Friday, August 31, 2007

a lesson in tolerance

Last year, at this time, my middle child started her first year in kindergarten. She met a really good friend who happened to have a twin brother who was missing his right hand and forearm. Most impish little boys you've ever met. Fun, funny, bright and adorable.

Now, the first time I saw a teacher walking around with a small spare arm under her arm, I have to say, I was a little taken aback. She didn't seem the type to go pulling off little kids' arms, but I was pretty sure there was a kid who belonged to that arm. I eventually spotted him, and was reassured that it wasn't a fresh wound. He just really had no use for his prosthetic arm -- I think it slowed him down.

My daughter met the brother with both arms first, and thought he was the coolest kid. But then, about a week or so into school, she'd found a favorite girl, Hannah, who she ran around the playground with and chased boys. Here's the part where my heart fell into my sneakers.

"Me and Hannah think that Ethan is a robot," she says while we're walking home from school.

"Why do you think Ethan is a robot?"

"Oh, because he only has one arm and his eyeballs are two different colors. We don't chase him because we think he'll turn us into robots." She was dead serious, and I wanted to cry.

"Baby, no, he's a real boy, he's Jonathan's brother, just like you have brothers, and he laughs and cries and feels sad and mad, just like everyone else. He is most definitely not a robot."

"Well, I know he's Jonathan's brother, but we still think he's a robot. I think his eyes change colors and shoot lasers."

I tried, in vain, the whole way home to convince her that he's a regular boy. I finally quit, resolving to take it up later. I did, at bedtime, when I asked her if she would just smile at him. She promised that she would try. I brought it to the attention of her teacher, so that she would make sure and stop my daughter if she even started to act ugly toward him. She assured me that she would take care of it.

She decided about a month into school that he wasn't a robot, thankfully, but that she still didn't want to play with him. That was okay with me - I can't force her to be friends with anybody.

Fast forward one year, this first week of first grade. She told me tonight that she chased both Ethan and Jonathan, and that Ethan even touched her with his arm that didn't have a hand. She said, with a shrug of her shoulders, "it felt kind of, well, normal!"

I told her it most certainly was normal. And my heart breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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