What can I say about this boy. His love and light has changed my life and he will always be a part of me. Yann came to live with us a for a year and a half when he was a little boy. He was tiny and sweet and needed spinal surgery. Ray of Hope Medical Missions found doctors who would perform the surgeries and found us to care for him. They are incredible and do this for so many children. Check them out: www.rayofhope.com His journey through surgeries and recovery were difficult, and amazing and one of the greatest examples of God’s goodness, compassion, and control I’ve ever experienced in my life.
One of the best things I was able to witness while he was with us was what friendship can look like for a person living with disabilities. I watched my niece and nephew interact with Yann and his disability every single day. They figured out how to play with him in a way that included him, but it also became their new normal of what fun looked like. They walked slower, played basketball slower, and rode bikes slower when they were with him. And it wasn’t hard for them, and they didn’t really complain about it, it was just how life was for them in their friendship. It wasn’t because they were the perfect children, or because they were taught perfectly, it was because they were exposed to it.
Even though Yann was very mobile and capable, he still moved much slower than other children his age. I had playdates where I would just sit and watch him be left behind and left out. Kids would be playing tag and run to the front yard. By the time Yann was halfway there, they would already be heading back, and run right past him. Kids would run up the stairs to look at something and he would only be halfway up before they would be running back down. And it was NEVER because they were mean kids. They all loved Yann and were genuinely nice to him. It was just because they didn’t know. They were not used to it.
And so the friendship that he formed with his cousins became deep and strong and sweet. I never worried that I had to watch out for him. I never worried that he was sitting in the grass playing by himself when he was with them.
And EVERY SINGLE CHILD with a disability (frankly ever kid) deserves this. Every person deserves to feel included.
And you know what? I honestly feel like that friendship was just as much a blessing to them as it was to him. Not only in the way that they had a best friend, but also because they learned something that took me till I was 16 to understand. When they looked at Yann they did not see a disability. They saw their friend. They pushed his wheelchair, sat in the hospital with him, and walked instead of run. They learned to see someone’s value in who they are and not their disability. They learned to include. The learned that different does not mean weird. Different does not mean bad. Different does not mean scary. Different means different.
So my heart was moved deeply for this beautiful gift to be given to more children. The gift of being included, but also the gift of knowing how to include. And I believe that starts with education. That starts with knowing how to ask questions, choosing to spend time with someone who may be different than you, and choosing to change the way that you interact. The only way it becomes normal for your children is if you show them. Allow them to be uncomfortable or bored for a few playdates until they get used to it.
So I decided to start a little section of my business to focus on this. I call it a “Day in the Life” and I spend a few hours capturing day to day moments of what life looks like for a family who has a child with a disability. I watch, ask questions, and learn. I get to know them and their kids and understand what their day looks like. Because their day normally looks very different than what many families do, I want to share that. I want you to be able to see what is difficult, fun, exhausting, and rewarding about life for them. Because it is all of those things. And together those things make this beautiful relationship and life for that family that everyone should get to see.
I wish there was a stronger word I could us to convey my point. Parents of children with disabilities are badass! I mean there is no one like them. Their normal is often very hard. Long days with sickness and diapers and monitors. Medications and therapies and insurance. I mean they are some of the toughest, most loving, and patient people I have ever known. Because they have to be. The life they have been given is often difficult, but I have never met one that would change their kid.
So I hope this series “A Day in the Life” can be a blessing to you as you read and learn a few things about families in our community that might need a little extra encouragement some days. About families that fight for health and benchmarks that we take for granted. I pray that little by little each of us will come to accept and appreciate people who are different than us.
Update: Yann was given the all clear by his doctors to go back home to his family in Africa after 1.5 years living with us. He is no longer using a wheelchair or walker, but benefits from the use of orthotic leg braces. He is healthy and happy and we get to talk with him often. One of my many prayers for him is that he continues to have good friends like he had in his cousins!