Love is a splendid thing
Valentine’s Day is in the air and people are celebrating their love for each other both new and used alike. I went hunting for Valentine’s Day Cards myself and came across a box of cards similar to the ones I use to pass out in elementary school to all my class mates. There was an unwritten competition to see which boy or girl would receive the most cards on Valentine’s Day. This might be why some people today still find Valentines Day difficult.
I remember a girl in my elementary school her name was Margaret Adams, we always referred to her as Margaret Adams, never just Margaret. Margaret had Down Syndrome, which at the time I never understood, all I knew was that Margaret’s life was complicated. Margaret looked different than the other children in our class. She was ostracized by my peers, children made cruel fun of her. Looking back on it now, I realize how terrible it was, it was the epitome of bullying. I don’t thing we had special education in my school back then, we might have and I may just not have been aware, but Margaret had to endure going to classes with a room full of bullies. She got called names daily, she was pushed and left out of activities and games. To be honest, I don’t recall a single teacher sticking up for her. What shames me most is that I don’t ever recall sticking up for her either. I remember feeling sad for her, I remember wondering how she could continue to come to school every day.
On Valentine’s Day I gave Margaret a Valentine as I had given every child in my class a Valentine’s card. What I remember most about that was how I got teased for giving Margaret a card, but that it didn’t bother me. At the time I was not trying to make a statement however I did know in my heart that it would be unfair to give a card to every child and exclude anyone. I experienced my full share of bullying as I grew older, it was not that different from what I remember Margaret having to face each day.
We’ve come a long way in the world, we understand more today than we may have in the past. When it comes to children, they can be cruel due to their myopic worlds. It is when they are exposed or taught that they cannot possibly understand the world of differences and inclusiveness. I never want to teach my own son to be tolerant, personally I hated being tolerated. My desire is to teach him acceptance, compassion and inclusiveness.
Tino, has developed a very cute habit referring to children he encounters as “my friends”. When we go to a playground or the beach and he sees other children at play he immediately runs to them and claims them as his friends. This is precisely the way it should be, and we definitely encourage him to acknowledge his friends and to include them in his play. Tino has had the fortunate opportunity to attend Camp Imua with me since he was 6 months old. One of the highlights of my job, Camp Imua has afforded Tino a unique opportunity to interact with our campers and has developed a sense of understanding and compassion for the kids he recognizes from Camp and from Imua. So it truly never is too early for a child to learn to accept, understand and to love.
Here at Imua Family Services we are preparing to launch a new program in our fold of services. An Inclusion Preschool Program that will blend typically developing children with children whose development is not typical or may have different abilities. Although in its inception stages, I am proud of where this program is headed. The idea is that children will learn and better understand that we all come in different shapes and sizes, that we have different appearances, different abilities and different capabilities but that we are all included in the same community. We all should strive to work, live and play together with acceptance and compassion.
This Valentine’s Day I am thinking of all the children like Margaret, I’m thinking of all the kids who won’t get valentines cards from their peers, and I am thinking of the kids who are bullied. For all of them I extend my heart of compassion and hope that as a father I will continue to instill an open heart in my son.