Beyond Inclusion: Why I Started The Circle
Someone recently suggested that I make my group for all children, that I can "include" babies with special needs, but not limit my audience to that population. I understand that suggestion; I have been struggling with the marketing of the group; I am not entirely sure how to reach the people who would benefit the most. But I never said The Circle is only for special needs. My group is open to anyone in the early days or early years of parenting, who need some extra support. But look. Here's the thing.
There are a lot of baby groups and classes and meetups out there that are open to all, but clearly designed with normative, typically developing children in mind. Is my child "welcome," can he be "included" in those spaces? Sure, usually. But will I have an extra pair of hands of someone who won't look at us with pity and disgust if his ostomy bag gets a leak? Will we be sitting there alone when the other kids his age take off running and the other moms have to go after them? Will someone mistakenly offer him a snack that his oral motor skills cannot process? Will I be able to stop myself from being annoyed at people stressing over the search for the perfect organic whatever, while I try to process the latest bad news from a surgery consult? Will I feel like I am taking up too much space or like the object of people's pity, if I need to cry or vent over situations that everyone else may sympathize with, but can't really relate to? Will I always have to start off with an explanation before I talk about the experiences specific to our lives: dealing with regional centers, doctor's appointments, medical supply orders, worrying about his future? Will I have to smile and nod when someone says something well-meaning but really irritating, "He's so cute, he doesn't look like he has Down Syndrome, maybe it's not very severe" or "I just had the craziest poop explosion too the other day" (people, it's simply not the same when the poop is coming out of your kid's exposed intestine) because I just don't feel like messing up the vibe, having a teachable moment with adults? Don't get me wrong, I have had some great experiences and made some wonderful friends in LA's mommy scene. It was a lifeline to me in those early days of isolation, and I met some lovely people that held, loved, supported me as best they could. But there were times where mommyland itself was isolating, always being the only one. Where I longed for a space where my child's life wouldn't just be included, but centered.
bell hooks From Margin to Center was a landmark text in feminist studies, arguing not just for the "inclusion" of Black women's lives, experiences, concerns, but a centering, a centering that would transform feminism itself. Inclusion is limited, and additive. It presumes that we can add formerly excluded people to structures in ways that still mostly benefit the dominant group, by exposing them to the value of diversity, as the marginalized still struggle, the onus on them to assimilate, to hang on the edges of a world not built for them, to fit in. Inclusion does not demand that we change those structures themselves. Centering the most vulnerable demands a reenvisioning of structures, groups, spaces, in ways that improve things for everyone. For example, when, as a teacher, I went beyond just those minimal required accommodations for students with disabilities, and started thinking about what it would take to incorporate their needs into the class, my teaching improved, for the whole class. Yes, such changes required a bit more labor and effort from me. But that is precisely the kind of labor and effort needed to make this a better world.
Thinking about The Circle has been an act of me not just joining the fray of the mommy and me world, but of reenvisioning it. I'm making sure aides are there because sometimes our kids have medical, or equipment needs, or meltdowns, and it can be helpful to have an understanding extra pair of hands that has seen what you are dealing with before. I'm having refreshments because getting out of the house with a kid who only needs the basic bottle and diapers is hard enough, let alone one who has extra supplies and medical or behavioral challenges that love to pop up the second you're getting through the door. I hope to focus a lot of our conversations around self care, because it is so easy to forget when you constantly play the roles of service coordinator, paperwork manager, chauffeur, home feeding, physical, speech therapist, warrior, advocate, nurse, as well as everything else that we all are to our children. It is at a sensory play center where children of multiple ages and ambulatory levels can either stick close to their parents or spread out and play safely. And I am open to more suggestions about how to make this space work for those that I most want to serve.
Yes, everyone is welcome, and we also talk about everything else that parents of young children do, and vibrant, intelligent people trying to live our lives as we raise young children do. It's not all special needs issues, all the time. And it is so important that children of all race, gender, ability interact and play together. I have worked hard to make sure my son has all kinds of friends, even if that means hurting my back carrying or bending over holding his hands to follow more mobile toddlers around a playground. But it's also nice, to have spaces where I don't feel like we have to try to keep up. I call this group The Circle because we need some place to be The Center, and I suspect that we are not the only ones with this need. This is my very small step in the direction of creating a better world. If it is not used, if it is not needed by those I envisioned it for, I will try to change the world in another way. I have plenty of ideas!
My second monthly The Circle meets tomorrow, September 23rd at 10:00am, 12828 Inglewood Avenue. All of the info is on my Warrior Mama page. I do ask for a $10 donation to defray expenses, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds, give what you can. I hope to see you there! Love and Laughter always.