Sir Thomas’s brother lives with a twelve-year-old girl and her family. He goes to school with her, both of them navigating the hallways of lockers, onlookers and, unfortunately, jokers.
This girl’s story of life with her service dog winds its way around my heart not only because our dogs are related. In some ways, our stories are, too.
When blood vessels burst inside my skull, I was twelve-years old. My left side stopped moving and I spent a third of the seventh grade undergoing brain surgery, relearning how to walk and sleeping in the den (my room was on the second floor and managing stairs didn’t happen for a while). Each night, I willed back at least some of my long hair. A shaved head might have been cool to my classmates. The U-shaped scar left over from the surgery, however, looked like a trap door to my gray matter. It was far from cool.
By January, the neurologist deemed me ready to return to school. My hair was not ready, a thin layer of fuzz. And my stride could best be described as a lurch-and-shuffle. I wonder now if a service dog would’ve helped with my balance and my gait. It would’ve been much cooler than the wig I wore while dragging one leg behind me.
The coolest thing of all is that no one – no one at all: kids, teachers, parent aides – said a word.There were no jokes. No wig comments. No wig tugging. No limp comments. No leg tugging. I was one of the kids.
Clearly someone talked to the school. Somewhere in that three months, discussions happened among teachers and kids. Somehow, their curiosity, questions, fears were addressed. They all knew I’d survived something that could’ve killed me. I’d been handed a gift and their knowledge of that empowered them to recognize its value.
That’s where our story lines change, this girl’s and mine. Oh, she, too, has received a gift. Her service dog has given her new legs to stand, to step away from her wheelchair. In her school, though, kids, teachers, aides joke, comment, tug. They’re teasing the dog, calling out to him to distract him from doing his job of being her legs. They’re even pulling his tail.
Bullying, according to stopbullying.gov is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” If knowledge is power, that imbalance can be leveled. Something needs to happen at that school to stop the bullying. Somehow, curiosity, questions, fears need to be addressed. Someone best start talking.