The world is full of magic, if you know where to look.
September 2019.It was a lovely day at the park. The sun was trickling down the sky, as we walked across the lush grass. I eyed a nice spot by the water fountains and Nirav ambled in his merry way, a few feet behind. That’s when he saw them.
Three girls, about 10 years old, playing jump rope (skipping rope) and squealing every time one of them got thwacked.
“Haha Casey! My turn now. Bet I can go all the way to twenty,”
“Oh, you wish! You’re so bad at this Briana!”
They leaped and jumped, their laughter floating in the wind like dandelion fuzz.
The scene was eerily similar to one of those ads you see, before some random woman pops out of nowhere and starts talking about how depression medication changed her life.
I sat on my bench and watched my little boy walk up to the girls. Smiling, he paused for a second before deciding to take a turn with the jump rope. Now I’m a helicopter parent and Nirav has autism with social challenges. This means I’m always worrying about setting good behavioral examples for him. So I was about to call out and have him ask for a turn, instead of barging in. But something made me stop.
The girls stopped their game, surprised to see this little boy invite himself. And here’s where the story gets better.
These three wonderful girls didn’t bat an eyelid. They were patient and kind. They asked him questions. Modeled waiting for a turn.They realized there was something different about Nirav, but instead of gawking and whispering, they welcomed him into their little circle. A few times Nirav grabbed the jump rope and pulled it away. I stood up, on autopilot, wearing the apologetic grin of a special needs mother. “Sorry, he didn’t mean to do that,” I almost yelled out.
One girl stepped forward. “Can I please have the jump rope?” Her voice was respectful and calm, with zero trace of annoyance. And without a peep, Nirav handed it back.
The four of them played for close to an hour. I saw Nirav struggling on occasion, but miraculously, his friends helped him deal with it. He taught them his favorite Mario song, and before long they were chanting along, in perfect rhythm.
“Nirav! You almost made it to 5 jumps! Great job!”
“Oh no, I lost. Oh no!” screeched my boy, his face breaking into laughter.
Three girls and one boy, spending a lazy summer evening, giggling and hopping.
As we drove home that day, I realized how tightly wound I get. There is a world of pressure on us as a family to teach Nirav societal intricacies, and sometimes, it gets a little lonely carrying all those worries. Parenting can be daunting, even on the best of days and sometimes I forget to breathe and trust others to help us.
Dear girls at the playground… thank you. For including my boy in your game with total acceptance and zero pity. For giving him the time he needed. For seeing him as an equal and not talking down to him. For having the patience to help him navigate the perilous waters of childhood friendship with grace.
Thank you for restoring my faith in the kindness of kids.
And thank you for the simplicity of a quiet evening, where my biggest worry was picking a new book to read.
Guess what? Nirav felt it too. We were at the last intersection before home, when he piped up from the back.
“Amma, I want to go to the playground tomorrow and play jump rope with friends.”
“That sounds like a good plan, Nirav.”
“Amma, can I have the Amma’s iPhone?”
“Why do you need my phone?”
“I want to set a timer for 24 hours, then go to the playground and play with friends.”
See? This is the power of inclusion and acceptance. When individuals with special needs feel like they are wanted and they belong.
The world is full of magic, if you only know where to look.