Going to schools to speak to children about multiple sclerosis is the most rewarding project I have participated in since my diagnosis. You would think every visit would follow much the same path. The information is the same, so you go in, give your speech, take questions and leave. But no school visit is ever the same. You think you are prepared, but you never are.
The most substantial part of every talk is the questions and answers at the end. I naively thought this would take ten minutes and the students would eventually run out of steam. After all, how many questions can a child have about MS? It turns out they have lots. In fact, I’m sure if I did not stop them after twenty minutes I would still be there.
I’m an open book when it comes to children’s questions. Am I asking for trouble? Totally. Do I mind? Not at all. I am still a child at heart so I can completely relate. These kids are asking the questions I like to think my eight year old self would ask. As a child of eight, I actually used to read books to raise money for MS Ireland’s Readathon. As a child, I thought it was the Miss Readathon Pageant and could not figure out why you would raise money for a beauty contest. Now I go to schools to explain the Readathon and stress that it’s not a pageant.
Children are smart. Sometimes they are so intelligent I am afraid I will not be able to answer their questions. I am often tempted to pretend I have run out of time and make a dash for the door. In my youth, most kids asked about cabbage patch kids and unicorns. Kids today ask about genetics and nutrition. Thank goodness Biology was one of my better subjects in school so I can throw in a few science terms to appear clever.
For all those super smart prodigy type kids there are equally as many endearing innocent ones that ask questions such as “Could your leg fall off if you have MS?!” You can’t laugh as you always want to encourage children to ask questions and it could really hurt a child if you laugh. However, that laugh is bubbling up inside and it physically hurts to keep it in. In the same class I was asked “If you have MS do you also have Tourettes?” That was the point when the teacher left the classroom. She told me afterwards she literally laughed for a full five minutes. In another school, a child asked “Are you sad that you’re not normal like normal people?” Priceless!
Children are amazing. They listen and openly say what they are thinking. They make me feel like a rockstar. (Not just a silly pop star, I mean somebody good). Talking to them is therapeutic. Laughing is also.
Tourettes! I still laugh at that one.