Today at Target, in the check out line, there was a young girl, maybe 12 behind us in line. She was with her mom, and she was in a wheel chair. She appeared to have some form of Cerebral Palsy. I immediately noticed that she had on bright yellow Crocs, just as Ryan does.
I looked at Ryan, and pointed to the girl's feet and said, "Look Ryan, she has yellow Crocs just like you! She has good taste in shoes!" The girl laughed. I asked if yellow was her favorite color. She said, "Yes! Is it his?" Ryan said, a bit shyly, with a little encouragement, "Yeah, I like yellow, too." Zach then piped up, not to be outdone and started saying "Hiiii-eeee, hiiiii-eeee, hiiiiiiii-eeeeeeeeeeeee!" The girl laughed again, showing her beautiful smile. She said, "He's cute." It was clear speech is something she struggles with, but she was completely understood. I said, "Thanks!" And we finished paying for our items. We turned to say goodbye before we left.
Seeing as I had two small kids, and more items than they did, by the time they were leaving we were still getting situated. We said goodbye again, and the mother, quietly, sidled up to me and said, "Thank you for talking to her like she's a normal kid. Because, well, that's what she is." I was a bit caught off guard and said the only thing that came to mind, "Of course!" And they left. Mom and daughter left, chatting together as they headed out the door. I watched them sadly, thinking that if the mother went out of her way to thank me, that someone treating her daughter "like a normal kid" must be a fairly rare occurrence.
Ryan asked me what the mom had said. I explained that sometimes, because the girl was in a wheel chair, that some people might treat her differently and that the mom was thanking us for being kind and treating her like the normal kid that she is. Ryan said, "Why was she in a wheel chair?" (We've talked previously about why people use wheel chairs). I said, "Well, maybe she was born with an illness that made it so that her legs don't work so well. So, a wheel chair allows her to get around and go to all the places she would like to go." He said, "Oh, it helps her move around, like the people that use the special carts at the grocery store." And I said, "Yes exactly." He said, "Can she walk at all?" And I said, "I don't know. Maybe she can a little. But it probably makes her really tired, if her legs don't work quite right, so, when she's in a store its easier to use a wheel chair." Ryan said, "I wish I could ride in a wheel chair." And I said, "Maybe one day you'll have a friend who has a wheel chair and they will take you for a ride." And we headed out the door as well.
I hope more and more encounters like this, with other normal children, will teach my children to always be kind, caring, friendly, and casual with everyone, even if they do look a little different, talk a little different, use a wheelchair/braces/a walker, or act a little different. We're all just people, going through this world, looking for love, and hoping to find it in as many places as we can. If my children learn nothing from me, other than the goal of spreading love, kindness, and compassion as far and wide as we can, then, well, my job is done.