As a teacher, I have always enjoyed the assemblies which have evoked a reaction and prompted discussion in my pupils. The fun assemblies like Mad Science where the playground chatter has focused on the ‘WOW-factor’ and the social assemblies like Fair Trade which have given young children a glimpse of life outside their immediate surroundings. The assemblies that make a difference to children’s curiosity and knowledge.
As a mother to a child with a facial disfigurement, wanting to educate young people in schools, I knew that I wanted to leave an impression beyond a quick chat on the way out of assembly.
In creating my presentation, I included images of Harrys operations and recovery where I describe the lengths we have gone to to help him be accepted in a world that judges people on what they look like rather than who they are. I have also provided screen shots of some of the comments and messages I have received over social media. The names that people call my son, the things they say to me about him and the cruelty that is directed our way.
Some staff and children have been physically moved to see these. Some have cried. Good. That’s the impact I need to make. And I don’t say that because I get some sick kick out of distressing people but because I need them to remember the effect it has on me and had on them, just in case they are ever tempted themselves. Or so that when they become parents in the future they recall their utter disgust at the abuse and raise their own children to know differently.
I wanted students to have an emotional connection to my message. After reading the messages of abuse, they watch YouTube clips of my boy and as their frowns turn to smiles my heart is warmed to see rooms full of young people fall in love with my boy. Of course, that makes the cruelty even harder to take. Again, I am glad.
One question which I am often asked is “why do I share our lives so publicly when I know that people will be mean to and about Harry” It’s a fair and great question. I always explain that one day I will die and leave Harry without me (my greatest fear which you can read about here) and that while he is cute as a child he will one day become a vulnerable adult. I tell them that for every 1 nasty comment that we receive, there are a hundred positive and beautiful ones that drown the negatives ones out. I say that this is my way of trying to leave the world (or at least our corner of it) a slightly more understanding, accepting and kinder place for both of my boys.
All of that is true of course but as honest as I try to be, I am probably more motivated by the things I don’t say. The stories I don’t tell.
**Some disturbing information below**
Such as Fiona Pilkington who, despite reporting vile abuse by local youths over a period of ten years, was not protected by the police and eventually set fire to a car in which her and her daughter with learning difficulties were sitting.
Or 23 year old Brent Martin who had learning difficulties and died in hospital after 3 trainee medics had a £5 bet on who could knock him out first. All perpetrators had their sentences reduced on appeal.
To me, this tells me that the lives of those with learning difficulties or disabilities simply aren’t valued by society and the very people we pay to protect us. It makes me so desperately sad that I struggle to find the words. (read the full article on the ‘ugly face of hate crime’ here)
And then there’s the horrendous tale of Jimmy Prout, the vulnerable 45 year old who was targeted by a group after a falling out with one of them. He was assaulted and humiliated over a period of time before eventually being forced to eat his own testicle. The gang then knocked his teeth out with a hammer and chisel. He was then wrapped in a sleeping bag and dumped to make it look at if he had died sleeping rough. He died slowly, as a result of his injuries.
I don’t want to believe that things like this are happening around us, but they are. I don’t want to ever imagine that something so horrific could happen to my own son but I’m sure Jimmy’s parents felt like that. It terrifies me and although I am confident that Harry will be surrounded by amazing people I also know that I’m not just doing this for Harry. I’m doing it for the wonderfully innocent children who will one day become vulnerable parents themselves, like Fiona. For the easy targets like Brent and for the tragic victims like Jimmy.
So when I answer the question of “why do you share you life?” it’s the information that Im not giving which is motivating me the most.
I truly hope that in making an impact, I can make a difference to even just a few. I cant not try, and I wont ever stop.
The mission continues.