*This post is partially from another publication I submitted for a magazine. I included additional details since the original writing was restricted by a word count.
During my elementary years, my mother worked at a local institution. Some of my fondest memories are from accompanying her to her job. Some days this was for Take Your Kid to Work Day, while other times we were visiting during her days off. I’m sure we probably got some odd looks as people silently questioned why a young mother would bring her little girl to this location. Why would she purposefully subject her to witnessing “abnormal” behaviors? Why subject her daughter to an environment where safety was never a guarantee? How could she consider herself a “good” mother?
Nevertheless, memories of these days are filled with experiences that my peers were not sharing during their Show & Tell segment at school. I watched individuals walk around with helmets on their heads, while having vocal outbursts with some choice language and sometimes banging their heads against nearby objects/walls. Many visits included
ordering ice cream at the snack stand. There were times when I witnessed people being physically escorted throughout the halls as they shouted in perhaps distress, frustration, or confusion. Some ladies would be bathed in their beds throughout the evening. I would see individuals watching soap operas, others following us in every direction rambling undiscernible words, and staff members lounging around a wooden table (sometimes my young mind questioned who was watching who here). Then we would go walking to the center’s art room where paintings were created from brushes attached to helmets, tissue paper/beads were pressed onto images that were outlined with yarn by individuals who did not have the fine-motor skills to color with crayons. In a room down another wing, there were people using communication devices to state simple sentences to those in their local vicinity by either pushing buttons with their hands, or using some type of tool. Across the room were more individuals who were practicing walking and other physical therapy skills. In the cafeteria, I’d see food flying across tables and staff members passing out pureed food on plastic trays (even more of a reason to head to the snack stand for ice cream!). Throughout the visits, the shouting and other forms of communication echoed throughout all of the buildings.
Given these common occurrences, one might ask, how could this possibly be one of my fondest memories?
Because it was in this institution where my mom taught me so many life lessons. I learned to see past what people can’t do, and instead value their unique gifts. I learned to be patient as someone in front of us walked slowly down the long hallways. I learned to appreciate the semi-unconscious skills my body was capable of producing such as holding a paint brush, or coloring inside lines, as I watched numerous adults participate with adaptations that allowed them to still experience gratification with the activity. I learned to show respect, even when others may not be able to display it in a manner in which I was used to. I learned the value of caring for someone who’s not family; giving much attention and detail in freshening them up for the day, taking the time to add accessories to their outfit, and doing it without letting the individual sense your anxiety due to the busy work schedule. I learned to see people for who they are inside of their hearts, instead of judging them based on their “different” appearances. I learned to genuinely hear people who cannot verbally communicate and to carry out sincere conversations with them, instead of acting as if they are not in the room. I learned all of these lessons, and so many more, in an institution. But most of all… I learned the lesson of purely and deeply showing love to another human being.
Ahmeli…that we teach our children to embrace people who are different from them.
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