There we were; caught in a bathroom filled with people who didn’t look like us. In that moment, I’d wished I had a secret door that lead to the quickest exit. I wanted to leave as fast as possible before my curious little girl blurted out the inappropriate question I knew she was thinking. Unfortunately, there was no quick exit and there was no escaping the moment. She said it. She said it loud and clear. In my mind, I cringed. I failed. I did not do my job sooner. I had to think on my feet quickly so I could turn this super awkward moment into a life lesson that would last a lifetime.
It was a beautiful spring morning and we had just loaded all of our camping gear up from a fun-filled family weekend at the bluegrass festival that we attend annually. On our way home, we always stop at Cracker Barrel to fill up our bellies and truth be told, work off the lingering hangover. My daughter and I headed to the restroom, first, to take care of some business and of course wash our hands before our meal. It wasn’t long before we were greeted by a large group of special needs adults and kids. Immediately, my daughter’s eyes widened and she began staring at these people with a look of bewilderment. “Mama, why do these people look so weird,” she said. Now, in this sticky situation, it’s so easy to muffle your child and default to distraction. I could have said, I don’t know, let’s just wash your hands and go sit at the table. I could have desperately tried to avoid the uncomfortable situation, but I didn’t. I faced it head on. I quickly I wrapped my arms around one of those special needs friends and said, “because God makes us all unique, so our world can be a vibrant place.”
When my daughter saw me embrace this person that did not look like us, the awkwardness of the moment seemed to dissipate. Her feelings of discomfort were put at ease when I chose to treat this person like I would any other human being. The caretaker of these people also seemed relieved that I did not avoid the scenario. Instead, she too was comforted that I addressed the situation and taught my daughter to accept these people despite their differences. It was in this instant that a very valuable life lesson was learned by both me and my daughter.
Life lessons from this moment
It’s easy to focus on the here and now, and what’s going on in your immediate family, but what about those instances where the unexpected should arise. What about that moment when you are trapped in the bathroom with nothing but DIFFERENT and CURIOUS standing in the way? The world is filled with differences, and it is our job as parents to bring light to those differences. A good friend of mine shared a quote with me that reads, “ignorance breeds fear.” Because I had not talked with my daughter about special needs people and the differences that may be apparent, I feared the inevitable when her inquisitive little mind and her unfiltered tongue tangoed and she blurted out something that stung. Had I just talked with my daughter about how we all have imperfections, but regardless of our outward appearance, God loves us equally; this entire situation could have been avoided.
That beautiful spring morning, my little lady learned that we are all human. People that may look different on the outside still have the same feelings we feel on the inside. Their disability doesn’t define them as a human being. While it may take one with special needs longer to wash their hands, or their speech may sound different than ours, the warm feeling a hug still brings about genuine feelings of love the same as it does you and me.
A year has passed and I was walking my daughter home from school and she said, “Mommy, you know God’s special people? Well, there is a little girl at my school who has special needs and my friends were all looking at her at lunch today as she was standing in the lunch line. I got up and gave her a big hug and she smiled really big and hugged me too.” I asked my daughter how that made her feel. With a big grin on her face, she told me that it made her day.
My heart was overjoyed to hear this story from my baby girl. It was such a proud moment for me. I realized that my daughter not only understands that God created this world with all kinds of differences, but she is accepting of them. I encourage mom’s everywhere to talk with your children about how God creates everyone uniquely different. When in a situation surrounded by things that may be out of the ordinary for your child, be the role model you want your son or daughter to mirror. The best reflection is one that is accepting and inclusive of all God’s creations….even creations that are made uniquely special.
For more information on how to talk with your children about special needs, visit http://www.chicagoparent.com/magazines/chicago-parent/2013-august/back-to-school/special-needs