Social Invisibility

By Megan M.

A little girl sits in an electric wheelchair, gunning herself across the playground with the back of a sharply folded wrist as three other girls run off in different directions behind her. Her underdeveloped limbs and the joint contractures of her hands and feet suggest she has cerebral palsy; her limb disfigurements do nothing to dim her smile.

As I watch the four of them play hide and go seek in and around the jungle gym, I find myself welling with an overwhelming sense of pity at her inability to cower or crouch, to climb up and tuck herself into the tunnel at the top of the slide, as the other girls find nests, nooks and crannies to sit and wait and giggle, delighting in the secrecy of the moment.

I remember how delicious that felt when I was young . . . to remain hidden, furtive, in the midst of the world. Her electric pink wheelchair is sharp and bright, a wild fire burning against the blacktop and blue slides. It alone makes it nearly impossible for her to enjoy such a pleasure as truly remaining invisible.

And thank goodness she can’t: as the last girl is found and the four of them burst into giggles together, I suddenly realize how ironic my sentiment was, to find it depressing that she is unable to stay hidden.

For centuries, certain groups of children have suffered from various forms of social invisibility; those with physical handicaps like this little wonder, to be sure — but also those with learning disabilities, and those within the foster care system.

The real needs and experiences of children within these groups have historically been overlooked and undervalued . . . the real value of creating social policies and cultural attitudes in support of their needs overshadowed by rhetoric that, however beautiful, doesn’t galvanize us into action through reflection.

Children, my grandmother once told me, are our most important natural resource. Caring for a child makes us better people, she argued — more creative, more altruistic, more inspired. We can’t afford not to invest in them, she argued — we eventually leave them the responsibility of investing in us.

She was a woman who at any given time had one to three extra children in her home for over twenty years — taking in a neighbor’s child when he was thrown out of the house by an alcoholic father, taking in a young woman (who eventually became my aunt) when she, likewise, could no longer live at home.

A devout woman who was motivated through her moral values, she was nonetheless an extraordinary social engineer as well. She recognized that human potential—intellectual, emotional, social — is unleashed when a child has sustained contact, support, and recognition from a stable group of adults.

Human potential withers when the soul cannot draw on these things, cannot build trust.

National Adoption Month is just around the corner. Join ARW as we extend it through the entire year, to put a spotlight on one of the most fragile natural resources we have: our children.