One Child at a Time This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
     I started volunteering in the pediatrics unit at my local hospital a few months ago. No, I am not fantastic with children; two-year-olds don’t crowd around me at family functions or target me as a potential playmate. But I wanted to get better at being with kids. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, why adults “ooh” and “ah” over children, why they take such pleasure in simple tasks like reading a child a story or taking a child for a walk. I did not know, however, that I would learn more from these young patients than I would from the doctors and nurses.

As I headed toward the playroom in the pediatrics unit on a typical Friday, I was stopped by a nurse. “When you’re finished with what you’re doing, would you play with one of the kids?” Curious, I was eager to finish my task as quickly as possible.

A while later, a nurse approached me with a little boy in her arms. His eyes appeared glued shut, and there was an awkward space between his eyelids and his sparse eyebrows. The nurse also wheeled a complicated system of tubes, screens, and liquids that attached to his thin arm with a needle wrapped in layers of tape and gauze. Setting him in front of a playhouse, she cooed, “Okay, Dominic. Let’s set you up.” As she plugged his feeding tube into the wall, she explained that Dominic had severe physical disabilities. He was partially blind and could not speak. Consequently he had to come to the hospital frequently. My anxiety grew. This wasn’t just any two-year-old. Could I handle this?

The nurse sat down next to him. I followed her. “Dominic, do you want to play with your piano?” she asked. He nodded. She set it down before him, placing his hand on the keyboard. “We don’t know if he can see us or not,” she explained. Sitting with us for a few minutes, she offered Dominic different toys. He lost interest in each within a matter of seconds. Then she stood up to leave. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied hesitantly. Come on, I thought to myself. You can do this.

After 15 minutes, Dominic started to whine. I offered him every toy I could think of, all of which he rejected. Suddenly, I had an idea. In the corner of the room, I saw a “Get Well Soon” balloon, weighed down with a stuffed smiley face. “Look, Dominic,” I said, “a balloon!” He turned to face me. I put the smiley face in his hands. “Dominic, it’s a smiley face!” He let it go. It rose toward the ceiling, then slowly began to float down and settled near me. “Look! Smiley face!” He reached for it, grasping it between his tiny fingers, and hugged it to his chest. Then he let it go again. I assumed he would quickly tire of this, but he did not. Every time I handed it to him, he let it go. And every time he let it go, I retrieved it.

At one point, when Dominic was holding the balloon, I gave it a light smack, which made a thumping sound, and Dominic looked up at it. I did it again. He stared up at it, entranced. I moved my face closer to his. We both sat there, watching the balloon wave back and forth. Slowly, a smile spread across his face. I hit the balloon again, and he reached for it, cooing with pleasure. I brought it down to eye level, placing his hand on it so he could touch the cool plastic. The smile on his face broadened. And slowly, almost imperceptibly, so did mine.

People always talk about how good it feels to help a child, to see his face light up with joy. Until I saw Dominic’s sweet little smile that afternoon, I never understood these words. But seeing the pleasure in Dominic’s face, watching his excitement over something as simple as a balloon, made me realize something: Everyone has a smile; no matter what problems each carries, that single gesture of happiness can improve any situation. And more than just brightening Dominic’s day, his cheerful smile brightened mine.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback