Several months ago, Patrick and I took the kids to the park. It was just a normal day and normal outing until we had a chance encounter with another parent and her son. Patrick was with Sloane on the swings and I was with Finn on a slide. Nearby, a little boy was playing with a remote control monster truck. Finn could hear the truck and asked me what it was. I explained that there was a little boy near him who had a truck that could move around the park if the little boy pushed buttons on a remote control. Finn asked if he could feel it. Not wanting to bother the other child, I said we’d explore one together soon. The little boy’s mother heard this exchange and came over to encourage her son to share and let Finn see his truck. The little boy used his remote to drive the truck closer to us, not knowing that Finn needed to actually hold the truck to “see” it. I brought Finn closer to the truck and to the boy, and then crouched down to their level. I said, “hi, this is my son Finn. What’s your name?” The little boy answered, “Thomas.” I proceeded. “Hi Thomas, Finn would love to see your monster truck, but his eyes are a bit different from yours so he needs to use his hands to see the truck if that’s ok with you?” Thomas said, “but my eyes can see the truck.” I replied, “I know and that’s so cool. For Finn, he uses his hands or his ears to explore things the same way you might do with your eyes.” I could tell the child was a little confused, but he reluctantly handed Finn both the remote and the truck. His mom who was standing within earshot rushed over in that moment. She excitedly said, “Thomas! How cool is this?! You get to meet a real life super hero today!! One just like we have read about at home. Remember how we talked about how all children and people are different and how cool that is?” Immediately her son got as excited as she was to meet and interact with my son. The little boys played for a while and Finn laughed every time the buttons he pushed made the truck move. I was fighting back tears of joy and Patrick was doing the same as he heard the whole exchange.
I was astonished by this mom — astonished by her quick and perfect response; astonished that she not only knew what to say in that moment, but that she was reinforcing it at home. This is not the typical response as much as I wish it were. We left the park and loaded the kids in the car. Patrick ran back over to the mother and thanked her. He thanked her for doing her part to make our son feel special in a way that means “cool” and not “outsider” or suggests pity; for helping her son learn to do the same with all the Finns he encounters along the way; and for making us, as parents of a child with a disability feel a little less worried about his future interactions in the world. She, of course, replied in a way that indicated this was a natural response and no big deal, but for us it was enormous.
Be this parent. She is my super hero.
After this encounter I started thinking a lot about the concept of super heroes. I loved that my son got to feel special for just being who he is and was born to be in that moment at the park. Yet, I think every child, disabled or not, should get to feel this way. All of our children are little super heroes. They all have their own unique characteristics that make them special. Our job as parents is to help them feel proud of those differences, but even more importantly, to recognize and celebrate the differences in other children. That is the key. If we are not only accepting but excited by the differences in others, our kids will be too.
And yes, we left the park and immediately drove to the store to get Finn his own monster truck. Every time I see him playing with it, I think of Thomas and his mom, a real life super hero.