Issue #19 – Two Hats

Posted on Posted in Articles

Two Hats

Rana Reisman

I wear 2 hats.
I change them daily, sometimes multiple times a day.
Some parts of the day I am an Adjunct Professor at a local educational institution where I teach a course about disabilities.
Part of my curriculum is to underscore the importance of Inclusion, part of the laws of I.D.E.A.
“Disabled children should be educated with other non-disabled children to the maximum extent possible”
It’s all very noble; Inclusion. Mainstreaming.
We understand the reasoning. It reduces stigma and provides more opportunities for growth. It enables the disabled to be accepted and be part of the greater community.
It all sounds so embracing and wonderful.

Allow me to switch my hat.
Now I am a Mommy.
My son is 17. He has Down syndrome.
Shabbos afternoons during the springtime are very difficult.
The weather is warm, the birds are out, the kids on the block are running from neighbors’ to neighbors’ backyards.
My son is home. No one offers to invite him over to play.
He so desperately wants to join the other children. And so he does…with the 6-year-old boys who are nice to him until they get annoyed by his silliness.
The older boys are somewhat more sensitive. They include him in a basketball game…their incentive? I have one of the best courts on the block, and so the deal is…if they want to use it, Yehuda plays too.
My heart breaks for him.
He doesn’t understand why he can’t play with the girls.
He has, like all of us, this innate human need to belong, to be accepted for who he is, for who we are.
I don’t blame the children.
I don’t assign blame to anyone.
It’s just the way it is.

And then comes Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom.
A haven for boys with Down syndrome.
They are experiencing the best of both worlds, as they learn a few times a week with the ‘typical learners’ of the mainstream Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, in which they are housed and hosted.
Most recently, when I attended their Chanukah Chagiga, I realized that these boys don’t need others to validate themselves. They are happy, fulfilled and accepted amongst themselves just the way they are.
They don’t need to change their essence to fit into something they are not.
That extra chromosome is there for a reason. It makes a statement.
This is who I am. Take me or leave me.
And as I observed these boys dancing to the music, embracing each other, dancing arm in arm, I also noticed the devoted Rabbeim elicit the pure simchas hachaim from them. I then realized that it might be time for me to discard some old hats.