The decision was made at the end of last week: Julianna will remain in public schools. I would like to say we made it, but the truth is that the Catholic school decided they simply couldn’t serve her. I was relieved, because for quite some time I’ve been moving toward the conclusion that she is where she should be, and I was dreading having to make the decision ourselves. Christian, however, was not so sanguine.
As much as anything I think our disappointment stems from the lack that the Catholic school kids suffer by not having her in their midst. Ugh, I sound like one of those insufferable moms who think their kid’s very existence enriches the universe around them, right? Well, I can only plead guilty, but I do have a reason.
I’ve said before how not-diverse my childhood was, and how difficult that made it for me to translate lessons of equality before God into action. My mom says I have a tendency toward “scrupulosity.” In this case, that means I’ve spent my entire life worrying about whether I’m treating people the same regardless of skin color–or, I discovered later, disability. Knowing something in theory is not the same as having the chance to put it into practice when the lessons are being formed. For this reason I say that kids need to be around my daughter at least as much as she needs to be around them. Other kids need that interaction.
Our local Catholic school isn’t quite as homogenous as the one I grew up in, but it’s close enough. And last fall, we had a rather disheartening experience at the cub scout family campout, which is entirely Catholic kids. Exhibit A: during Mass out on the lawn, Julianna was reciting prayers loudly and not clearly, as she always does. She got several of those “looks” from the kids. You know, the “you are so weird, what is wrong with you?” looks. Afterward, there were a few little girls running around hand in hand. They were so cute, and Julianna went running over to join them. They, too, gave her The Look and gave her the cold shoulder.
Understand that nothing like that has ever happened around the public school kids. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is exposure to diversity, or lack thereof.
I read something recently that said that although people with Down syndrome have a low intelligence quotient (Julianna’s IQ was measured at 60), they have an emotional quotient that’s much, much higher. That rings true; Julianna is enormously empathetic, sensitive to mood, and seems to be able to pick out the person in the room who most needs loving. As a society we are so focused on intelligence as the primary value, we’ve failed to recognize the contribution that a high emotional quotient has to offer.
Although Julianna is reading at “level 2.” Level 4 is considered end of kindergarten. Not too shabby, methinks.
Yesterday her school had a Mothers Tea. It was a concert followed by cookies and fruit punch. The kids were “warming up” with the music teacher when I arrived and sat down. I was just beyond the music teacher, and Julianna was so fixed on her, she didn’t see me at first. But when she did…well, those of you who have met Julianna know how she reacts to delight. Christian says her entire face expands to make room for the size of that smile. “BAH-EE!” she screamed, drowning out the other sixty kindergarteners. So stinking cute. They were doing songs about mothers, and every time they said the word “mom” during the performance, she pointed with her entire arm at me.
I will not, however, pretend that she’s an angel. She is not. There is way too much brother-torment and button-pushing and deliberate obtuseness in my girl to justify that label. But I’m shredding the idea of seven quick takes now, and I need to mow the lawn. 🙂 Have a great weekend!
That incident with the Boy Scout group sounds more like poor parenting than lack of diversity. I mean, sure, the lack of diversity is probably a factor, but didn’t parents intervene and encourage their children to include Julianna? See, I just don’t understand parents who allow that behavior in children. It’s sad that you can trust the public school kids more than Catholic school kids to be inclusive. But that’s kind of been my experience withour Catholic school where girls are concerned (at times), too. Unfortunate.
Glad the decision is made, though. Too bad Catholic schools can’t find some way to serve all — like I believe they are supposed to, but the cost is so high and Julianna needs to be in the best environment for her!
Well, the girls were walking nowhere near their parents, and the boys were sitting in a group, rather than in family groups, so I can’t fault the parents for not intervening; they might well not even have known it happened. The trouble is, parents & kids alike have to be around a diverse group of people in order to teach those lessons. That’s the frustration of there not being money for sped in parochial schools. We’re hoping to involve Julianna in the school via other routes, but it won’t be the same.
Kathleen, I’m so happy y’all made the right decision for your family. Schooling choices are always filled with so much “stuff”. Your daughter sounds like she makes any environment her very best one. What a gift!
Kathleen, peace and blessings you and your beautiful family from ours. As I read this, it alternately warmed my heart and made me a bit sad. We have also recently wrestled with issues of school choice. I think it’s so hard to know if what you’ve chosen is best for your child, because the weaknesses of each choice are often so apparent. You and Julianna will make the best of it; of that I am certain. We think of you both often and keep you in our prayers. Happy (early) Mother’s Day!
Thank you, Joel! And to your lovely wife!
You’re spot on: The Catholic schools DO need great kids like Julianna to help put kindness into practice in a big way. It’s too bad they just don’t have the resources. But she’ll continue to grow and thrive in her school. Glad the decision-making is finished. Happy Mother’s Day weekend!
Hi Kathleen. You bring up a great point about diversity. I thought I was raising my boys to treat others equally, regardless of our differences. We are white and live in a predominantly white area, but I was proud of the fact that my children didn’t “see color” due to the fact that they have been raised with African American cousins and an uncle, and I have ALWAYS taught them to judge people on their character, not color. It was not until a few years ago and we were at my husband’s work picnic, and one of my husband’s colleagues has a son with Down Syndrome. He is around the same age as my children. My children were almost afraid of this boy because he was so friendly and they did not know how to react to him. They were staring at him with the same “looks” you describe in your entry. I was ashamed and embarrassed. We have since had several talks about people with disabilities and we have had the opportunity to spend more time with people with disabilities and I do believe that my kids are learning to appreciate the differences in people. It amazed me that in the process of teaching my kids to treat people of different races equally, I forgot about people with disabilities. Thank you for reminding us!
If your kids are color blind, they’re already a leg up. 🙂 Good for you for taking advantage of the chance to expand their horizons!
I hear you loud and clear. A girl with DS was in my son’s senior class. When she walked up to get her ring on ring day the whole class applauded; Perhaps it was timing but we never had problems with bullying/teasing in public school that we did in Catholic school,and I do think part of the reason is that public school kids had been with disabled kids all the way through.
I love the point you make about emotional intelligence. We have plenty of intellectual intelligence in this world. And way too little emotional intelligence. Which is the more useful peace-making skill? Why are people so afraid of hugs?
Something interesting happened at graduation last night. Purely as a matter of alphabetical order, my daughter, who attended a magnet school for bright kids, was paired with her autistic classmate for the marches. She had to encourage him along the way, (though when they marched out his dad walked with him). It reminded me of her First Communion when she was given the task (due in part to the fact that she and the other girl were both short) of looking after a little girl with Down’s Syndrome.
There have been a couple of times over the year that the autistic boy’s folks have hosted parties for the kids and my daughter and her crowd have gone. It is good for these bright, going-places kids to see that there are folks who are different, folks they need to care for, folks who really do share commonality with them.
We’re all little monsters towards others until properly trained. Empathy is something that has to be taught, mainly by example.
I remember in first grade in 1950 a couple of little Italian twins came to our school. They couldn’t speak English much, and they were assigned to desks in the back of the room in the row next to me. They didn’t stay at our school long, but I did my best to communicate with and help them. Other kids mostly ignored them. When they were gone after a few weeks I really felt a loss and have always wondered what happened to them.
No. 5 is amazing. I’m a product of the NYC public schools and a Jewish nursing school. I was very blessed by both. My mom (Italian) tried to register me, in Catholic school. The answer -” no room”, while every younger Irish kid was received – that’s my mom’s take. The next year she tried again and was told I could get in but I’d have to repeat first grade. No regrets here for my mom’s refusal. Only God knows the truth of these things, but He still Lord and in charge. My faith was formed amid diversity.
Sounds like you made a good choice. It will always depend on circumstances. I’ve heard many complaints about Catholic schools but never had that experience myself. In my experience Catholic school was friendly to all and a safer place for kids. But that was the schools I attended… More importantly, its always a beautiful thing when DS kids get recognized and treated well. Follow that love and you’ll be fine.
Thank you, Michael. In many ways I am a big fan of our Catholic school. We are in an unusual position, having kids in both the public and the private. It’s been eye-opening. I was always a snob about Catholic school, but I see beauty and value and great things in both now.
I like your reply to Michael. Seeing beauty and value in both places. And every child is unique and has different needs. Julianna seems happy there, eh?
I also like what Michael said – Follow that love.