Inclusion starts with me. So we show up: on playgrounds, in music classes, at junior gyms. We arrive with high hopes and open hearts, but it would be a lie to say they are not sometimes dashed by looks from other parents. You know the ones — the averted eyes, the pity. The looks that say, “I’m so glad that’s not me.” And the glances from their kids who shy away from us. But inclusion starts with me, and I’m forever grateful that Wyatt and all his magical chromosomes are mine. We show up.
Wyatt is not walking or talking yet, so he’s very tactile. He crawls right up to his typical peers and leans in for a kiss, or gently rests his hands on them to get their attention. He looks closely because he’s curious. He wants to know them, to be their friend. I can see it in his eyes — he wants to be seen, noticed, played with. It’s his way of communicating right now.
Inclusion starts with me so I try to let him do his thing — to interact in the way his skills allow. I help him to be aware of his space, his touch; I encourage him to blow kisses instead of plant them, to wave, to share. Sometimes he gets down low on his belly and army crawls as fast as he can, and yells at the top of his lungs; he’s joyous. Sometimes he sits straight up, excited, and waves his little hands, shouting one long “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” In these moments I feel like he’s saying to everyone, “See me! Play with me!” So I do, because many times, others won’t.
Inclusion starts with me. Kids will ask, “How come he doesn’t walk? How come he doesn’t talk?” I answer in the best way I know how. I want, desperately, for Wyatt to be understood, adored. Parents ask his age and can’t hide their surprise when I say 22 months; he’s almost 2. “He’s so tiny!” they say. I use these opportunities to try to educate, in hopes they will encourage their kids to interact with Wyatt.
Some days it’s exhausting. But inclusion starts with me, so we show up. And every once in a while someone gives us grace — like the mama in a recent music class, who whispered “it’s OK” as I tried to wrangle Wyatt off her legs and encouraged her daughter to share the instruments she had taken out of the communal pile with him. It was such a contrast to the mama who, seconds before, had taken her child and her child’s stash of class instruments out of Wyatt’s reach and said, “Let’s just remove the temptation from him.”
Inclusion starts with me, so we show up. The truth is sometimes, I cry quietly in the car on the way home as Wyatt sleeps. Because it’s hard. It’s lonely. And most of all because someday, he may understand these looks and he may feel these things and the idea of that breaks my heart. But inclusion starts with me and I know that every time we show up and every conversation we have is an opportunity to open doors and minds and hearts.
Inclusion starts with me, but it depends on you. So please, see Wyatt for the amazing little person he is. Ask questions; I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Encourage your kids to play with him. To be his friend. I promise, you won’t regret it. Till then, we will keep showing up. Because inclusion starts with me.