Yet, by October 18th of that year, the real champs were standing in this picture. That's right, the Kindergarten class at Southlyn Elementary. From the first day, this group of students embraced Sarah as one of them. I'm sure at age five, they didn't have a conversation with each other and say, "She seems OK, let's include her." It just came naturally to them. They sat on the carpet together, they sang songs together, they climbed on the playground together, they learned the Letter People together. They went on field trips together, they attended the school fair together. Togetherness is what it's all about in kindergarten.
This group of kiddos did something else. Together, they made get well cards for their friend Sarah, each and every time she was in the hospital. In their sweet little innocent voices they called the house to see how she was doing if she missed more than a few days. They helped her off the bus when she was weak. But they never pitied her. I watched them closely. They never babied her. She was just one of them. A smiley kindergarten student.
And that made all the difference. In that first year of school, little tiny kindergartners, were showing me how to live life. From a child's eye. No prejudice, no taunting, no false expectation, no reason to question, no reason to belittle, no reason to hold a grudge. And the more I observed, the more angry I became.
Why Angry? Because I was denied this opportunity as a child. Growing up in the late 60's, early 70's it was still the norm to segregate any child that didn't fit, that looked different, or could not conform based on the simple definitions set by an I. Q. test. I'm not even sure where they were, I just know that I was not allowed to interact. Therefore, as an adult I held onto stereotypes, misguided information and I had not developed the richness of what Sarah's classmates were learning at a young age.
I began to understand why there was this buzz about inclusion. I started to philosophically understand why the parents before me had fought so hard. Why they had pushed and pushed for Sarah to have the right to be on that bus her first day of kindergarten. I also started to see why I needed to let go and let her be like her classmates. I needed to step aside and allow the cocoon to open, to not prevent her delicate wings from forming. So one day she could develop into a beautiful butterfly.
Letting go. Such a hard thing for any mother to do. Even harder for a mom who has held her child's tiny, delicate hand following open heart surgery. Held it while they struggled to breathe. Squeezed it tightly in the back seat of a speeding ambulance. So hard when you know your child will have to work harder for every accomplishment, even the small ones. Yet, that is all the more reason why we have to open our grip, loosen the fingers, and release...