I couldn't help but write you this letter, and I hope that's OK. I have so much to thank you for, first for being Zoe's '"buddy" at summer camp. There is more I want to share with you too. My hope is that you will tuck this letter away and read it again at different times in your life.
I hope it will help you make sense of your world, maybe inspire or comfort you when words like these are what your heart needs.
I bet you couldn't tell that first day how upset Zoe was at the idea of going to this new summer day "camp" program. She cried, real tears that came and went for the five days before she left. Tears that made my mother's heart ache, and wonder again if I was doing the right thing. Zoe's friends at school know her -- they are used to seeing her dart across campus in her pink power wheelchair. And the kids that are the kindest to Zoe now are for the most part the same kids that looked beyond her walker, with the pink bike basket tied on back, on the first day of kindergarten. Zoe knows that kids aren't using to meeting other kids like her, and sometimes don't see beyond the differences.
But you did. You looked past her wheelchair and her aide and you talked about her favorite toys, boy bands and Disney shows. Your comfortable smile pulled her in and you stuck by her side, giving her so many precious gifts; friendship, acceptance and the courage and self-confidence to try new things.
I know you were doing what you signed up to do, and I know that even at your young age, your faith was the reason for doing it, but you were so authentic and real. I saw your eyes shine on the last day of camp when Zoe handed you the friendship bracelet she made, and your shy smile in return when you gave Zoe the necklace you brought for her. I saw the light on both your faces, and that moment, that week, is something my family won't ever forget.
By accepting Zoe, you changed our life. You helped Zoe learn important truths we all need, like how family and friends help us grow strong and that with encouragement, we can build each other up -- and that's what you did, you helped build Zoe up. You even showed me the strength of a community that helps us stand strong after a grueling end of the school year where I lost heart and even a little faith fighting for Zoe's needs.
I am writing this letter today, not just to the young girl you are right now, but also for your years to come, to the big sister you will always be.
I saw how loving and patient you were with your own little sister, too. I heard her laugh, saw her smile and the way she likes to hang on you. How smart she is, and the way she likes to play with your mom's iPhone, just like any typical toddler. I noticed something else too. I noticed that your little sister is special too. Special like Zoe, special in the way that your being her big sister, will make your life different too.
Zoe has a big sister too. Her big sister, Olivia, has probably been the most important influence in Zoe's life, her best playmate when they were little, her BFF. She taught Zoe all about those boy bands you talked about, and has spent hours on the floor playing Barbies and Polly Pockets with her. She helps me pick out trendy clothes that Zoe will like, and looks out for Zoe, making sure she fits in, and is accepted. Her patience has helped give Zoe the self assurance to start conversations, and socialize with friends at school. The respectful way Olivia addresses Zoe in front of others sets the standard of how she should be treated, and the laughter she shares with Zoe-warms her own big sister heart.
If your family life is like ours sometimes, there could be moments with your family when you may feel less loved or attended to, maybe because your little sister needs more attention, but I will tell you from my own Mom heart that your parents love you just as much. They are proud of your patience, your strength and your kindness -- and at the end of every day, love and worry just as much about you too. They worry about showing you enough love like you deserve, or if they are spending enough time by your side. Don't ever lose faith in your family.
I know you will set examples for others someday, like you did by being Zoe's buddy, and in how you will treat your own little sister. But for today, know that you have made a difference in someone's life, you filled my daughter's heart with your friendship, and her joy made me cry.
And I know that all these wonderful gifts do and will continue to fill your own sister's heart to overflowing and your mother's eyes with tears of joy.