I could go on about how amazing trapeze has been for the girls. Someday soon I will write that post. Today what's been playing in my mind is the relationships between Ann and the girls. To me that holds equal weight with the physical/emotional rewards reaped from trapeze.
Let me rewind. I didn't know Ann well when we began attending classes at Canopy. I saw her around of course but I didn't really talk to her. I can't even remember how we first started talking but I remember the first time she met Jude. She fussed over her and asked to hold her. For some reason it came up that Jude had Down syndrome. Ann responded "Oh my best friend has Down syndrome." I hear this sometimes. Or the other variation of my "insert distance relative relation here" has Down syndrome. But when Ann said it it was different. She meant it. She really did have a best friend with Down syndrome and it was no big deal. I liked that a lot.
And that's how Ann is with both Camille and Jude. She's working with them as a kind of awesome therapy but she's also working with them because they all love to fly. Ann doesn't see either of them as a list of things to check through. There are no evaluations in this therapy. Instead Ann works with them based on their individual strengths and weakness. But she also works with them like they're people. This is an unusual thing to happen to children anyway but I am learning it's even more so when the child has a disability. Ann doesn't erase their disability either. She sees them and she works with them but she doesn't let it be the sole definer of the child before her.
I'm pretty picky about who gets to work with Camille and Jude. I won't tolerate disrespect for any of the kids but with Camille and Jude I am even more fierce. Camille for example is never required to look people in the eye. I also ask her teachers to allow her to have other means of communication for those days when verbal language is hard. Not many adults are willing to do this and thus they don't get to work with my kid. It's a pretty simple decision for me. You have to respect their nuerodiversity.
Camille right now works with two adults. Ann and her art teacher and amazing artist Hope. They both love Camille not in spite of her Autism but because of it. They nurture, encourage her to grow, and often push her out of her comfort zones (although gently never forcefully). I am thankful everyday for these two amazing people. They've accepted Camie and I know that this simple thing will follow her throughout her life. Those early moments of acceptance shape us and set the map for how we allow ourselves to be treated. I remember clearly those adults who loved my quirky self and nurtured my weird spirit. I also remember the ones who stomped on me and tried to push into rigid molds.
The other day I asked the owner of Treehouse Kid and Craft if Jude could take a class that was for older kids. "Of course," she said, "We love Jude."
Once at Barnes and Noble as I ordered our treats and coffees, the barista exclaimed "Oh it's Jude! She's like a rock star around here."
We don't want to leave Athens because of these people. They don't love Jude or see her as a rock star because she's the "special" kid. They just like her because she's funny and pretty damn cute. Athens has become a place where my quirky children just fit in with everyone else.
"There's something about the kids here in Athens," Hope's boyfriend told me once while we watched Hope teach some young children about modern art.
There's something about the kids because there's something about the adults.
There's a video circulating around, and I won't get into it here. There's been enough excellent criticism already. I don't need to add. But I do want to say that being in Athens has shown me what real acceptance looks like. Acceptance looks like just another kid but also a recognition of that kid's disability. Maybe it's because Ann and Hope and others honor that difference instead of pretending it doesn't exist. Neither women has ever said "I don't see Autism in Camille" or "Jude doesn't look like she has Down syndrome." None of the awesome adults in my kids life from teachers to our friends have said anything like this either. They don't pity us or glorify what some see as our sacrifice. Our kids are valued as simply adding to the diversity and richness of this community's life.
What it all comes down to is that erasure of difference doesn't make us better people. It doesn't make us more accepting. Dangerously it can lead to us not seeing how prejudice operates. After all if we're all the same how can we point to disparities in how we're treated? What I want for Jude is people who honor her difference and value her humanity. Because we don't get to treat people decently based on their similarities to us.