Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Exclusion Blues

I got this fortune cookie, recently, and it really struck me.  I thought about how I spend a lot of time "saying" things, but wondering if the messages are being received.  I know I discuss things of which I had little or no concept, before my daughter was diagnosed with food allergies, so I can see how it might be hard to relate, for those not living this kind of life.  

One concept I've wanted to discuss for a while is the heartache of exclusion.  This topic is discussed quite a bit, in regards to food allergies.  However, I think this is a universal experience, and that most everyone has experienced exclusion, in one form or another, in their lifetime.  I'd like to share the story of a seemingly insignificant event that happened to me about 30 years ago, that has nothing to do with food allergies, but might help others to understand the feeling I am trying to relate.

When I was about 6 years old, in first grade, I was living in a new neighborhood.  Due to my father's job, we moved around quite a bit.  One afternoon, I was with my parents, visiting a couple they had befriended.  They had a daughter who was my age and we got to play together.  My parents were going to be hanging out with the couple for the evening, but that happened to also be the evening of the girl's Girl Scouts (or Brownies or whatever she was in) meeting, at a house, a few streets away.  Never fear, said my friend!  She had an extra uniform and her parents let me wear it and said I could go with her to the meeting.  I was so very excited!  I had never gone to anything like that and was looking forward to it and it was fun to wear the uniform.  I got dressed up and off we went to the house.  I don't recall all of the fine details, but I remember walking into the house and getting quite the sour look from the hostess.  My friend's mother explained the situation and figured it would be OK for me to join in, just this once, since my parents were visiting for the evening.  I remember the hostess mom folding her arms and saying in quite a put-upon manner, that they were going to be doing a craft with toilet paper rolls and there were NO extra toilet paper rolls and I would have to leave!  My friend's mother left her daughter there and drove me back to their house.  I proceeded to my friend's room, lay down on her bed and cried and cried.  I vividly recall the Elton John song, "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" playing on the radio as I sobbed.  I felt so left out - basically thrown out!

I spent many years disliking all groups like that...I didn't want to have a thing to do with Girl Scouts, Brownies, sororities, etc.  I saw them all as groups of people who wanted to exclude other people.  (My apologies to all those with children in those groups - I buy/donate cookies every year!)  It took a long time for that wound to heal and I don't think it has completely healed, given that I still think of that day, sometimes, when the song comes on the radio.  As an adult, I can see it from many different perspectives and I have a more well-rounded understanding, but imagine that scenario from my 6-year-old perspective.  All I wanted was to spend time with others and play and I was met with disdain and shut out over something so silly as a lack of a toilet paper roll.

Were you ever left out or excluded as a child?  How did it feel?  

Now, imagine you are a child with life-threatening food allergies.  The people around you are all griping about what a pain you are and how much trouble you are causing.  Grown men and women are spewing hateful vitriol and you cannot understand why.  All you know is that they don't want you there and their eye-rolls and stares cause you great pain.

That instance I experienced seems so minor in the grand scheme of things, but it marked my heart so and is still with me, these 30 years later.  It was probably one of the first overt experiences of exclusion I had encountered and sadly not the last.  If that small thing hurt me so, just imagine the magnitude of being excluded for something you have no control over and having people actively working to put you in harm's way...People complaining that keeping you alive is too much of a burden...This kind of negativity is directed at children at a very tender age and when you exclude them and berate them, they won't forget.  

So please you want to be the person in the story that folds their arms at a young, innocent child, with a scowl on your face, making them feel unwelcome and unwanted, or do you want to be the one who does something to help them?  Even being someone who just doesn't do anything to challenge them in their quest for safety is helpful.  I don't have all the answers, but I just wanted to share a story about feeling excluded, in the hopes that you might get a glimpse into the deeply-felt harms that can be done when a child is excluded.  Let's do what we can to prevent such heartaches.  My 6-year-old self thanks you.