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Welcome and acceptance: a Black mother with a special needs child.

Welcome and acceptance: a Black mother with a special needs child.

Three weeks ago, I dropped three of my four children off at The Bronx Zoo Day Camp. The Bronx Zoo let me know, via e-mail, that they had no options for campers with special needs. In a so-called “civilized, 1st world country”, there were no options for my daughter to attend with her siblings.

The mornings that we drove up to the Bronx with my daughter were tinged with sadness, knowing that I would have to steel myself and protect my daughter from the impending rejection. I made lunches in morning, and I had made four lunches, instead of three. I forgot that she couldn’t go, or maybe I just didn’t really want to remember. “Why’d you make four lunches?” their father asked.

“Oh. I guess I forgot. I’m tired.” I said and turned in the other direction, continuing the art of making four different lunches, while also keeping the waves of emotion from breaking and crashing my morning. My daughter didn’t understand why she couldn’t attend Bronx Zoo camp. She desperately wanted to go, even insisting upon wearing one of the children’s Bronx Zoo camp shirts from previous years. In her mind, perhaps just wearing the t-shirt would allow her access. My heart hurt when she attempted to line up behind her siblings when it was drop-off time. She struggled to let go of my hand, but I held it firmly, not letting go. I didn’t want to make a tough situation even tougher. I knew she was in pain, and so was I. I kept my motherly eyes bone dry. I was committed to the swallow. The little voice inside of me said “Be strong, you’re an adult. You can’t be crying out here in the street. Be an example. Be an adult.” I just kept pushing my feelings down, feeling so alone, feeling like no one could understand. No one to which I can run. I got back into the car with my daughter, and husband. I did my best to put my emotions on mute mode. I wanted to just go to a soundproof room and scream as loud as humanly possible. A storm of fiery emotions brewed just under the ice. Synonymous with my internal climate, a grey cloud opened, and it began to thunderstorm on the way back home.

Fast forward to sunny Curacao. We went to Curacao for the second time last week. While we were there, I sent all four of my children to a wonderful place called Dolphin Academy. My children all love to swim and snorkel, so it was a no-brainer. They swam in the ocean and learned about ocean life. They all seemed happy to be there, and what made me happy is that all my children, including my daughter with Down Syndrome, was able to attend. I had to certify that she could swim independently, which she could. I also had to sign paperwork that she was able to snorkel, which she can. This feeling of happiness was juxtaposed against the feeling of sadness and regret of going back to the states and not having the same feeling of lightness, of being able to have my daughter go to the same camp as her siblings. We met a lovely camp director, called Remyson, who was so kind to each one of my children, including my daughter. My children said how nice the children were, and how no one was to mean to ANY of them.

On the last day, it was 92 degrees in the shade. I picked them up in front of camp, and I took a picture in front of the big sign: “Dolphin Academy” and Remyson spotted us. He ran over and decided to photo-bomb us and we all laughed. Dolphin Academy is an experience that we will all remember, but each for many different reasons. Mine is acceptance. I thanked him with my wet sunglasses, a mixture of sweat and tears. I never forget people who are kind to me, but especially kind to my children. I have so many wishes, but my main wish is I wish the world were a kinder, accepting place.


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