Charlie is different- his current physical limitations mean he can not do the things other children do. His frame makes him stand out, his jerky movements, his glasses and his AFO braces mean that he isn’t quite like his peers.
We, as parents, are acutely aware of this and it worries, and sometimes, scares us. People tend to make judgements on what they see and it frightens us that people may pity Charlie or treat him with a level of respect under that that he deserves; we are concerned that his physical limitations may prejudice their attitude and behaviour toward him. ‘Will he make friends?’, ‘Will he get picked on?’, ‘Will he get a girlfriend?’.
However, as with the Staring post, so far our concerns are groundless- particularly at pre-school we have found that Charlie’s differences are what have made him unique. His frame and his trike are a source of great interest for many of his peers- a fact actively encouraged by the fabulously nurturing staff, all the kids want a go on his ‘toy’.
The children quickly see Charlie’s differences simply as ‘Charlie’- children, the most honest critics but the most accepting people on the planet!
Fortunately Charlie has a magnetic personality and quite outgoing nature- he is much more likely to ask other people questions about what they’re doing to be concerned with himself or their interest in him. He will answer quite matter-of-factly when asked about his frame ‘it’s because I don’t walk very well’. He completely flummoxed a kindly shop assistant who asked him ‘how you doing today?’ when he replied, ‘OK, I’m just struggling with my walking today… got a bit of a brain injury…’- what an answer from a 3 year old!
What has been an absolutely eye-opening thing is from other children and their parents. What we think of as potential pitfalls to friendships and awkwardness have actually made Charlie quite a focus- as he is a bit different he is also that little bit more novel and interesting to other children. Parents even tell us that their children come home and tell them what their friend Charlie has been doing and heartwarmingly, ‘Can Charlie come round to play?’.
‘Can Charlie come round to play?’ is such a simple request but is something that has actually made me very emotional- to think another child wants to play with my boy fills me with such relief but also such pride. Incorrectly we assumed Charlie would be left out. We often consider Charlie’s ‘needs’ to be more than another child’s parent would be unwilling to shoulder- we often ‘think’ they wouldn’t be willing to or even be ‘frightened’ of what he might need. But simply by being asked ‘Can Charlie come round to play?’ we feel Charlie has that acceptance and normality that most parents would take for granted. It means that children like him and parents are happy to have him!
We worried Charlie wouldn’t get invited to parties or be asked to people’s houses to play but he has such a social calender we can only try to keep up. Not only does he have a different ‘best’ friend every week and constant new ‘girlfriends’ but the efforts of these children and their parents to fundraise for Charlie’s Challenge and support us and him has been breathtaking.
Thank you Charlie’s friends, thank you Charlie’s friend’s parents. Thank you for helping allay our fears and actively taking Charlie into your lives- he enriches ours and we hope, given the opportunity, he can yours too. Thank you!