Life after a TBI: Kindergarten Lessons- An F in Math, an A for Kindness 

If there’s one thing I really worry about since I had my kids after my TBI is that I am totally screwing them up. Just this week in fact, I was helping my Kindergartner with her homework and when I opened the folder the next day, saw that I misunderstood the homework and she answered all of the questions wrong because I told her to do it incorrectly.  Suprisingly, my Type A drama queen was unphased that she did it wrong and accepted my apology for my mistake. She told me, “you’ll get it right next time.” She is already so wise. I quickly learned that my husband already needs to be involved in the proof checking of homework, because I am already struggling. This week, I laughed at it, I am sure at some point I will cry.

So far, she loves Kindergarten and can’t wait to go every day. Getting her to talk about her day after school continues to be challenging.  I ask open-ended questions and prompt her with stories I have overheard from her friend’s parents.   Her response is usually one word answers or she tells me she’s going to go and play. So when she starts telling me a story about her day, I will always shut up and listen because it’s rare, and very much appreciated. These conversations are usually right before bed too, either a convenient stalling technique by her, or the actual time when she reflects on her day and wants to share it with me.

She came skipping into my room the night I messed up her homework and wanted to know if I wanted to hear about something bad that happened to one of her classmates at school. I tried to not act shocked or too intrigued, for fear of my reaction causing her to stop talking.  I told her of course I did and asked what happened? “One of the other boys told Declan that he was super slow because of the knee pads he wore on his legs. Declan told him they weren’t knee pads and that they were called braces.”  My heart sank and I felt the tears swell in my eyes. The little boy in her class that has a physical disability is already being discouraged by a classmate? My heart hurt for his Mom, because if she heard this story it would shatter her, most likely more than it would him. She has probably struggled so much already watching him overcome his challenges and now his new classmates are starting to pick on him.  Our son doesn’t have a physical disability, but has his fair share of challenges that make him different from his peers. Watching him overcome all of them as his Mom is heart wrenching, only because I wish I could take it all away from him and hate when he suffers.

My daughter went on to explain that she could tell Declan was really sad and mad, based on the expression he had on his face so she told him that he was really fast.  My heart bursted with pride. She had asked me about his braces a few weeks ago when school started and I had encouraged her to talk to him about it, to ask him why he has them and what makes them special.   I had forgotten about our conversation until this moment.

I told her how very proud I was, and how wonderful it was that she wanted to make her classmate feel better. “Treat others how you would like to be treated,” I repeated, and said one day someone will make her feel better when someone else makes her feel sad. (At least I hope that happens, we are firm believers in karma over here!) She then told me about how Declan told her his legs aren’t as strong so he has to do special exercises and he gets to go swimming to strengthen them. She LOVES swimming, so hearing he got to do this regularly was awesome to her.  We then talked about how Declan is stronger in other ways than we are.  I explained that strength doesn’t have to be measured by physical capabilities, but it can be measured in other ways, like endurance and persistence.  We then agreed that Declan was probably more resilient than other children because he knows what it’s like to work harder than others with having to walk.

As a person with a disability, and raising a son that has one, I welcome the type of conversation that my daughter had with Declan. To me, educating others on our circumstances raises awareness and makes me feel less alienated. Specifically at this young, impressionable, five year old age, I want my children to explore and understand all differences. This is what drives diversity and defines each of us. We all have circumstances that set us apart from one another, and we don’t need to understand them, but we should try and we definitely need to respect them.  When someone asks me questions about my head injury, lingering symptoms or our sons’ epilepsy I use that as an opportunity to educate.   I only hope my children continue to ask questions and respect their classmates, and treat others how they would like to be treated.

I may be screwing up the math homework over here, but we killed it with kindness in the Kindergarten classroom this week.  I am likely still screwing them up, but my crazies will be kind little classmates. And they are all mine. Happy Friday, tribe. Be well and be kind.

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