One of my favorite memories from my childhood was all of the many Christmas performances I participated in throughout the years. It already was my favorite time of year and being able to prepare, rehearse, and perform sent my spirit soaring into the Christmas mood.
I sang in the school choir for years, as well as took private voice lessons. This time of year was always the busiest between school performances and Christmas recitals and I loved every single minute of it.
It was a lot of work not only for me but my entire family. The weeks leading up to each performance meant extra rehearsals in and out of school and nonstop singing at home. I had music to learn, parts to fine tune, costumes to prepare. Incredibly fun!
One performance I remember in particular was an all-school Christmas program. We were lucky enough to hold the performance at a local theater, making the night even more magical.
Along with signing in the choir, my special part I had for this show was sitting with a classmate during The Christmas Song fireside, enjoying the heat from the fake roaring fire, stockings hung by the chimney with care. A moment I lived for and a roll I took very seriously, rubbing my “cold” hands by the fire engaging in pretend conversation with my friend to make it appear as if we were reminiscing of Christmas past by the bright glow of the flame. I don’t recall what I wore other than a Santa hat, I can’t tell you how old I was, or what else was performed that night. But what I can say is I have thought back to that moment in time year after year.
Along with the heaviness of this year, there is the uniqueness of reinventing and making new memories. The holiday performances look nothing like they did and creativity has inspired a new type of gathering.
Last week, Bernadette’s preschool class did a zoom performance. It has been hard not being able to go into the classroom to participate in school events with her, but I appreciate the hard work her school in putting into making families feel connected. The teachers pour into these kiddos to make each season come alive and showcase their hard work on videos and zoom meetings. Oh technology!
I sat on my living room floor in front of our brightly lit Christmas tree staring into the screen as these little performers sang each song they had prepared. There was dancing and clapping and joy-filled faces as they proudly sang through the list.
That was enough to bring tears to my eyes, seeing Bernadette in her full-inclusion preschool class alongside her typically developing peers, joining in her own version of each song. Melt my heart, it was beautiful.
But as I watched, there was something deeper in my that brought the subtle tears. Her classmates and teachers accommodated her where she was at, fully included and fully participating with the helping hands close by.
She was excited to sing and dance so much so that she started off with a bang. Up, out of her chair, waving her arms, ready to go. Her classmates carried on and her teacher gently reminded her to sit down. Her “words” are not exactly right, but she belted out her own version of the song keeping time with the rest of her classmates who encouraged her with their smiles and high fives.
Her little face beaming with excitement as the last song was a dancing song. The kids stood up and started dancing along. At one point, there was a jumping part. Jumping is something that Bernadette does not yet do. She was a late walker and has been delayed in her overall gross motor development. Balance is tricky for her and more recently she has attempted with help to “jump”. The teacher’s assistant didn’t miss a beat as she quickly grabbed Bernadette’s hands to help her jump so she could also participate.
Cue the tears. So much of the time, it feels as if my only job in life is spent molding Bernadette into fitting into the world so that she is accepted. She often gets overlooked and assumed she is younger than she actually is and disregarded simply because there are assumptions made based on her certain areas of development. It’s painful as her mother to watch this happen regularly.
This classroom is the opposite. While they are providing a place for her to learn and grow, to work on and meet goals for her education and development, they have also created a welcoming space for her that allows her to be who she is. There is a very welcoming and accepting attitude towards her. Even when she’s belting her own version at the top of her lungs, or when she needs an extra set of hands to jump alongside her peers, to know that she has the assistance to participate in a way that works for her makes my heart sing.
This idea has been on my mind a lot as of recent. How tiring it is to try to get her to “behave” a certain way. And also a sense of sadness if I’m honest about developmental milestones I thought we would already be past. But this moment reminded me once again, I want to provide a safe place for her where she can be herself, exactly who she was created to be. I want to be the one to bend and flex as necessary to accommodate her instead of being so wrapped up in my own “idea” of how I think things should look.
I am incredibly grateful for the school she is able to be a part of in this season. For her gracious classmates who accept her for exactly who she is, who encourage her even at their young age to reach her goals, and teachers who create a safe and inclusive learning environment for each and every child that walks through their doors.