Is Perception Reality?

7 minutes

I still remember the happiest day of my life. It had come 7 years after being an only child on a humid July afternoon. I walked out of my 2nd grade class feeling extremely important and grown up (it was only the second or third week of school and I felt terribly older than the little 1st graders), and headed for the school gate looking for my automan. Imagine my surprise when I saw my Dad at the gate beaming at me. His face was pink (from the heat, mostly) but glowing with joy. My heart picked up a bit when I realized what that meant- my little brother or sister had finally arrived!

I ran to him and into his arms where he asked me if I would like to meet my baby brother. As if he had to ask! Of course I did! We made our way to the hospital. Once in the ward, I noticed the nurses moving frantically and speaking in hushed tones. I brushed it off as being someone else’s problem. Before going inside, my Dad pulled me aside and told me that no matter what I saw, I had to stay smiling for my Mum and the baby. I agreed (why on earth would I do anything but smile?).

My little brother was born with a cleft lip and palate. (This happens when the developing fetus is exposed to secondary smoke, i.e., if the mother is a passive smoker. At the time of his conception, my Mum had been working at a place where most of her co-workers smoked. She hadn’t known she was pregnant for around a month and that was all it took.)

My brother after surgery. He stood strong in the hardest time of his life.
It was hard at first, he had to undergo (and still has to undergo) surgical corrections to help correct the defect and this came with all the other problems that newborns bring home with their adorable smiles. We pulled through and everything went well for a while. We grew and in that time, welcomed another into the family. The three of us grew very close and soon enough, the little ones had to head off to school.
We didn’t understand why he started coming back home angry or sad all the time and he wouldn’t talk about it, neither would my youngest brother. It got worrisome when he broke things at home or lashed out verbally for no reason. We tried speaking to his teachers, but they said that he was a perfect gentleman in class, we tried sending him to a counselor, but he wouldn’t talk. Things stayed this way for a while.
One day, my Mum got a call from a concerned parent who complained that my youngest brother had broken his daughter’s nose in the van on the way home. We finally got the truth out of him. It turned out that people had been bullying my brother in school because he looked different, calling him names based on the shape of his nose and the scars left behind by his surgery. He was always a quiet child and he didn’t fight back, which made my youngest brother step in as he believed he was “protecting” him. We were horrified. All this time, these two boys were braving it out when they didn’t have to.
Initially, we took steps like speaking about it with class teachers and some parents. We even took it up with the principal, but things didn’t get better. We were told, “Teachers can’t be everywhere at every time. He has to learn to stand up for himself”. My question was; why should he need to? Why can’t we teach our children that you can’t choose what you look like irrespective of what the media feeds us? That’s the biggest cliché in the world, that you should never judge a book by its cover, is true?
This anger built up inside me as I watched him struggle with his identity, his birth defect and his inability to study at the level that everyone else did. I felt powerless as I watched him grow sadder as each day passed. A child of 8 didn’t deserve such unhappiness. We gave all the support we could give, but it wasn’t enough. He needed to be accepted by his peers and we didn’t know how to make that happen. It was after one particularly bad fight in school that he came home and sobbing, told me that he wanted to die and he was thinking of killing himself.
It was then that I told my parents about what he was going through and they decided that maybe a change of school would benefit him. A fresh start would probably help him put his rocky start in school behind him. And how! We shifted him from the ICSE syllabus to the IGCSE one, which has less academic pressure and more breathing room in terms of how fast a child needs to learn. The change in his behavior was phenomenal. He cheered up dramatically in the first few weeks and within a month he had put behind the trauma of his first school experience. It was amazing to see how a little love and support could bring so much happiness into someone’s life. Would it actually hurt us to be kinder to the people around us? Of course it wouldn’t! Think of how beautiful the world would be only if  we considered the struggles the people in our lives are going through before making a decision to treat them a certain way.
As for my baby brother, he went back to being a quiet, but happy child and he would come home and share stories of all the things he did in school with his friends. He loved his new school and after a few years, I asked him how he felt about what had happened in his first school. He looked at me and simply said, “They were kids. They didn’t know how it would hurt me. They were probably playing.” He wouldn’t trade his second chance in for the world, but this young boy taught me so much about being gracious and forgiving and how beautiful it is to let go of those that have hurt you. He taught me that no matter what obstacles you face, there’s always room for a second chance.


Athaliah your special friend from YourDOST team. She is a Masters in Applied Psychology from Montfort college. She specializes in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about helping people in any way that she can and believes that through YourDOST, she can reach out to more people than she would ordinarily be able to help.