Throughout my life I've often overheard parents discussing what they know about bringing up children. But in my social and familial circles, I don't think I've ever heard parents talk about what they've learned from their children. Actually, I should mention that I recently read an entire book that talks about lessons learned from a Down Syndrome child, but other than that, I've really not heard anyone else talk on the subject. I, on the other hand, am amazed at how Lorenzo continues to teach and remind me about things such as compassion and caring. On a recent vacation, an incident in the airport was where one of these life lessons took place.
While my wife Robin, my son Lorenzo and I were waiting in line to board a flight back home, a small girl in front of us dropped a pretty glass ornament filled with pink sand and seashells. The girl cried inconsolably for a new ornament, which the parents couldn't produce since we were about to board the plane. They tried reasoning with her and told her they would get her a new ornament to put her shells into, but she wasn't comforted. After some time, they finally told her to control herself. As this was happening, Robin and I were watching Lorenzo. He started communicating to us in his two year old way, saying, "Girl sad, see her". Robin asked him if he wanted to give her a bead from a bead collection he was playing with, so Lorenzo approached the girl, offered her a bead and said, "Share". At this point her father started holding her and she just seemed to need to express her disappointment and sadness, so we let her be alone with her daddy. I was holding Lorenzo at this point and explaining to him that her daddy was comforting her now and that she probably just needed to cry because she was feeling sad. He said "sad" once again and began pushing my head forward a little, saying "Kiss". This was his way of saying, "Help her feel better" as in in "Kiss her boo boo". Earlier in the week he used the same gesture on me when he saw a girl crying because of a scraped knee.
I believe that Lorenzo's compassion for others may be due, in part, to how we respect his feelings and needs. Robin and I have tried to take every expression of his seriously since he was born. He has always been quite sensitive and has expressed his needs passionately and emphatically whether through his own pre-verbal communication, tears or sign language. In those first challenging years before he acquired speech, we learned how to interpret his communication with us in order to meet his needs as best we could. I think he may have known that it was as hard for us to understand him as it was for him to communicate with us, but somehow he understood that we were all struggling to learn together and the important thing was that we were trying hard with each other. I think, in some way, he must understand that we respect his feelings and the expression of his needs. Sometimes we will be at a place where a child might be hurting or sad and the parent or caregiver will be ignoring their child's crying or worse, telling their child to stop crying and to be quiet. At those times Robin and I have the difficult time of explaining to Lorenzo that those caregivers are not respecting that child's feelings.
I believe that empathy comes naturally when, as a child, your needs are regarded empathically. I think Lorenzo wants treat others the way he is treated. I believe he wants to comfort them when they express the need for comfort and to recognize and acknowledge sadness, happiness, frustration in everday incidents. Maybe he feels his heart breaking along with children that are sad and knows that they can feel comforted by just being near them and is trying to express that. I don't know for sure. It is nice to be reminded in such a beautiful way that it is important to recognize others' needs, however small, and to feel compassion for them. I thank my two year old son for that precious gift.