Lessons learned from a park, a boy and a woman

A couple of years ago, a friend invited me to join her playgroup at Belmar Park. It was a glorious sunny day, the kind you relish as you watch your 1-year-old test out her wobbly legs like a baby bird taking flight.

As the mothers talked freely, the children played. They splashed in the stream, giggled on the train, squealed at the animals in the petting zoo and rolled in the grass. It was one of those times when everything just seemed right.

Until I met Daniel. Actually, it was my sweet daughter Hadley who instigated the introduction. She had wobbled over to a corner of the park about 30 feet away from our perch and had innocently plopped down beside this little boy. He was tow-headed, bespectacled and I will never forget his bottomless smiles. I will also not forget his accompanying oxygen tank.

I am unsure if he was with his mother or a caregiver but we started talking. Daniel was just a couple months older than Hadley but half her size and severely handicapped. But this child emanated a light like I have never seen. A light that spilled over as he eagerly watched the children play around him.

In those brief moments that we spoke, I had such a strong connection with this woman as she longingly looked over at our exclusive circle of friends. A voice screamed inside of me, “INVITE THEM OVER! She is in desperate need of companionship!”

But I did not.

I had my reasons, albeit superficial ones. After all, I did not know this woman, she did not know me. And besides, this was not my playgroup; I was already crashing it. How would it appear if I invited a complete stranger over?

That woman has probably long forgotten that day.

I have not.

It made me do some serious self-examination regarding how as women we can be the most amazingly supportive, thoughtful and loving yet also host a darker side of judgement, fear and cattiness. Why do we even have the ridiculous “Mommy Wars?” How is it we cannot just put aside our differences and relish in all those commonalities that bond us together?

It was a much-needed lesson. And I am slowly learning to listen to that voice and watch for those in need. And the toughest step of all: to look outside myself and take action.

I just wish I had listened the first time around because the image of Daniel is one that this mom will never forget.

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