It’s Saturday morning. Boston Ballet is holding auditions for the Nutcracker. Hopeful little ballerinas gather, line up, and are shepherded in various directions to go do whatever it is that they do.
They are color coded, as it were. The littlest in light pink leotards, the slightly older girls in pale blue. All of them have their hair drawn back into the ballerina’s signature: a high, tight bun. Given the number of children milling about, the place is startlingly quiet. There is a delicacy, a gentility to the whole affair.
Brooke is in the studio with Mr Gino. Her adaptive dance class stands in stark contrast to the quiet constraint of the children outside. As Mr. Ryan sits at his drum set pounding out a rhythm, one of Brooke’s classmates makes her way across the room, every single part of her body abandoned to the beat. She bucks and runs, leaps and spins. She drops to the floor and smacks it with her hands, then springs into the air, her arms overhead, her hands flapping their love of dance, movement, freedom. The other dancers wait for their turn to take the floor. Everyone – every single person in the room, is smiling. The room is electrified by visceral, unrestrained joy.
Two teenagers make their way together through the waiting area. Arm in arm they thread a path through the lines of pastel leotards and high, tight buns. They are wearing the uniform of the adaptive program that Brooke wears — the black Boston Ballet t-shirt and black dance pants. It looks as though one is leading the other, but it’s hard to tell. They must have come from one of the other studios as I’ve never seen them here before.
They walk to the water fountain and one tries to turn the handle. To save them some trouble, I tell them that the water fountain hasn’t been working for nearly two years. I tell them that there’s one downstairs and another one upstairs. They nod and walk away.
A couple of minutes later, they return. A woman has now joined them.
They walk to the water fountain and she tries the handle. I look up at her from where I sit by the studio window and tell her, as I did the girls, that the fountain doesn’t work.
Laughing, she says, “She told me that it didn’t work, but I didn’t believe her.”
It should be a small moment. It’s a water fountain. Perhaps she simply thought they didn’t know how to use it.
I smile and nod toward the girls as I say, “Well, next time believe her. She knows what she’s talking about.”
It might have been a small, disposable moment. I might not have carried it with me, turning it over and over again in my hands days later.
But for the smile.
One of the girls looks at me and her face lights up into a smile.
There is something about that smile. I try not to read too much into it, but, my God, whatever it is, it feels big. Bigger than big. Momentous.
Is it relief?
Later I will write,
I watched a scene unfold this morning at the ballet studio. It appeared to be a small moment, but as we’ve learned together here, there is no such thing, particularly in the life of a child.
The scene, “forgettable” as it may have seemed, wended its way into my soul, where it continues to sit – heavy, unsettled, nagging. Its telling deserves far more than a Facebook post, and so I will give it its due on the blog when I can write it out in full. I have no choice really. Some stories simply must be told. But in the meantime, I have to say this ..
Please, please, (I’m begging, please) do not let a disability – of any kind – discredit a human being. When a person, particularly a child for whom communication is a challenge, but ANYONE, tells you something, in whatever form they are able to “tell” you, believe them. There is no more destructive message than, “You are not capable of or deserving of being believed.” Because when we don’t have faith in them when they tell us something small, we have taught them that they won’t possibly be believed if they ever need to tell us something big.
The woman will turn away and, with a shrug, say, “Go figure.”
My heart will silently shatter into a million pieces – one for each time our children are told every day in these (not) small, (not) subtle, (not) insignificant ways, that they are not credible. That their voices don’t matter. That until a non-disabled person says exactly what they just said, it isn’t real, it isn’t truth.
The implications are disastrous.
So much of what I say on Diary every day is exactly what autistic and otherwise disabled advocates have been saying for years. It’s not new. It’s the same wheel – still round. Please, click on the blogs over there to the right (or below on mobile devices). The ones listed under the heading Vital Perspective from Autistic Adults. Read their words. Hear what they have to say. Don’t wait until you hear it from me for it to be real.
It’s already truth.
And ultimately, it’s not me that I want you to believe.
Image is a photo of Brooke at last year’s rehital. (not a typo) She is dancing with a boy in her class. Her feet are not touching the ground.