The new school year is officially underway. Students have begun to settle in to their everyday routines, learned to navigate through the school building, and have become accustomed to the familiar faces around them. This also means that at the end of each day parents are gearing up to ask the ever famous question “What did you do in school today?”
As a mother to a first grader and preschool student, I find that I also eagerly engage my two children in this question and answer ritual on a daily basis. My daughter typically replies with greatly detailed responses of her school day happenings. I listen attentively as she relays that she was able to sit next to Dawson at lunchtime because her sandwich was peanut free or how she misplaced her Frozen water bottle and thought that the world was coming to an end or that her class earned the privilege of pajama day tomorrow because they displayed excellent behavior. I have learned in just a short while that first graders do not miss a thing and really pay attention to the world around them.
One particular afternoon when my daughter had given me the complete synopsis of who was absent, how to say “fire” in Spanish, and her new list of spelling words, she became quiet as if she had something on her mind. Her face looked concerned and upset. She took sometime thinking and then exclaimed “Mom, there are these kids in my school who can’t walk or talk. They sit in wheel chairs all day and sometimes make funny noises. Are they hurt? Will they be fine?” As a speech therapist in a school setting, I knew of the group of children for which she spoke. Children who have multiple disabilities. I explained to her that these boys and girls were just like her. They live at home with their parents, brother, and sisters. They have pets, go on vacations, and celebrate holidays. Essentially, they were loved just as much by their family as she is by hers. I explained that there is nothing wrong with them, just that they have difficulty doing things that most kids her age are able to do. They are children whose parents wished longingly and lovingly to have in their family. They are children.
My daughter listened attentively. She was satisfied with my response and was relieved to know that these boys and girls were not hurt; just unable to speak or walk. She grasped that although they could not respond to her, they still may be able to understand her. A kind gesture of a smile or wave would make their day just as it would for her. I encouraged her to say “hi” to these students when she passed them in the hallway. This new knowledge and understanding that she had would create peace for her and a way to educate her peers when the time arose.
About a week later, my daughter hopped into the car, beaming with pride. She exclaimed “Mom, I have something to tell you!” I wondered if she had been the line leader today or done well on her spelling test. Instead, she informed me that she walked over to a little girl in the multiple disabilities classroom and said “hello!” My daughter went on to tell me that she was so nervous that the little girl would be afraid of her, but instead her new friend showed excitement. A classmate of hers had witnessed this interaction and told my daughter “those kids are weird.” With great passion and pride my daughter replied “No, they are not weird. Their Mom and Dad prayed for them to be alive just like your parents did!”
We can all learn a little something about what happens to each of us everyday. Whether it be the epic game of tag at recess or the kind act imparted upon another human being, we can all learn from each other as long as we’re willing to love and listen.