It is a picture perfect day in Northern Virginia. Sixty six degrees on a what is supposed to be a chilly February day.
“Mama, we have to go to the park,” my little one says and runs out the door with his sandals on.
I run after him, yelling at him to stop. Oh, these kids, I think, do they not realize how hard it is to chase after them.
We drive to a nearby park. I have visited this park for over ten years now: first with my older son and now with the little one. Both boys find wonder in the monkey bars, giggle on the swings, run after the fire flies, and chase the evening sun.
I run after my preschooler as he climbs up the slide and slides down the ladder, all the while laughing and screaming out to me. “Mama, catch me if you can, come on, Mama.” Mama tries, huffing and puffing.
I take out my iPhone to take a picture him on the playground.
The camera catches what my eyes missed.
On the corner of the playground is a young boy in a wheelchair.
I walk up to him. He cannot move any part of his body. As far as I can tell, he can barely move his head.
I see him staring at the kids running in the park.
His nanny sits across from him on a slide, just sits there and watches him.
I wonder if he understands. I wonder what he sees. What he takes in. I sit down and just look at him. I realize I am staring. It feels cruel to me, to leave this child on the playground to watch the other kids, when he cannot move.
I watch him as he sits there. His eyes are active, so alive. They follow the little kids as they run, they watch the nanny as she sits there smiling at him, and I know he sees me, watching him, sending gentle prayers his way. I know he can feel it. At least, I hope he can.
“Why are you crying, Mama?” my kiddo comes running to me and wipes my tears.
He turns to see the little boy on the chair and waves to him.
“Do you think he wants to play with me?”
“I am sure he does but maybe another time.”
“Yes, next time.”
My son’s reaction makes me smile. Yes, next time we will play with him.. in some way, shape or form. Kids dont set up boundaries or limitations. They find a way… always.
As we walk away, I turn to look at the beautiful little boy in the chair.
I think I am wrong.
It is not cruel to have him here. Not cruel. Just really sad.
Kids find joy where adults find logic and reason to be miserable. I learn from children all the time.
He is breathing in the fresh air, he is listening to the laughter reverberating on the playground. I am sure his heart is open to all the joy around him.
In the deep part of my heart, where peace dwells, this I feel: As the young dark eyes looked at me, perhaps they sensed a tired mother and sent happy wishes my way too.
My little tornado begins to run towards the car. I run behind him. My steps seem lighter. I find myself smiling.
It is a picture perfect day in Northern Virginia.
Beautifully written, Monica. I need say nothing more.
Thank you. I appreciate your kind comment..
No you’ve made me cry. Well done, Monica.
That means a lot coming from you. THANK YOU.
Definitely made me tear up but I can see the reason behind it. I love how your little boy just said next time, and like you said, no boundaries or anything. Beautiful words Monica, as always.
Thank you. Your words mean a lot. I know this blog is supposed to be about food but it is becoming so much more. Life happens.. right? Thanks for reading and for your lovely words.
Brava, my friend. I love you for a lot of reasons, but mostly your heart.
When I grow up, I want to write like you. Thank you, Elissa.
Wow, Monica. Such a lovely portrait of several beautiful boys. Thank you for sharing this.
Beautiful, just beautiful. A food blog is always about more than food.
Weepy. You are an artist.
Beautiful, Monica. Thank you for sharing this experience.
I love how you captured the moment so eloquently, both with your camera and your words. It’s true, we can learn so much by being present and surrendering to compassion. Thanks for sharing this!
Wow. Just wow. What an experience to have. Thank you for your insights.
Bravo, Monica. Bravo.
I too didn’t notice that boy until I reached the line where you mentioned about it. Scrolled up and had to check!
You are such an amazing person Monica and loved your son’s reaction. Loved how you said .. ‘ Kids find joy where adults find logic’ .. so true!
Very touching and wise, Monica. We all project so much onto others and make assumptions about what people are feeling and thinking when really we have no idea.
Beautiful piece, Monica. The untold story in the photo is brought out poignantly by your words. Half full or half empty? It really all depends on our thoughts.
What a lovely write-up…you have such clarity in your thoughts and brilliance in your writing. You brought tears to my eyes as I read you sending him prayers and hoping he can feel it and you made those tears of mine roll down my cheeks as you felt the happy wishes sent your way. I have a gentle smile waiting for those tears as I type this comment. Thank You.
Lovely Monica. The accompanying photo told the whole story.
so touching monica. and since there’s no such thing as a coincidence, i know God put you and that boy in contact for a reason. it’s beautiful. you’re beautiful. well done.
I say and feel this every minute of the day I spend with my two year old that she teaches me WAY more than I can ever teach her. I believe she has helped me become a better person and a better human being. Has given me courage to do things I would have hesitated to do before and she inspires me everyday.
There is no doubt you are a beautiful writer but what I like most about your essays is that you say deep things in such a simple way. Just like my two year old does and by the end you both just leave me smiling 🙂 Congratulations on another great write up Monica. I can feel what you must have felt while writing it!
Wow. Beautiful piece, Monica. I too got teary-eyed. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂
In our community a family lost a baby at just 5 months old. They realized that had he survived his condition would have left him unable to play with his sister on a playground. The parents brought the community together to build a “boundless playground” with wheelchair ramps and high backed swings and sensory stations. It makes my heart sing to think that even the boy you met could have “played.”
I am, however, reminded of something else. One day I was feeling sad about the things my food allergic son misses out on and a very, very wise friend said, “He doesn’t feel like he’s missing out though because it’s the life he’s always known. You’re responding to your own expectations and memories. You’ll just help him create his own happy memories if you think of what he can do and not your own hangups about what he can’t.” As I said, I have a very wise friend.
what a beautiful post… that pic explains it all.. truly heart wrenching
Monica I know you to be a sweet, caring and talented person. Your recipes are the best. Yet when I read this essay I see what you are trying to accomplish and I try to agree with the fawning comments about how beautiful it is. But the truth is all I can see is a woman staring at a child in a wheelchair and unable to see beyond his disabilities. I’m angry and want to lash out at this kind of blindness. I’m married to a man who until the past few years has been a whole bodied ‘visible’ human whom people looked in the eye, recognized as an intelligent man, conversed with him and saw HIM. But once he was confined to the wheelchair he’s become an object, something to be looked past. Something, this is even worst, to be felt sorry for. Can’t anyone see that he’s still the same man? He’s still whole and ….. well, I’m sorry to cast a dissenting vote to the beauty of this essay, mostly it is just about you crying over a child you do not see…. No one really seems to know how to respond to someone with disabilities unless they live with such a person or have experienced it themselves. My advice is to forget the wheelchair, the disabilities, and see the person. My husband is the same beautiful loving intelligent giving caring generous funny man that I married, the wheelchair is simply an accessory. I wish you had taken the time to see past the child’s accessory. He didn’t need your pity or tears — he needed you to see HIM!
Thank you for your insights, Dawn. I appreciate your taking the time to post your thoughts.
A friend sent me the link to your essay, Monica, thinking perhaps that you might like the reaction from the point of view of someone whose uses a wheelchair. That’s me. Fifty plus years, in fact.
My first reaction was, “Wow, I hope she spoke to the kid.” My second reaction was, “Man, I hope she didn’t let the kid see her tears.” My third reaction was “I hope she comes to understand how her thought, ‘Kids find joy where adults find logic and reason to be miserable’ should be her own reaction as well.” The world would be a far better place if adults took on that child-like attitude. There is joy to be found everywhere, in every circumstance.
To be sad for the kid — if he comprehends your sadness — is to make him feel guilty. I can tell you from personal experience if I’m out and about in the world I only want to do what I want to do. I don’t want to cope with another stranger’s emotions. I don’t want to become an object of pity, a source of inspiration, a warning of consequence.
Am I attacking you for your feelings of compassion? No, I don’t want to do that. I think I am writing to urge to explore deeper the idea of logic (adult perception) in comparison to acceptance (your son’s perception).
Why? I think it’s important because individual attitudes have tremendous collective influence on social situations — that is, the idea that children with disabilities should be fully integrated into the world. Education should be mainstream. Barriers to employment must be eliminated. Social environments must be opened. That means your son’s attitude was the right attitude.
I have come to believe that disability is simply another color on the great human rainbow. I’ve come to believe that sympathy and pity work against the natural and complete integration of people with disabilities in society. I’ve come to believe that empathy is the only proper response to disability as a condition — the empathy of understanding what people with disabilities want from this world is exactly the same as people without disabilities want from this world.
Thank you for writing an essay that made me think. I hope you will understand there’s not a gram of malice in this response. I simply thought, especially after reading the comments, that the perspective of someone who lives in the country of disability might be worthwhile.
With all good wishes,
Thank you for such a thoughtful and beautiful note. I pray that my compassion and that of my children comes through. If it does not, it is because I was, perhaps, not able to convey it fully and for that I apologize. Thank you, Gary.
Monica, as usual, you took a painful situation and saw the beauty in it. That is your gift. It is very endearing…
I can do nothing but cry as I read this, and also hold on to my own two little love of my life. Thank you for this beautiful essay.
I really enjoy the article post.Really thank you! Will read on…