Rooting for the Underdog

Jill Robbins essays

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I watch my kids when they’re eating, sleeping, playing, and bickering. I watch them when they’re not doing anything at all. This crazy train called parenthood moves way faster than I’d like. I know I’m going to blink and it will be 10, 20 years from now.  

I watch my boys and wonder what kind of men they will one day be. Will they be successful? Will they be happy? Of course I want only wonderful things for my little dudes, but if I could reach into the future there’s something I’d wish for them above anything else, compassion.  

I tend to notice what’s absent, like how my husband hasn’t helped out with the housework when the sink is full of dirty dishes. But seriously, compassion matters most when it’s lacking.

One of my boys was born with a hand deformity. I really hate the word deformity, but that’s the word I have. Cosmetically speaking, he looks a little different but practically speaking? I say stuff like “get off that” and “put that down” about a bazillion times a day, so limitations? I’m thinking no. We refer to this miracle appendage as Zack’s “little hand,” because that’s what it is.  

We’ve had a couple of less-than-compassionate playground moments recently. Zack’s hand is different. No getting around that and I get that kids are curious or weirded-out at first. Most of the time they just want to know what happened and if Zack’s hand hurts (it doesn’t.)

Our standard issue explanations are “he was made this way,” “it doesn’t hurt”, and “he does the same things as you.” Ninety-nine percent of the time, that suffices. Things on the playground roll on.

But, there’s that one percent of kids that are really just little assholes. Kids that use words like creepy and ugly to describe my kid’s body. Kids that hang from the monkey bars using every ounce of their lung power to announce that something is different about my kid to whoever might be listening within a five-mile radius.  

My kid’s anatomy is a little unique. I get that. He’ll have to find a way to deal with the curiosity and the barbs in a way he’s comfortable with. But the stares, the rudeness and some of the not-so-nice things people have said have reinforced my commitment to teaching compassion and empathy at an early age. Teaching that differences are to be celebrated and sometimes, are really just no biggie.

I want my kids to grow up rooting for the underdog. I want them to become sensitive (yes, I said sensitive) and insightful men that realize their words and actions impact the people around them.  We talk about differences and I try to teach acceptance and kindness. Maybe I place so much stock in these traits because their absence hits me hard sometimes. Seeing my kid get picked on hurts.

Different is okay. I’m not usually one to hand out unsolicited parenting advice, but people, teach your small humans to look beyond differences and teach the concept of walking in someone else’s shoes. I wonder often about what kind of men my boys will be. Sure, I wish them success and happiness but above all I want my boys to have the kind of compassion that blooms from empathy.  

Simply defined, sometimes compassion equates to just not being a jerk. Zack is the one who may bear the brunt of other people’s rudeness. I’m just a bystander. But, I learn a lot from him and the sunny grace in which he handles everyday situations.

Sometimes, I think I learn more from my children than I’ll ever, ever teach them. Funny how things come full circle like that.


About the Author

Jill Robbins

Jill Robbins writes about adoption, motherhood and midlife on her blog, . She has a degree in social psychology that she uses to try and make sense out of the behavior of her husband and three children but it hasn't really helped so far. Her work has been featured on The Washington Post, Babble, Blunt Moms, In the Powder Room, The Huffington Post and others. You can also find her in the December '14 print issue of Mamalode. Hang out with Jill on and .

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