To The Child Nobody Claps For

To the child nobody claps for,

I know you. You might be finishing the year, completing a grade, but you feel invisible. There's no ceremony for you. No award presented. You know about trophies and plaques and certificates and diplomas. You've heard about dreams of the next year, of "moving-up." You're the kid with ADHD, autism, mental illness, a medical condition, a handicap or a learning disability. Or you're just considered average. Maybe you're shy. You're the one with miles of potential, you're bright, but you're poor, your school district is lagging, you live in a dangerous neighborhood. Or your family is in crisis. You can't be like the kids on stage, on TV. You feel frozen, like you'll never "move-up."

Child, I don't know much, but I know this-- if your breath moves in and out of you, then you're moving up.

If your eyes see the light and life moving around you, then you're moving up.

If these words make you wonder about your identity, your potential, then you're moving up.

If you're suffering, angry, sad, tired then you're alive. You're growing. You're learning. You're moving-up.

Today I sat at a small school two of my children attend, in a privileged suburb, where grownups were perched in rows of white chairs. We wore cotton dresses and blue blazers. We clapped for eighth graders receiving awards. We grinned at touching testimonials about accomplishments. We heard words like achievement, determination, beauty, and courage. We shed tears because, for a moment, we grasped the miracles of children before us, born tiny, growing, through sweat and joy and complicated families. We saw kids standing on stage, flickering candles of young life on a platform, lighting our crowd with hope.

But while I clapped, I thought of you. I imagined vacant seats surrounding mine. I pictured your innocent faces pressed in time, waiting for grownups like me to dare to look your way. I wanted spots reserved for boys and girls and communities with less. I wanted safe, healthy, loving spaces for every child to learn and move-up according to his or her needs. I wanted all parents to feel proud and supported, to have the opportunity to applaud for you, for every child.

I thought of my boy at home with special needs, recovering from depression, homeschooled by special teachers because we haven't found a school where he can thrive. I wished he could feel the applause for his ten incredible years. I wanted him to hear hands clapping for heart surgery, for school after school after school. I imagined hands together, slapping togetherness for a child who found his smile again, for a boy who persevered despite ridiculous obstacles. I thought of the challenges he has lived through and the plaques, the ceremonies he's missed.

Child, we adults have to create a new kind of moving-up for YOU. We've got to embrace one another-- young and old, rich and poor, broken, disorganized, imperfect, of every race and faith and sexual orientation and background. We must all move-up together by opening our eyes to the gifts sown in the souls of each of you, waiting for the thunder of our applause. We must insist on graduating and surviving together, every seat full of you, and you, and you. We've got to do this. To love each other. To clap for each other.

Or, I fear, none of us will truly move-up, anyway.