I used to shudder to think of playgrounds. Between Gracie’s ataxia and peripheral vision loss, those tall structures with the mysteriously missing sides were the stuff of nightmares. Not for Gracie, of course — like every kid, she loves playgrounds. But for me, her dear old mother, playgrounds are a million accidents waiting to happen.

Gracie’s friend from her old preschool (the public one) had a birthday party yesterday at a park with a beautiful playground. Much of the playground was safely enclosed with thin vertical metal bars, making it safer for Gracie and less stressful for me. There was a whole area of the playground that Gracie couldn’t get to because it required climbing on ropes or simple ladders — she is only barely learning to climb up the big wooden ladders and she’s a long way from the ones with bare bars. There were lots of kids there, including some of the kids Gracie invited to her birthday tea party a few weeks ago, so it was very fun for our little amazing girl. The kids ran around and played, and Gracie tried her best to keep up with them. She was not terribly successful at pacing her able-bodied peers, but she had a good time anyway.

A coworker of the birthday girl’s dad has a side gig providing entertainment at kids’ birthday parties. She did a magic show, face painting, and balloon animals. All the little kids were entranced at the magic show — except Gracie. She played on the playground while the other kids were wowed by the magic. Because of Gracie’s vision loss, every movement is a sleight of hand, so the finer nuances of magic are lost. In fact, she’s a little afraid of magic. I’m not sure why; maybe because she knows she can’t see it and she knows it is fascinating in a “how did they DO that?” way for the other kids? I don’t know.

After the magic show, the kids came back to the playground for a while. Once again, her able-bodied peers left Gracie behind. This doesn’t bother her nearly as much as it bothers me. She just goes as fast as she can to where she wants to go, and if her friends are gone by the time she gets there she’ll holler for them — “Guys! Wait up! I’m coming!” They will be long gone by the time she catches up to them again. They always are. It is not in the nature of kids to patiently wait for the slowest member of the group; instinctive survival of the fittest starts very young.

When the kids are sitting down together, Gracie is their peer. She is smart and witty and sweet and sociable. She easily makes friends when everyone’s still. She is on a level playing field. But when the activity starts again, it doesn’t take long for her differences to show. The girls she’s just been playing with are long gone, running to another game while Gracie tries valiantly to catch up — or doesn’t; sometimes she’ll just sit and look through the rocks instead of trying to keep up. Her disabilities are obvious on the playground.

So much of the time, Gracie looks like any other kid. It’s hard to tell she is blind because she uses her little remaining vision so well. She’s super smart and always has a quick-witted response. She is wise beyond her years. But when she’s playing on the playground, Gracie’s differences are obvious. It never bothers her — yet another aspect of her amazing-ness. I need to learn not to let it bother me either.

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