By Dona Darr
Recently, I wrote of true friendship and how it takes a village to help raise a child with chronic illness. This became so joyfully apparent a few weeks ago in my daughter's fifth-grade class.
Almost immediately after the start of the school year, my daughter starting getting sick. It was the normal stuff: colds, sinus infections and, I am pretty sure, every viral respiratory infection known to man that primary immunodeficiency disease brings to bear. Every two to three weeks, we were visiting the doctor’s office or the urgent care facility and even some emergency rooms. By October, I had lost count and started trying to think of ways to protect her yet keep her in school. I struggled with the idea of possibly sending her to school in a surgical mask.
I struggled in my own mind about how wearing a mask could affect her. We had educated her teacher and, through him, her classmates on some of the things she needed to do to avoid getting sick: disinfecting her area after changing classes and frequent use of hand washing and hand sanitizers. Her classmates had grown accustomed to those procedures and had accepted them. But, would they accept a mask?
I sat down and talked with her about my concerns and the idea of wearing a mask. She is only 10 years old, but I felt this was a decision she needed to be a part of since she would have to endure any teasing that might occur. So, we had a long talk and ultimately agreed it was time to try something new.
The school had been wonderful so far about accommodating her needs and helping come up with ideas for keeping her infections at a minimum. I called her principal and also texted her teacher to let them know the following Monday, I would be sending her to school wearing a mask and hoped they could help with any teasing that might occur. Her teacher texted me back and asked where he could get masks. I told him the pharmacy and wondered what he was up to. I had a suspicion that he was going to ask the class to wear the masks as well, but would the kids really want to do this for my daughter?
Monday came, and before we left the house for school, I ask her if she was ready. She assured me she was. She was a little nervous but was ready to tackle the day. Not long after I dropped her off at school, I received a text from her teacher asking a favor of me. He had left a bag from Walgreens in his car that had been left at the repair shop that morning and wondered if I would go and pick it up for him and bring it to class. My suspicions grew. I did as he asked, and when I delivered the bag to school, he told me he had purchased masks. So as not to influence the class, I delivered the bag and promptly left but requested he send me a picture of whatever resulted from his plan.
Nothing could have prepared me for the text I would receive! Almost every child in my daughter’s fifth-grade class had chosen to wear the masks and support Emily in her battle to stay infection-free. The picture he sent was absolutely amazing! All I could do was sit there and stare at my phone and cry. The kids wore the masks all day with her. My daughter was so excited. She greeted me that afternoon with a smile on her face and told me all about how the kids wore the masks with her. There were even some kids who finished out the week with her. There were kids from other fifth-grade classes who were asking to wear the masks. I was completely amazed.
I posted the picture on my Facebook page and it went viral. It has now been seen all over the world, it was chosen as Facebook “Picture of the Day” on one of our local television stations and a story ran in our local newspaper. I am so proud to know these students. I am so proud to be a part of our community.
There have been many reports in the news of random acts of kindness. I cannot express what this act of kindness has meant to us. This was so much more than a financial gift or service. It was a gift of inclusion - a gift of acceptance and the willingness to assist in a simple, yet grand way to keep a child healthy. I think there is much to be learned from this fifth-grade teacher and his students.
These are our friends, and this is our village.