His name was Kenneth. He was supposed to be in a special education class. It was said he would never walk. He was told his speech would prevent him from participating in class. Doctors said his crooked spine would keep him from playing with other children.
But those doctors obviously didn’t know Kenneth’s mother.
It was the beginning of the school year, and I was in third grade. That was the day I met Kenneth for the first time.
As I jumped off my school bus and tugged at my book bag, eager to get to class and catch up with my old friends, I noticed a red van in the drop-off line. There was a woman who had the prettiest (at least I thought) brown, curly hair that fell to about the middle of her back. She was a Momma, I could tell. She had that look about her. She was rushing to the passenger side of the van with a book bag hanging off her shoulder.
As the door slid open, my friends and I saw Kenneth for the first time. His Momma helped him out of the van and straightened his shirt out over his chest. I admit, the first time, I noticed Kenneth’s chest almost looked like he had football gear on or something.
But that is not what got my attention. As his Momma fixed his shirt, my eyes went down to his legs. He had two braces on them.
“I wonder what happened to that kid,” my friend Jeremy asked, as we walked up the sidewalk.
“I dunno,” I replied, picking up my pace so that they wouldn’t notice me staring.
Afterwards, I found my homeroom filled with a few new faces. But those familiar grins from my old buddies were there to greet me. We already had our names taped on our assigned desks, but the shenanigans were already in full force. A spitball had already found its way to the chalk board, and a Whoppie Cushion was already confiscated by our teacher Mrs. Collins.
Our laughter ended when we saw Kenneth come in the classroom. He had on that red shirt with the slight bulge. His braces made a weird noise as he slid his feet across the floor. He was nervous, you could tell.
But his Momma walked beside him grinning from ear to ear at all of us kids. She was the happiest looking person I had ever seen before.
“Look at all your new classmates,” she said, still holding Kenneth’s book bag. “I bet everyone is excited to be back?”
We all either shrugged or shook our heads. But I smiled back at her because she seemed like a nice lady.
For a few moments, Kenneth’s Momma and Mrs. Collins talked in the corner of the classroom. Kenneth made his way around the room until he found his desk. I noticed when he sat down, something hard hit the back to the desk chair.
Hoping not to embarrass him, Kenneth’s Momma waved good bye to him and told us kids to have fun.
It was later explained to us that Kenneth had some sort of muscular dystrophy and scoliosis. He walked using braces, and that bulge we kept noticing was a brace. He sometimes had a hard time talking, but after waiting a few minutes he always seemed to get his point across.
He was my classmate until I moved away several years later. He couldn’t run with us during Red Rover. He couldn’t bend his back over the monkey bars and dangle. And he never got that solo in the Christmas musical.
But he was funny, poking fun at himself a lot of the times. He was smart, made straight As all year. He was the best project partner you could ask for. He traded the best snacks at lunch. And his Momma was the best “party Mom” we had ever seen.
He was happy. He didn’t let his disability get him down. He was never excluded from us. And he cheered you up when you were down.
And his Momma made him that way. Kenneth’s Momma refused to send him to a special school. She refused to let him feel sorry for himself. She joked with him. She would load us all us and take us to the zoo. She threw the best birthday party for him at the agricultural museum.
She showed Kenneth just how happy and awesome life can be despite the struggles that may come daily.
Kenneth certainly was “special,” but not special needs. He was a genuine happy person who reminded us kids to laugh more and don’t sweat the small stuff.
And it all started getting out of the van that day…with a little push from Momma.