As I was watching the scene unfold, I knew there were only two possible outcomes for what would happen next. The little lump in my throat had an inkling it was going to go a certain way at this point. By the looks of things, our little guy might be sitting this one out.
The look on his face showed that he was not aware of what was coming next. As a parent, you know these types of moments will occur-they have occurred to all of us. Running to the gym as soon as the last bell sounds to see if your name is posted for the spring baseball team or walking nervously to the mailbox to see if that long awaited college letter has arrived. All parents want to shield their kids from the possible pain of not being included or being rejected. Whether it’s a game, a party, or a lunch table, these situations will arise. I was watching one of these moments about to unfold for our four year old.
At that moment, I was starting to prepare the story in my head of the conversation I was about to have with our little guy. We could talk about how he is feeling at that moment with the goal of modeling empathy. We might walk through how he could respond next time. We could then talk about when he is the older kid, what might he do if there was a little guy who wanted to play. How would he approach it? How could he be a role model in an instance like this?
But then everything pivoted.
Jay stepped in between our son and one of the older boys. “He’s on my team.”
The moment filled me with joy and hope. I have been through enough to know not all of these moments would end this way. My hope was that it would leave a lasting impression on our little guy-because it did for me.
Have you ever sat and watched a group of kids as they play? It is always interesting to me the dynamics that are presented. You have your bossy pants…your jokester…the annoying one…your strong willed…your athlete…your harasser…your follower…
Then you have kids like Jay.
Jay isn’t your best dressed or your worst dressed kid. He’s not the least athletic nor is he the stud athlete. He may not be your gifted child but he definitely isn’t the dumb one in the group. He in fact, is the most important one in the group. He may not be the most articulate kid in the group but always seems to know the right thing to say and do.
He’s the glue.
You see, I have a little four year old that asks a million questions. He sometimes gets hyper focused on minute details. He sometimes misses social cues. Our son follows Jay around and wants to be like him and does everything Jay asks him too. Our son is about 5 years younger than Jay, but you wouldn’t know it. Why?
Because those things do not matter to Jay. Jay doesn’t see it-any of it. Nor should we.
The world needs more Jay’s. Let me tell you why.
On a beautiful November day in Northeast Ohio, we were gathered to celebrate Jay’s sister’s birthday. Our beloved Indians had made the World Series and lost in a heart breaker to the Cubs earlier in the week. Baseball fever had blown through our community and the Fall Classic had made an imprint on this group of kiddos. As soon as they were done eating, they headed to the back yard for a pickup game. Our son was by far the youngest in the group of kids. It didn’t matter to Jay. He made sure our son had a good time. He was accommodating. He provided ideas for the game to continue moving on but also gave our son a chance to participate and have a good time. Jay helped him run the bases…told him when to stop…grabbed a tee when he was getting frustrated at the plate…showed him where to throw the ball when he fielded it. And Jay made sure all the other kids had fun too.
Jay is the includer.
It started getting dark and we had to sing to Jay’s sister after the “big game.” Our son was sitting with us beaming after his pickup baseball game. He told us how he hit a homerun and how Jay helped him to where to go. It was Jay this and Jay that. As our son was enjoying his cupcake, Jay snuck by and told our son, “make sure you meet me downstairs after you are done with your cupcake.” I know kids like cupcakes but our son inhaled that one like no other. Why?
He was a part of the group.
For our little sensory guy, sometimes it’s hard to fit in or be accepted. He has some quirks about behaviors like any 4 year old might…some kids may find it annoying or frustrating. Others may exclude. Not Jay.
He’s accepting of all. He’s the inclusive one.
The world needs more Jay’s.
And we are thankful he is a role model to our son…because kids now a days need peer role models more than ever. Our kids are barraged in so many different ways in a variety of different environments. Jay is a gift to those around him.
Hey kids out there, be more like Jay. He’s our dude.
Listed below are a few ways I thought I as a parent/teacher could help our kids become more accepting.
1. Read Wonder. Man, is this book fantastic. There are countless moments for great conversation starters to have with your kids. READ IT. NOW.
2. Encourage your kids to play/work with different kids at school. Our kids are in a multiage classroom and many times we hear about the same kids each day. During our breakfast, we thought we would use the class picture and find out a little more about all of the kids in the class. Do you know what work/activity is ________’s favorite? Is it something you can work on together?
3. At suppertime, we could identify times during the day when we saw moments of inclusion or exclusion. We could then discuss how everyone in the moment felt and possibly why. Both Wonder as well as Augie and Me do a great job of showing different viewpoints. Take the moments that are brought up and role-play the possible moments from all angles.
4. Our little lady’s favorite book right now is Strictly No Elephants. She is three and loves the pictures and what happens in the story. It is a great conversation starter for your toddler or early preschooler.
5. One of our goals for this year is to visit more museums, try different cuisines, and find opportunities where our kids can be calculated risk takers. Anxiety is in all of our blood, but stepping out of our comfort zone together may help us each be more accepting. I can’t expect our kids to be inclusive if I do not demand it from myself.
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