Back when I was in second grade, I found myself in an awkward position when a Special Needs girl in my class observed me handing out invitations to “selected friends” for my seventh birthday party. Her name was Mary and I’ll never forget her. Mary approached me and asked if she could come to my birthday party too. I told her that I would have to check with my mother first. Upon hearing this, Mary began to cry. Without thinking about it further, I handed her an invitation and told her that she was welcome.
When I got home from school that day, I told my mother what I had done. I knew that I might lose some friends – some of the more “popular girls” – by asking Mary to join us. At that time, Special Needs children were mixed in with the rest of the kids in elementary school and they generally were seated way in the back of the classroom to minimize any possible disruption.
My Mom listened to me recount how bad I felt for Mary but that I was also fearful that I had possibly made a mistake by extending the invitation to her. Then she hugged me and told me that she was very proud of me for being so kind and pointed out that Mary probably never got invited to anyone’s birthday party before. In doing so, she helped me realize that compassion was more important than popularity and that what the rest of the kids thought was really not very important.
My seventh birthday party turned out to be a great success. Mary’s mother delivered her to my home and thanked me for including her, telling me with tears in her eyes that she was grateful that I “let” Mary join me. I’ll never forget the gift she presented to me – I actually still have it after all these years. It was a beautiful charm bracelet that reflected the light through a series of sparkling polished crystals. It was certainly the best gift I received that day, but the real lesson was transmitted by Mary, herself, in her happiness in just being present. She taught me how important it was to her to be treated with kindness and respect.
So when conversing with a young child, never underestimate how much they understand or the value they will place on that experience. I will never forget Mary Soulas, the classmate of mine who thanked me through her tears for inviting her to her first birthday party, ever!