On our way to visit Mike, Marissa and the kids on Thursday one of my faithful readers sent me information about an integrated dance company called Propeller and told me that there would be classes on Saturday morning for kids Ruby's age. I got into the hotel and looked up their webpage, and if you clicked the link above, you will have seen that it's an impressive page. The classes looked like fun and we spoke to Mike and Marissa and they agreed that we could take Ruby Saturday morning if she wanted to go. She, upon hearing about it, was immediately up for it. She told us, in an amazing act of assertion, that she might feel shy around the older kids and, though she wanted to go, she didn't know if she wanted to participate. We struck a bargain. She participated only if she wanted, we would not encourage or prompt or otherwise try to talk her into it. We all shook on the agreement.
Saturday morning came and it started out with Ruby sitting in the back of the car very quietly. She's a talker and silence isn't the norm with her. We talked and once again we quelled her nerves by assuring her about our behaviour - not about the event itself. She would not be forced to do anything. It was all her call. I know that sometimes kids need encouragement but, too, kids need the opportunity to practice decision making. This seemed to be that time. She perked up and by the time we arrived she was eager to go in. The parking lot was round the side and as we made our way there several buses arrived depositing wheelchair users showing up for the class. I got out and the sidewalk seemed impassible. My weight plus my narrow tires plus the snow and ice made it almost impossible. Joe made it really clear that we were going to make it. Sometimes, I do what I do because and only because Joe makes it happen. I sometimes give up more easily than he does.
We were the first to arrive and by the time I got in my gloves were soaked, my hands were cold, and I was already worried about getting back to the car. But, people were arriving and the gym was filling with energy. Ruby was shy but, without prompting, joined in the circle with the other kids. And, my, what a diverse lot of cool kids. Ruby paid no mind, and my heart swelled with pride here, to the various kinds of differences in the room She was not taken aback by any of the wheelchair users or any of the kids with intellectual disabilities, or indeed any of the more typical kids either. She took it in stride. We could see her natural reticence with others and a bit of shyness peeking out, but, nonetheless she stayed.
Jessie, one of the teaching assistants, who had introduced herself to us and to Ruby when we arrived noticed during one of the beginning exercises, that Ruby was feeling a bit out of place. She didn't know these kids, any of them, and she was, amongst difference, the odd person out. Jessie took a bit of extra time and gave some special attention to Ruby nudging her along and bringing her into both movement and the group itself. That Jessie was a teacher with Down Syndrome didn't seem to register with Ruby, Jessie was just a teacher taking time with her. As Ruby relaxed into the group, Jessie's attentions went elsewhere. She gave just enough and stopping long before too much. By the end Ruby was smiling and participating and doing all the various activities. Along with Jessie the other teachers and other kids did a marvelous job of keeping everyone involved and everyone included. They made inclusion seem natural. Most of all, they demonstrated that inclusion was entirely possible.
Just before the end I had to go to the washroom so we slipped out and found it. Joe went back into the gym and I waited out with the other parents. Here's a shock, all dads! One of the fathers told me about how much his son with an intellectual disability looks forward to the classes and how much the experience has meant to him, his son and his family. We swapped 'proud of kids' stories, it was nice. Ruby came out and announced to me that she had just been a piece of cheese pizza! I looked perplexed and she just smiled. Joe explained to me later about how the class ended with all the kids laying down in a big circle and being cut into slices of pizza, when they were 'cut' from the group they got up and left. Ruby chose, as a vegetarian, to be a piece of cheese pizza.
Of all the things about the class that she could have told her parents. The differences of the other kids, the friendly support of the teachers and the encouragement of Jessie, that's what she chose to tell. 'Mom, Dad, I was a piece of cheese pizza!' Then she asked if she could join the class and go every Saturday. She'd have fun. So, Monday, she'll be registered.
I've already thanked Jessie, though she was busy so I had to leave a message for her, for taking the time with Ruby and I also asked her permission to write about her here on my blog. She wrote me an email telling me that it was OK.
That's right, Ruby's teacher, who took time with her, wrote me an email. Suddenly it makes the fact that she has Down Syndrome both more important and less important. I don't think I have to explain that statement. But for Ruby, Jessie is just that nice woman who gave her a high five exactly when she needed it. And that, on a cold day, was very cool to see.