Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Life lessons on childhood and diversity

Today the leader of my daughter's Brownie troupe called to tell me she was pleased that Miss had come to her to tell her she wasn't going to be part of the group anymore. "It's important for girls to know what they want," she said. "And I'm glad Miss figured it out for herself."
Backing up a bit, Miss had talked to me before she quit. It was a warm and sunny spring day, and the leader told her she couldn't go out and play before the meeting started. If Miss couldn't follow the rules of the group, she'd need to quit. The leader told her they'd all go outside together after they'd done the meeting opening rituals. Miss had been cooped up in school all day, so in her mind waiting just wasn't worth it. And while she put on a brave face and made it sound like it was the choice she wanted to make, I knew she'd say "yes" when I asked her later if she was sad to not be part of Brownies any more.
Truth be told, this leader is probably a little too rigid for my daughter. And it's probably best that she's not in the group anymore. After all, Miss's ADHD makes it hard for her to comply with meeting structures, especially after the end of a long day at school when her medication is no longer in effect.
But as the mother of a child with ADHD, I feel more than a little disappointed that this mother was so congratulatory about Miss's decision to quit. In weeding out Miss, the group lost an important bit of diversity. Yes, it's a challenge to have a child who doesn't want to follow the structure of the group. But who ever said that making a diverse group work is an easy task? Instead Miss learned to not take part where she didn't fit in. How many times of being weeded out, I wondered, will it take until she decides to stop joining anything where she isn't like everyone else?
I wish this mother had tried to figure out a way for Miss to stay involved. Instead she gave her an all-or-nothing choice. If the leader had been flexible and let Miss go and play first, I'm certain that we would still have a Brownie living in our house. Sure, groups need to have rules and standards to follow. But perhaps the reason so many groups become homogeneous, is that we create rules and standards that only a certain type of person can follow.
When my daughter was invited to join Brownies, the adults talked about our girls learning important lessons that would serve them well in adulthood. Miss learned an important adult lesson today all right, and she conducted herself with maturity and dignity, despite her sadness at giving up something she had once wanted to be a part of. I just wish she lived in a world that allowed a first grader to have room to play after school, and that could accommodate different abilities to join in and participate. Miss was smart enough to figure out she didn't fit in. She quit because of wanting to play on a sunny day. But what I learned was an important lesson on how to destroy a culture of diversity in the name of rules and in the guise of self-empowerment.