the boy in the bandana

May 20th, 2014

02_blue_bandanaAt some point in this long, troubling year, I started pulling up into the school driveway to pick up my daughter after school, ending a two-year banishment to the street a block away, where my instructions were to sit in the car don’t get out don’t wave don’t talk just wait for me. What changed? Her various complaints and entreaties, the weeks on crutches, a friend’s betrayal, her math teacher’s dismissal, the weight of her backpack, the heat, the stress fracture in her left navicular, or maybe just the compounded angst of an emotional eighth-grader and her overwrought mother.

Most days found me idling in line with the parents who arrive twenty minutes early for the 2:30 bell. That’s when I started to see them, the special kids.

The special kids get out of school ten minutes early to board the special bus before the crush of the four hundred others. At first, I was reluctant to look, really look at them, seeing the slow-moving pack of kids and attendants only as a sign of my daughter’s imminent appearance. But I did start to see them and even knew them in a way. I knew who would be talking to themselves, head nodding, arms waving, running ahead or lingering behind, and who would be tugged by the hand or nudged roughly ahead with each shuffling step.

Every day I saw the boy with the bandana. I began, in fact, to look for him. He never missed. He was short, at least a foot shorter than either the girls or the boys so that he looked like a young child with a broad forehead, drooping mouth and thick glasses. His back was hunched and both feet turned out by forty-five degrees. He pulled a wheeled backpack behind him, and with a rolling totter on the inner edge of his shoes, he passed out of sight.

The bandana tied around his neck looked sporty, I thought, and he was always smiling. I wanted to believe that he was always smiling, that he was happy and proud, with friends and classmates, toting a backpack full of books and a sense of belonging. Then one day I realized what the bandana, gathered under his chin like a mop, must be for. It wasn’t sport. I saw him for real then, and I thought about his parents. Chastened, I wondered why the hell I thought I had any problems.

School will be over next week. My daughter and I will leave all of this year’s worry and stress behind. She will have a fresh start and new friends. Both of us are ready for that. But there is someone I will never be able to say goodbye to, the one I’ve never even said hello to, the boy in the bandana, being shoved to the bus and leaving me behind with nothing to wipe the tears.



  1. Been through that myself. It’s a hard lesson and very immediate. Experienced this both as teacher,mother and correctional officer. It was always hard.

    Comment by Buddhacrone — May 20, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

  2. Same experience; same results. My parents taught me not to look at people who were “retarded” or handicapped. It is only after practice as an adult that I realized that they wanted to be seen as much as I needed to see them. I still make an effort, knowing we’re all damaged; all perfect.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    Comment by Danny Parker — May 20, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

  3. There is always so much for which to be grateful. Today I’m grateful for this.

    Comment by Sergio — May 21, 2014 @ 5:47 am

  4. I just finished watching your Paradise in Plain Sight video and in it you said that “when we see our life, we bring it to life. When we don’t see our life, it is lifeless. “. Perhaps this is what you experienced here, the lielessness of not seeing this boy for what was really in front of you. Your perception was lifeless. When you saw him, -really- saw him, life rushed in and you saw his truth. The truth is beautiful, and heartbreaking. When we see it we see our own life and our own place within it.

    Today I am grateful that you saw his truth, and that it did indeed break your heart.


    Comment by Stephanie — May 21, 2014 @ 6:14 am

  5. Yes, we have a boy at school, Maiky, he greets me every morning, waves, shakes my hand. I am enough for him just the way I am, and he is just perfect for me as well.

    Comment by Simone — May 21, 2014 @ 8:34 am

  6. Beautiful, moving, thank you.

    Comment by Elliot — May 21, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

  7. This makes me ache. I want to take that boy by the hand and focus all my love and attention on him, for at least a moment. You did that in a way…I am glad for that.

    Comment by Clare — May 21, 2014 @ 8:50 pm

  8. Please remember these children (and their parents) don’t need your pity, just your unjudging love.

    Comment by Karen — May 22, 2014 @ 11:36 pm

  9. Thank you for noticing and sharing. It reminds us to notice too.

    Comment by Christine — May 23, 2014 @ 3:59 am

  10. Pity or scorn, pity or scorn. All we can do is examine ourselves, Karen, and be kind.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 23, 2014 @ 5:53 am

  11. May be missing something. Bandana: was it covering a trach? I can relate to this in many ways. As you know, Karen, our Hannah is a special needs child. She is fed through a tube and breathes through a trach. She can do nothing more than interact with us through her eyes. We’re in the hospital right now, faced with medical mystery. All at once, I wish I could cause things to be so different for her, and I am also recognize she is perfect as she is. I not only accept her, I accept my own variances. I do wish she could tell me where it hurts so I could help, but it is thus, and it is enough.

    Comment by Donn King — May 23, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

  12. My step grandson was born with many health issues to two doctors. The initial shock and eventual acceptance are now 20+ years behind them. He is a happy, active young man, finding joy in each small thing. Recently he met with my daughter’s children, 2 years and 12 weeks old. They bonded immediately and as he left he hugged the 2 year old. Such love, such joy.

    Comment by Jude Smith — July 4, 2014 @ 6:08 am

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