You can encourage kids to play together, but you can’t make them get along. Not everyone is willing to learn, to compromise, to share; not everyone is open to the idea that different is not bad.
I thought that having another five year old for Namine to play with would be good for Namine. The only child she knows in our neighborhood is twice her age (though she is a good friend, understanding of Namine’s abilities and patient), and I reasoned that there was no reason why Namine could not have more fun with someone her own age.
In this particular case, I could not have been more wrong.
The girl and Namine sat in the living room, a pile of Lincoln Logs between them. Namine was building a house, just the way we did at my Aunt CR’s house. The girl was having trouble getting hers started.
“I don’t know how to do it.”
“Ask Namine, it looks like she knows what she’s doing,” her father said.
“I don’t want to ask her, she’s too little.”
“She’s five, just like you.”
“She’s not just like me.”
Ouch. I hoped that she would warm to Namine, even a little, but she didn’t want to play with her. She didn’t even want to speak to her. Not that Namine cared – she’s self sufficient when it comes to playing, and the refusal to be played with didn’t faze her a bit. She just kept on building.
After dinner, I carried Namine back into the living room from the dining room. As I passed the girl, she asked, “Why do you have to carry her?”
Ah, at last: interest. Maybe I could turn this into a teaching moment. “Her legs are a bit different from yours and mine,” I said. “She can’t walk on her own, but she can still get around pretty good.” I can’t count how many times I’ve said that to children on outside playgrounds and indoor play areas, and the reaction I’m looking for – acceptance – is pretty dependable. Not this time.
“Well I can walk on my own.”
Misfire. Oh well. I wouldn’t give up.
Later that evening, the girls were beading. Jessica has instilled in Namine a love of beading, so of course she wanted to do it too. The dining room table was too big for Namine to reach across, so we gave her a bowl with some beads in it. I cut Namine a piece of string and helped her tie a bead at one end, then I left her to her own devices.
A couple times, Namine called me back in for some help. Beading is a precise thing, after all, and fine motor control is something she’s still catching up on. (Not that I mind helping. I’d have been happy to stay in there with her, had she wanted me to.)
The girl piped up. “She sure needs help a lot.”
How I wish I could have explained to that little girl how much Namine has been through. Months and months of developmental delay – not through any fault of her own, but just because that’s what comes from surgery and hospitalization. And how hard she works to overcome these setbacks: therapy and more therapy, in the hospital, in clinic, and at home. But I couldn’t. So I said, “Everybody needs help sometimes. I’m happy to help her, just like I’m sure your daddy would be happy to help you.”
“I don’t need help.”
Well then. I hope you learn acceptance sooner or later, kid. It’ll make life much more enjoyable.