Monday, January 12, 2004

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Mrs. Guitar,

Bug's favorite part of Sunday School happens at 10:00 AM, when you show up for a 20-minute music class. He is fascinated by your smooth, polished instrument with the shiny strings and colorful strap, and he loves to sing and dance to the upbeat Hebrew melodies.

Yesterday you began your lesson with a simple introductory song, asking each child his or her name, then singing "How are you ________, B'vakesha?", to which the kids were to respond "Fine thank you, todah rabah!" In a class full of 3 and 4 year olds, this was only moderately successful - many of the kids were too shy to say their names, or didn't understand how they were supposed to respond. I was impressed with the way you muddled through, prompting and hinting and finally, singing the lines yourself.

Except in the case of Bug. As you went around the room, it became increasingly clear that you were studiously avoiding calling on him, although he was sitting right next to you. You went through all sorts of permutations - switching randomly from clockwise to counterclockwise, calling to the few stray kids playing with Legos in the back of the room, even including the teenage helpers in the class - everyone but the quiet little boy to your left, waiting eagerly for his turn. My face grew hot with rage as I began to realize what was going on. How DARE you treat my son as someone to be ignored, to pass him over as though he doesn't exist?

I tried to calm myself down, to give you the benefit of the doubt. Chances are, you were simply unsure if Bug would be able to give his name, or to sing the required line in response. Since I was not sitting right next to him, maybe you didn't know that I was his mom and could easily answer for him if needed, just like many of the other students were helped along by their parents or the teacher. And in fact, the moment I went over and sat him in my lap, you immediately asked me his name and sang the next verse to him without missing a beat. So why am I still stewing about the incident over 24 hours later?

I find it troubling that you chose not to give Bug the benefit of the doubt. Hardly ANY of the kids were able to follow your directions perfectly, but at least they were given a chance to try. As it so happens, he is perfectly capable of identifying himself (and his sister, and his teacher, and his friends) by name when asked. But you wouldn't know that, because you just assumed he couldn't.

And even if that were so, couldn't you just *wing it* a little, Mrs. Guitar? Just off the top of my head, I can think of several better ways to handle the situation. If Bug couldn't tell you himself, maybe you could have asked "Can anyone tell me what our friend's name is?" And on the off chance that none of the other kids, teachers, aides or parents could identify this person who has been in their class ALL YEAR, you still could easily have continued your song, maybe substituting the Hebrew word for "friend" or "student" or "little boy" instead of his name. Let's face it, anyone with an ounce of creativity - especially someone with your supposed background in education and experience working with kids - should have found a way to include Bug instead of pretending he didn't exist.

Mrs. Guitar, you seem like a nice woman. I have encountered you many times, at Tot Shabbat, at the Hanukkah family celebration, and at the wonderful Sukkot sing-along under the stars last summer. You have always been perfectly pleasant to me and my kids. I don't believe you are an evil person who wishes to actively discriminate against kids with Down Syndrome. I *do* think that Bug is someone who takes you out of your comfort zone. You are not sure how to act around kids like him, so you opt not to acknowledge him at all.

Well guess what, Mrs. Guitar? Bug isn't going anywhere, so you damn well better get used to seeing him around, and you WILL find a way to work with him and include him - especially if the rumors are true that you are angling for the Educational Director job after Rabbi Girl leaves in May. And don't worry - I will make sure that Bug stays very visible on your radar screen, showing up to every kid's service and holiday party until you are forced to get to know him as a person, not just a scary disability that you are afraid to confront. And someday . . . you may even learn his name.


Aimless the Mama Bear


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