As Charlotte began to realize that she would be be missing a significant amount of school due to her open-heart surgery, she asked us if we could have Dr. Young or Elizabeth Capella speak to her class. We’ve discussed this idea for many years, especially the thought of doing it in February for Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day. Until this year, Charlotte has thought it a great idea, but she wasn’t ready.
This year, however, by the time we knew that she would need an intervention of some kind, she’d already been fielding a lot of questions about why she wasn’t running around on the playground (though it turns out that the pain she felt in her chest likely had no correlation with her heart). She doesn’t like the attention and didn’t want to give misinformation, so we spoke with her teacher, the most excellent Alexandra M., and picked a date.
I was not able to be there, which still saddens me. But, Phil caught part of the day on tape:
What he didn’t catch were the kids’ questions. And he didn’t remember them all, nor did Elizabeth. But, here’s some of what he told me they asked:
- Can kittens have heart defects?
- Will Charlotte feel the surgery?
- How will they get to her heart?
- My mommy said that people can get new hearts. And even new brains. (Okay, that’s not a question, but it cracked me up!)
- How do babies get inside their mommies?
Most importantly, in the naturally narcissistic way of fourth graders, many of Charlotte’s classmates told stories of their own medical challenges–asthma, allergies, glasses, broken bones–or those of their family members. As Elizabeth, Phil, and Charlotte told me about the conversation, I couldn’t help but grin–the kids basically said, Hey, Charlotte, we each have something going on. Your heart is different, it’s a bit scary, sure. But we aren’t going to think any differently of you. (Which was one of her chief concerns)
A couple of moms reached out to me after the presentation to say that their children were really interested, concerned for Charlotte, and learned a lot. One mom said that her son rarely tells her anything about school, but couldn’t stop talking about “Charlotte’s nurse.”
The students learned so much and their own hearts were so incredibly compassionate (another natural trait for fourth graders). Two of the girls conspired to throw Charlotte a surprise party the Friday before her surgery. The love they shared (and the gifts and sweets) really buoyed Charlotte’s spirits during the final countdown and have her super-excited to go back to school. And did I tell you that the class Skyped with Charlotte yesterday? Again, they had a lot of great questions, beyond “how do you feel?” and they blew lots of kisses.
Thank you, Alexandra, for fostering such an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity and camaraderie in your classroom. Thank you, Elizabeth, for going to school and answering a lot of questions. And, thanks to all of Charlotte’s friends for making her feel so very special.