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St. Nick and the Batman socks

St. Nick and the Batman Socks


Old World Santa
Creative Commons License photo credit: frannie60

In Christmas 1981, Cincinnati Public Schools was involved in two class-action lawsuits. Our family was caught up in both of them.

The first concerned the right of Aaron, our then seven year old son, who had an IQ below fifty and the labels of autism and intellectual disability, to be able to attend public school instead of a segregated handicapped-only school, “with his own kind.”

The second lawsuit was about racial segregation and the development of “magnet schools” to bring together children of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, and learning styles. We voluntarily enrolled our youngest son, Tommy, age five, into Sands’ Montessori School in the inner city to promote desegregation.

While the lawyers thought the two cases were different, our family knew they were both about building an inclusive community, valuing diversity, and learning from each other.

One of our first lessons about diversity came on St. Nick’s Feastday, Dec. 6th.

In true German tradition, the evening before St. Nick’s Feastday, Tommy wrote letters to Santa for both himself and Aaron, tucked them inside their shoes and placed them outside their bedroom door.

The next morning, Tommy was thrilled to find St. Nick left a note asking him to help spread the spirit of Christmas, be nice to his mother (ah-hem), a couple of candy bars and a pair of Batman socks.

Tommy was always shy. But he was so excited to show off his Batman socks he strutted in front of the mirror, decided his pants covered too much of the socks, and tucked his pants legs inside his socks. Batman socks ruled!

I of course, thought this was darling, took pictures for his Kindergarten scrapbook and drove him to school thinking I was one terrific mom, er, St. Nick.

Tommy joined his class, and I was hanging out with the school secretaries when Tommy’s teacher called into the office asking me to come to the kindergarten room. Over the PA I could hear Tommy sobbing and the rest of the children clearly agitated.

It took a couple of minutes to sort out the details, but apparently Tommy had proudly shown his Batman socks at Show and Tell.

What he learned was no one else in the class had ever heard of St. Nick. And what was worse, St. Nick did not pick up anyone else’s note to Santa. So using sophisticated kindergarten logic, that meant no one–except Tommy–was going to get anything for Christmas.

Further, Tommy felt terrible he hadn’t told them about St. Nick. He reckoned this mess was all his fault. He was “not spreading Christmas cheer” as he had been told in St. Nick’s message, so Santa would be mad at him and not give him anything either.

Tommy’s tear-streaked face would have been bad enough, but he was curled under a desk in the corner with his bare feet hanging out. His Batman socks were inside-out in the garbage can.

Well, this was clearly a kindergarten disaster of monumental proportions. Tommy’s caring teacher and I exchanged those adult looks that said we were supposed to fix this. We settled the children.

I brought Tommy back into the circle, held him in my lap and reassured two other children who were sitting nearby.

Mr. Leedom read Marcia Brown’s story, Stone Soup.

Stone Soup

Stone SoupThe moral of the story is if we think in terms of “gifts” instead of “scarcity,” and if we see the unique beauty in our differences, customs and traditions, we will all have a richer life.

Community Building

After the teacher finished the story, I fumbled out a few words about our class being a community just like the people in the story.

Sometimes our family or religious traditions are not familiar to everyone. Just like each of the families in the story Stone Soup, our class was full of families that could contribute special stories and traditions to celebrate the holidays.

(Kindergartners are very generous in allowing grown-ups to tell stories to make themselves feel better.)

I told them St. Nick came to our house because we were of German descent. I asked if anyone else had other traditions around the holidays and one student told the story of Kwanzaa, another about Hanukkah. I reassured everyone they needed to talk with their families about their holiday traditions, but that if Santa brought them gifts last year, he would surely bring them gifts this year.

As I looked around the circle at these children I had come to love, it dawned on me this was not the all-white, German Catholic, middle-class community school in which I had grown up.

This was exactly the kind of learning experience we wished for our sons.

Intellectually, I knew this was why we chose this school. This sharing was the gift of diversity and inclusion.

But this was more. This experience was a transformational moment for me, Tommy and perhaps some of the students.

Community Building Mix

The next day I brought in the ingredients for our own version of Stone Soup“Building Community Snack Mix” and gave each of the students a Batman sticker.
For more information click on the community building mix.

Batman Socks Rule!

Tommy did get his Batman socks out of the garbage can. He wore them all kindergarten and into first grade until they were faded and had a hole in the heel. The Batman socks are part of his childhood legacy.

New St. Nick Traditions

Each year, for the last thirty years, we have placed the worn, torn Batman socks on our Christmas tree.

Now Tommy has a little girl of his own.

I want to wait a couple Christmases. But when our grandbaby goes to Kindergarten, the Batman socks are again going back to Tommy for his St. Nick’s Day present.

Hopefully, the story of “St. Nick and the Batman Socks” will become a cherished tradition to share with his daughter…and will continue to teach about diversity, community building and inclusion.

Comments:

Do you have any St. Nick or holiday traditions that are unique to your family? Do you have any school memories about lessons in diversity, community building or inclusion? Do you have other ideas on how to build community during the holidays?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All the best, Mary

Halloween Fun, Plus

Aaron age 8 Tommy age 6

Aaron age 8 Tommy age 6

Are they adorable, or what?

Aaron and Tommy always loved Halloween. Me too. The holiday is such a great way to build an inclusive community.

There were some segregated, handicap only Halloween parties for just kids with autism and developmental disabilities, but I wanted Aaron to be part of his community. With a little preparation and a lot of team effort it worked.

When Aaron was 8 and Tommy 6 years old we lived in a great neighborhood with lots of kids (click here for related story) and Halloween was something special.

In the picture above, check out Tommy’s hand. He is holding the ghosts we made and handed out for Trick or Treat.

Task Analysis: Tootsie Pop Ghosts

We took a Tootsie Pop, wrapped a white tissue around the round top, tied it with orange yarn, and with a magic marker added two eyes.

Cute, something homemade and the kids loved them.

Partial Participation

One of the most important concepts in special education is the idea of partial participation. If someone can’t do the whole activity, could they at least partially participate and do some smaller part?

For instance: Aaron, Tommy and I all worked on the Tootsie Pop Ghosts for a couple evenings before Halloween.

Aaron’s job was to take the tissue out of the box.

In addition, sometimes he would hold the stick of the Tootsie Roll Pop while Tommy added the tissue. My job was to tie the yarn. It was a team effort, an inclusive experience.

We each did a part of the whole project. We each partially participated.

Aaron contributed what he could do. He could pull the tissues out of the tissue box independently.

He could hold the stick with assistance, and only for about a short time. Because he was a valued team member he contributed as long as he could.

Tommy, on the other hand, could have pulled out the tissues as well as most of the rest of the tasks. But what made this activity fun was the fact we all worked together. We wanted everyone to play their part.

Tommy had more skills than Aaron, and more tasks in the activity. He got to choose when he did them, but they had to be done before Halloween Day. I could have forced him to finish all the eyes in one sitting–but then it would have been work and Mom’s timeline.

Instead he got to make his own decision and chose to finish them while he watched The Transformers, Electric Company and Scooby Doo on TV–his timeline.

He finished up the ghosts by adding the eyes and jamming the stick of the finished ghost into a shoe box lid so the ghosts would “float.” He chose the time, was self-motivated and had the satisfaction of seeing the job to the end.

We made enough ghosts so both Aaron and Tommy could take them to their classes at school. They were always a big hit and I think they were proud they worked on them.

Team Effort

On Halloween night, Tommy went with all his friends in a crowd of ghosts, clowns and monsters. He was gone for hours and filled his pillow sack as full as he could. One of the neighborhood mothers kept an eye out for Tommy.

Usually Aaron and I would go to the immediate neighbors while Dad manned the front door of our house.

One person could not be three places at once: with Tommy, with Aaron and at the front door. We really needed our neighbor, our community resource, to help us out.

Tips, Sensory Issues and Routines

This particular Halloween Aaron learned about doorbells. We went to each house and I would point so Aaron would know where to press and he would just smile as the ding, or ring, or buzz sounded. He had a great time. Cause and effect. Press the button–hear a funny sound.

The neighbors were always very kind and generous because they knew Aaron. If I prompted him with, “Aaron what do you say?” he would respond, “Thank you” and give them a smile. It really was a way they could get to know Aaron and we could build our community relationships.

We only went to about 10 houses because of all the excitement, plus maneuvering the steps and the dark was a lot of sensory stuff to handle. But Aaron really seemed to understand and enjoy the routine: Go to house…climb up the steps…ring the bell…get candy…say thank you…repeat.

It was a fun night.

Over-Generalization

What wasn’t so fun was the next night. See, Aaron learned the routine really, really well. Too well.

So, the next day guess what? I was busy taking the groceries out of the car, when I looked up Aaron had somehow gotten to the house next door, rang the doorbell, and was waiting for some candy.

It took me longer than my neighbor to figure out what was going on. She just smiled, reached in her extras from the night before and handed Aaron a chocolate bar. I could have hugged her.

Tommy to the Rescue

Tommy thought the whole scene was hysterical. Our whole family laughed about Aaron’s behavior at the dinner table but we knew we had a problem. How were we going to teach Aaron that Halloween only came one day a year? Why was it okay to do something one day–but not the next?

Tommy came up with the solution. He suggested we put away all the Halloween decorations and candy. And sure enough, it worked. Without all the reminders, Aaron moved on to other things.

Full Circle

This Halloween, Tommy will be taking his baby girl Trick or Treating for the first time. And Aaron, he will be passing out Tootsie Pop ghosts when the neighbor kids come to his house.

Trick or Treat? Comments?

Tell us some of your Halloween stories and memories? Stories of partial participation, over-generalization, community building…

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Funny Ads| What do you think?

The Norwegian Association of the Blind made these commercials.

What do you think?

Comments:

All right, there is no excuse for not having a comment on these videos. After you laugh, think a couple minutes and then share your thoughts.

Are they Funny? Creative? Good Advertising?

Are they Insulting? Embarrassing? Bad Public Relations?

Does this ad compaign promote inclusion? normalization? stereotypical thinking?

Do you think these ads will create more jobs? Change stereotypes?

Enhance the image of people who are blind?

Does it make a difference that the commercials were created by the The Norwegian Association of the Blind?

Does it make a difference that the commercials used actors who were really blind?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary