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I have worked with young children most of my adult life.  Not having children of my own, I have found an outlet to "mother" and "nurture."

I work with an Indian Program in Southeast Oklahoma designed to meet the needs of children with "disabilities."  Back in November 1995, something happened that changed my life.

We were informed that our school was going to be admitting a "special needs child." 
That afternoon before the child's mother came in to enroll her, we curiously looked over her application.  I gasped as I read that at three years old she was a double amputee, from spinal menangitis.  She was also reportedly missing several of her fingers.

When her mother came in to do the paperwork required to enroll her, we cautiously asked her where "Kassidy" was.  She informed us that she was in the car -- they had not brought her "legs," so she had remained in the car with a friend.

Here was a single mother with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  While Kassidy was very excited about coming to school, her mother on the other hand was apprehensive.  She shared stories of Kassidy's experiences with groups of children at day care centers and how she was shunned and how the other children were not comfortable with her, nor would they play with her.

We encouraged her to bring Kassidy in and show her around her new school. 
I was not prepared for this beautiful, smiling child who clung to her mother.  Her knees wrapped tightly around her waist.  Her mother set her on the floor and she took off to explore, running on her knees.  That week's curriculum was Dinosaurs, and her face lit up, as she went from classroom to classroom, telling all she knew on the subject.

When they left, I called the director of the program, and explained that "I have to have this child!"  Even though my classroom was full, I wanted her in it.

The next day, during learning time, I excitedly told all the boys and girls about Kassidy.  I was so excited, that they became excited too.  She began the next day and they loved and accepted her, because I did.  Tottering on her prothesis, she let the children touch her special legs. 
A few weeks later, during an art project, she watched as we took each of the children's shoes off.  She watched as we traced around their feet on a piece of paper, and watched as they squirmed and giggled when the pencil went around their toes.

When it was her turn, she insisted that we pull her shoes off too.  That was not an easy task, but I did it.  I stood her on the paper and started to trace around her perfect little plastic feet.  When I started around the toes, she started to giggle wildly.  I have never heard anything more beautiful, and more heart breaking at the same time.  It was all I could do to continue, and when I was through, I excused myself, left my aide in charge, and left the room in tears. 
You see, the art project involved drawing a flower.  We traced their hands and fingers around the head of the flower to create the petals.  The children's feet became the leaves of the stem.  Because Kassidy only had a couple of fingers, her flower lacked all its petals.

But she didn't mind.  As a matter of fact, no child was more proud than Kassidy -- her little flower with the missing petals!  Her artwork was beautiful.  The other children not only accepted her, but smothered her in love.

Kassidy taught me more that year and the next than I ever taught her.   She taught me about adversity and how laughter could make even the most difficult conditions bearable.

-- Corrina Hyde, Durant, Oklahoma


Kassidy remained in Corrina's classroom the next year and became best friends with another little girl Carissa, who has cerebral palsy.   Kassidy is now going into 2nd grade, and Carissa is entering 1st grade, at separate schools.  Corrina, who wants to keep in touch with Kassidy "forever" continues to provide both girls an opportunity to get together at her house about once a month.  This summer, Kassidy will be going to Disney World through the Make a Wish Foundation.


Follow-up Story:


This summer a few days before school started, I realized how busy we were all about to be, and decided to squeeze in a "weekend."

I called Kassidy and Carissa and we excitedly made plans.  Kassidy had already begun 2nd grade the week before, and her mom was going to bring her over Friday evening.  Carissa, starting 1st grade, had plans and would join us Saturday afternoon.

When Kassidy arrived I immediately started plying her with questions about her trip to Disney World.  What did she do?  Did she have fun?  Who did she see?  It was several enthusiastic questions later that I realized, not only was she not responding, but she seemed very uncomfortable by my prodding.

I stopped, gave her a moment and said, "What's the matter, Kass?" 
Her simple reply, "The kids at school won't play with me."

I had feared this.  That summer Kassidy had moved into a small rural community.  Her mom only wanting the best, decided that a place in the country with a yard and room for a horse would be ideal.

I had feared the lack of exposure and education the other children might have when it came to sharing a classroom with a Special Needs Child.

"Why won't they play with you Kass?" 
It took her several moments to answer and then she declared passionately, "Because they don't think I can do anything!"

"Like what?" I asked. 
"Run and play chase" she said.

I reminded her then that she could run, climb, slide, swing, do everything they could do.  In an attempt to cheer her I said, "There are even things you can do, they can't do!"

She looked at me in disbelief, her eyes asked  "What?"

I said, "Can they take off their legs?"

"No" she said quietly.

I said, "Can they step on a sticker and not get hurt?" 
"No" she said smiling.

I said, "Can they get hit in the leg with a ball and just walk away without crying?"

"No" she said laughing. 
I assured her "You can do anyting they can do!"

Soberly she replied "I can't do cart wheels Ms. Cory!" 
"Yet!" I told her.  "You can't do cart wheels yet."

The next day Carissa arrived.  She was beaming from ear to ear.  This was her first official weekend without braces!  She could hardly wait to show off her new shoes.  She took them out of their box with the same care I'm sure Cinderella used with her slippers.

"Look Kassidy," she said "real shoes."  They were black suede pull-ons with a little gold buckle and a slight heel.  For Carissa they were more than just "apparel" -- they represented a very long personal struggle.  Having to wear braces to the knee she always had to have flat shoes that tied.  Shoes several sizes bigger than what she wore so they would fit over her braces.  Next she pulled out a pair of dainty white anklets with lace around the top.  Her previously blissful expression turned to one of disdain as she declared,  "I'm never wearing knee highs again!"

Carissa's mom shared with me later that Carissa had walked up to her holding her braces and said "You would be the best Mommy in the whole world, if you didn't make me wear these on Monday!"

Curious her mom asked, "Why?"  She knew Carissa realized that it was only for a few more days until her inserts were ready.  Carissa's simple reply was, "Because I might not know all the kids in my class and this way they won't know I'm handicapped."

Sunday morning as we were getting ready for church, I realized how independent they were becoming.  As they splashed around in the bath tub laughing and playing.  I began to lay their things out so they could get dressed.  For Carissa -- her dress, new shoes, and dainty anklets.  For Kassidy --  I unpacked her dress, noticed a new pair of pink high top tennis shoes and pink anklets in her bag.

I sat down and reached for her legs.  Working off her shoes and socks, I pulled the new ones out and tore off their tags.  With her legs in my lap I pulled on the new anklets and then the new shoes.  I tightened the laces and began to tie them.

I laughed and said, "Hey Kassidy, I just thought of something else you can do no one else can!"

"What?" came the reply in unison from the tub.

"You don't even have to be in the same room to get your shoes tied!"

There was silence for a moment.  And then their laughter filled the air!

-- Corrina Hyde