On the first day of school, I introduced Joel’s third grade class to Blackbeard the Bearded Dragon. BlackBeard has limb difference because he was bullied and attacked by other lizards. They hurt him and he lost a foot and several claws. To save his life, BlackBeard was placed in an ‘orphanage for lizards’ that houses reptiles that can no longer be cared for by their owners.
BlackBeard grew stronger as he was cared for by the staff, and was soon ready for a new home. We adopted him in 2013, and he has since become the fastest cricket eater in the West, with a tongue that is faster than the eye can see. BlackBeard has no idea that he is missing a foot, so we don’t stare or point at him. He doesn’t like eating his vegetables, but he loves being held and carried around outside.
I explained how BlackBeard may look different on the outside, but he is ALL-Lizard on the inside. He eats like a lizard, he thinks like a lizard, and he has lizard hopes and dreams…mainly of crickets. I then explained that there are lots of people that also look different on the outside. Some may be like BlackBeard and have limb differences or need wheelchairs, or prosthetics, or walkers. And I keep talking about all the differences that they might see. Children with Down syndrome, or Spina Bifida, children that may respond differently because they have autism. There is all kinds of different in this world; people with different colored skin, different eyes, different abilities to talk, walkers to walk, wheelchairs to roll. There are children with no hair, without an ear, without an arm.
And the students in his class, began sharing about the people they know that are different. Uncles without a leg, or a grandma that is blind. And this allowed them to relate different to someone they love and it’s not scary. I end with how we find friendship with the heart; not the eyes.
Maybe you can take a moment to teach your children about BlackBeard and about Joel. Teach your children that many people look different. Show them pictures of people that look different. And then explain that it is not okay to stare at someone that looks different, it’s not okay to point. Teach them that my Joel is the same on the inside as your child is. He loves Dodge Ram trucks, and Minecraft, and digging in the dirt. He loves ketchup, but does not love broccoli. And mostly, he does not like people staring or pointing out that he looks different. I don’t think he needs this pointed out, it’s something he lives with everyday.
Then introduce them to Joel’s friends-
I have worked with children my whole life. I have found that teaching acceptance, compassion and kindness must be intentional. As a parent, this can be done by not missing out on an opportunity to have your children interact with someone who is different. The more they are exposed to different, the less it becomes a big deal. Children can learn to see ‘different’, and look past the outside and see the heart. This can be accomplished by making friends who are different. If you’d like to be Joel’s friend, please feel free to leave a picture or a comment.
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. We stick together and can see it through. Cause you’ve got a friend in me.
Andy – Toy Story