September 18, 2008

Us and Them

During our travels across this big country and in to different states across the U.S.A., I've witnessed my son interact with people from many different walks of life. Old, young and in between; different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to people who look and sound just like us. (If you met my mom or dad, you'd know what I mean. I couldn't give my mom away if I tried. I'm her clone.)

In the two short years since Lucian has come into this world, he has seen more places than I've seen in all my life before my late twenties. I love the fact that my husband and I can provide for these experiences and it gives me great joy to know I can share these memories with him in the future too. (If only I could stick to writing about it more!)

I have a fond memory of us all riding the T in Boston on the evening of the Fourth of July. It was a very busy night as you can imagine. The trains were very full and people were crammed in wherever they could find standing room. Even though Lucian can walk, his little legs get tired very easily, especially in a big city like Boston, so we transported him in an umbrella stroller. That night on the train there were several other families with the same compact umbrellas. One group of people that stood out in my mind in particular was a Hindi family who all dressed in their beautiful and colorful garments. They had a little daughter that looked to be around Lucian's age and she was sitting across from Lucian in her own umbrella stroller.

It was such a delight to watch my son engage in a conversation of "baby talk" with this little girl. There was something so awesome about the way they were talking to each other in their strollers and it made everyone around them smile. It was great entertainment to watch as we all traveled to our destinations all cramped together in a confined space. There was something so pleasing about the way we as parents smiled at each other while watching our children play so happily together.

It was the Universal Language of Parenting.

Our son with his bright blond hair and his fair skin was dressed in denim jean shorts and a red T-shirt with a red, white and blue flag. He was wearing his blue, plastic knock-off Crocs on his feet and his silver bracelet on his wrist. (He never takes it off. It was his Daddy's when he was Lucian's age so it's a family heirloom. People always ask about it.) The little Hindi girl was dressed in a beautiful, bright pink sarong. I think I remember she also wore some type of jewelry and a bindi on her little forehead. The pink color really complimented her dark skin. She was just a most beautiful little girl.

This is a very colorful memory for me. Not just because of the difference in skin color or ethnicity, but the way the children interacted with each other. It was a beautiful moment that I was glad to be a part of. It was very fitting for the evening of the Fourth of July.

It was an American moment.

Yesterday Lucian and I walked to the local park just a few blocks from our home. I love taking him to the park to play. I really enjoy watching him explore and climb. My heart melts when I watch him interact with people and he seems to be a magnet for affection and smiles wherever we go. What I really love most is witnessing the innocent, unprejudiced, unbiased view that this little boy has for his surroundings and I can only hope he stays this way for a long, long time.

Is forever too much to ask?

Yesterday I got to share another colorful moment with my son because the people were different from us, but in a special way. Some of them were mentally disabled and some were both physically challenged as well. There were two different groups each with a set of caregivers. They looked to be having a really good time at the park. The caregivers were trying to take their pictures and get them to smile. All of that struggle seemed to get a whole lot easier as soon as Lucian arrived.

There was one woman in particular who was very affected by Lucian. She was a frail and elderly African American woman and it appeared she has some mild form of Parkinson's Disease. She squealed with delight while reaching out her finger in a desperate attempt to touch my little boy. I didn't think she would try to harm him so I didn't get really defensive about the situation. I know from experience that sometimes mentally and physically disabled people have the potential to maybe squeeze too hard or lash out unexpectedly unaware of their strength so I stayed close, but just observed. Two caregivers were within hands' reach and I trusted them to know their consumers well and to react appropriately.

Lucian was a little cautious at first but very friendly and he slowly approached the woman and reached his hand out to touch her. She then became afraid and shied away from him and then it became a sort of game as he would walk away then she would pine for him to come closer. Other people in the group also came over to see what all the fuss was about. The women in the group especially were curious about this little boy joining their group. They all love babies and children no matter how far off the charts they might be with their mental abilities. One woman complimented me on how cute my son was. She repeated several of the words in her sentence over and over with lots of stammering but of course I could understand what she was saying and I thanked her for the compliment. Another woman kept saying Momma while rocking back and forth and an Aide was positively acknowledging her for her correct observation. "Yes, that's right, that's the little boy's Momma."

At the time we were there, it was just the groups of consumers (a term borrowed from my sister-in-law who is a caregiver for people who have disabilities.) and their Aides. There were no other children and parents like Lucian and I.

It was just us and them.

The word 'them' seemed to weigh so heavy on me each time I said it or thought it. I was at a bit of a loss as to how to communicate to my son about who these people were and what was different about 'them.'

One of the groups started gathering in a line to leave. There were some in wheelchairs and walkers and some walking with a limp or assistance to follow instructions for exiting the park. It started to look like a parade and when Lucian noticed this, he got right in line with them and began to follow along. The people in the line were waving goodbye to him and I instructed Lucian to wave too. "I said, go ahead, they're saying goodbye now, wave to them."

In his cute little toddler voice he squeaked out "Buh bye! buh bye! Sthee you sthoon! Sthee you sthoon!" (He has a bit of a lisp right now since he's still working on that sound.)

It was then that I realized that 'they' weren't really a 'them' anyhow. I didn't need to really explain anything about the people at the park. It made no difference to my little boy what kind of person someone is whether they are black, white, brown, purple, green or yellow — whether they can form complete sentences in a language we can understand or if they have only one leg or shake all over. It doesn't matter if the person is his age or older than dirt — as my grandmother would say. My little boy doesn't see skin color, age, mental or physical ability.

He just sees people.

If they smile and want to talk to him, he reciprocates that back.

It's the Universal Language of Kindness — one of the many lessons we can learn from children.

1 comment:

  1. Melissa,

    I enjoyed your story! It reminds me of growing up with my two uncles. One fell from his high chair at about a year of age and fractured his skull. Due to the primitive care he received, his brain was severely damaged. The other uncle received a brain injury at birth.

    These two uncles were, in many ways, a gift to our family. Thirty seven nieces and nephews grew up knowing two wonderful men with many special challenges. We all learned that mentally handicapped people are not someone to fear, we learned how to interact and work with them and we learned, most of all to love and accept them.



Thanks for your comment! I really appreciate your thoughts.