The Jenga Kid

Sometimes stories just don’t work out. You can do all the right preparation, educate yourself on what is to be discussed, show up at the right time with all the right equipment and BAM! This story you knew had tremendous potential just disappears.

That happened this week. I had planned to tell a story about babies coming to the hospital for a helmet clinic. Our staff would be evaluating the kids and fitting them with helmets to help address flat spots and other cranial issues. I was so ready to tell this story. I had educated myself on the causes of conditions that lead to a baby needing a helmet. I knew how the helmets worked to correct the problems. And who doesn’t love telling a story with cute babies in it?

Alas, only one child showed up for the clinic, and his condition didn’t fall into the range where a helmet would benefit him. Boom. Story gone.

So I walked back toward my office, slightly bummed.

And then I heard laughter.

My little area is just down the hall from our Recreational Therapy/Child Life Department. The folks who work in there do amazing things to help hospital visits and long-term stays be less scary for kids and parents. I’ll be sharing more of that in a story I write about Hunter, the source of the laughter I was hearing.

I detoured from my planned return to the office and peeked my head into the Child Life Department. There was this little boy, his head in a halo traction device, playing Jenga with one of the recreational therapists. I introduced myself to his dad. There’s a tremendous story to tell about his connection with Shriners Hospitals even before his son’s surgery. I can’t wait to share it.

But right then, I just wanted to meet Hunter and share in his joy. I sat and watched as he legitimately beat the recreational therapist at Jenga. For a 5-year-old, he’s pretty darn good at the game. I tried to get Hunter to talk to me, but no dice. The best I got was a smirk that said, “Nice try, stranger wearing a mask.”

That was cool. I now had a mission. You see, Hunter’s going to be staying in one of our family quarters right down the hall from my office for about a month. Hunter and I would be playing Jenga before he left. We were going to become buds.

So over the past few days, I’ve made a point of stopping to talk with Hunter and his dad whenever I can. They are good people and are good to be around. I did the formal interview, took some photos. And then I got Hunter to talk to me. I asked him if we could play Jenga sometime. “Yes,” he said. “I’m going to beat you.” We talked about what he was going to be for Halloween. “The blue Power Ranger.” I watched him cook up some food on the play kitchen — copious amounts of fried chicken and double-scoop ice cream cones. This is my kind of kid.

Hunter faces many more surgeries as he grows. Life already has been tough on him. But when you see him walking around the hospital or in the Child Life Department with his parents, you’d never know it. He’s just a kid being a kid, laughing an infectious laugh. Playing. It’s so completely joyful that you cease to even register the halo around his head.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Some stories might sound great but then suddenly fall apart. Not to worry. The next story that you’re meant to tell might be just down the hall.

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