How do you explain to a two-year-old about special needs? How do you explain to her that a little girl her own age cannot do the things you can do because her legs don’t work quite right? We came face to face with this situation this weekend, and I have been pondering these things myself.
My mother-in-law and her husband took Abigail and me out to dinner Saturday night just so we could get out of the house for a bit. We had been home for over two days and I was going a little stir crazy, so we all packed up and went to Chili’s down the road from our house. Well apparently everyone in town was stir crazy or didn’t want to cook (or couldn’t because they didn’t have power) because everyone was at Chili’s. So we sat with another family that came in before us in the waiting area for about 15 minutes. What a 15-minute wait that was!
The family consisted of a young mother, her two children (a little girl we soon discovered was only two months older than Abigail and her little brother who was about 6 months I am guessing), and the mother’s parents. They were a sweet family and we instantly started talking about the snow and road conditions and power outages. My mother-in-law was holding Abigail, and I was across from them in the other seat. They were sitting right beside the little girl and her mother.
The little girl and Abigail were having a staring contest. You see Abigail loves watching children. I think they fascinate her. The little girl finally got brave enough to ask Susan (my mother-in-law) what Abigail’s name was, so Susan told her and asked her name. She was the cutest little girl with light up rain galoshes on. Susan asked her how old she was and she said three, so the mother had to chime in and say she was only two. We couldn’t believe that she was Abigail’s age. Her mother said she was in the 97th percentile. Abigail is in the 10th, so you can only imagine what the size difference between them was. I explained to the adults that Abigail had special needs, so that might be one reason she seemed so tiny. Well the little girl couldn’t comprehend Abigail was two just like her. She kept saying she was only one, and Susan kept telling her, ‘no she’s two just like you.’
Well everything was going peachy until the little girl asked if Abigail could get down and play with her. Susan told the little girl that Abigail couldn’t leave her lap. Her mother tried to tell her that Abigail’s legs don’t work like hers and of course the why question kept coming. You could tell everyone was getting a little tense with not knowing what to say. Then the little girl asked if Abigail could sit beside her. Of course another round of ‘no’s’ and ‘why not’s’ commenced. So Susan finally told her she could play with her but Abigail would have to sit in her lap. I knew this was going to go poorly the moment that little girl stepped towards Abigail. Abigail loves looking at kids, but she does not like kids in her bubble much less touching her. Well that sweet little girl so lovingly held Abigail’s hands. It truly was the cutest thing, and I wished I could have taken a picture. But all the touching was way too much for Abigail.
I calmly got up from my seat anticipating Abigail’s freak out, and it came quickly. Her bottom lip quivered (a sure sign tears were coming). I scooped Abigail up, and the mother was like did my daughter do anything? “No, not a thing. She was the sweetest to Abigail, but Abigail cannot tolerate children. I am so sorry.” The little girl’s face crumbled. I told her she did nothing wrong and that Abigail was going to be okay. I had to walk away to calm Abigail down and when I got back the family had been seated. I told my mother-in-law everything was good. Abigail was back to laughing and dancing to the holiday music in no time. And when we left we stopped by the family’s table and wished them a goodnight. The little girl waved good-bye, so I knew she was okay too.
But goodness, what a situation! It really was not a big deal probably to anyone else, but those 10 minutes rocked my world. This is my life. No one knows how to react when you say special needs. I felt so awful for that little girl and her family. I know they had no idea what to say or do to explain Abigail. I was no help either. Looking back I should have taken Abigail and showed the girl how Abigail’s legs don’t work right. I should have held her and had a ‘dance’ party in my lap while the little girl stood beside us. There are 15 different things I could have done now looking back. But I sat there and watched this family meet a special needs little girl for the first time with no explanation.
I know it’s not a big deal. They probably won’t even remember us tomorrow, but I will never forget this. I know situations like this will come again. Children will ask questions, and I will have to answer to them and their families. I will have to explain why at two a little girl cannot walk or talk or even sit. I don’t know if I will have all the answers, but I hope to help and encourage as we go. Explaining special needs to a two-year-old is tough, but I hope that little girl stays as loving and sweet as she was that night. And I pray that one day Abigail will accept a sweet handhold from a fellow pier. That little girl’s hand in my child’s hand tonight meant the world to me. I know it was brief, but it shows bridges can be gapped and my daughter can be accepted. Such a simple thing, but such a huge Christmas blessing – a simple hand hold from a sweet little two-year-old girl at a Chili’s restaurant.