Most likely, you see 4 children, at dusk, running joyously, carefree, across an open field.
Perhaps, if you're the parents of a child with special needs like I am, already experienced in the ups and downs of the educational system and of life in the community in general, you see the magic word, **INCLUSION**, like a beacon of light, a starburst, replete with chirping birds and rainbows and hearts and flowers and...well...you get the picture...
But I actually see something different.
I see anxiety, worry, fear of rejection, over-protectiveness.
I see myself and my husband standing closely by, watching like hawks, making sure she doesn't get too close to the road or the big, camouflaged dip in the terrain where she might twist her ankle, or, heaven forbid, fall down...
I see myself listening to their conversations, making sure nobody says a word against my baby, prepared to translate if quizical looks arise from the object of Samantha's dialogue, jumping in to explain the rules of freeze tag to her so the other kids don't think she's strange for not playing properly.
I see myself wishing these were her classmates, the children that play with her every day and know her, know her quirks and foibles, accept her for who she is, rather than complete strangers, the children of my co-workers, who may not be quite sure how to take her...
I see myself regretting the fact that we can't just let her play, can't go and stand with the other parents as they chat, relaxed, prepared to allow their children to enjoy the evening as long as they like, their shrieks and laughter echoing off the trees as the sky gradually changes, the world, their world, descending gently into the dark.
At what point do we allow ourselves to let go just a little? I hear the neighbor kids playing outside in the summer, their parents inside the house doing whatever it is that parents do, calling out to them from time to time to remind them to come in for dinner, or bedtime, and I wonder, when?
When can we let a child, our child, just be a kid?
The world isn't safe. Her world even less so.
In a few short weeks, she'll be 7. When I was 7, I was a latch-key child, walking two blocks home from the bus stop, across a busy intersection, to let myself in using the key we kept hidden beneath the heavy metal cellar door, and wait until my mother returned from work a few hours later. Sure, I know it was a different time in the 70s. But those are happy memories of independence.
What happy childhood memories will Samantha have? Will they involve playing with friends? Will they include those dusky, hot summer evenings of friends and neighbors?
Have I exposed her to enough? Have I made enough effort to allow her to play with her peers? I don't think I have. The wall of protection is high and strong around us, but it needs to be chipped back a bit. Playdates need to be scheduled, the neighborhood explored together, opportunities created. Then, and only then, can I begin to learn to let go.
Just a little...