Today I met the most outstanding young man. Although he couldn’t swim, he could “doggy splash” with the best of them. He was seven years old, although he did ask me, “don’t I look eight?!” The truth is, I had no idea how old he was or how old he looked, but I did know he had the soul of a spectacular little boy.
On Saturdays I take Anshu swimming. He loves to splash in the water and put he’s ears under to hear the muffled sounds of children’s shrieks as they go down the water slide, or play in the shallow end. Usually I have my bathing suit on and can physically guide Anshu away from things or people if need be, but yesterday I forgot to grab my bag so I was stuck on the side of the pool. Watching. I was skeptical about this because I never know if he is going to listen to my verbal commands and without a swim suit on, I would have been stranded just watching him if for some reason he started having a behavioral issue. Helpless.
I always get timid when people break the little bubble of space I try to create around Anshu for my peace of mind, but as a little boy and his mom approached us I felt a sense of calmness. The mom looked a little weary, standing back enough to let her kid interact, but close enough to intervene if necessary. There were a series of questions exchanged between this little boy and I and he put his head in the water, mimicking Anshu, and hitting the palm of his hand quickly against the water. He got down on Anshu’s level. He tried to put himself in a nonverbal kid’s situation. I admire everything about this seven year old boy.
This is my thank you letter to seven year old, Riley and his mom. I’m thanking them for not only putting up with Anshu and his excessive splashing, but actually trying to understand him as well.
First, to Riley, you will never know how much your curiosity and willingness to ask questions and listen to the answers will better not only your life, but all the people around you. Your gentle voice, barely audible above the loud fountains and jets in the hot tub was enough to echo in my face. You made me smile and I could feel my eyes glow as you asked me why Anshu doesn’t understand, if he knows how to say banana and in sign language, and if he liked being splashed back and then listen attentively to all my explanations and answers. Your quiet invites from the shallow end to the deep, the pool to the hot tub, and the hot tub to snack with you and your mom were some of the kindest gestures I’ve ever seen from someone. Anshu’s lack of eye contact, words, and all around interest didn’t effect you trying to make a new friend.
And about your mom, Riley, you have been blessed with someone who encourages you to learn, ask questions, and to be so kind hearted. Her smile matched mine as she watched you get involved with a child everyone else usually shies away from. Even if your invites were stemmed from her suggestions she’s given you roots to grow confidant in yourself…enough so that you’re will to love everyone else.
Riley, you are just another example of how truly incredible kids can be. Please, no matter what, hold your curiosity in both hands and politely push it down everyone else’s sense of how people should be. You created a glimpse of how society can be so uplifting. Thank you for providing me with enough faith in humanity to last a few more days.
And to Riley’s mom, I’ll never know if it was his idea or yours to approach us and ask, “Have we met before?” but either way, you let it happen. You stood close enough to hear, but far enough away so Riley felt like he was doing it on his own. Now, I don’t know if you know Anshu, like that random lady at the mall we ran into last week, but even so…thank you for easing some of my worries by engaging with the two of us and making me feel at rest with his splashing and loud humming. You and your son made me feel like I actually blended in, which, sadly, doesn’t happen a whole lot when I’m out with Anshu. I don’t know what kind of grades Riley gets in school but I can bet that he’s miles ahead of his classmates when it comes to relationships, friendships, and conversations. He’s leaps and bounds before them in how to treat other human beings. You made it possible for him to make my day lighter than I ever expected it to be. Keep encouraging Riley. Keep loving him. And keep smiling together.