Along the way of raising a child with a disability, there are moments when life seems to somehow come full circle. That’s what happened one day while reading a favorite book to my son with CVI.
We all have those childhood books that took hold and stayed with us. Not Where the Wild Things Are or Charlotte’s Web or The Giving Tree or something. Not the list of five hundred books all children should read before kindergarten. But those precious stories we find off the beaten path. In this case it was Dandelion by Don Freeman. It must have been around second, maybe third grade. Dandelion does not dominate library shelves. I’ve never spotted it in a book shop or on any must read lists of children’s literature. Nonetheless it has stayed with me all these years, all this time.
One day while visiting a friend who has an older son, the gold colored cover of Dandelion stood out from a pile of books tagged for donation, out with the children’s books to make way for young adult books. Over the years Dandelion would resurface in my mind, briefly, before drifting away again. You are unlikely to randomly find Dandelion on a contemporary book store shelf. You are likely to find Dandelion in a musty used bookstore or thrift store or… in a donation box on its way there. Turns out this copy of Dandelion had belonged to a parent’s older sibling, and it showed. My heart leaped at the sight of it.
“Dandelion? Are you giving that away??” This copy was long past its prime but still I asked. Of course we could have it. The book went home with us, fitting perfectly into our lives.
Here’s the story. Dandelion is…a lion. One day his friend Jennifer Giraffe invites him to a party, “Come as you are” it says, scrawled in gold ink. Dandelion decides he needs a haircut before the party. The barber convinces him to curl his mane. His magnificent new ‘do then leads to a fancy new jacket, cap, and cane. By the time Dandelion arrives and knocks on the door to Jennifer Giraffe’s, he is unrecognizable to her. Between his hair, outfit and cane, he looks like a whole other lion, and Jennifer turns him away.
As someone who mildly struggles to recognize people, the story stood out. It is hard to remember if recognizing people was difficult then, or not. It wasn’t until moving to a new city as a young adult that awareness set in. And once you are aware of it, you are painfully aware of it. It explained why I rarely address people by name, even though others address me by name. What’s more embarrassing than calling out to someone, only it’s not them? (And just why is that so painful?) Imagine being chewed out by a surly friend who felt snubbed at not being acknowledged, and other regrettable experiences. Thinking about it brings memories of crowded high school hallways and friends saying, “I saw you and said Hi, how come you never say Hi??”
I didn’t see you…
Dandelion is about more than recognizing friends but sharing this cherished story with my son with CVI was a chance to explore the topic of not recognizing people. Another lesson in faces, friends, and how we know each other.
Reading it together, we ask questions.
What happened when Jennifer Giraffe found Dandelion at her door?
Why didn’t Jennifer Giraffe know Dandelion?
What was different about Dandelion? What changed? Compare Dandelion at the beginning of the story and Dandelion on his way to the party.
How do you recognize a lion? Especially one particular lion?
Dandelion does eventually make it into the party. With his animal friends gathered around him, they have a good laugh about Jennifer’s confusion. Next time Dandelion will remember to just “Come as you are.”
For us, Dandelion will always be part of our lives.