Wednesday, September 08, 2010
The 4th 'R': Ruby Goes to School
We called her first thing yesterday morning. It’s a big day for her. It’s a big day for all of us. Ruby’s going to school for the first time. She came on the phone her voice still crackling from sleep. As she woke into the conversation you could hear that she was excited about going to school. She’s going to take her lunch. She’s going to wear a new outfit. She’s prepared. And I hope she is.
Yes, Ruby is going to school and she can count to ten, reliably, most of the time. She can spell her name and, if you accept a pretty spacey Y, can write it out. She knows all her colours and can identify animals from around the world. She plays alphabet games, counting games, colour games and has the ability to focus on what she is doing for a long time. She likes learning and has occasionally brought things to her parents or to us and said, 'Teach me.' Yeah, she's prepared. I really hope she is.
But there are other things to prepare besides school lunches. Yeah, she's got to be prepared for the four 'r's' of school. Reading, 'riting, 'rithmatic and ridiculing the different. School was not easy for me. I did not fit into the social swirl of school and spent most of my time in fear of bullies and in search of allies. Friends seemed out of the question, I just wanted people around me that I knew wouldn’t hurt me. I was fat. I was ‘sensitive’. I was ‘stupid’.
Often held up for mockery by teachers – I made an easy mark for those in school who liked using social power as a weapon. I made my way fearfully down hallways. I found learning difficult in an atmosphere that made me blame my difference for the cruelty I received. It was a time of wishing. Wishing to be anyone other than me. Wishing I was anywhere else but here. Wishing the ground would open up and swallow me whole. But life continued and I went to school with sweat running down my back, year, after year, after year.
I cannot protect Ruby from bullies.
But I talked to her about them.
She in the wisdom of a 4 year old, that wisdom that eludes us as we age, said, ‘But it’s bad for people to be mean.’
What I did want to do, God forgive me for saying this … is protect others from Ruby. Right now she is a truly loving kid, she looks to help where she can and most importantly, she is kind to others. But school can breed cliques and insensitivity. School can teach chemistry and cruelty. We all want Ruby to have a strong sense of values going in - she will need them to guide her.
Mike and Marissa have taught her well. For me and my part, I wanted to ensure, as much as I could, that she would not fall into those early habits of exclusion and snobbery.
When she asked me about my weight. We talked about it. Openly. She came to understand that I was just bigger than others. My ‘bigness’ doesn’t affect her ability to love me, to enjoy my company, to look forward to seeing me. Fat people must be OK.
When she asked about my wheelchair. We talked about it. Openly. She came to understand that I move differently than others. My ‘disability’ doesn’t affect my ability to buy presents, my ability to make her laugh, my ability to make her feel safe when frightened. Disabled people must be OK.
Ruby’s classroom will not be the same as the one I had. Then, people with disabilities were hidden away, educated elsewhere. But they are home now. They are here now. And they will be in her class. I wanted to ensure that she understood a bit more about diversity. She already lives in a building with people from other countries who have differing faiths. She already plays with kids who speak English accented with spice, who celebrate different holidays, who wear different clothes. She thinks its fun that other kids do things differently.
So she’s started school. And before she enters the door she’s already passed Diversity 101 and Difference 102. I’m guessing she’s on her way to discovering all that education has to offer. Including other kids.