Five horses gathered at the fence behind the barn waiting for Miss Carter to bring them treats. She patted their noses, told them they were each special, and she would return with more love in the afternoon. Apple, the young colt, tilted his head as Carter whispered to him as only Miss Carter could do. Afterward, she returned to the barn to prepare tea and cookies for friends who were joining her for a picnic.
Miss Carter is 3 years old; the horses are 7 inches high; the fence is constructed of popsicle sticks, and the barn is made of plastic. This idyllic scene rests on a child’s table in my living room. However, for Carter and me, our imagination allows us to travel far. We visit places where there is freedom to ride, climb trees and play in a hayloft.
I am called Grandma by this spirited, sweet child. We are not blood-related since she is my stepdaughter’s little girl, but never mind all that. Family dynamics are way too complicated for a 3-year-old. Love seems to cancel such trivial nonsense anyway.
Carter broke her femur (thigh bone) in a freak accident at her preschool several weeks ago. She looks exquisite in her pink and purple Spica cast, which begins just under her breastbone, travels down her right leg to her ankle, and the left leg to her knee. A steel bar is attached from the right ankle to the left thigh, which separates her legs by about 2 feet.
She cannot walk, nor can she sit without assistance. She sleeps only on her back because she cannot turn, and does so without complaint. She requires constant supervision, and when she needs to move, you must lift her, including the heavy apparatus she is half-buried in.
I keep Carter three days a week since she cannot return to school until the cast is removed. I have learned to sit with her around her table in little chairs that rise 1 foot above the floor. As a result of the lifting and sitting, I take a substantial amount of ibuprofen for my back on a weekly basis.
When we are not at the barn, we go to Barbie’s house and visit the girls, or we shop at the grocery store where the head cashier, Miss Carter, runs the Minnie Mouse cash register. We unload our groceries in the kid’s kitchen and prepare cookies containing pretend ingredients of vegetable soup with cherries. We solve puzzles, and without cheating, I cannot win a game of Candy Land to save my life.
Carter, in her infinite wisdom, has taught me a lot about life during these last few weeks. I realize if I were in her situation, the claustrophobia would have set in, and my wailing would have spooked all the horses to flee to greener pastures. I would require more than ibuprofen to get through the days, and not even Godzilla could lift me since I would have drowned my sorrow with real cookies made with chocolate chips.
Children are amazing. They accept what befalls them and just roll with the punches. They use their imagination to escape to bliss and enjoy the love showered upon them as they go. They choose not to complain, but instead hold their dolls or bears and if need be, watch Alvin and the Chipmunks, to ease their burdens. They don’t worry too much about tomorrow because they assume it will eventually arrive, bringing a new horse to the barn or more folks to the tea party.
Adults could learn a tractor-full of insight by observing God working through a child’s mind and soul. Unfortunately, since we live on this earth, bad things do happen to even the smallest among us. However, when it does, because they are innocent, God calms their soul and must whisper to them just like Carter does to her little colt, Apple, to assure him all is well.
When tragedy visits us, perhaps we should remember, like Carter, that when we fall, courage and hope will help us to stand again. Miss Carter also understands that attitude makes a huge difference in how we heal. We can choose to laugh at Alvin and the Chipmunks or cry and complain over our misfortune. We can decide to pray to God or blame him for our troubles.
Children trust us to make things okay. They believe our words of comfort, “It’s going to be alright.” Are we not God’s children? If we believe in his words, everything will be OK even on the day when the horses come with chariots to take us home. Until then, enjoy the green pastures, let your imagination fly, and appreciate the love bestowed upon you as go.