Two boys in these photos. One is wearing footie Batman PJ’s on a hot summer evening, and the other, his buddy Logan, is sporting more sensible shorts and t-shirt, along with a pair of crutches. They are playing soccer in our back yard. Together. For over an hour. Until it was too dark to see each other. It’s important to understand the fact that these little fellows have played together since before Carver even had words, sometimes just ramming trucks into one another and now, more recently, biking around our neighborhood.
Just the other day, a memory popped up in my FB newsfeed, that explained how Carver and Greta (then 3 and 2) were playing their favorite disabled shark game on the kitchen floor. Doesn’t everyone have a favorite disabled shark game? Carver tells his sister not to worry, “Sharky can still ski even though he broke his back in a snowmobile accident.” It’s funny, right. A shark who skis– or better yet, a shark who becomes disabled in a snowmobile accident.
So, when your dad has a physical disability and spends a lot of time with other folks with wide ranging abilities, you grow up feeling like it’s completely natural to basically pummel your friend, who needs to crutches to walk, with a soccer ball. And they even keep score. It’s sort of awful and wonderful at the same time to watch as the mother of the kid in the Batman pajamas as he knocks Logan down, sometimes helping him up, and sometimes they just decide it’s easier if Logan plays goalie because he can use his whole body to block the shots.
I turned to Logan’s father, our dear friend Mark, whom we’ve known for over a decade since his older son Owen began skiing at New England Disabled Sports back when Geoff was the sports director. “Is this OK? I mean, no one is crying, and they are laughing from time to time, but still, I’ll need you to take the lead on this one parenting- wise.” I send pictures to Logan’s mom, Peggy, slightly horrified by the ones of my little girl using him as a target for water balloons, yet he is smiling because the day is hot and water balloons feel good.
Mark chuckled and said we would know if Logan wasn’t having a good time and should just let them play. Now, the fact that his arms were all bruised around his crutch cuff (the part that goes around his arm) and could barely move the next morning after the heavy soccer session is hard to swallow. But we let them play.
We watched them make natural adaptations. For example, Logan used his crutches to assist in his goalkeeping. In order for the goal to count, the shot had to be down low. But more importantly, there was zero parent involvement except when we intervened at 9 pm because both boys were shells of themselves and needed to be put to bed. They played their blessed little hearts out without fighting, without yelling at each other, and without needing conflict resolution. They figured it out. They problem solved how soccer could be fun together, and Logan agrees two weeks later, he did have fun and is sure to mention, “I scored three goals.” The goal part is still important.
We have other friends whose adult children have cognitive disabilities. Just the other day, Carver wondered aloud for the first time if our one friend’s son who is 30 could read. He spends a lot of time in our neighborhood often checking on the kids with their tree climbing– totally a “safety first” kind of young man. My response, “Ask him if he would like to read you a story, and if he isn’t comfortable with that he will tell you.” And Greta made the connection that this young man’s sister is a grown up who loves the same kinds of games and TV shows that she does. And we love our friend Ian, a man in his mid thirties, who works at a variety of jobs in our community and also has Down Syndrome, but when he gives out hugs, our kids use their words to remind him, “Not so hard a squeeze,” because he gives out so much love, sometimes it can be overwhelming to a little person.
Speaking of little people, DeDe has been a ski instructor at Loon Mountain for decades in countless capacities including the disabled and able-bodied ski schools. Our kids are obsessed with how good of a skier DeDe is because, in their words, “She is the oldest little kid” they have ever seen or skied with. “How does DeDe drive a car? How does DeDe reach the high stuff in her fridge? Hmmm,” they wonder, “maybe she uses hand controls like our dad, or hand grabbers to reach the snacks like at our house?”
But we let them play. Cannot wait for the Rio Paralympics to begin on September 7. Please watch. Let them play. #WeAreAllSportsFans.