Mim has a disability.
I started my library class for third graders just this way. Mim has a disability.
********July is Disability Pride Month. I consider it my job to spread awareness and joy. Having a family member with a Disability makes my life richer. I am so lucky to have a captive audience all school. year. As a school librarian, I can introduce and reveal so many glorious facets of humanity. I spent one class period on disability. And I used Mim as my subject.************
The other day, Mim’s school had a popsicle party. All the middle schoolers were allowed to come to an after school event and get a popsicle. This party was celebrating the beginning of hybrid learning and was an opportunity for these pandemic learners to reunite after a year of virtual learning. Well, lots of them had been connected by their pocket phones 24-7. But Mim hadn’t. She doesn’t have her own phone and she doesn’t have the social connectivity that many of them do. She is twelve and she hasn’t been invited to a birthday party since she was six. Addy and BeBe, her big sisters, offered to take her for her popsicle party which sounds cooler than your parents taking you. The other kids came without chaperones. After they got home, Mim’s big sisters whispered to me that no one had spoken to Mim. Not a Hi. Not a Hey. Not a is that a good flavor? Nothing.
I explained this to my library classes of kindergarten through third graders and I could see their faces melt into sadness for Mim.
Our school, where I am the librarian, does not currently have any kids with developmental disabilities- none of our students have the kind of disability that is noticeable. Some students have learning disabilities or ADHD but none of them have disabilities that cause strangers to stop and point. Or that cause middle schoolers to avoid you.
I reassured my classes that I wasn’t mad at the other sixth graders at Mim’s school. I bet they were just excited and busy getting popsicles and seeing their best friends. They just forgot about Mim. Or looked away and focused on their friend group. I opened up my Instagram page and shared my screen with my third graders and explained my hope. My hope is that they can change the world. When I said change the world, some kids got bright eyed and popped up in their virtual square on Google Meets. I explained that I needed them. I needed them to look people in the eye and say HI. I told them that I understood that they had been told to not stare at people who were different or people who had disabilities. Their parents did not want them to be rude.
“Imagine that you are in the grocery store and you see a kid with a limb difference- like half of their arm is missing. Now imagine that you have a choice-
1. whisper to your sister “Did you see her arm? That looked so weird.”
2. Look away so the person doesn’t know you were staring at their arm and that you saw their unusual arm.
3. Look them in the eye and say “Hi”.
I quieted my voice and moved very close to my computer camera and pleaded with the kids to choose number three. “Look the person in the eye and say Hi. That is what I want you to do. Look at. them and say Hi. ” Too many people have seen her limb difference or noticed Mim’s disability or an adult’s wheelchair and looked away. We taught our children that. Don’t point or stare. Just keep walking and pretend like you didn’t see anything different. But that isn’t working.
Mim is alone at the popsicle party because everyone is looking away. Everyone is pretending that they don’t see her disability but in the process no one is seeing her either. Mim has been made invisible by our well intentioned politeness.
But kids can change the world. Kids can stop and look people who are different or people who have disabilities right in the eye and say Hi. Please!
For the rest of class, I introduced them to Mim using my Instagram account photos.
Okay friends. I’m starting with this picture because today we are going to talk about some things that Mim can’t do- BUT I want to start with some of the things she can do- even though she has a disability. She can climb on top of this table at the dog park and wrangle all three of our crazy dogs and make them sit still for a photo. Not many people could do this but Mim is a dog whisperer.
So this picture shows one of Mim’s disabilities. Can you guess what I’m trying too show?
________. That is right, Mim has low vision. It is hard for her to see. She wear glasses but it can hard for her to see so she holds the phone right up close to her face to watch her shows. If I put her show on the big tv on the wall, it is too far away and she can’t see it as well. SO she holds her books like this too when she is reading.
How does Mim look in this picture. How is she feeling? You guessed it. She is sad and mad and frustrated. This might be one of the hardest parts of Mim’s disability. It is hard for Mim to use her words when she is upset. Has that ever happened to you? Have you eve been so sad that you wanted to hide your head under your pillow and cry because you were so angry that you just couldn’t talk to anyone? Well, I think that is what happens to Mim. But it happens more often. In this picture we had just hiked Arabia Mountain with her brother George and her favorite dog Linus and we were feeling happy and ready to have a snack and look at all the little puddles and pools. I turned around and Mim looked mad. I asked What’s wrong Mim? But that just made her more angry. She couldn’t find the words to tell me how she felt and that made her frustrated and me frustrated. Her brain works differently and she has difficulty remembering to use her words.
This photo show that Mim doesn’t always make the best decisions because her brain doesn’t work like most people’s brains. It is harder for Mim to make the best choices. I told Mim to come help me cook dinner. She went and put on her roller skates. What do you think about that choice?
____________. Exactly, Mim could fall and touch the hot stove and so roller skates aren’t helpful when cooking.
When Mim was little and we went to the doctor to learn about her disability, the doctor pointed out all her dimples, her perfect eyebrows and the long space between the bottom of her nose and the top of her lip- these characteristics are all different and they show the doctor that Mim has a disability that started before she was born.
When you were inside your mama’s body, your hands started to grow when you were 10 weeks old. Mim’s hands are different than other people. So that tells the doctor that her disability started when she was less than 10 week-old inside her mommy. She has a genetic disability.
_______________. You are so right! Mim did not grow inside my tummy. We are different colors.
This is Mim with me and her brothers and sisters. She is black and we are white. Poor George better put on sunscreen so he doesn’t get burnt. Mim is black because her birth parents have dark skin. Her birth dad is black and her birth mom is from India- just like Kamala Harris.
Why do you think Mim looks different than the rest of our family? _______________ Yes! She is adopted.
[When I said adopted, kids had lots of questions. Some talked about her parents not wanting her. Some did not know what adoption is. Some talked about orphanages. ]
Her dad and I adopted Mim We went to New York on a plane and brought her back to our house and we will forever be her family. Mim was not in an orphanages. Orphanages do not exist much anymore. It isn’t like in the movie Annie where all the girls live together with a mean Miss Hannigan. Kids who need to be adopted are with foster parents or kind of like substitute parents until they are adopted by parents that will love them forever. Mim’s parents wanted her but they could not take care of her because they both have severe disabilities. Her birth parents love her very much and they thought that Mim’s dad and I would do our best to have a great family for Mim. Sometimes Mim is sad that she is adopted because she misses her birth parents and sometimes she wishes that she had been in my tummy. Adoption is hard to think about. I love her and hold her when she is sad.
Mim loves her family and especially her cousin Benny. They are the same age but Mim is one month older- which she loves. Mim and Benny play together and have a great time. There are lots of things that they can both do- they both ride bikes, they both laugh at dumb tv show with lots of slime and farting, and they love to swim. They can both read but Benny reads chapter books and Mim is still learning to read. Benny learned how to ride with no training wheels in one day. Mim took three years to learn how to steer, pedal and stop her bike. Benny doesn’t care that Mim needs more help or that it takes her longer to learn. He loves her and they have so much fun together.
Basically that is Mim. Does anyone have any questions?
_________________. OK. Thanks for that question. I can tell you have empathy and you are thinking about how it feels to be Mim. Mim is not sad that she has a disability. She is used to it. She has always had a disability. She is sad when she is lonely. I bet you get sad sometimes when you are lonely? Which reminds me how I asked y’all to change the world. What did I want you to do?
Yep. That is it. That is all, I’m asking. Look people in the eye and say Hi. I introduced y’all to Mim and showed you lots about her because I know how kind you are and I know that if you had kids with disabilities at your school you would talk to them at a popsicle party and you would play with them at recess and you would sit by them in math and choose them to be your reading partner. If you knew Mim, you would be her friend.
***********Lots more July Disability Pride Month to come. **********