To Cleveland and Back

It was probably 15 years ago, maybe longer. I was pushing Noah in his wheelchair into our church. We were members there, recent converts, both Noah and me. And our daughter, Tasha, a foster kid that we adopted, had her First Communion there, too. People knew us and we were comfortable with the wheelchair and how to maneuver to take Noah to the altar for communion.

One Sunday, as we trundled to our usual pew, right inside the door, eight rows back from the front we passed a kid and he made a gesture with his arm, crooking up his wrist and pulling it close to his face. He made a grimace, stretching out his mouth at the same time. I knew immediately what he was doing—he was making mocking my child. Noah had Cerebral Palsy and the gestures that the boy made were clearly Noah’s. I flushed with anger as we sat down. I helped Noah take off his jacket, crossed myself, sat in the pew smoldering.

“He made fun of my son, that little punk,” I thought. Within a minute or so, I popped up from my seat and tapped him on the shoulder.

“If you ever, ever make fun of my son, again, I’ll kick your ass from here to Cleveland and back,” I whispered in his ear.

He looked surprised and slid toward his mother. I’m not sure if it was the threat of ass-kicking or the geography that caught his attention.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said.

“Yes you did, and I saw it. You made fun of his hands and his face.”

He looked at his lap.

“Don’t ever, even think of doing that to Noah again. Or I will kick your ass.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled. His mother looked over, only slightly alarmed.

I returned to the pew.

“What happened mom?” Tasha asked, she had missed the whole thing.

“Oh, that kid up there was making fun of Noah.”

“What did you say?”

“I just told him to stop it.”

Tears formed in her eyes. “He made fun of Noah, that’s mean,” she said.

“I know. But it’s over, don’t worry about it.”

Fast forward to the present. Tasha is 22 and Noah has been dead for almost 11 years. But there are some things that stick. Tasha, who can’t seem to remember much, due to her cognitive impairment, clearly remembered the mocking incident.

“Will dad take me to vote this year?” she asked.

“It depends on who you’re voting for,” I teased.

“Hillary Clinton,” she said without hesitation.

“Donald Trump makes fun of people with disabilities, like Noah,” she said. “I saw him on TV, doing just what that kid did at church. That just makes me so mad. Making fun of people like Noah, is wrong. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.”

Mocking people with disabilities is something that most of us stopped doing in elementary school. But, not President-elect Trump. He mocked a disabled reporter with sound and gesture—and he was caught on camera for us to see over and again. It’s an image that makes us squirm because we know it’s immature, cruel and unfair. How can any adult, especially a parent do such a thing?

She voted on November 8 and proudly told me about the experience.

“Noah would be happy to know you voted for Hillary,” I surmised.

I called her at her group home the morning after the election to talk about the results. I read about other parents in my social media feed, struggling to tell their kids the news and thought she might need some reassurance.

“Hey, it’s me. Did you hear about the election?”

“I know, Mom. I got up first thing this morning and the staff told me Donald Trump won. I’m very sad today. Why did he win? Don’t they know that he makes fun of people like Noah, people with disabilities? He’s a bully.”

I don’t have a good answer for her as to why he won, not an answer she’ll understand. I don’t fully understand why so many people stand with, voted for and now defend someone who says and does the things he does. No one escapes his bitter and cruel remarks—not women, not Muslims, not Mexicans, veterans or people with disabilities. Is he like this because his moral compass is askew? Or perhaps no adult bothered to teach him right from wrong during his privileged childhood. Or worse, there wasn’t a caring mother around to offer to kick his ass to Cleveland and back.