For most of us, some of our fondest memories are ones we have shared with our friends. At an early age, we are placed in situations that enable us to make friends. Play dates, Mommy & Me classes, going to a daycare and eventually school. These are all ways we are encouraged to go out and be social amongst others. As parents, we will go on to teach our children about the importance of friendship because we know having good friends is vital to the soul.
After Lola was born and before the rollercoaster of health issues came to fruition, I sought out a group of women who had babies. It was a way for my daughter to begin socializing and it was key to maintaining my sanity as a new mother. Our children would roll around on the floor together and we’d talk about things like how breastfeeding was going, what kind of nap schedules we were implementing and so on. I never thought much about the fact that Lola didn’t really interact with the other babies. I mean what was she to do come up with sophisticated games to play at just a couple months of age? But now looking back a few years later, many red flags should have gone up. She didn’t look at the other babies, she didn’t try to steal their toys and she didn’t coo with them. She was just sort of in her own little world and of course she was — she didn’t have the ability to understand the use of her vision.
Even with Lola’s diagnoses, we would continue to put her in social situations with other children because, special needs or not, she still should be set up to make friends and she genuinely liked being with other kiddos. We started small with just taking her to a gross motor skill class at her therapy agency. From there, we began to drop her off at Child Watch at the YMCA. We soon enrolled her in a three day a week/couple of hour a day preschool. And you could tell in each environment she began to blossom. Not only did she like being around the kids, but she was learning from them with the use of her sight. It took some convincing, but when faced with the decision to enroll her in an all day preschool program, we reluctantly agreed and I’m so glad we did because she loves her school peers. All of these opportunities to make new buddies have been good for her, but there’s one place where she never had a friend — and that’s at home (Sebastian and Lola aren’t quite “friends” yet).
Thankfully for Lola, she is finally getting to experience what it’s like to have a friend of her own and that’s because of a little girl named Paisley. Paisley is our 4-year-old neighbor whose wonderful mom cares for Sebastian as well as Lola on occasion. Lola and Paisley became buddies over the summer and it has been a true joy to watch their friendship blossom. Paisley is teaching Lola more about friendship and social etiquette than I ever could and she’s brought such happiness to our little girl’s life.
A few days a week, Paisley will ask to help Lola get off of the bus and we’ll go on to play for a couple of hours. I say “we” because Lola is still trying to figure out this friend thing. I certainly give them space, but social etiquette is typically not something that comes natural to children with visual impairments. Quite often things likes turn taking, sharing and other social cues need to be learned over time. And since Lola doesn’t have the ability to use her words yet, I help bridge that communication gap. Thankfully, Paisley understands all of the complexities of being Lola’s friend.
Paisley is the youngest of three kids and her mom has watched other people’s children for years so Paisley is very “tolerant” of Lola. I say tolerant because there are days when that’s what it is. When Lola won’t give Paisley her own personal space, Paisley will simply move. If Lola won’t stop playing with Paisley’s hair, Paisley will simply say “no Lola” and go about her business. If Lola grabs Paisley’s toy, Paisley will quite often just find something else to play with. If Lola eats Paisley’s food, Paisley will just ask me for more. Paisley and I are working on teaching Lola how to be a good friend and Lola is starting to get it, but it will take time. Paisley understands that Lola’s brain works a little bit differently and she understands that Lola can’t “see” the way she can see. Paisley grasps the concept of inclusion more at the age of four than most adults probably ever will. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed.
Lola has come so far in the six months since Paisley has been coming over to our house. Just a few days ago Paisley walked in the door and Lola began to say “Paisley” without being prompted. Lola wants to use the potty when she knows that Paisley has used the potty. Lola intently watches Paisley as she plays with toys and tries to mimic Paisley’s actions. Paisley has patience with Lola and genuinely wants to help her. Whether it’s holding her hand while going up the stairs or translating what she thinks Lola has said, it’s a wondrous sight to see such compassion from someone so young. And when Paisley leaves for the day, Lola hysterically cries at the window because she misses her friend. It breaks my heart to watch, but it makes me happy that she has found her person.
Just as Lola is learning from Paisley, Paisley learns from Lola. Most recently, we were all reading books and Lola had a book in Braille. I showed it to Paisley and explained that some people read with their hands and not with their eyes. Well over the weekend, Paisley made Valentine’s Day cards and she began to poke holes in one of them. Later she showed her mom and explained, “This one is for Lola because this is how Lola may read someday.” She had Brailled the card!
As a mother (especially a mother of a child with special needs), all you want is for your kid to be included. And while Paisley may not understand it now, her ability to appreciate Lola for who she is has been such a blessing to my family — especially for Lola. The friendship between Lola and Paisley may not be “typical”, but the beautiful thing about their friendship is that they are deciding the parameters of it just as we do with our friends. No two friendships are alike and that’s what makes our connections unique and authentic. The connection between Lola and Paisley is one I can only hope will last for many years to come. Lola will need champions like Paisley in her life especially because kids can be downright mean. But all it takes is one person to stand up to the crowd for others to see that a beautiful person worthy of love and acceptance is in there. Thankfully, Paisley already sees Lola for the amazing individual that she is and it brings such happiness to my heart.
Photo credit here