There was no hesitation. Nico wanted to spend the night in a cabin with other kids (his cabin contains seventeen 5-7 year-old boys – can you imagine?). Hopkins provided transportation to the camp, and the child life specialist told us that the bus ride is a favorite of the kids. We arrived to the meeting spot at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. Ages ranged from Nico (the youngest) to teenagers. After an extensive check-in process, in which numerous personnel reviewed individual medication schedules, a huge white tour bus pulled up to the curb. The kids went nuts, oohing and aahing over their ride. I hid my tears, genuinely surprised by how much I hated the idea of separating. Nico was scared, but never waivered in his decision to go.
Nico joined a little wolf pack of older boys that loaded onto the bus first. Jeff and I nervously stood with a group of parents waiting to wave from the proverbial dock. Another couple pushed their own little girl in a wheelchair into the line. About eight years old, she was very thin and mostly bald. She wore a brace on her left foot and I believe her left arm as well. Once to the front of the line, she stood on her own and limped to the open door. I felt the group of parents that lined the curb collectively hold our breath and lean forward. This bus was huge and required a stepstool to even reach the stairs. The little girl swayed as she stood and trekked forward. Her parents stepped towards her ready to swoop. We all wanted to help her, at least prevent her from falling. One of the volunteers, a woman charged with this responsibility for more than twenty years, raised her hand toward the girls’ parents and confidently assured all of the adults in earshot, “She’s got this.” We deferred. With her strong arm, this little girl grabbed the side rail and pulled herself up the steps one leg at a time. She climbed all the stairs alone and became a shadow behind the bus’ tinted windows. Once aboard, she seemed to move quickly and gracefully to a seat. She never looked back.
She wanted to climb by herself. She could do it without us. We just needed to let her try. At least at some point, all of these children become aware of their vulnerability. They find this fragility, and leave it behind. It is not weakness. It becomes the road to their courage.