Years ago, when the girls were in first and second grade, we sat in the food court of the PX (Post Exchange) and Sassy said she wanted to go get a drink refill, but she wanted to wait til this other kid wasn’t over there. I asked her why she didn’t want to be around him, and she told me, “That’s Eric. No one likes him.”
“Cause he’s so weird. He’s always roaming around the classroom, talkin to himself. He wears these patch things on his arm and they’re supposed to help him sit down and be quiet, but they don’t work.”
How I felt was monumentally affected. Sad for Eric is an understatement. Sad for his parents, too. Grievous might be the better word.
“Sassy. That could be a little version of your brother over there. He had the same troubles as Eric, only he didn’t roam around and talk to himself, he just couldn’t focus the way you and I can focus. He was always thinking about whatever wasn’t happening. He would think about what he’d done before, or worry about what else he would hafta do, so he couldn’t pay attention to what was goin on. He didn’t wear patches, but he took a pill every day so he could focus. It was hard for him to make friends because he was so scatterbrained. He couldn’t pay attention to what his friends were sayin, either.”
“Yes, really. Go over there. Right now. Go smile and be friendly and talk to Eric like he is a smaller version of Bubba. Be kind to him. Show him your kindness. He might be as awesome as Bubba is, and no one has even taken the time to find out.”
Grudgingly, she went. There was some awkward smiling, and some chatter before she bounced back to the table, beaming with happiness.
“How’d it go?”
“Good. Now, when you go back to school, you be kind s’more. You be friendly and warm. Make him feel like you really care about him. You can help him just by doing that.”
Now and again, she would share some Eric information, like Eric also liked soccer and drawing. He had a little brother who drove him crazy, just like her sister drives her crazy. Finally, I heard the news that Eric got a good patch that helped him.
Toward the end of Sassy’s second grade year, I was introduced to Eric’s mother at a school function. She was actually a woman I’d met about a year before. On cold metal bleachers, we had sat together for hours in the dark and rain of spring soccer try-outs. I had liked her. I knew she had two boys, close in age, like my littlest girls, but we had spoken mostly about the trauma of deployments and books we had both enjoyed.
She spoke with accolades for Sassy and what a good friend she’d been to Eric.
Driving home, I asked Sassy, “Does Eric have a lot more friends now?”
“Oh yes!” she said. Said the girls all loved him. Said he was so funny all the time.
I told her how Eric’s mother had raved about her. I told her to remember how Eric’s life had changed, to remember you only need one good friend, to remember how one act of kindness can change someone’s whole life. I asked, “Remember how your teacher said if she can get you to do something, then the whole class will follow suit?”
“That makes you a leader. Lead other people to kindness. Be the anti-bully.”
A year later, Eric was quite the popular kid. We went to another school function, where Eric sat in front of us, and girls actually fought over who would sit next to him.
My little girl helped that happen, just by being kind when it was unpopular to do so.
I die of pride, and I have only my son’s atypical brain to thank for that.