Friday, February 28, 2003

Inclusion mom

Last week my daughter had a big project to do for her fifth-grade class, including a written report, a diorama, and an oral presentation. I was in a bit of a panic because the teacher didn't send home much in the way of information on the assignment, and if she had been talking it up in class my daughter did not bring home much in the way of information absorption. But I advised her as best I could, and I thought in the end we'd done a pretty good job. Er, that is, she'd done a pretty good job. It was her project, after all. Not mine.

I never wanted to be the kind of parent who completely took over and did her child's work, although it's sometimes hard not to with my language and learning delayed girl. So I let her lead as much as possible, even if I thought something more complex might be more in keeping with what her peers were doing. Her diorama -- to go with her report on astronaut Sally Ride -- was a shoebox with a computer printout of the space shuttle attached with a paper loop so it stood out a bit from the black-construction-papered sides, a photo of Ride in one corner and a piece of paper proclaiming her the first U.S. woman in space in the other. Simple, but she liked it, and though I was admittedly in charge of the execution, it was mostly her idea.

I figured the other kids' dioramas might be a little more elaborate, but -- oh, my goodness. I caught a few of them on display in the school library today, and they are to my daughter's work as 546-channel digital cable TV is to an old black-and-white with rabbit ears. These were big boxes with clay sculptures and Barbie dolls and curtains and plants and index cards full of detail and wooden extensions and all manner of elaborate scenery setting and story-telling. Part of me was angry that the teacher had never told me that THIS is the sort of thing that was expected; part of me was sad that my daughter would never have the sort of creative vision that could make something like this happen; and part of me was paranoid that all the other parents just knew what making a proper diorama consisted of, and were able to mentor their kids in this direction, and how come I don't have that sort of easy self-evident know-how?

I guess special-ed kids mainstreamed into regular-ed classrooms aren't the only ones who can feel insecure. As a mom with one child who entered regular-ed in second grade and another who's still in self-contained, I'll admit to feeling sometimes that "regular-ed moms" belong to some sort of club I can't belong to, they with their kids who've been together since kindergarten and have older siblings who've gone through the same program and know all the ins and outs of projects and parties and graduations and such. I'm like an inclusion mom: in the same room, but not on the same curriculum. Most of the time I'm happy to keep my head down and do the work that's meant for me, but today -- well, you shoulda seen these dioramas. They remind me that I'm still reading "Dick and Jane" while everyone else is flying through Harry Potter.

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