My husband and I intentionally chose to raise our family in the Utopian bubble of Davis, because people here are generally good and write Nextdoor posts about rescuing an injured bird in the street, or offering to help an elderly woman by installing a ramp up to her front door. There is a lot of ugliness in the world, especially lately, and being in a community that cares makes the intangible list of parenting responsibilities feel a little less daunting. No pressure parents, but the abstract concepts are the ones that shape their insides—like encouraging them to be inclusive of others, where compassion is always the answer, to use language that is caring, and above all, we are responsible for raising kind humans.
When June arrived from China, our best friend’s daughter with Down Syndrome, despite being a former special education teacher, I still wasn’t sure I’d explain correctly how June having an extra chromosome caused her to struggle with language and so when I asked Allie her recommendation, she suggested to just let the kids be kids together and they will approach us with questions or observations independently. This is exactly how their relationship transpired and they shared a perfect moment together where June blew bubbles and my girls giggled as they popped them. In the car on the way home, Maddie shared, “We love June. She can’t talk, but she blew bubbles so big!” Children don’t need words since they can speak together in the universal language of bubbles.
I don’t always do it right and neither do my girls. One time at Farmers Market my daughters were dancing near a gentlemen with special needs and he was moving his arms around wildly. They laughed and tried to approach him. I immediately intervened and his elderly mother stopped me and thanked me for stepping in. I apologized on my daughters’ behalf and told her, they weren’t trying to be mean spirited, I believed they wanted to dance with him, but the music was loud and they had already moved on to another activity. I promised this woman that I would speak with them later about the importance of being kind and she thanked me genuinely and squeezed my hand. From a mother to a mother, we were both doing our very best.
A parent reached out to me from our former preschool that her foster daughter, we will call her Suzy, requested my daughter’s presence to celebrate her birthday with swimming, pizza, and cupcakes at their home. My girls had spoke of her often, coming home to tell me that Suzy didn’t really talk, like June, but she played on the monkey bars with them and they were envious of her gold teeth.
After the girl’s swam they went upstairs to play together in Suzy’s room, where later Charlotte explained that she needed us to paint her room rainbow and we should get real bunkbeds and I learned a little more about Suzy’s past. When she was placed in their home, she was nonverbal and recovering from significant trauma. Since being in their home for almost 6 months her language has increased exponentially and her happiness radiates from head to toe. I marveled at the goodness of this family. Her foster mother had clearly rehearsed the process of the birthday song, asking her thoughtful questions like what happens when I bring out the cupcakes? Her birth son and daughter chimed in and expressed the importance of Suzy making a wish before she blew out the candles. Just before Suzy did, her foster mom kissed her sweetly on the top of the head. The magnitude of this moment was not lost on me; that my girls and I, besides their family, were the only ones chosen to celebrate Suzy on her day. To be surrounded by so much love and beauty of the human spirit it filled me with such gratitude, I felt like I was basking in the warmth of the sun.
There is no lesson plan for teaching tenderness and often times we will get it wrong—the important part is that we don’t ignore these opportunities, but rather make them teachable. We won’t always have the words and neither will they, but thankfully none are needed to exchange laughter and kindness.