I am pleased to welcome Lisa Kramer as a guest writer. This beautiful piece about love and acceptance moved me. Be sure to visit Lisa’s sites for more!
Every once in a while—in between the arguments, random tears, messy rooms, and battles for independence—there will be a moment when your child does something that makes your heart swell with pride and joy. She says or does one thing that makes you think “I haven’t messed up so badly.”
For me, one of those magical moments occurred in a subtle but spectacular way—bringing together my love of my daughter, my passion for arts advocacy, my belief in using theatre to empower others, and my joy of celebrating people’s diverse abilities and challenges. It was a tiny moment of a parenting win, in the midst of what often feels like a minefield of parenting losses.
“I feel like I just did something really good,” Sarah said as we drove home that night after the final presentation of a heArtful Theatre Company eight-week drama program held in collaboration with the Seven Hills Foundation. “I hope I can get some of my friends to help out next time.”
During this program, my creative partner, Jannatha, and I worked with a group of older teens (16-21 year olds) with various challenges and abilities. We introduced them to drama games that encouraged them to move, speak, and use their imaginations. Using inspiration from the works of Shel Silverstein, as well as the creative genius and ideas of the participants, we created a mini-performance to share on the last day of the workshop.
Sarah didn’t take part in every week of the program. She’s only eleven and sometimes having her in my classes and workshops can be more distracting than helpful. But, because of busy and conflicting schedules, she came to the very first session. She was nervous that day—unsure of how to interact with people of varying abilities.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Page 2″ ]
Robby, one of the participants in the program, was a large 6-foot-something young man with a loud voice and an overwhelming presence. He put his hand out to introduce himself to Sarah, “Hi, I’m Robby! What’s your name?”
“Sarah,” she said with a meek voice and a hesitant handshake.
To be fair, I was nervous as well. While I have now had several of these experiences, and know how wonderful and powerful it is to work with this population, I never know quite what to expect. I’ve had successes and failures (although I would say more successes than failures). I’ve had people go into seizures in the middle of class, or people get angry and want to walk out. When working with varying abilities, you have to learn to expect the unexpected.
So my daughter was nervous. She stayed by my side for most of that first day, although she did participate and became more relaxed by the end of the 75 minute session.
She attended again the week before “show day”, and dove into performing and participating, enough so that Jannatha and I decided it would be great to include her in the final performance. After all, one of the hopes for the Seven Hills Foundation is to develop programming that integrates groups more fully.
At the end of the evening, Sarah hugged Robby—the same 6 foot plus giant who scared her before proved to be very sweet and creative. She had come full circle and now had no fear.
During that drive home, she asked if she could help me run a puppet program for younger students. She wanted to recruit her friends to help out as well.
“It feels good to do things with people who have special needs,” she said. “I hope we can get more people to come and join them.”
Sadly, the puppet workshop didn’t make. We were both disappointed. My disappointment stems both from the fact that a program I am passionate about couldn’t happen (and my wallet suffers a bit from that fact) but also that I won’t have an opportunity to work with my daughter in a special way. I won’t have the opportunity to watch the magical moment of that night turn into the first steps into what I hope becomes a lifelong practice of celebrating diversity and difference, volunteering and helping others, and learning to not be afraid.
Of course, the daily challenges of the parent/child relationship continues with many days where I can do nothing right. On those days I have to remember the special, magical moments.
Those days I remind myself that Sarah is becoming an incredible, caring person who will someday find herself in a situation where she is meeting a differently-abled person for the first time. I know, deep in my heart, that she will walk up to that person, put out a strong hand, and say “My name is Sarah, what’s yours?” I can’t wait to see it happen.
About Lisa Kramer
Lisa A. Kramer is the writer of P.O.W.ER (YA speculative fiction) and the co-founder of the heArtful Theatre Company. In recent years, she has collaborated programs that bring together college students and public school transition student with varying abilities to create theatrical work. You can learn more about Lisa and her work at http://www.lisaakramer.com/ or more about heArtful Theatre Company at http://heartfultheatre.org/.[/nextpage]