Guest Post: Bryan Noel on Inclusion the Right Way
Inclusion is a word that is spoken often in our home and in our circle. It is something that we desire and value. We rejoice when our kiddos are included at school, church, and in our communities, but being included does not happen as often as it should. Just last week I read a blogpost by Heather Avis about what inclusion should look like for our kiddos. I also read a post from a friend whose son was not allowed to participate in a dance recital with the class he was in at dance camp. When we were on vacation, we experienced true inclusion, and our hearts will keep those moments and feelings in them forever. It was a gift. My awesome hubby is posting today since he was down there to witness all of it, while I put Gus to bed. (Then I snuck out on the balcony and took it all in)
It was the end of a busy day in one of our favorite places on earth; can you guess? Disney World, of course! Dex, our oldest, who does not eat sweets often had some magical Mickey Mouse ice cream. It must have been magical considering the price :).
We got back to the hotel and guess who is bouncing around the room like a wild animal? Yep, a five-year-old filled with magical ice cream. I swear he could have flown away with Peter Pan. With Gus, our youngest going to bed, I took Dex out to use up some of that magic.
Typically that involves me letting him run wild pacing close behind him, lightly but consistently redirecting him from danger. I want him to feel some freedom, but also want to keep him from falling off a cliff. I see him run so happily but also notice the faces of those who he passes. I can't help but study their reaction... even silent, the faces say it all. I guess I should not even pay attention; I should probably care as much as Dex, which is not at all. But I can't. I just can't.
I laced up my shoes and stepped out the room ready to enjoy a few hours of exciting play.
But this night was different. In fact, what happened this night has only occurred a few times in Dex's life. Which is so heart warming to see, but in all reality, sad it's a rare occasion.
In between our two hotel buildings was a large football field, it was the All- Star Sports Resort. It's Disney, so it was perfect. I knew Dex would love to run around, sit down and feel the texture of the turf, see the painted numbers on the sidelines. And my strategy was to keep him from seeing the pool. When he sees a swimming pool, he says, "swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming" you get the idea.
Often, when we play when other kids are around, I have to pay extra attention. My dad "don't mess with my kid" meter goes on high alert. Not that we have had a direct bullying experience, THANK GOD, but because Dex does not always play like those around him play. And those around him do not always know how to play with Dex.
Side note of transparency, this is one of the hardest things to see. My son in the midst of several kids but playing alone. Trying to keep up, trying to participate, but the kids around him play past him. It breaks my heart. I will always and genuinely love my kids for who they are, not my expectation of what they should be. Life has taught me that lesson. But every child needs great parents and great peers. We all do.
So back to why this night was so different. The second we stepped on the field, Dex noticed a ball. Dex is attracted to playing ball like my wife and I are attracted to tacos.
Dex runs for the ball, and I quickly prepare to redirect Dex just in case the boys did not want to play with Dex or didn't know how to. Dex ran up, and one of the boys reached out to hand him the ball not knowing what to expect considering Dex's wild approach and excited gibberish... Dex's favorite game with a ball, slap it out of someone's hands, and yes, that's what he did. Dex slapped the ball right out of the boy's hand. The world stood still as I waited for the older boy's response. I am good about letting things play out, I don't want to overprotect Dex from reality, but the kid's response would greatly dictate my response. If the boy looked at him like he was weird or stupid, or simply took the ball and started walking somewhere else to avoid playing with Dex, which is most common, I would have stepped in to redirect.
Not this time.
The older says, "Hahaha, this kid is SAVAGE."
He then looked at me and said, "Whats his name?" I told him Dex's name, he high-fived Dex, took him by the hand and said, "Let's play ball!"
I melted. Just melted into a puddle of joy.
To my surprise, it did not end there. The older kids played with my son for almost two hours perfectly. That’s 120 minutes! Every parent reading this knows that is like an eternity. Our life seems to be chopped up into 15-minute increments… but not this night.
Here are some incredible moments I was able to witness:
A fourth boy came in about 45 minutes after they were playing and the leader of the pack immediately said, “Don’t say anything about him or be too rough, or we will have a problem.” I was like, damn kid. What this boy did was make inclusion the cool thing to do instead of the charitable thing to do, or the thing not to do at all.
They all were holding him up on his their shoulders running down the field as if he won the winning touchdown.
They were teaching him how to kick. They were perfectly firm with him grabbing his foot saying, "kick it, kick it”. When all Dex wanted to do was grab it with his hands, they were patient. When he learned to kick, they celebrated. When he continued to reach for the ball, they did not push him too hard or talk down to him for not getting it right away.
Towards the end of the night, Dex got excited and had a little potty accident. I could not believe how perfect the boys were. They just guided him to me and said, I think he had an accident. They didn’t scream gross, point and laugh, run or any of that. They just modestly brought him to me and told me.
We said our goodbyes.
Honestly, I don’t know why these kids were so amazing. They didn’t say they had a sister or brother with special needs or anything. They said nothing. They just played with Dex flawlessly. I tried to see if their parents were around and thank them but never had the chance. Maybe they were little pre-teen angels; I don’t know.
I felt like they had more emotional intelligence than I did. It was a great lesson, a great example, and most of all; it was a great two hours for my Dex.