Mar 20, 2009

Please Don't Stare

In Seattle there is a shortage of spaces in the better schools and we were lucky enough to apply at just the right time and get into one of the most popular schools. I wish I could say that all of the schools are equally good but they really aren't. Our children are fortunate to attend a really amazing school, one that really celebrates diversity. The student body is made up of rich poor and in between, children of all races, kids that speak English as a second language as well as native English speakers, kids from very typical houses with a mom and dad and two kids, as well as single parent families, gay and lesbian parents, foster kids. You get the picture. There are other things I love about the school but this is a big part of it. I grew up in a place and time when everyone at my school was white, middle class and came from a two parent family. I love the diversity that my kids' school celebrates. Our world is truly a beautiful place because we are not all the same in every way

Last night we attended Multi-cultural night at the school. The PTA funds a really great music teacher and he and the teachers select and teach each classroom a song and/or dance that represents a culture to perform on stage for the evening. My son, a Kindergartner, learned a Japanese dance. They wore happi coats and used fans in their dance. My daughter's grade sang a song about diversity in Spanish. There were African dances, a Chinese red ribbon dance, a rap song about us all being one and many other great numbers representing cultures from all over the world. Among the most impressive was a really cool number where they talked about immigration from different countries over the centuries and turned the flags from other countries into one big American flag.

So I was very disappointed to go and find that even at this school of all places that many many children (and a few adults) stared at Ainsley. Everywhere we go we get looks. I'm used to that. To some degree it's just human nature. But it doesn't take the sting out of being constantly reminded of her difference when we are just trying to go about living our life. Being in a room full of hundreds of people, and having 1/3 or more give looks, double takes, stares or even paying extra positive attention because of Ainsley's specialness was a bit overwhelming. Even when you're good and very practiced at ignoring people it's hard not to let that affect you.

We sat next to a really big aisle on the side because we wanted to have the stroller (she's not yet in a wheelchair). We have to have her bag with her spare trachs and supplies as well as her suction machine so it's actually more efficient to put it in the stroller than to set bags everywhere. Little did we know that was where the 3rd graders were going to line up during the show. Even though we moved a chair out of the way so she was in the space of one seat the kids were very close. And there was a group of them that wouldn't stop staring.

One girl in particular stood three feet away and stared at Ainsley during the entire show, with the exception of when she was on stage. She literally had her back turned to the stage and did not take her eyes of Ainsley for well over an hour. Needless to say it kind of spoiled things for us, it's hard to relax when someone is watching you like that. Luckily Ainsley was oblivious or we'd have said something right away.

We had a conversation about it with our kids when we got home just to make sure they know better. I want to ask, please, even if you think they already know, have a conversation with your children about why it's not polite to stare at people that look different. As they said last night in their final words we are all different and all the same, united together we can change the world.

Adrian's class dance.

Ainsley entertaining herself (note a starer in the background).

Evie's grade singing.

The flags of other countries from which immigrants came.

That makes up the United States.

The teachers performing the Hampster Dance. Hilarious!

Ainsley put her hands together at the end for her attempt at applause.


  1. You know what bugs me more than the staring? The people who look away. But kids are just curious. When kids stare at Eric or Anthony, I introduce them and tell the child something like, "his muscles don't work very well, that's why he uses a wheel chair. So what is your name?" Put the attention on them. But, probably not an option in the setting you described. Depending on the situation, I might have told that one child to turn around and pay attention to the show;-) I know it's hard sometimes, but it does get easier. I usually handle these things pretty well now (as long as it's not PMS time, LOL)!

  2. We just had a negative outing experience, too. The kids, I get. The parents, I do not. They are the ones that make me really angry. I am not good on the spot and then later I think of all the things I should have said/done. Ainsley is adorable and you aren't the only one who knows that!