A Mother's Plea for Help - Helping Your Child Cope with Pain

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Fulton Poppe

Fulton Poppe

Editor’s note: We continue to pray as a CatholicMom.com family for the recuperation of precious little Fulton Poppe, for Cassandra, and for the entire Poppe family. LMH

“Sha-RIEEEEEEEEK!”

The child’s piercing scream rattled every parent in the McDonald’s Playroom and all eyes turned toward the damsel in distress.  There, within the plastic maze of tubes and slides, was a little girl, perhaps 4 or 5 years old, her back plastered against the clear plexiglass ball that gently swayed over our heads.  The shrieks continued.  Something was blocking her way.  Something  monstrous.  Terrifying.

Lord help me, it was my son.

Fulton stood at the mouth of the bubble, just looking at the poor girl, completely confused.

Her mother coaxed the girl past my son and through the tubes until she was safely in her arms.  “Mommy! His face is so scary!” she sobbed.

And that was the end of the fun at McDonalds for two poor souls that day:  for the little girl, and for me.

Fast forward a few weeks later when again Fulton was playing, but this time it was at Burger King.  He has always been a bit frightened of slides, but on this day, a huge milestone was reached.  He went down the swirly slide all by himself!  But somewhere along the way, his hat fell off.  After many hugs and kisses, I sent him back up to find his hat which we keep on because he still has many wounds that are thickly bandaged on his scalp.  Much to my relief, another child found it and handed it to him.  We both thanked him and Fulton went back up to conquer the slide once again.

All of a sudden, that familiar sinking feeling pulled my heart down to my stomach.  Fulton was crying.  I could not see where he was, but I heard his little voice, completely distraught.  “Give me my hat back!”  he cried.  “That’s not nice!”  More sniffling.  “Give me my hat!”

I walked to the maze and called to the invisible foe, “Could you please give him his hat back?”

Silence.

“Fulton, do you have your hat?”

“No,” he whimpered.

So I said a little firmer this time, hoping the child’s mother would hear, “Give him his hat back.  He needs it!”

Soon, but not soon enough, he slid down the slide and into my arms.  Fun over.  I strapped him into his carseat, trying sum up what had just happen in the most simplest of terms.  “That boy did not do a very nice thing, huh.”

Fulton sighed and shook his head.

“His guardian angel was very sad.  But I am so proud of you, “ I continued.  “You were very brave to tell him to give it back.  And you did not get into a fight.  That’s my big boy!”  I said as cheerfully and I could, and kissed the top of his precious little head.

Fulton is a fighter at heart, and recovered quickly.  I, on the other hand, have still not recovered from this, and I think a part of me never will.  The two episodes made me realize that no matter how normal Fulton is to us, he will never be normal to the rest of the world.

How does a child deal with the social pressures as he grows?  According to the therapist at the hospital, he is progressing extraordinarily well emotionally, and for that I am thankful.  But as we bring him out into the world more and more, I wonder what more I can do for him?  We have our basic lines rehearsed.  “I was burned but God is fixing it.  My daddy saved me!”  Most times, children accept this simple answer  and everyone plays together.  But other times, such as the times I have described above, things do not turn out so well.

I want him to have confidence enough to know he can stand up for himself one day, but I also want him to know he can come to me for protection.

How much do you intervene when other children cause trouble?

Do we practice many different responses to possible questions he could get or do we keep it short and sweet?

How honest shall we be with a 4-year-old boy to prepare him for a lifelong pain of trying to get people to see beyond the scars?

It is enough to make a mother cry.  And so I write this article, looking for tips and words of wisdom from other parents whose children do not fall under the ‘normal’ category.  How do you help your children cope?  What, I plead, is a mother to do?

Copyright 2013 Cassandra Poppe

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23 Comments

  1. Oh Cassandra… I always have Fulton and your family in my prayers since I heard of the accident. I will especially add you and other Mom’s in similar situations. Fulton sounds amazing in the situation on the slide. As I was reading it, I thought “I thought he was little” but his command of the situation in telling the boy to give the hat back was very mature.

    I don’t have any answers for you, but I will pray for you all!

  2. The Church has something for Fulton – it’s called redemptive suffering. I think even as a child, they can understand it in simple terms. Tell him “when you’re sad, when your heart hurts, tell Jesus to take that hurt and make something good for someone else. Jesus did that. He had boo-boos, and he still has them even now in heaven. He made things good for everyone in the world, and you can, too.”

    Praying for you and for sweet little Fulton.

  3. Cassandra, I feel your sorrow for yourprecious son!
    I have a daughter with Down syndrome and the last time she was at McDonald’s play scape, the other children, her classmates at school, played “monster” and she was “it”. She smiled and played along, not realizing the full implications. At least they were playing with her. Usually she is ignored because she doesn’t speak and has odd mannerisms. Of course, she looks different too, and we have faced rejection more times than I want to remember.
    I wish I had an answer for you, but I am still seeking answers for my daughter. Just know that you are not alone in your suffering, Our Lady watched her Son being rejected, mocked and killed, and certainly cries with us. Cling to Our Lady and she will lead you to the answers you seek.

  4. The only advice I can give … formally offer your son to Mary in exchange for her son and whenever you feel overwhelmed or are not sure you are protecting him too much …or not enough …remind yourself you gave him the perfect mother and she will help you.

  5. Cassandra,
    My heart breaks for you and Fulton! I have a 7 year old son with Down Syndrome and so far he has not been rejected/made fun of/bullied very much as many in our small town know us and him and they have been very kind to us. However, I know it hurts because I have witnessed him being called ugly by a boy about age 5 or 6 who was behaving very brat-like. While my heart broke and my Mama Bear instincts kicked in, after I calmed down a little, I could very clearly see that my son had the better lot in life. He will always be a pure soul and ready for heaven, while this other boy and any others who will be unkind to him in the future, will have a much harder time attaining heaven. So try to fix your eyes on heaven and remember that your son must have a very high degree of glory set for him if he suffers in union with Jesus during his life. Try to be like Mary at the foot of the cross, she will always be very close to you, another suffering Mama. I will pray for you, your family and your dear Fulton.

  6. I don’t know if this will help, but I thought I’d suggest it anyway…

    I’ve heard of similar cases where a child was handicapped in some way, and when they were in a school setting, the teacher would explain about how each child has unique characteristics, etc., etc. Of course, not knowing Fulton, I don’t know if he’s old enough, but I thought I would at least mention it. I hope your loving example, and others’ suggestions will help. God bless you and Fulton!

  7. My kids have disabilities and they said, “We’ll be his friends.” My older daughter has faced some of this because she has a lot of scars in her eyes due to her disabilities. She offered to be a pen pal to Fulton. Having some may help. Sometimes addressing the situations directly helps. If the other parents aren’t decent enough or knowledgeable enough to address and correct their kids, then I would in many circumstances. Some kids will say, “what’s wrong with her eyes” or “why does he use that stick” or “why is she acting that way” (that one usually for my younger girl with autism). I keep the answers simple and straight forward and address kids and parents. I say, for example, “Nothing is wrong with her. She just had eye operations and does not see well. The cane helps her find things her eyes doesn’t see well.” Some parents don’t know what to say and some apologize if kids ask questions. Being straight forward helps most times. It is hurtful though. I know. God bless.

  8. I think the best thing you can do for him is what you are already doing. Giving him that strong Catholic faith. Giving him the courage to stand up for himself & being that source of unconditional love & support, but, know that you cannot control every situation & you can’t protect him from everything. You are teaching him now how to deal.

    Also take some comfort on knowing that little kiddos have no tact. They haven’t learned social graces so they can be brutal. As Fulton gets older older kids will in my experience have more empathy & forethought to be more respectful of his differences.

  9. You have a beautiful little boy there – I have been praying for him and for you. Life can be cruel but God will reward those who stay faithful as you and Fulton have. Thank you for reminding us all of how important it is to help one another. Fulton is so special.

  10. I love this picture of Fulton. His spirit shines through his scars and my first thought was how beautiful he is. You must be wonderful parents.
    While some are more visible than others, we all know that everyone has scars and wounds. We cant pass through this life without them. The boy who took his hat surely needs prayer to overcome his fears and to communicate better. You seemed to handle things so well even though your heart was breaking.
    I know that when we feel hurt it helps to be with people who have shared the same sufferings. Are there support groups for children in his circumstance. Can he start one. ( a club/playgroup for kids who are still recovering where they can form lasting friendships and bonds and parents can as well) Can the hospital refer you to a child psychologist who may be familiar with typical reactions of children who cant cope with seeing other children hurt. Being able to better understand why they react may lesson the possibility of Fulton taking peer reactions personally as well as arm or empower with comebacks….He did an awesome job of sticking up for himself. I am praying for you. God’s grace is surely with you.
    I know the prayers of many will see you through and that staying close to our Lady will be your and his strength. God Bless you and yours.

  11. My son is autistic, and mentally and physically slow, and is in a daycare with “typical” kids for the first time this summer. They think he is weird. but I have had some luck by asking the other kids for help – especially the girls. last week I heard a girl grossing out that he puts things in his mouth (he didn’t understand that the pretend “dirt pie” was just dirt!). So I asked her and her friends to keep an eye on him and teach him how to play those games. It seems to be working. Although he doesn’t have a traditional friendship with the kids, they are loving on him and including him – like an annoying little brother.

  12. Hi! My oldest is also a Fulton and we pray for your beautiful family daily. I think while your son is young, it is best to keep explanations simple for him. I am so sorry he has this cross to bear, but many people (especially children) will be curious. I think you are probably doing fine with him simply explaining he was hurt. Unfortunately, some people will be cruel (ignorant parents as well as children). At this point, removing him from those people is probably the best option. As he gets older, he can learn to deal with them in his own way, but the important thing at this point is to ensure that he has family and friends in his life treating him as a normal human being so that when someone treats him as extraordinary, he will have the confidence he needs to handle the situation. This is still fairly new for you, but i am sure from what you have written that you are doing a fine job. Do not let ignorant and wrong-headed people make you question that. The problem is theirs, not yours and not Fulton’s.

  13. You handled it beautifully. When you feel inadequate, ask Mary for help. When you have a great day, thank the Lord. When you have a rotten day, thank the Lord.

    I can’t believe his face: how absolutely *beautiful*! The spark and love in his eyes is right there. I know you know all of this, but I wanted to say it anyway. Cuz I loves ya.

    I’m sorry this happened; my heart just hurts for you. (((hugs)))

  14. Christina Heitzenraters on

    Dearest Cassandra,
    I can only imagine how hard this is for you. I have a daughter who is autistic and mentally ill. People can’t see her scars, they can only see her behavior. Children are by nature very verbal and perceptive and (depending on age and upbringing) may not even realize that they are damaging your precious boy. My Margaret was being torn apart at school by the lack of acceptance of the other children. No one wants to sit by the kid that talks to themselves and will probably take their cookie. One girl was even telling the others to stay away or they might catch what she has. Margaret will not be going back to that school, but there is a level of damage already done. I believe that in both of their cases it is very important to have a good friend. A tender child that can see the laughter shining through his amazing blue eyes. I also very firmly believe that if someone offends your child a charitable, but firm reproach is necessary, both for your son and the other person. He needs to know that you are strong and are not afraid to protect him no matter what.
    Prayers for you all

  15. Exactly what you are doing! You see everything so clearly with your discernment and feel everything so purely with your heart and in the end that is what your little one will need forever and would have needed regardless of circumstance.
    Today there are so many young ones who’s parents are totally oblivious to the need for a child to be shielded and protected and built up, but not too high that it turns them away from all and they fall into the shell of aloneness. Today bullying (hate that word) is present in every age group, a result of our culture I suppose. A little girl in our drama class was picked on mercelessly at school, her parents finally moved and threatened to sue. Another little girl refuses any food at school because she is made fun of becasue of her weight, she is only eight. Every age is threatened in some way to conform or be deformed. But you homeschool, you have God and your children, one day, as my 23 year old just stated about why she is glad she never went away to one of those ‘camps’, will be gratefull for not participating in the hordes of nonsense that is happening regardless of the presence of adults. God bless you and yours!

  16. Susan Howard on

    Cassandra,

    Your family has been in our prayers. I have a suggestion that may help. When this kind of rejection happens, pray with Fulton for the child who is rejecting him. Remind Fulton that we all have disabilities and injuries – some of them are visible like Fulton’s scars, but others are invisible…some people carry hurts inside them and they lash out at others seeking relief. Maybe Fulton can relate by thinking of those times he lashed out at you, or a nurse, when he had to have his wounds scrubbed, for example. The truth is that these reactions really have nothing to do with Fulton, but with the weaknesses of others – especially as he gets older. You will also, though, be exposed to children who do have compassionate hearts, and make a special effort to accept Fulton. When my son was in the early elementary grades, the entire class rallied around one severely developmentally disabled boy. They all took him into their circle, protected him, loved on him, entertained him. There is compassionate out in the world as well as cruelty. Keep that hope alive. Blessings.

  17. For me, I always bring things back to the truth of God’s Word. I tell them. his Word, after all, cuts deeper than a two edged sword and is REAL, which is what they need. So, what do we know? You are perfectly and wonderfully made. Like Esther, He has allowed you to be the way you are for such a time as this. God has a plan and a purpose for your life. He is faithful and just to complete it. We know that He suffered for us and that He died for our tears. You have known some of His suffering, so all of that must mean that you are very special to Him, and have a very special and great purpose.

    Then I might pray with them, for their hurt feelings, for the offending party that God would use this circumstance as an opportunity to work out things that need to be worked out in their heart – and thank God He was able to use you for that purpose – and that He would use this circumstance to continue to grow them to a have that great and wonderful purpose achieved in their life. This, I have found, acknowledges their pain, affirms what the other person did was wrong, acknowledges that God in them is bigger than this, and helps them to even be thankful that God has given them an opportunity to do something great (almost like a super-hero, no?).

    I hope that helps.

  18. Hi there! My name is Jen Greenstreet and a friend forwarded this link to me and asked that I let you know about our film for kids who have been burned. At Just Like You films, we collaborated with Children’s Mercy Hospital to create a short film to help spread the knowledge about burn injuries so kids can better understand and accept that some kids are different but we are all different in our own ways and they are still just kids…just like them.

    Here is the link to Just Like You – Burns, http://youtu.be/kL4HFeI5FoY. This film has been used all over the world by parents, health care providers, teachers etc. to help kids to welcome child burn survivors into their peer groups. We also created a film for caregivers of child burn survivors, Just Like You – I Care for a Child Burn Survivor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-InVJQm0vE

    Hope these films can help you and sweet Fulton in some small way.

    Jen Greenstreet

    • Thank you so much! I finally remembered to check these out (I plead temporary forgetfulness!) What a fabulous project! I will be posting some burn awareness information from time to time on my blog and I will certainly include these links. what a blessing this must be to so many people.

      Cassandra

  19. I think some kids might ask, “what happened?” in that innocent way kids do. As a family, we’ve been praying for Fulton since we first heard of the accident. When they saw his picture without knowing who he was, my kids simply asked, “What happened to him?” I reminded them of our prayers for Fulton and that he got burned. My 5 year old still didn’t quite understand but my 7 year old said how sorry she was he got burned. Kids have a kind of blunt honesty and I don’t think there is any animosity intended when they ask something like that. Of course there are also times when kids aren’t being innocent and are simply being mean.

    Aside from homeschooling, I don’t think any of my kids would fall outside what you call “normal,” but I’m trying to think what I might try to say to my almost 4 year old if it were her. I think I’d tell her something about how there are are nice people in the world and not nice people. And it can hurt when we meet people who aren’t nice. Just because someone says something, doesn’t mean it is true and it is important to do your best to not let those people get to you. If someone had a problem with you, that is their problem and it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. You are a wonderful, amazing person and if a friend is worth having, they will realize that. Your family and friends are ALWAYS here for you and together we can pray for more good friends and that God helps the people who are not nice become nice.

    As far as answers to questions kids might ask, I would keep it short and simple. I wouldn’t think Fulton would want to dwell on it greatly with people he is getting to know and it would deter any people who are not actually interested in being friends but just being nosy.

    I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, and I realize he has no idea who I am, but I think he looks absolutely precious. I have 5 girls and no boys (yet) but I’d love to have him over for a playdate if he could handle that many girls. He seems like an absolute sweetheart. 🙂

  20. Hello! For someone who was burned not that long ago Fulton looks great! I see that same twinkle in his eyes he had before his accident. Does he or will he be wearing Jobst Garments? Unfortunatley,especially regarding the child who took Fulton’s hat, there will always be that type of child out there. The child who sees the weakness or difference in another child and makes fun or picks on them. That child’s parent, whether they realize it or not, picks out others’ differences and weaknesses and that is what their child has learned. God has a plan. I have no doubt that God has great plans for your beautiful, sweet Fulton! We will keep and your family in our prayers! God bless you.

  21. I’m praying a rosary for Fulton! My son is 3.5, but he would love to be a video pal with Fulton! As for the other kids, I would be as direct as possible, especially if their parents aren’t paying attention to what is going on. I think at this age he mostly needs to know mama has his back…. Which you definitely already do!!!

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