My heart was broken into a million pieces by a group of elementary school kids today.

I was escorting my 9-year-old to the bus for ski club. He loves skiing. He loves ski club. This was his first time getting on the bus without his best friend. The one that took him under his arm as they walked out the school doors and was excited his buddy Arlo was skiing too.

It’s hard for Arlo to make friends. Everyone knows him. Everyone seems to like him. But true connections are rare. Arlo has Down syndrome. He looks different. He acts different. He is a boy of few, hard to understand words. My heart sank when his bestie’s mom told me last week they had to relocate suddenly, but hopefully briefly.

When Arlo got on that bus today, he looked back at me with his quivering lip and said, “Mom, I go home.”

I got on the bus and pleaded to the kids, “Hey everybody, Arlo really needs a friend. Can someone sit with him?” Familiar faces stared back at me blankly. One child who has been at my home many, many times looked me straight in the eye and said nothing.

I was panicking on the inside but trying to remain calm for my son. It can be hard to bring him back from moments like this.

I knew another one of his friends was on the bus. I gently guided him toward the back. She immediately welcomed Arlo to sit with her and literally saved the day. A seemingly small gesture by this 9-year-old girl meant the world to her friend and even more to his 40-something mother.

We give so much (needed) attention to bullying. We talk about kindness.

What about just being a friend? How about teaching our kids to step out of their comfort zones and get to know kids who aren’t like them? Teach our children that this transcends the boundaries of the classroom and school playground. Just because a child can’t talk, doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say. Kids are kids are kids are kids. Our outer shells are just that.

Perhaps most shocking is that in a group of at least 10 kids, none of them stepped up when an adult asked for help. Their peer was visibly upset and nothing. How about teaching our kids to jump at the chance to help someone? To look out for each other. To pay attention. To have some EMPATHY.

I know it’s hard for 7, 8, and 9-year-olds to understand that giving up sitting next to your buddy for 20 minutes isn’t a big deal. So, how about teaching them that helping someone in need IS a big deal? While we’re at it, how about teaching them that helping people in need is more than donating to a food pantry or putting old winter coats in a box? How about we lead by example and show that sometimes doing the right thing is stepping outside our own comfort zone?

There is a bright silver lining to my and Arlo’s temporary heartache. He came home smiling, still in love with ski club.

Then the reports came in. His adaptive guide said he did amazing on the slopes, solo skiing with just tethers attached for safety.

He made some new friends at dinner. Laughing and chowing down. One of those friends helped him take care of his tray when he was finished.

And that friend reported to her mother, who reported to me, that Arlo was the only one on the bus who could solve this riddle:

“Rumbling red cars are running: Can you spell it without an R?”

Bus-mates: “????” Arlo: “I-T”

And that is how you mend my broken heart.

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