This Brief Email Was Exactly What This Worried Mom Needed

by Laura Gaddis
An e-mail praising the behavior of the student with a photo of the kid on the left
Laura Gaddis

In a world filled with hateful speech, violence, people hurting people through actions and words, and a profound misunderstanding that everyone is one-of-a-kind — as we should be — one email changed my view of what can happen when we are preoccupied with the negative and not looking for the good.

My daughter Evelyn was born two months prematurely and suffered from physical anomalies. While still in utero, the ultrasound revealed her clubbed feet and a multitude of other joint contractures. Her wrists bent downward and barely moved, her knees were stuck outstretched and she appeared unable to bend them. Her left arm moved more than her right.

These abnormalities caused fine and gross motor skill delays. Through nearly two years of occupational and physical therapies, she now lifts her right arm about halfway as far as the left. While grasping small objects is difficult for her tiny fingers, she earnestly attempts to use the right digits when we urge her to. We take for granted having two functional hands; she has to be taught that both of her upper limbs are useful.

Like toting socks filled with gravel, her largely motionless legs have often held back her ambulation. Instead of crawling on hands and knees, she modified an army crawl leaning hard onto her weakened right arm, pulling even harder with her functional left arm, and dragging her lower body like a snake slithering along with his paralyzed back half.

Now at 2-years-old, we practice her walking skills daily, although she can only find her balance long enough to sometimes get to the count of 3 before collapsing under her unsteadiness. Braces help support her ankles, but without them her feet cannot seem to find the strength to hold her 24-pound body upright long enough to take a step. She is a fighter. She has come far with her therapy goals. Even when delayed, she meets all challenges we have presented to her, just on her own timeline.

While she does not know life without this hardship, as her mother I am heartbroken each day she cannot run with her peers on the playground, walk to the kitchen table to sit down with us at dinner, or stand long enough to get her pants on “like a big girl.”

A tireless worry about sending her to school, exposing her to criticism, bullying, and teasing consumes my days. Yet, when I drop her off, I see that her classmates are still too young to understand Evelyn is different when she comes in wearing hard plastic braces stretched up to her knees. They see through the exterior and show interest for her beautiful soul: her bright smiling face, friendly way of greeting all those who come into a room, and willingness to share toys. Always looking for a friend to engage, Evelyn does not feel shame for her delays nor is she embarrassed by the extra gear she needs to wear. If only it could stay that way forever.

The email I received from my sister brightened my day even as the anxiety about Evelyn’s well-being lingered.

Written by my niece’s first-grade teacher, it was the perfect reminder that not all kids pick on the weak, or the different, or the fallen.

Hi all,

Lately, I have been overjoyed with your daughter’s behavior and I wanted to praise her for it, as well as notify you about it.

She has been helping one of her classmates in her homeroom that has additional needs.

She is kind, patient, mature, and positive.

I have particularly enjoyed watching their friendship bloom and the truly amazing gift she has when it comes to working with this particular student.

In addition, she has the ability to multitask — work with this student and continue with her learning.

I’m sure she has already mentioned her new friend, but if you get a chance to…ask her about it. 🙂

Have a lovely evening!

1st Grade Teacher

My niece has a kind heart: She loves animals, babies, and makes lots of friends. But what I did not expect upon opening that email is how at 6-years-old she taps effortlessly into a compassion that should make most adults blush at our own ineptness as we often fail to be a humble part of humanity.

We worry about appearances and gossip about those who are different. We try to earn respect through materialism, often living outside our means with the cars we drive, the homes we buy, and the technological gadgets we accrue. And as much as we struggle to blend in so we do not appear deviant from the norm, we continue to chastise those who are unique.

Her actions spoke louder than a bully on the playground. She found time to integrate her peer into her world. She saw a need to help and filled it. Without wondering what she would get out of this good deed, she treated another child with grace, love, and compassion.

My niece gives me hope that Evelyn will meet children with her kind soul as she progresses in school.

I can now hope that another child will carry her books if Evelyn struggles to get to class before the bell; if she cannot run as quickly as others, that the more athletic kids will still choose her to be on their baseball team in gym class. I dream of an environment in which Evelyn will feel safe, cared for, and just as imperative to our community as any other child.

As a mother, the worry will never leave me. But when I opened this email, I felt the apprehension relent a bit. I breathe a bit easier sending her to daycare knowing children are more capable in showing such great benevolence than for which we give them credit.

Perhaps what I dream for today really can be a reality for Evelyn.