Saturday, December 19, 2009

Writing in the Snow: An Irreverent Perspective on Our Cultural Ideas About Inclusion

Warning: This blog entry involves imagery that some might find offensive, while others might find quite natural.

Once upon a time there was a small town in which all the children, except one, were boys. The one lone little girl, Sally, was cherished by all, even though she was "different". At first she didn't notice the difference because, well, small children don't naturally notice those things. The other kids didn't notice either, and all was good in the world. Her parents knew that she would come to understand that difference, as would all the boys, but that if they made sure there was always a way for her to participate in the town, then she would not see that difference as something to be ashamed of. The world was full of girls and everyone knows how important they are! In fact, when she was all grown up, she would be one of the most valuable "possessions" that the town had!

So time went along and all were happy in Boyville. But as she and her friends grew, she began to notice things.

For the most part, her friends were faster and than her. True, she was faster and stronger than some of the other children, but she never placed first in a test of strength or speed. But, that was okay, because she also noticed that there were things she could do better them them -- she could sit still and pay attention longer, and was able to add her own perspective on things to conversations. She was always able to keep up, and her smaller size made her an attribute in some games (like hide-and-seek). She was different, but no one saw that as a problem. The lone girl in a town full of boys, comfortable with who she was.

One winter day, though, her friends all discovered something that they could do that she couldn't. They could write their names in the snow. Now, really, Sally thought that this was juvenile and didn't really care that she was missing out on this "fun". There were hundreds of other ways a kid could have fun! So, she contentedly found another activity to fill her afternoon, never a thought about it.

The next afternoon, the boys were all done being enamored with their unique ability to write in the snow, and so the kids all went back to playing dodge ball, snowball fights, video games and board games. Occasionally they would write in the snow, and when they did, Sally just found something else to do.

But, then, one day she heard the oddest thing. Her town was going to have an afternoon play date and the focus of that play date was -- writing in the snow.

Sally held back the tears as she read the flier on the town square:

EVERYONE IS INVITED!
AN ALL TOWN FAMILY EVENT!
COME WATCH YOUR CHILD ENJOY AN EVENING OF WRITING IN THE SNOW!


What?! The one thing I can't do? Why in the world would they pick that? She thought. There are so many fun things to do... why would they pick that one thing? And why would they make it the only thing at this party?

Up till now, there are had been moments where it felt awkward to be different, but this, the feeling of being left out, this was completely new. Her Mom and Dad understood, and tried to advocate for her, but no one was willing to really listen. They thought that inclusion meant that she was simply welcome to be there, not that she was to be included as a valuable and equal part of a celebration.

Her parents sought counsel with the Mayor. The Mayor was a nice man, but he just didn't get it, because, well he could write in the snow, too, and had done so all his life.

"We'll get her an aide." He told them. "She can have some one with her and when they write in the snow then the aide can do it for her. She can kind of wiggle her hips so it feels like she's participating."

"Well," her father replied, "Sally doesn't want to pretend she's participating. She wants to participate. And she definitely doesn't want some adult following her around all afternoon. I mean, would you have wanted that when you were 10? Something like that will only make her feel like she's standing out even more!"

"Well," the Mayor responded, "It just doesn't make sense that you wouldn't want the town to have fun...." and the case was closed.

He didn't understand that the parents weren't saying not to have the town party or that the town party couldn't contain some form of writing in the snow, but that by making that the focus it was excluding Sally, and any other little girl that happened into town. Or maybe the boys who were uncomfortable with writing in the snow, or whose parents didn't have the money to purchase them snowsuits to keep them warm while writing in the snow, that those boys would be left out as well..... with a world full of options, why is there a need to focus on this one thing?

For the weeks leading up to the event, all the kids in town talked about it. Sally was silent. Her parents were silent. There was nothing for them to do, but every time a smiling boy came by and mentioned it, or a teacher at school asked if they would go, just one more tiny little part of their hearts would break.

Not because writing in the snow was really all that fun, but a certain realization would sink in even more each time they heard about it. People were willing to include Sally, as long as it cost them nothing in exchange for doing so.

They also felt sad, too, that people would never understand that the joy of having Sally, or any other little girl, included in what they were doing, far outweighed the fleeting fun of an afternoon of writing in the snow.

1 comment:

St said...

Great story and what an important lesson.