By Beth Sanderson
I have a friend who has a daughter who just turned seven. It’s been surreal to me to think about how
much she has grown and changed, and just how big a part of my life she has become, since she was
born. I often refer to her as “my niece”, as that’s quicker than saying “my friend’s little girl”, and she is
convinced I’m her mother’s sister. She even calls my dad “Pawpaw”, which always makes him smile.
As much as she has affected my life, I didn’t realize until we were out shopping the other day that I’ve
affected her as well. She has to hold an adult’s hand when we cross parking lots, and from the time she
was old enough to walk on her own, any time she’s gotten my hand, I’ve told her that she has to hold
my hand so I don’t get lost. At first, she would ask why I got lost if I wasn’t holding her hand, and I
would tell her that it was because I can’t see, so if she lets go, I don’t know where I’m at.
There have been a few humorous times, to sell the idea that I needed her help, that she’d let go of my
hand, just as we’d get to the entrance of the store, and I’d stop, and say in a panicked tone “Oh no!
Where did you go? I’m lost!” Usually, she’ll giggle, and come take my hand again, not letting go until
have the buggy, as she’s decided on her own that I’m also not lost if I’ve got a grip on the shopping cart.
Of course, this is a ploy to get her to hold my hand while we cross the lot, but she has always taken her
duty as my guide very seriously. The other day, we were going to do some shopping, and her mother
tried to take her hand, but she pulled away and ran over to me instead, exclaiming: “No, Mommy! If I
don’t help Aunt Beth, she’ll get lost, and Pawpaw will be sad.” I’m not ashamed to say it warmed my
Another time, that friend was picking me up from school, and my niece asked me why I didn’t get lost,
walking from the building to the car, like I did in the parking lot. I showed her my cane, and told her that
when I didn’t have her to help me, my cane helped me. I showed her how it told me where it was safe to
walk, and made sure I kept straight when walking down the sidewalk. To my surprise, she sulked. “Does
this mean you don’t need me anymore?”
What could I say to that? “I’ll always need you, Bug, but when you’re not there; this keeps me from
I doubt this ploy will work much longer. She’s a very bright girl, and getting more perceptive every day,
and yet as long as I can get her to “keep me from getting lost”, I’m going to treasure it.
This isn’t the only way she’s learned to adjust to being around people with disabilities. She learned at a
young age that Pawpaw couldn’t see at all, and so she makes a point to put things in his hand, and
describe pictures she’s drawn and wants to “show” him. And at Vacation Bible School last summer, she
had a boy in her class with Downs Syndrome. Many of the other children were hesitant to get to know
him, but she made a point to go sit by him, and include him as much as she could in what she was doing.
She was sad, at the end of the week, to learn he was just visiting, and that she wouldn’t get to see her
new friend anymore.
This gives me hope for the future, and proves one simple truth: If we’re willing to work with kids, and
expose them to people who are different, they’ll grow up embracing, rather than vilifying, differences,
and there are a lot of adults that could stand to learn to do that too.