Monday, July 5, 2010

Helping Kids Be Kids

by Kelley Lindberg

The other day I was sitting at the local skate park watching my son in his skateboard lesson. It’s a fun way for him to spend a summer morning, learning tricks and confidence and respect.

There are about 30 kids in this class, divided into beginning, intermediate, and advanced groups, all of them earnest, eager, and a little intimidated, no matter what their experience level, by the concrete hills and valleys, drop-offs and rails. But they’re calling encouragement to each other, listening intently to their teachers, and pushing themselves just enough to try that new trick and hear their little compatriots cheer.

Since about one out of every twenty kids is estimated to have food allergies, there should be at least one kid in this group with food allergies, and maybe two kids. Of course, I know for a fact that there’s at least one – my son. It’s that possibility of a second or even a third that intrigues me. I look around the park at the different faces. Which one could it be? The little guy with the crew cut and plaid shorts? The black kid in the white shirt? The girl in the black helmet?

Of course, there’s no way to know. You can’t tell which child has food allergies by looking at them. They look, act, feel, think, and play like every other kid. They dream and fear and laugh and cry like every other kid. They get hungry and thirsty like every other kid.

As parents of kids with food allergies, it’s easy to think our kids are different. But it’s our job, our challenge, and out joy to make them feel normal. To help them be part of the crowd. To let them experience life in all its varied aspects. To be a kid.

One of the things I like about this skateboard camp is that there’s no food involved, ever. In this two-hour class each week, the entire focus is on learning skills and having fun. No snack break. No candy rewards for mastering a new trick. Just water to keep the young bodies hydrated, and plenty of positive support to keep them physically challenged and motivated.

Of course, every one of these kids is an individual. They all come from unique backgrounds, and each of them faces their own set of challenges, setbacks, successes, and joys. But here at the skate park, they’re all just kids, united by a new adventure, cheered on by their pint-sized companions.

Kids getting to be kids.

That’s what summer’s all about.

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