Today I visited my daughter Claire’s class to capitalize on yesterday’s, uh, eventful experience.
When I arrived this time, all the kids very calmly said, “Hi, Claire’s dad!” It was pretty clear the teacher had spoken to them after I left yesterday. As we gathered on the carpet, I confirmed this theory by asking them, “So, did you guys talk about me after I left yesterday?” I’m super subversive. They told me that they had all talked about how some people are born with one leg or NO legs or they can’t hear or see, things like that. At one point as we were identifying differences people might have, this little boy shouted, “MY BROTHER IS SEVEN!” “That IS different!” I said, trying not to laugh. He was so earnest and I loved that he identified a difference in his own family. The teacher asked if they remembered what she said about how we should react and this little boy says, “We’re not supposed to say things about other peoples’ dads.” Not quite what she was going for, but it made me laugh. I was overjoyed to hear that she had taken the initiative to talk to her students about the situation and teach them about accepting others.
They had some great questions for me, too, all of them revolving around the same theme: How do you…with one hand? Most of them didn’t even ask specifics, they just wondered how I did ANYTHING at all. I told them that I figure out how to do things just like they do. For instance, I brought a container with two racquet balls in it, so I showed them how I hold it to open it and then took the balls out. “Do you think I can juggle these?” I asked. “YES!” shouted Claire. She was excited about this part all morning. So, I juggled for them and they clapped as their jaws dropped. Pretty amazing stuff.
The other theme, which I find common among young kids, was that they just couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that I was born this way. I must have said it ten different ways, but they would still ask, “Yeah, but where is it?” The other funny thing was that they didn’t self-identify for the most part, they used other people in their examples. What I mean is that, instead of saying, “Oh, I was born with two hands,” they’d say, “My mom was born with two hands!” Just interesting. Only one of them tucked his arm in his shirt and said, “Look! I only have one arm, too!” He also happened to ask 85% of the questions. Creative little guy.
Oh, and remember the girl who screamed and freaked-out? She’s actually an adorable little girl. The first thing she said when she saw me was, “I love your shirt!” It was a white dress shirt. When I left, she came up to me and said, “I like your arm, Mr. Ryan.” I said thank you and told her how much I loved her shoes. They were glittery and sparkly and multi-colored AND they lit-up when she walked! It made me really happy to see such growth in her.
I didn’t end-up chasing after them while screaming and flailing my arms, but it felt like a successful visit nonetheless. They got to interact with me and see that I’m just a normal guy and they got to ask questions and express their own thoughts about people with differences. Claire basically just sat there the whole time, but her tummy hurt, so I think she was just taking it all in. She declined when I asked if she wanted to say anything else, but gave me a big hug and kiss when I left. I love that little girl.
And I love being given the opportunity to help shape the perspectives of little guys and girls. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.
Also, I need to learn some magic tricks.