way more likely to result in a play date than “AHHHHHH!! I AM A B-29 BOMBER PILOT YOU ARE THE ENEMY FOLLOW ME WE ARE PLAYING YOU ARE THE BAD GUY LET’S GO!!!” He’s getting it. We script, we role-play, we practice. Then we go to the park and 3-2-1 action.

“Hi, I’m Jax, what’s your name?”
“Hi Mike, want to play with me?”

I always know if Mike (or Ben or José or Molly) will play. I can tell by looking at them. I can tell by their clothes, their shoes, their hair, their backpack, the toys they brought to the park.

The wealthy kids never play. Never.

Am I making judgments based on appearance? Maybe. But mostly I’m telling you what I observe, what I watch, what I see first-hand all the time. Mike in head-to-toe Under Armor and $100 tennis shoes and Molly with the Vera Bradley backpack and Tori Burch sandals get uncomfortable when my son introduces himself. They aren’t rude, in fact they are usually very polite as they, every single time, say “no thank you” to my son’s invitation.

Moms to these kids, I write this with no judgment whatsoever. I mean that. If fate hadn’t pulled me to China and sent me home with a special needs son, I would be you, my kid would be your kid.

Sometimes I feel like Goldie Hawn in Overboard. Remember that movie? I don’t have a yacht or a butler and I don’t wear puffy-sleeved, balloon-skirt cocktail dresses to dinner, but you get it. I’m a white woman with a law degree, an SUV and a yard guy.  I wear yoga pants and sip my coconut milk latte from Whole Foods at the park, too.

Remember, in Overboard, when Andrew the butler said this to Joanna / Goldie?

“Most of us go through life with blinders on. Knowing only that little station to which we were born. But you madam, have had the… rare privilege of escaping your bonds for just a spell. To see life from an entirely new perspective.”

I was pulled out of the comfort of my life by my child so hard I had whiplash, but now, years later and happy to be exactly where I am, I get to sit back and observe a world to which I wouldn’t have been privy, a world I wouldn’t have even noticed.  My blinders aren’t completely off, but I’m able to peek over the top. What I see, time and time again, is that the privileged kids are scared of what is different.

I always know if Mike (or Ben or José or Molly) will play. I can tell by looking at them. I can tell by their clothes, their shoes, their hair, their backpack, the toys they brought to the park.

The wealthy kids never play. Never.

To the Moms I Am Not, But Was Supposed to Be,

I am not writing this to protect my son or encourage you to teach your kids about disabilities or saving other people’s feelings. The glory of my son is that he doesn’t care. Your kid’s “no thank you” doesn’t phase him at all, he runs to the next kid. The next kid is wearing shorts that are too short to be fashionable, the sole of his shoe is falling off, and his hair is too long and hangs in his eyes. The next kid didn’t bring a hoverboard, but a broken pail and two cracked fishing bobbers. The next kid always says, “YEAH, let’s play!” and he and my son run and laugh and yell and are utterly child-like.

I am writing this because while my son plays, my eyes sometimes wander back to your kids. Your young, impressionable, sweet and understandably sheltered children stand off to the side by themselves…or with others who look exactly like them. I think they want to play. I think, because we live in a scary world and you have the luxury of constant vigilance, their comfort zones have shrunk to the size of a dime. I think they’re missing out. Different isn’t scary, especially not when it comes in the many forms of children.

My kid is going to keep asking your kids to play. I hope they start saying yes.