Giving Not Just Gettingby Charlotte Cudd One day, my mom and I were deciding what to do for my 11th birthday. I wasn’t really in the mood to have people give me presents I didn’t need. So we thought, why not give presents to children who really need them? We looked around for a place that had a lot of children, and finally, we found a daycare. And it wasn’t just any daycare — it was for very young children with disabilities. On the day of my party, my friends and I brought stuffed animals, videos, music tapes, books, and toys for the kids. The director led us through the center onto the patio and told us to wait there while they brought out all the children. They all had bright smiles on their faces as they were wheeled and carried out or as they came out by themselves with the help of walkers. All of the children had some sort of disease or accident at birth, like muscular dystrophy, asthma, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, HIV, or AIDS. But like all children, they enjoyed it when we read them stories, planted flowers with them, and played games. You could tell they wanted to hear the stories, but with all the presents around, who could blame them for fidgeting? I had a lot of fun that day and I hated for it to end. In a way, though, the effects of that day remain. My life is different because of the experience. Now, I feel more grown up and responsible, even though I haven’t changed on the outside. And I visit the kids a lot to keep in touch and see what they’re up to. When I visit the daycare, I help feed the children, and we play “touch your nose” and “peekaboo.” I read stories to them, I sing with them, and I help them learn which animal “moos” and which one “quacks. “ Some children go to the Therapy Room for an hour with a trained professional if they have a crooked spine or something else that keeps them from moving their limbs correctly. Sometimes I’m allowed to watch and even help. I usually count time with them when they have to hold an uncomfortable position.The nurses, assistants, therapists, volunteers, and pediatrician rarely get a chance to spend playful time with the children because they have very busy schedules. My job is to play with the kids as much as possible. My time at the daycare has made me want to work with children in the future. I ‘m looking into pediatric medicine or social work with disabled children. A difficult thing about working at the daycare is knowing that some of the children I have grown attached to will die young. One of them is a tiny two-year-old girl with AIDS, who is blind and gets pneumonia easily. Because she’s blind, she is afraid to do the things that a healthy toddler does, but her cheerful smile is an inspiration to me. These kinds of rewards far outweigh the emotional struggles of working with sick children. I now appreciate my life more because I notice the little things. It’s truly a gift for me that in doing something to help others, I have gained so much in return. Charlotte, FL, was 12 and in 7th grade when she wrote this in 1999 for NMG. “I am an only child with an only cat. I enjoy dancing, playing the clarinet, and spending time with children with disabilities.” After college she got her graduate school degree in social work, continuing her interest in children with disabilities.