Center of the Universe


This is a belated entry.  It actually took place a couple of weeks ago.

I struggle as a parent of a child with a disability.  When you parent a child with special needs, you are in somewhat uncharted territory, even more so when your child’s disability is rare.  You can’t just run down to Target and get the latest parenting guide on raising a child with VACTERL Syndrome (yes, I know it is just an association…get over it).

My focus in raising my son from day one has been self esteem.  I figure if you have good self esteem, you can handle just about anything.  But all too often I overcompensate and err on the side of spoiling him.  I tend to sometimes get carried away with making sure he wants for nothing.

His self esteem is fantastic, but empathy is an equally important trait.  If all of your material needs are met, it is easy to forget that the whole world is not so fortunate.  I would be a failure as a parent if he grew up oblivious to the pain of the rest of the world.

Ethan knows in the abstract that he is well provided for.  But living in Ken and Barbie Land, he never sees poverty up close.  He only has his peers to compare his affluence with.  And in our neighborhood, he is solidly in the middle.  He has friends with slightly less and friends with slightly more.  But economically it is a pretty homogenous group.

So I was really excited when we had the opportunity to give hats and boots to the homeless.  We have always wanted Ethan to interact with people who are homeless, but he was too young until recently.

I was not sure how he would react.  To my knowledge, he has never seen someone panhandle.  His exposure in this first outing was going to be pretty limited.  The kids were assigned the task of working in the truck.  They grabbed the right size of coat from various boxes and gave them to the adults working with the clients.

I was working a block away from Ethan and Jenn, so I did not see what they were doing.  When my task was complete, I wondered down to where they were both working.

What I saw almost moved me to tears.  Ethan had gotten out of the truck and was working directly with the homeless clients.  Each of the people had an armband with their sizing information.  Ethan would run up to them and ask if he could check their bands.  Then he would run to the truck and get a coat and rush back to fill the order.  What really moved me was the sheer ordinariness of the scene.  He could have been grabbing my coat.  He was just trying to be helpful.  He was just experiencing the joy of meeting new people.

I think he is going to be OK.

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2 comments on “Center of the Universe

  1. When Daniel was about 4, we went to Berkeley for a day of shopping.. It is still known as the “Hey Dad–Can I Have A Quarter To Give The Bums?” trip. Daniel may never get empathy, but if you look at life like it’s a big dang arcade game, things don’t look all that different from the outside.

  2. Go, Ethan! We want our kids to learn empathy as well. Unfortunately, I have no soft spot left for many homeless folks, having been taken advantage of too many times. Gotta work on that.

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