“My kids and I play the ‘highs and lows game’ on our drive home from school.” We tell each other about our day’s high (the nicest part) and down (something they would change). Karington, my 12-year-old, told me that her high was superior to all others. This one made me cry uncontrollably.
‘Mommy, I made a teacher weep today,’ she began her narrative. I’m not sure why my initial reaction was negative. I shouldn’t have doubted her in the first place. This is how the remainder of her storey went…
‘In my art class, there’s a boy with Tourette’s syndrome who makes everyone laugh because he performs strange things.’ He tumbled on the ground today — that’s one of his habits. I looked around and noticed that everyone was laughing at him, so I approached him and sat down with him. The students had stopped laughing. A replacement teacher (who also happened to be the boy’s mother) passed by the open door when she noticed me resting there with her kid; she had seen everything. She walked into the art studio, tears streaming down her face, thanked me, and hugged me as I’d never been hugged before! Mommy, this hug was even tighter than Aunt Jenna’s! She continued complimenting me on how sweet I was and thanking me over and over.’
A lump in my throat took the place of my voice. Tears welled up in my eyes, which I pinched shut so I could see the road ahead. I was unable to answer. I couldn’t find the perfect words to express how ecstatic I was. She glanced at me, saw the ugly tears streaming down my face, and knew something was wrong. I didn’t need to say anything.
There isn’t a single thing my child could do to make me prouder – nothing! Not honour roll, incredible talent, star athletic status, or anything else we consider extraordinary. Nothing beats standing up for what’s right and demonstrating compassion and empathy for others.
If you’re a mother of a special-needs child, I want to reassure you that there are kind people who fight for what’s right.
Parents, I strongly advise you to talk to your children about their differences. Talk to them about autism, Tourette’s syndrome, racism, and other topics. Tell about a time in third grade when you were bullied and how it made you feel. Compassion and empathy are not learned traits, as I have taught first grade for 16 years. They must be openly taught and modelled.
Empathy is the ability to see through the eyes of another person. Listening through the eyes of someone else. And experiencing with another’s heart.”
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