When my son met you three years ago, I was grateful he had found a friend. We had just moved and he was starting second grade in a new school. The change would have been hard for most kids, but my son has autism, which made your friendship that much more important.
Since then, you have been such a happy part of my son's life. As a fifth-grader, he doesn't get invited to birthday parties anymore. Other kids have moved on without him. But you are still here. You are the only one who has ever invited him over to play. Ever. And he is a fun kid, so everyone else is missing out, if you ask me.
So, when your birthday arrived this year and I learned that, instead of presents, you were only asking for donations to a food pantry, I knew that you are more than my son's friend, you are my hero.
In a world riddled by bullies and materialism, your story is rare. If the world knew about wonderful you, I knew it would grant your birthday wish. I knew that, if I told my friends, they would want to help. And so I used Facebook to share your story. In only two days, they donated more than $1,500 and 20 bags of groceries to your cause.
Most of all, I want you to know why so many strangers from all over the country wanted to help a kid they had never met. You are a promise, you are hope, you are everything we aspire to be, and you are only 11.
You ARE a hero.
You befriend children who are lovable and fun and smart and special, even when nobody else will. And this is a big deal, Max. So many kids are lonely, sad and scared and may never, ever experience friendship. Can you imagine what that would feel like? To never have even one friend? To go to school and sit by yourself at lunch, never be chosen for partner work, and play all alone at recess? To never be invited to a playdate or a birthday party? I think you understand how sad that would be, Max. Your heart is so big that you can't help but help. That makes you a hero.
You put your dreams and desires on hold for the good of others. When most kids ask for "stuff" for their birthday like an iPhone, you ask for food for others. You know that there are kids who cannot hope for a Nintendo DS, but who would be grateful enough instead to find a box of Pop-Tarts in the pantry. And that happened for 136 families the week of your birthday-all because of you. That makes you a hero.
They say that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and I know now that is true. I am grateful for you and so is this world. And you can come over to play anytime. My son will be waiting for you in the family room ready to do battle on the Xbox, and I'll be waiting at the door with a hanger for your cape.
Jennifer Wood is a special needs mom and a special needs attorney in Plainfield.