As part of our human nature, we desire nothing more than to feel confident and accepted by others. It’s no surprise then how common it is for parents to seek advice on how to help their children learn to interact with children who are different than they are, as they’re wanting their children to fit in and to also accept others. The truth of the matter is: it’s usually the adults who have grown into beliefs about themselves, the world, and those around them who need to be reminded of what they once knew. Funny isn’t it, how children are born with innate acceptance and ability to love and treat others with kindness, but as they grow, can tend to forget?
In the Bible, book of Mathew, Jesus teaches, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” “Except ye… become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” So, what is it then that we can learn from the children in our lives? These simple, yet profound truths are best portrayed by jumping into a day in the life of third grader, Parker Canter.
Mom gently carries Parker from his bed to his dual-shower-and-toileting chair for bowel care. It’s not an ideal alarm clock, but with neurogenic bowels and a cecostomy tube, he’s become accustomed to the routine. There he sits for one hour while the regime works its way through his growing body. Meanwhile, he takes daily medication, wakes up his hands with exercises prescribed by his Occupational Therapist, performs self-catheterization – emptying his bladder, brushes teeth, and then, if he’s caught up on schoolwork, gets much-anticipated iPad time. The timer goes off and the shower goes on, then washing, drying, dressing, including a TLSO (Thoracic Lumbosacral Orthosis) and AFO’s (Ankle Foot Orthoses) and transferring to his wheelchair. At nine-years-old Parker is gaining ground on mastering these tasks independently, but still requires much patience and assistance. As he struggles to don his socks, braces, and shoes he’s feeling frustrated – it’s only 7 am and he’s already exerted nearly a full day’s worth of effort. In the doorway appears his three-year-old sister Millie, dragging her blankie and rubbing her sleepy eyes. “You can do it Pawka. Do you want me to tuwn on a song fow you?” Then the chores are completed happily as they simultaneously sing favorite upbeat tunes.
We drive across town to the local children’s hospital for a scheduled appointment. Mom’s encouraging Parker to drink lots of water so the nurses can find his veins easier and hopefully he’ll only need one “poke” to get an IV (intravenous) catheter for his bone infusion. He checks in and heads to the elevator. Once on the second floor, he greets the phlebotomist who will stick his arm for a blood sample to check his labs. The nurses are so gentle as they search his arms for the perfect vein. Despite their thorough pursuit, it takes multiple attempts to locate a good spot. The infusion is finally ready, and the wait begins. To pass the time Mom plays a video message from an out-of-state friend, sharing her efforts to encourage her fourth-grade daughter Riley, who is lacking the motivation to go to school today. Parker is concerned and asks to send a message in return, telling his long-distance friend that she’s loved and that she can do hard things! Riley responds with a message asking why he’s at the hospital and making sure he is fine. After a few back-and-forth messages between the kids, they’re soon laughing and sharing jokes. Parker’s infusion is complete, and goodbyes are said as they both happily prepare to leave for school.
At the elementary school, Mom is standing at the front office desk signing Parker in, and he spies Nelly down the hall working with the Physical Therapist. Off he goes, wheeling full speed to greet her! The ear-to-ear grin across her face emulates joy to the core as her friend approaches. She pauses and frowns as she notices and points to the bandage on his forearm, trying with all her might to formulate words. Parker knows Nelly has difficulty speaking and without words understands her concern and responds. “I just came from the doctor, Nelly,” he says. “I’m okay. It doesn’t hurt anymore!” Parker sees she has been working on propelling her own wheelchair with her frail arms and asks with excitement, “Let’s race to the corner?!” Both faces light up with smiles as off they go! Parker pretends to go as fast as he can, cheering on his competitor, all the while moving much slower than full capacity, until Nelly reaches the finish line just ahead of Parker. “You did it!” They reach across both their wheels to give a sideways hug before heading back to their classes.
Afternoon recess and a dozen third graders are in the middle of a game of football on the playground field. Parker watches Jaren who shares one of his football gloves with Troy during the game. Jaren always seems to be watching out for others. The game ends and, as they walk to get in line for class, he notices Jaren’s gloves are gone and asks, “Did you forget your gloves?” Casually, Jaren replies, “No, I gave them to Troy. He really wanted some, but since he lives in a group home and doesn’t have a family, he probably won’t ever be able to get some. I can do chores at home for a few weeks to earn money for another pair.” Jaren and Parker look at each other and share a smile as they walk back into the school.
At the drop-off for choir rehearsal and as the carpool kids all hop out of the vehicle, Parker waits for his chair and someone to transfer him. Mom turns from unloading the wheelchair, and Parker is right in front of her in the arms of his friend, 10-year-old Elodie. “I’m really strong and knew I could lift him, so when he said he needed help I picked him up!” Smoothly she sets him in his wheelchair, he buckles, and off they go with the older girls shouting back almost in unison, “Don’t worry! We’ll all stay together and watch out for each other. See you after, at parent pickup!”
While sitting on the sidelines waiting for his older brother’s football game to start, Rhett, an older boy from school, runs over and starts playing catch with Parker. The coach from a team warming up on the neighboring field approaches asking Parker when he’s going to come run a touchdown for his team. “I’m ready now coach!” Parker exclaims. “Well, then come on over!” Excitedly, Rhett doesn’t miss a beat and, noticing Parker working overtime to propel his wheelchair in the grassy field, jumps in to help him. When the coach announces that it’s Parker’s turn to go in for a play, Mom’s eyes well with tears as she witnesses a replay of a race earlier in the day, except this time it’s all the players on the opposing flag football team, eleven 9-and-10-year-olds, all running much slower than full capacity, diving and pretending to try and catch Parker, who with one arm on the ball, the other in the air with fist up in a number one as his teammates “block” for him and Rhett pushes his friend’s wheelchair into the endzone for a touchdown!
While loading the trunk of the car to leave the football fields, Mom sees Rhett across the parking lot and runs over thanking him for being such a good friend. Rhett responds, “Are you kidding me? The pleasure was all mine. It was my privilege helping Parker score a touchdown tonight.”
Do you see it?
Despite the hardships in their own lives or the sacrifices required, these children saw beyond themselves and made efforts to lift. This is one ordinary day and touches on only a small number of children, but the message is clear. Life certainly isn’t always kindness, roses, and cupcakes – of course, there are hard moments, and children who are hurting, in turn, say and do hurtful things. However, the most usual response I have witnessed between children who live with a variety of differences is love. Do you want to know the most effective way to help your kids understand how to interact with children who have disabilities, are from differing ethnicities, family backgrounds, socio-economic classes, or any other number of differences? Love them. Love them fiercely and endeavor in all you do to demonstrate that love to others and encourage them to do likewise. Love, above all, will propel your children and future generations to be inclusive and accepting humans. Love always prevails!