Lessons from First Graders
One of my biggest fears about being a mother with Friedreich’s Ataxia is my kids experiencing ridicule or bullying because of me. I want my kids to be strong, kind and compassionate, but I know that kids can be mean. Right now, I’m just “mom” to my kids. They don’t seem to notice or mind that I use a walker and can’t do things other parents do… yet. I know the day will come and we will need to have tough conversations, and I pray daily for grace and wisdom to navigate those talks.
I was sharing these fears with a mentor of mine, Julie. She was an elementary school teacher at one time, and she shared a beautiful story:
Julie was teaching first grade (6-7-year old’s) She had a student and for the sake of his privacy, let’s call him John. John was in a wheelchair because he was paralyzed from the waist down.
Julie decided not to make a big deal about John to the class. She didn’t want to draw extra attention to John or alienate him. She treated him just like everyone else.
As you know, the school year starts in September. All month, Julie was prepared to talk to the class about John and deal with any discord in the class. September came and went… as did October, November and December – and never a word about John being in a wheelchair.
His wheelchair was a part of their every day. He participated in circle-time, went to recess, and did everything the other students in his class did. Julie even incorporated his wheelchair into the class’s weekly jobs. (Most preschool and early elementary classes assign jobs to their student like line leader, light helper, lunch helper, weather helper, etc.) Julie made “wheelchair pusher” one of the weekly jobs.
Yet no student ever said a word about the wheelchair. In January, the moment finally came. A parent was dropping her daughter off. She asked Julie who John was. Julie said that he was a classmate of her daughter, and asked why she was asking. The mom said that her daughter said, “John has a tall desk.” Julie was shocked. She said, “Did she mention that he has a tall desk because he’s in a wheelchair?” And the mom said, “No, she was just telling me random things about her day and mentioned that ‘John had a tall desk.’”
About a month later, a student raised their hands during circle time and plainly asked, “why is John in a wheelchair?” Julie asked John if he wanted to answer and he simply said, “because my legs don’t work.” The class just accepted this information and moved on.
It never became an issue the whole year. They incorporated John in everything and he was just like every other student.
This story gives me such hope. His classmates didn’t see a wheelchair – they just saw their friend John who “had a tall desk.” Kids can be so kind and accepting if we just let them. I hope and pray that my kids are like that, and that their friends and classmates are, too. #CureFA