A broken arm and a family vacation aren’t friendly acquaintances. There’s no questioning if they jive together like peanut butter and jelly or icing on cupcakes. Instead of the cherry on top of a milkshake, a broken arm is like the condensation on the cup or the sticky drips that are unavoidable. Both are annoying and a hindrance, yet a persistent constant.
Two weeks before our trip to Disney, Eli welcomed a new member to our family…a clunky blue and white striped glow-in-the-dark and soon to be smelly cast shielding his broken arm from more disaster that any four-year-old could uncover. Wishful thinking kept my spirits up for a bit, but realism sunk in when the doctor confirmed that the cast needed to stay put for at least a month. There was no avoiding the inevitable…the magical trip we had all been counting down the days until would have an unwelcomed guest.
Eli was a trooper, though. Not once did he let it bother him or halt his ability to enjoy the trip. In fact, I think he felt like with the cast, he was invincible, maybe like one of the superheroes he admired. To him, anything was possible, yet I was a nervous-wreck. Nothing new; the typical mother/son dichotomy. Besides the burrowed brow and huffing and puffing that would appear when he would get his arm stuck in a most awkward position, he seems to forget the hard plaster encasing his limb. To be honest, I forgot many times myself. That is, until others subtly pointed it out.
There were two pools at our Florida home-away-from-home. One resembled a splash park and seemed like a safe haven for my littles. But after venturing to the big kid pool equipped with a pirate ship and five slides, I caved in deciding it was only fair to let Eli explore every inch of it. Even though the doctor promised us that his cast was waterproof, I was skeptical enough to come prepared with a cover just in case. No need to create a moldy cast if there was a way to dodge that one! And since he planned to play on the pirate ship for hours, I pulled out the electric blue skin-tight sleeve, firmly tugged it over the cast, and pumped every ounce of air out to seal it tight. No water going to trickle in if I had anything to do with it.
After getting past the fact that the suction the cover created a unique and quite confining experience for his fingers, sealing them too like a vacuum sealer would store food, he jumped in and got down to business – making friends. The slides were important, don’t get me wrong. And he found his favorite quickly… one that was a tunnel and ended getting drenched under a waterfall. But his goal was to meet other kids and put them through his endless questioning. Some kids were up for adding a new friend to their list… others smiled and moved along. Eli didn’t care; he was just having fun talking and sliding. Who wouldn’t!
Occasionally, the vacuum seal would break and as air leaked in, Eli would quickly make his way to me to come to his rescue. After a fast trip down a new slide, he quickly grabbed my hand as we waded to through the pool to find our bag of supplies on the lawn chair. Eli patiently waited as I found the pump and as I attached it, I felt their gaze. You know the feeling when you’re being watched. Like passing a car wreck they couldn’t help but look. Two moms in the row in front of me were whispering and with saddened eyes took turns making quick glances at Eli and his arm.
I saw their pity and their concern. And I feel confident if the tables were turned, I, too, would look at this little guy with an entire arm hidden masked out of sight with sadness, wondering the scope to which was under the cover. For all they knew, his arm was burned or covered in bites. Maybe they thought he just had surgery or worse, suffering from something more serious like an amputation. Maybe they had a kid with a broken arm before and knew that was simply what it was. But it didn’t matter their thoughts as their eyes said it all. They couldn’t see past it. His arm distracted them. They were engulfed in the “what ifs” and the “oh no’s” that they couldn’t see what was really happening in front of them. They didn’t notice his giddy legs, waiting to make their way back into the water. They didn’t see his smile that was so wide nearly every tooth was visible. His arm didn’t stop him one bit from enjoying all that the pirate ship had to offer. Eli didn’t even notice the cast and neither did all of the kids he met that day. But those moms did.
The weekend we arrived home from our trip we overslept. It was great for the body, but not good for the soul as we missed our typical and much-needed church time. We opted to visit a neighboring parish a little later that morning and quickly found our way to our normal spot. Ask any regular church goer and they will confirm that no matter what church they attend they feel most cozy in their spot. Our spot? The cry room!
We came equipped with the norm – a diaper bag, a stash of snacks, and coloring books galore. They each picked their treat of choice and cracked open the Ziploc bag of well use crayons. A few families would come in and out, attempting to reintroduce their kids back into church civilization. Us? We remained put, owning the fact that while we may only get a few words out of the homily, we are just trying to help our kids feel most comfortable in God’s house. Actually, who am I kidding? We are just trying to survive an hour in one piece!
The door opened and a young boy came barging in, and upon seeing Eli contently coloring, was determined to beautify the page as well. Cory and I went stiff, unsure as to how Eli would react. But our typical OCD child must have remembered the definition of sharing because he lived it out as he welcomed this boy as his new church friend.
They colored for quite some time before they spoke to one another. Well, before the other boy spoke back to be honest. Eli uses every opportunity to talk a mile-a-minute to a new audience. This situation was no exception. The other kid didn’t mind. Together they were coloring; together they were playing. He seemed up for anything as long as Eli didn’t hog the crayons.
Eli was the first to notice. Past his visible ailment, he noticed a scrape on the other kids hand in between his fingers. Only after Eli brought it to our attention did I take a closer look. A small burn or a bad experience with some concrete could explain the spot, but it was healing quite nicely. Eli asked what happened, if he was okay. I didn’t notice until that point that the kid struggled through each word he chose as English wasn’t his primary language. But he didn’t let that stop him. “A boo boo” was the answer and quickly he pointed at Eli’s noticeable arm covering. He, too, had a boo boo as well.
That was it. That’s all that was said. And back to coloring and giggling they went. The question didn’t matter and the answer didn’t either to be honest. Well, not in the way that it would for any adult. Eli wasn’t pointing out the scar to draw attention to what was an eye sore for some, but rather saw it as an opportunity to point out that he, too, has a boo boo. He didn’t notice the challenges that the other kid had in articulating his answer, but rather was thrilled to be in his company.
We can learn a lot from kids, you know. Spend some time stopping what you are doing and watching our munchkins take in life. They don’t notice the blue cast cover or let communication barriers hinder their conversation ability. They see one another for who they are, in their purest forms. They see another person, interested in coloring or racing down a slide. They share smiles and belly laughs. They realize that outside of anything adults may notice, all they see is a friend in the making.
While at Disney, a restaurant busser left me with a message that touched this momma’s heart to the core. Our youngest was crawling up the stairs as we waited for our check, waving at everyone that passed him by. This restaurant worker smiled, as Luke makes everyone do, and said “I bet he’s never met a stranger, just a friend he’s never met.”
It’s true. No matter how much I teach about the importance of not talking to strangers, they tend to build friendships anywhere they go. I think it’s because they look past what makes us different and focus on what makes us all the same. Wow… what a concept and one we should all make every attempt to integrate into our lives. Maybe when we focus on what matters most, we will stop rubbernecking or judging, and start living life to its fullest. Don’t get bogged down by focusing on the things that could hold you back. Instead, put energy into what will drive you forward. Because, in my book it doesn’t matter if you color in the lines; it matters most that you are just coloring! Boo boos and cast covers aside, at the core we are all alike and just want to smile, laugh, and make some friends along the way!