Our thanks go out to local children’s author Anna Humphrey for sharing these thoughts on belonging:
Moving from Toronto to Kitchener was a leap of faith for our family. We’d heard great things about the arts scene and the tech sector, and the relatively affordable real estate was attractive. But while the move sounded like an exciting change for my husband and myself, our two children had only ever known Toronto as home. For them, all it meant was leaving everything familiar: teachers, friends, neighbours who’d been like family. It meant heartbreak.
This was especially true for our (at the time) eight-year-old daughter Grace who struggles with a severe anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. It’s a condition that makes it very hard for her to speak to new people and to function in unfamiliar situations. By moving, we were asking so much of her.
It didn’t help matters that, on moving day, we arrived in the pouring rain. We had a truck packed with all our worldly possessions, two tearful children, and two disgruntled cats… but the real estate lawyers were still doing their lawyer things, which meant we couldn’t get the keys to the house. We huddled in the open garage, telling jokes and playing endless games of I Spy. And although my husband and I did our best to keep an upbeat attitude for the kids, in truth, we were having our own anxieties. Things were off to a bit of a rough start. Had we made the right decision?
It was hours before the skies cleared and the keys arrived. The kids were just beginning to explore their new home when the first knock on the door came.
A little girl in a fancy party dress was standing on the front steps. Her mother was beside her holding out a plate of oatmeal cookies. “Welcome to the neighbourhood!” she said, with a big smile. My daughter hid behind me and peered at the little girl with wide eyes.
I couldn’t help staring myself. Except for her demeanor—which was bubbly and outgoing where my daughter was cautious and reserved—the two girls could easily have been mistaken for twins. “I made you a card!” the little girl said, stepping into the foyer. “My sister did, too.” My daughter took the folded pieces of paper without a word, but I could see her smiling shyly.
We’d just started unpacking the truck when the doorbell rang again. This time it was another little girl about my daughter’s age, along with a little boy about my son’s age. They were both holding home-made cards, too. Their mother stood beside them with a loaf of warm banana bread.
Another neighbour, out walking his dog, stopped by to say hello… and then—before we’d even made a dent in unloading the truck—the doorbell rang a third time. It was the little girl who looked so much like my daughter again. This time, she was inviting us to a game of pickup soccer at the school across the street. Grace—who doesn’t like competitive sports and fears social situations—was determined to go anyway… and that night marked the beginning of some very special friendships.
I’d been so worried about how new people (especially new kids) might relate to Grace, who averted her eyes when addressed directly and couldn’t answer when spoken to… but the little girl from next door barely seemed to notice that she was non-verbal.
She took Grace by the hand and led her off to the monkey bars to play and, in the days and weeks that followed, the girls wrote notes, made faces at each other through the window, bounced on the trampoline, chatted online, tried to trick us about who was who by dressing up in the same outfits, and found a whole other host of other ways to communicate and have fun. Without hesitation, our young neighbour accepted Grace exactly as she was, and so did the other children on the street.
In fact, starting with those simple home-made cards and their pure desire to reach out and be friends, the families on our street started a conversation that didn’t even need words—one that communicated loud and clear to all of us: You are very welcome here. You already belong. And before we’d even unpacked the dishes, we knew we’d made the right choice in coming to Kitchener after all.
What do you think made the difference for Grace? What actions can we learn from these kids about building belonging? Leave your thoughts below!