My Kid Is 'That Kid' – And This Is What I Need From You

by Heather Birk
Courtesy of Heather Birk

My kid can be “that kid.” You know that kid. The one your kid has stories about when they come home from school. Today that kid climbed on a table, ran through the halls, and yelled at the teacher. Today that kid ran outside without permission and tried to leave school. Today it took two teachers to hold that kid so they wouldn’t destroy the classroom again. Today that kid said a bad word… actually, a lot of bad words.

While you’re listening to your kid tell yet another story about that kid, I need you to know what I’m doing with that kid.

I’m listening to that kid tell me (again) that they wish they were dead. I’m at home holding that kid in my lap so they don’t hurt themself while their younger sibling takes their even younger sibling into another room so they won’t be scared. I’m frantically calling every therapist within a 50-mile radius because that kid had yet another therapist leave the practice. I’m checking that kid into a psychiatric hospital for the fourth time in their short 10 years of life. I’m consoling that kid’s younger siblings as they say bye to one of their own, again, knowing they won’t get to visit and not knowing when they’ll be reunited.

I’m gathering my things at work and yelling to my coworkers that I have to go as I run out the door. I’m working a job where I’m underpaid and left feeling unfulfilled just so I can have the flexibility to leave when I need to. I’m driving 20 minutes to get to that kids school, my head racing with questions of what I’m going to walk into this time. Will they be inside or outside? Safe or injured? Will the police be there? Is this the last straw for them? Are they getting kicked out? I don’t sign that kid out when we leave. “Don’t worry about it,” they say. “We know that kid.”

Somewhere between trying to work and run a household, I’m bouncing between therapies and appointments, calling doctors for medication refills, filling out endless paperwork, communicating with the school on a daily basis and sitting through hours upon hours of meetings with people you didn’t even know worked there, trying to get that kid the support they need. At home, I’m trying to get that kid declared disabled so we can get more help, and when I get the letter stating that kid is, in fact, disabled, I turn into a mix of relief — because now I know I’m not just a bad mom — and grief — not for the child I have or the mourning of the loss of the family I envisioned, but for the obstacles that kid will face for the rest of their life.

I’m getting yelled at and cussed out on playgrounds by parents who are angry that that kid doesn’t behave the same way the other kids do. Lately, I’m sitting at home, wishing I could take that kid to a playground, but fear overwhelms me and we opt to stay home instead.

I’m trying to hold it together so I can be there for all of my kids. But there is no support when you have that kid. There are no babysitters for date nights, no play dates, no one checking in, and no one you feel comfortable calling.

On good days, I’m spending quality time with that kid. We’re having conversations about what they aspire to be as an adult and how they want to solve homelessness. They’re asking me if I can pack extra in their lunch because their classmate never has enough, or if they can give their extra coat to the kid who doesn’t have one. They’re beating me at chess, helping me with home improvement projects, listening to their favorite book series, and asking me all the questions that come to their mind with such eagerness to learn about everything, even if their school says they aren’t capable of learning. I’m getting my 20th hug for the day, and saying “I love you too.”

Before you decide what to do with your kids’ stories about that kid, I need you to know what I need.

I need you to tell your child, “It sounds like that kid is having a hard time. I hope that kid is getting the help they need.” I need you to teach your kid to be kind and inclusive, always. And I need you, too, to be kind and inclusive. I need you to cheer that kid on from the sidelines, even when that kid shoots at the wrong hoop, strikes out or fumbles the ball.

I need you to give me a reassuring smile at the park as I frantically herd three kids into the minivan. Because even though I know that kids signs to leave, I don’t always catch it. I’m only one person and I just can’t be everywhere. So often I feel like I’m failing, but your acknowledgement and reassurance can mean everything.

I need you to advocate for that kid. I need you to show up to school board meetings, write letters and make phone calls to legislators until our kids school gets the funding it needs for that kid to get the support they need. Because when all of our kids get the support they need, all of our kids succeed. And Lord knows I’m trying, but there are so many of them and only one of me.

I need you to remember me. I need you to include me in plans, even if most of the time I have to decline. I need you to text me to share something about your day so I can feel human again. I need you to call me so I can hear another adult’s voice, or stop by just to say hi. (I really need you to send me funny memes or stories from your day… I need to laugh more than I currently do.) I need you to ask how I’m doing, because as much as I want to reach out to you, I can’t. After a day of trying to find that kid help and then being that kid’s help, I don’t remember how to ask for help for myself.

I need you to know that that kid is my kid. The kid who didn’t just make me a mom but made me into the person I am today — who I love unconditionally and support wholeheartedly. I need you to know that I am not just trying, I am doing everything I can and oftentimes more than I can handle. “It takes a village,” as they say, and I need you to include us in your village.