A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, my 9-year-old daughter hurt her foot doing gymnastics. She’s been in a knee-high boot and on crutches for almost a month now. And I am grateful.
Not merely grateful that we live in an age of miracles and wonder and modern medicine that made it so she didn’t have to be in a heavy, itchy, plaster cast, and that she can still take baths and sleep with less discomfort than she would have been forced to suffer even a decade ago.
But I am also grateful for the suffering she is going through. Not to say I’m happy that she’s in pain and disappointed about all the gymnastics she’s missing (they’re learning a new routine without her!). But I am, nonetheless, happy that her up to now charmed life has been thrown a (manageable) monkey wrench.
For one thing, needing to get places via crutches has made my daughter aware of such things as curbs that don’t have wheelchair ramps (and, when they do, the impassable puddles that form there whenever it rains). They’ve made her cognizant of which subway stations have elevators and which don’t, and how hard it must be for some people to get around New York City on a daily basis. She’s also become much more conscientious of heeding public bus signs asking passengers to vacate the front seats for the elderly and disabled—and of those who don’t really give a damn and sit wherever they feel like, even if a member of the designated demographic is trying valiantly to remain balanced right next to them.
“Some people are just rude and discourteous,” I told my daughter. “What can you do?”
But being on crutches has also taught my daughter that some people are considerate and kind.
For instance, in those subway stations that don’t have an elevator, she’s forced to—slowly and deliberately—struggle up the stairs, one at a time. The majority of our mornings, people have politely waited behind her—even when she was visibly holding up traffic; and this is NYC! Everyone is always in a hurry! Some folks have even offered her sympathy and encouragement. Once, a man simply picked her up, carried her up the stairs, then set her down, and walked off with a wave! (I realize that, in our current climate, I should have assumed he was kidnapping her and instantly become hysterical. But that’s not how I roll.)
In addition, her friends at school have been especially solicitous (and not merely because hanging out with her allows you to take the elevator on her pass). They’ve carried her backpack (and I’m convinced this child lugs bricks around, that’s the only thing that can explain how heavy it is). They’ve helped her with her lunch tray. They’ve made her get-well cards.
Finally, those who read me regularly know that we are NOT an Everybody Gets a Trophy Family. We are, in fact, a Failure Builds Character Family And If You Want a Compliment You’d Better Work For It Bunch.
We don’t praise our three kids for doing what’s expected: being polite, doing their chores, getting good grades, keeping their promises, etc. If we’re going to dole out the tributes, it’s going to be for an outlying situation.
My daughter and her crutches have been an outlying situation. Yet, no matter how hard it was learning to manipulate her crutches (and it was harder than she expected; she thought it would be all fun and swinging, not anticipating how sore her arms would be after just a few steps), my daughter remained upbeat and positive. Sure, there were a few tears. She’s 9! But credit goes to those who can pull themselves together after a meltdown, too. No matter how disappointed she was—and she was pretty crushed when an appointment with the pediatric orthopedist resulted in a prescription of two more weeks in the boot; she’d been so excited about ditching it, she brought along her extra shoe to change into—she continued to look on the bright side.
Because it now took us much longer to get to school, she took it upon herself to wake up earlier—with only a few token complaints.
Those are all acts worth complimenting.
And you know what they say: Praise that comes from your parents is nothing. It’s when it comes from strangers that kids really believe it.
One day, as she persevered up the subway stairs, huffing and puffing and wincing with each step, a man waiting at the top for her to make it all the way up before he headed down, observed, “Tough kid.”
Yes, she is. This setback proved it not only to me, but to her, as well. My daughter will have the knowledge of how graciously she handled this crisis whenever the inevitable next one arises.
And for that, I am truly grateful.