I was asked to speak at the First Foundations teacher in-service training, which is what spurred all this reflection. The topic was “The Danger of a Single Story,” based on the TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie. I encourage you to watch it if you have 20 minutes. It is well worth the time.
The whole idea is how our human tendency is to give people just one story. To generalize them and stereotype them in a way we feel we can better understand them. I’m certainly guilty of doing this to others. It is so important not to. People are way more dynamic than the story we try to assign them. I don’t want people to think of my children as a single story. For Mac, that he is the one who has the brother with special needs. For Nathan, to be just a person with special needs. There is so much more to both of them.
This is a part of our First Foundations story which I shared on Tuesday:
We decided to extend our time at First Foundations when Kindergarten came around because it had been such a place of grace and acceptance for Mac to learn over the last couple of years. At the Kindergarten orientation, I full on thought Mac would be in Mrs. Garcia’s class since he’s an October birthday, but after listening to Mrs. Boggess talk about giving kids time to mature socially and about the special needs unit she teaches every spring, I knew then and there that God meant for him to be in her Bridge to Kindergarten class.
We had already been to Mrs. Boggess’ classroom the year before. She invited us to talk to her class during the special needs unit. That was the beginning of me becoming comfortable with our dynamic story. It was the very first time, Mac was given a place to tell other kids about his brother. He simply got space, a platform, to be there and talk. I was shocked by how excited he was to share about Nathan and all his medical equipment with the class–the medical equipment that I despise so much.
I remember thinking, He’s owning this better than I am. He was fine to make it part of his story. He was even proud to share Nathan with the class.
That’s how Mac is teaching me. He doesn’t care what others think, maybe that’s partly developmental, but it’s also part of his personality. He’s not afraid to have friends come over to his house to play while Nathan’s being tube fed. He doesn’t think it’s strange to park in a handicap spot or hesitate to say “hi” to someone in a wheelchair.
It’s not that having a brother with special needs doesn’t come without any challenges for him. Just last week he said to me, “Mom, what’s so lucky about having a brother with special needs anyway?” As we were talking, I realized that the things which were appealing to him when he was younger–getting medical gloves from the doctor’s office, playing with the child life specialist at the hospital, watching the SWAT team dressed as superheroes propel down the hospital courtyard–aren’t what they once were. They have lost the luster for him. He asked me if he was going to be able to bring Nathan to his class like he did in Mrs. Boggess’ class and I said I didn’t know, but that he would have lots of other chances to tell other people about his brother.
Maybe they’ll be positive, maybe not. But I know that all of these experiences are shaping him into a dynamic little individual who accepts people who are different.
I don’t want his whole childhood to be defined as being the sibling of a special needs child. I want him to be untethered by stares from his peers. I want people to love Mac and know him for who he is, not in relation to his brother. I also want him to feel confident around his brother. I want him to be willing and equipped to answer questions about Nathan and teach other kids about people who are different.
That’s what his experience was like at First Foundations.
In many ways I want his education going forward, and his life, to be a reflection of his experience there. I want him to be accountable to his choices, given grace for mistakes, and freedom to learn and grow into who God made him to be. I want having a special needs sibling to be just a part of his life, not the single defining element. I want people to see through to his heart and his developing character and not give him a single story.
So ready or not, here we come great big elementary school. I know that we will trip and fall and fail. But I also know that we will grow and learn and thrive. All of us, each living a very dynamic God-given story.
The next chapter in Nathan’s story is getting to ride the bus to school. I think it’s his favorite part. Oh boy! What a week for him.
My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!
Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!