We are Playing Wheelchair

Modeling works. Period. Lisa Friedman via Removing the Stumbling Block

Like most parents, I have a lot of funny stories about my kids. I also have things I’d like to brag about, some frustrating stories, a few sad stories and a handful of stories about those “aha” moments. But every once and a while, there is a story that is the complete and seamless merge of your parenting and your professional life.  This is mine.

First, a little background. My husband and I have really close friends that we have known since high school.  They fall into that special category of “lifelong friends”, so of course our children have become friends. Their son is 13, our son is 12 and our daughter is 9. They have been playing together all their lives. None of them can remember a time when the others weren’t a part of their lives. Oh, and their son has Cerebral Palsy and uses both a wheelchair and a communication device.

So one weekend when my kids were five and three, we all got together for dinner.  It was unremarkable in that we went to their house, the kids played, and we parents schmoozed.  Two days later I was in my kitchen making dinner when I looked up see my son pushing my daughter around our hallway at top speed in her small stuffed Princess chair.  Immediately worried for their safety, I called out for them to stop and asked what they were doing.  My son’s response?  “Mommy, we are playing wheelchair!”

In that moment a two things happened:
  1. I cried.  Real tears.  The joyous ones.
  2. I quickly closed the basement door so they would not topple down a flight of stairs and told them to go back to playing.
Since then I have reflected on this experience a great deal and I have told the story to anyone who will listen.  I'm so proud that my kids have the gift of this friend in their lives.  And I am so glad that they recall this story as fondly as I do.  It is a hallmark for me as both a parent and a Jewish Special Educator.  It brought together all that I had already known, all that I believe and all that I strive to teach.

Lesson #1:
Modeling works. Period. It is totally and completely possible to teach children that disabilities are a normal part of life. That wheelchair is not our friend’s son. It’s just a way for him to get around.

Lesson #2:
Children innately know how to overlook the things that make adults uncomfortable.  Adults bring complicated emotions to their interactions; children bring a natural sense of joy and wonder.  Of course my children wanted to have a wheelchair, they are big and shiny.

Lesson #3:
Every child is a precious gift from God.  Each of us is created B’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God). 

It really is that simple.  

This piece has also been shared on The New Normal Blog through the NY Jewish Week.
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