Social interactions can be tricky no matter what age you are, but kids are often more upfront when it comes to letting you know they don’t want to hang out with you. That was the case for Caleb Merriken, an 8-year-old boy with spinal muscular atrophy.
While attending a Star Wars themed event at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Georgia last year, a group of kids rebuffed his request to play with them.
Caleb was dejected, and so was his mother, Kari. She felt bad for her son, who she regards as generally positive and having a great personality.
Caleb Merriken, an 8-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy, was rejected when he wanted to play with a group of kids his age.
“I felt like he might have been embarrassed, so I didn’t want to rub salt in the wound,” Kari Merriken told ABC News.
Instead of asking her son what happened, she went back inside the restaurant to ask the employees if she could borrow a lightsaber. If the other kids didn’t want to play with her special boy, she’d do it herself.
But after she left the restaurant, lightsaber in hand, something happened that put a big smile on her face.
Merriken asked for a lightsaber so she could play with Caleb herself. Instead, two costumed characters went outside and engaged him in a duel.
Bravo to the Chick-fil-A employees in Georgia who played with this little boy in a wheelchair after a few other kids…
“I went outside with him, and the next thing I know, the employees had found some worthy opponents who were much cooler (and more skilled with a light saber) than mom,” she later wrote on Facebook.
Merriken was touched by the kindness that the workers showed her son. She later posted a photo of the interaction to Facebook, thanking the employees for their great attitude.
“I was so thankful that their hearts were moved to intervene,” Merriken told ABC News. “I feel like they re-wrote the message he had just received. It went from ‘You’re not wanted’ to ‘You’re valuable. You matter. We think you’re cool.'”
Kari Merriken says the encounter made her son very happy, and helped restore his confidence in himself.
What started out as an embarrassing moment for a child who was trying to fit in with his peers was turned on its head thanks to the kindness of the staff. Caleb ended up having a great time, and Kari Merriken is thankful to the employees who “turned a negative experience around for us.”
She wrote a message on the restaurant’s Facebook page:
“Every time I come to this Chick-fil-A, I am so impressed. The employees are always friendly and courteous. Galaxy Night was so much fun! On top of it, the employees turned a negative experience around for us. When my son asked some boys in the play area if he could join them, the response was, “no, we’re good.” He asked me to play with him, so I explained the situation to an employee and asked to borrow a light saber so we could duel. I went outside with him, and the next thing I know, the employees had found some worthy opponents who were much cooler (and more skilled with a light saber) than mom.😉 Thank you Chick-fil-A and characters!”
“I’m so appreciative of them taking the time to give Caleb that positive message,” Merriken told ABC News.
“For the rest of us, myself included, I think I would want us to learn that kindness can go a long way to heal hurts.”