Values

A special needs fairy tale

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Last summer, I mowed a frog.

It was definitely not a fairy tale ending.

I know my frog confession doesn’t carry the emotional tug of, say, stepping on a duckling or backing over a puppy. Though I suppose it should.

Back to the event. I waited for that frog to clear, but it hopped away from the mower, became confused and hopped right back in front of my blade as I accelerated.

The truth is I’ve done this before, with a lot less afterthought. Frogs are expendable, I guess. I fed them to the class snake in fifth grade, dissected one in seventh. Imagine the uproar if we had torn apart puppies.

From a young age, I’ve been trained that frogs have lesser worth.

But frogs weren’t always frogs. They once were tadpoles, free and smooth and gilled. Tadpoles are rather graceful, swimming quick and easy in the lake. And then, it happens. They learn to walk and from the moment they are fixed to earth, we frown at their clumsy movements.

But not our youngest kids. Untrained to judge, they squeal and catch frogs in their muddy hands and find their jumpy awkwardness … delightful.

I don’t recall praying for a delightful child, though it strikes me now as a great request.

My prayers were simple. Father, give us a healthy baby. Not much else registered as important.

Well, my heart's been broken, and if you have a child with health conditions you know the sting. Though gifted with immeasurable worth, your child can feel surrounded by bubbles many parents are hesitant to let their children break through. It doesn't matter that your kid is kind or loving; others see their awkward struggle and don't know what to say or how to say it.

So, they say nothing; not a cruel nothing, just a loud nothing. And you watch with sadness, and not a little guilt, as this precious person walks quite alone on the earth.

I want to scream, "See my kid! I know there are things you don't understand, but don't walk away, or around; don't turn you heart, or your back. My kid will stand, never too far off, waiting, waving, hoping that your child will say hello.”

I don't, scream that is. Instead I watch, from inside my own bubble, and tell myself there are those who will find my child’s jumpy awkwardness delightful.

My child doesn't seem concerned. My child trusts and hopes and trusts some more, with a smile that lights up the room. Friends will come. Someone will see me. God won't leave me alone.

I prayed for my child's health. I didn't get it. I got a kid who finds joy in the middle of the struggle.

Maybe I got what I prayed for after all.

I saw a child with special needs at the park today. He was awkward and ridiculed and alone, though once I imagine he was quite graceful. I wish I could say that other families sent their small, cuddly ones over to include him, but not on this day. Perhaps the boy’s feelings were expendable as well. He was unpredictable - hopping all over the equipment - and I suppose that made people uncomfortable.

But a little girl, untrained to judge, showed up and that boy smiled, proving he not only was beautiful; he still is. And in that moment, there were no wanteds and no expendables; there were only humans. Perfectly, imperfect humans.

And the little girl became a queen. And the little boy became a prince. And if we just stop acting so grown up, maybe the fairy tales can come true.

Jonathan Friesen is an international storyteller and award-winning author of messy books for teens, including Unfolding (Blink/HarperCollins). His first young adult novel, Jerk, California, received the ALA Schneider Award. When he’s not writing, speaking at schools, or teaching, Jonathan loves to travel and hang out with his wife and three kids.

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