When Bridget first entered the integrated preschool, I never thought of friendships. I was worried that she could not keep up. After all, barely off her pediatric walker she had to be taken in her stroller from the classroom to recess. I was more worried about her getting knocked to the ground than I worried about her making friends.
Then she did. It happened naturally without any parental involvement or teacher encouragement.All of a sudden Bridget had a friend: Angel. Angel is a “typical” child, although she is anything but typical. An award winning gymnast, Angel invited Bridget to her birthday party. I emailed the mom, thanking her for the invite but explaining that Bridget might not participate appropriately. I didn’t want Bridget to ruin her classmates party. Apparently I horrified the mom with my honesty. She said Bridget had to come, she was Angel’s best friend and anyone who did not accept my child would be asked to leave. Until this moment I did not realize that they were not classmates but best friends forever.
With her friend Angel came play dates, movies and typical experiences. Angel taught Bridget how to use the balance beam (a skill she had been working on in PT), to hang on the bar and to do a version of the cartwheel. All things I never expected Bridget to ever want or be able to do. Angel has never cared that Bridget was different. Bridget was just Bridget, just as Angel was just Angel. Angel moved out of state but their friendship has survived. Funny faces for all.
In kindergarten Bridget met Ella. They were not in the same class but met during recess. Ella naturally included Bridget with the peers. Their friendship blossomed. Through first and now in the same 2nd grade class Ella has become Bridget’s champion. Whether they are “bus buddies”
Or exploring a field trip together
Ella was the friend who during indoor recess taught Bridget how to play Candy Land, the girl who (along with more than a few others) naturally includes Bridget. Bridget is their friend; no qualifier. And if some little punk wants to exclude or think less of Bridget, her friends quickly and decisively show them the error of their ways. Like Angel, Ella is the friend that not only invited Bridget to a birthday party but would have been seriously hurt had Bridget not attended. When we went to Open House I was amazed by all the children who greeted Bridget, not because they had to but because they were excited to see her. Charlie, who I know makes sure she gets to class without getting lost. Jacob who has known Bridget since preschool and when she started taking the bus told him mom, of course she takes the bus! Only in his mind was this a normal thing, he was probably wondering what the big deal was. The Vice Principal who told me that when he is having a bad day he knows if he seeks Bridget out his mood will be improved. Teachers, aides, students all of who accept Bridget for who she is, her awesome self and never finds her lacking.
I would imagine, if asked Bridget’s friends would not say Bridget was different. It’s awesome, the way Bridget peers just accept her and incorporate her into their lives.
The mom in me worries.
Because I look ahead. Not to tomorrow but to 1 year, 4 years, 10 years ahead.
I see her peers moving ahead in life faster than she can keep up.
I see her peers reading, doing math and having skills that she just cannot do (today).
I see a line in an email from Bridget’s school that is probably innocuous but says: “at this age” they see the value of her being in the traditional classroom. It’s a throwaway line, and I am admittedly overthinking it. Yet it sticks in my brain: what happens after this age? The mom in me worries that as much as I have (and will continue) to fight for inclusion, my head understands that at some age it may no longer be appropriate. My heartbreaks in anticipation of that age.
I worry about the future, when the friends she has today begin to notice she is not the same as their other friends. When she can no longer keep up with the conversation or when they outgrow Candy Land. I know its inevitable. There will come a time, soon, when it is no longer appropriate for Bridget to be in the traditional classroom. Let’s face it she isn’t going to be able to have an in-depth conversation about Shakespeare. Her presence will still add value to her friend’s lives but it won’t be the same. It will be more time in the special education room and less time in the traditional classroom. Not today, not next year, but soon as she and her friends transition from the comfort of elementary school into the more difficult middle/high school years.
It won’t be hanging on the monkey bars, laughing at the wind. It will be making sure that when she makes a funny face in a photo it’s because they are having fun with her and not making fun of her. It will be hoping that her friends are still willing to punch a kid in the nose who dares to say Bridget is broken. It will be hoping that at dances and proms her friends want to include her because she is their friend. That they will protect her spirit and body from boys and mean girls. It will be staying vigilant but also hoping for the dream that Bridget is still included because she is Bridget.
Even when they realize she is different.