A Soft Place to Land
Our son Will is quite a kid: smart and hilarious and (might I add) handsome in that All-American “good guy” way. He wears his heart on his sleeve and feels big feelings. He’s super loud and over-the-top-excited 99.9% of the time. If you ask him in passing what he’s up to, he’s more than likely going to reply with a crooked grin and a swagger-filled, “Just being awesome!” He’s fun and adventurous and naturally good at everything. He’s a lot like his dad. There’s much to be proud of but I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet.
The best part of Will is that he’s a soft place to land.
Will is everyone’s friend. It’s not as though he doesn’t see differences. It’s just that he sees these differences and says, “Ok, and also…” For Will, it’s more about common ground and having fun together than anything else.
For instance, Will has a good friend with autism. This is a sweet little boy, smart and funny and utterly lovable. He and Will clicked instantly. Will tells a lot of stories that involve this little boy and all the fun they have together. I smile a little smile at each story because I remember a conversation with his sweet mama years ago in which she shared her initial fears that he might never have friends. But fortunately for both boys, the universe had other plans.
Will mentions in passing sometimes that this buddy doesn’t like loud noises. That’s it. No judgement. No questions, even. Just utter acceptance that his friend prefers quiet spaces. Will worries about how noisy field trips and birthday parties might upset his friend. He doesn’t try to change him or ask what’s “wrong,” he just wonders how to ease his friend’s way.
I chaperoned a field trip with Will’s class this fall to a local museum. When we arrived, the front lobby was overly crowded with excited 4th graders and that, combined with the high ceiling, created an echo chamber of noise. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed myself when I looked over and saw Will’s buddy, crouched down with his hands over his ears, rocking himself. Their fabulous teacher didn’t miss a beat and and he was quickly in supportive hands but I couldn’t help wondering how the rest of the day would go for this little guy.
I needn’t have worried.
Within a few minutes, the kids were all situated in their first station and the museum representative asked them to pair up together for a project. I immediately thought of this little boy and mentally prepared for how I would subtly pair him up if the kids were still a little thrown off by the scene earlier that morning. The kids were all turning this way and that and pointing eagerly at one another, choosing and belonging in the way of elementary schools everywhere, and Will was no exception. My kid turned around, eagerly pointing and staking his claim on this very friend, who moments before was struggling in a very public way.
Will doesn’t care that his buddy responds differently to stress than he does. All he saw that morning was his friend, taking a minute to release tension in his own way. Will was his soft place to land that day and in return, Will gets this friendship of theirs. What a win.
Will sees this friend, it’s not that he doesn’t notice and pick up on the things that make us similar and the things that set us apart. It’s that he notices and somehow manages to accept. He sees that there is give and take in friendship, there is growing and learning and commonality. He sees his friend.
Yes, sometimes his friend has trouble with crowds and loud noises and also there is so much more to him to enjoy and celebrate.
If you’re fortunate enough to have someone like Will in your life, you will know what it’s like to be truly accepted. To have someone say, “I see you, I get you, now let’s play.” It’s as simple as that to him. Will is a lot of things but this is truly his greatest gift. If you’re fortunate enough to have someone like his friend in your life, you will know what it’s like to laugh your head off (truly, this kid has a quick wit and sense of humor to behold) and see the world through a whole new lens.
I haven’t even told you the best part of all: Will is not even close to being unusual where we live. I can tell you his brother and sister are both like this and as far as I know, the other kids in their classes are, as well. An entire little army of soft places to land. Their teachers, their incredibly gifted teachers, insist on nothing less and the other parents mindfully model kindness and inclusion and open-mindedness every day. I checked in with Will to be sure my perception is correct and he looked horrified at the thought that anyone would shun or bully his friend. His eyes were wide as saucers and he said, “Why would anyone do something like that?” Mental high five, World.
Think of what it will be like when these kids are the adults…it’s a hopeful thought, isn’t it?
Part 1 in a series on accepting our children and finding common ground.
The stories in this post are shared with permission.