Tuesday, February 6, 2007

It Takes a Village...of Diversity

Ashley no longer attends a daycare facility after school. She has 'aged out' of their services. But that's ok by me. Finding an appropriate daycare was always so challenging. I've tried a couple for her but none were a perfect fit. However, for a short period of time, one of her daycare facilities did have a lot to offer. Management changes and staff turnover caused that to change over time, but I will always be grateful for one special aspect of that facility - it's commitment to diversity. I wrote the following piece for a local publication about four years ago. I would still like to think that a similar daycare facility could be found...

African music plays softly in the background. Children of many ages are playing together – older ones helping with the younger ones, and not one lacking a little nurture should a perceived trauma occur. Signs in Spanish and Braille are sprinkled throughout the room, and adults converse with children in several languages, including sign language. Dolls of color, books featuring children with slanted eyes or wheelchairs or canes, and dress-up attire representing a rainbow of cultures are strewn throughout the room. Where is this culturally-rich scene – an idealistic commune from the 1970’s, a movie portending a globalization in the future? No, it is my daughter’s daycare facility, and it is located right here in Richmond.

I have four children, all of different abilities and personalities, and they have attended several different childcare facilities around Richmond. Like most parents, I found that the search for appropriate childcare can be a bumpy road. While not wanting to cause undue trauma to our children by moving them from facility to facility, we often leave them in a childcare facility that lacks the important things for which we search. I’ve been through a bright and shiny new facility that on the surface appeared appropriate, but in the final analysis, staff turnover was high because of substandard wages. I’ve been to the affluent facility that caters to children of parents with high standards and full pockets. The field trips at that facility were great, but all the children were cookie-cutter images of each other. I’ve tried the nanny-in-the-home option, but decided daily supervision was too difficult. Through all these searches, my children have grown, sometimes in some not-so-positive ways. But now, with my youngest daughter still facing many years of childcare, I have found that for which I was looking.

My youngest daughter has special needs. She looks and acts a little differently than a lot of children. But, in the most important ways, she is just like any other 8 year old. She wants to be accepted and have friends. She wants the security of having an adult nearby whom she knows is watching protectively over her. She wants to have fun, take fun field trips and play with toys that are not her own. Because she is deafblind, my daughter loves exploring the differences in people. Long, straight fine hair holds as much pleasure to the touch as does stiffer, tightly curled hair. Although she often accidentally bumps into the youngest walkers in the daycare classroom, she will ask their forgiveness with a gentle hug and a kiss on the top of their head. Her fascination with the clips and ribbons that bedeck the heads of her female classmates equals her fascination with the watches, necklaces and brightly colored clothes of her male classmates. To my daughter, each and every person at her daycare facility is unique and worthy. The color of their skin, the cost of their clothes, the texture of their hair, and the inflections of their voice do not matter to her. And, that is exactly the way I want it. I want her to value people for the beauty that can be found uniquely within. I want her to relish the pleasure of getting to know people regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status. And, she is doing just that in her current daycare facility.

This facility is a melting pot of cultures. Both the staff and children represent many cultures, economic levels, abilities, and races. I feel like I am entering the United Nations every time I walk through the door. It is exactly what I want for all my children. Has my daughter’s deafblindness led me to this gem? I truly believe it has – her lack of sight and sound has opened my eyes, ears…and my world…to the beauty of diversity!

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