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How a Near-Stranger Changed My Little Girl's Life With a Pair of Shoes

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As I walked out the door, my 6-year-old, Lily, was worried. She always worries when I take Sarah to the doctor. But Sarah was breathing well — this was not one of her colds turned emergency. She was healthy. I had no qualms at all about telling Lily, “This is not a big deal. This will be a quick trip. I’ll be home in a few hours.”

A few hours later, I was in an ambulance on our way to be admitted to the second hospital of the day. We were rushing. They wanted to put her in an operating room right away. Would Lily think I’d lied?

My 3-year-old daughter was in the hospital again. Honestly, the surgeries are bad enough, but these unplanned trips really take a toll on the whole family.

It’s hard to express the feelings associated with these events. It’s happened often enough to feel familiar, familiar enough to even inspire a certain level of comfort. Sarah slept peacefully in the back of the ambulance while I chatted amiably in the front with the driver.

Familiar but discouraging. It can be really, really discouraging.

I don’t want to be the mom who knows the ER doctors by name and has favorites. I don’t want to be the mom who knows who to ask for when the nurse cannot get an IV in her arm. I don’t want to be an ambulance connoisseur. But I am.

Put on your game face. Wear optimism like armor.

Avoid discouragement, pessimism and frustration. Above all, don’t ever compare your kid to other kids. There isn’t a special needs handbook teaching us how to be parents, but if there was, that is what it would say. Block print, bold face, all caps: DON’T COMPARE.

It isn’t fair. But you can’t go there because your job — your one and only job in that time — is to help get your kid better. You can’t do that if you’re wrapped up in how unfair it all is. Life is unfair. That bit of pop wisdom doesn’t make you feel any better now than it did when you were a kid.

A good attitude is better medicine than anything a doctor can give, but it takes a lot of energy. Small things aren’t always small. When you need encouragement, small things are huge. It’s huge when people make dinner or send small gifts to the kids or help with cleaning. It’s love. It’s encouragement. It can be the antidote to wearisome pessimism.

One of the first people to offer her help and support and “anything you need” was Madison “Peach” Steiner-Akins. I don’t really know her — I’m friends with her on Facebook. She’s a vibrant, enthusiastic force and a champion for kindness. She’s an artist and an optimistic visionary determined to reshape the world.

She was offering the support of a community she built with smiles and art and joy.

Peach believes that kindness is contagious. She believes that small things make a big impact, and she believes that hope heals. So, she founded Peach’s Neet Feet. PNF uses a diverse group of artists, including Peach herself, who volunteer their time to make special shoes. Magic shoes.

shoes given to Beth's daughter from Peach's Neet Feet. one shoe has a picture of minnie mouse and the other shoe has a pink banner that says 'choose kind'

The shoes are custom painted for kids who need inspiration — kids who are fighting bigger battles than kids should have to fight. Each child has their own story and interests and dreams. These shoes provide the canvas for them to illustrate a small part of that.

When Sarah received her shoes, she knew they were for her right away. Minnie Mouse and rainbows! She was so excited. We put them on, and she immediately stood up a little straighter than usual. I don’t know whether they were a better fit for her foot than she was used to or if she was just excited and proud, but what happened next was pretty amazing. Sarah took a step. Then another one. Then, she walked all the way to her dad. It was not independent — I was helping her balance — but that was dramatic progress! Before that day, I had never seen Sarah move her left foot independently. I would literally have to pick up the foot and move it for her. She would lift her right foot and then would try to lift both feet together. Then, she’d fall. I was beginning to wonder if there was a neurological reason for the preference. Just seconds after putting on her “magic shoes,” Sarah was taking alternate steps. It was work, but she was working. The next day at school, her teachers and therapists also noticed the magic. Just a few days later, they removed the support from her gait trainer.

Beth's daughter walking in her new shoes from Peach's Neet Feet

On its own, that is pretty awesome, but it is just the beginning of the mission. The families are not asked to pay for the shoes with money — they are asked to pay in kindness. Wear the shoes. Be awesome. For payment, complete (at least) one random act of kindness.

With the shoes, Peach built a community. Our community shares stories and encourages each other. We draw strength and courage from each other. When someone needs a lift, she “Peach love bombs” them. She asks her people to help uplift families and do whatever they need. Siblings having a hard time? Parents overwhelmed? Families have different needs. The Peach community steps up, sending anything from coffee cards to toys for the siblings to cleaning supplies. Stuff is just stuff, but they are sending more than that. They are sending courage and hope and love. It is a beautiful and growing community of families and artists sharing stories and smiles.

Encouragement is not a small thing. Wanting to do something and believing you can are not trivial. Healing needs hope. Kindness spreads. Little things aren’t always little.

Peach’s Neet Feet uses art to inspire kids. It may sound small, but it isn’t. She’s doesn’t just say, “Get well.” She says, “Go be awesome! Inspire someone!” It’s a genius mission to spread kindness and healing hope. And it is working. For the kids, for their siblings and for the community.

This post originally appeared on Joyful Catholic Mom.

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Originally published: March 24, 2015
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