This picture popped up in my Memories on Facebook today, and I decided it was time. With prom season here in full swing, this has been growing in my mind lately, nagging almost. Like it just won’t go away until I share my thoughts with someone else…or everyone else. Every time it wandered its way into my head, I quickly pushed it away, reminding myself of what a great night it was, and how I dare I think of anything other than joy towards such a special night? But it’s time, and I think it’s important for everyone else to know too. Before I step on anyone’s toes (which I have obviously never done before in my life) please know that I say all of this out of love. Out of love for my sister, for all other Prom Kings and Queens out there, and all of the people who are just trying to do the right thing. This is not to make anyone feel badly, but to consider a new way of doing things going forward.
I am a huge Heather Avis fan. If you don’t know who she is, then look her up, buy her books, listen to her podcast (shoutout to The Lucky Few Podcast), and stalk her on Instagram like I do. Heather Avis is a mom to three adopted children. Two of her children have Down Syndrome. She’s written two books about her adoption journey and her life as a mom to people with Down Syndrome. Her second book is called Scoot Over and Make Some Room. In this book, she shares insights into their daily lives. Some parts of their lives are totally normal, some parts of their lives are hard, and some parts of their lives will make you laugh by yourself on the beach like a crazy person as you read it (@ myself). Heather’s (one day we will be on a first name basis) mission in this book is to promote inclusion. To show the world how amazing her children and all other people with disabilities are. The title of the book goes back to an analogy about always making sure that everyone has a seat at your table. When you look around your table, who do you see? Neurodiversity is a BEAUTIFUL thing, and so many of us are missing out on that. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities don’t ever have seats at the table. They’re peeping through the window while standing outside. But then everyone at the table likes to pretend that they were really there too. To make sure that everyone has a seat at your table, in the words of Heather Avis, you’ve got to scoot over and make some room. And that’s what I’m here to ask you to do.
Three years ago today, my sister Jordyn was crowned prom queen at her senior prom. It was a magical night, where we all cried and cheered and took so many pictures. We will always be grateful to the senior class for giving her and us such a special night. The staff at the high school were kind enough to let my family know ahead of time so that we could all be there to witness it. We started the evening off with pictures with our family at our house. Our neighbors had a yard full of beautiful flowers, and we used them as a backdrop for pictures with our parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousin. The whole family there to share this night. We took a limo ride to the prom with her date, who was crowned Prom King, my then boyfriend (now fiancé, whoop whoop), and myself. Tanner and I were lucky enough to attend all of her proms with her since she was in middle school to make sure everything went smoothly. If you’ve ever seen Jordyn at a prom, then you’ve probably also seen Tanner and I force feeding her chicken tenders and hand-delivering water to the dance floor because she refused to take a break from dancing. One year, we had to carry her down the street to our car because her legs were so worn out from dancing. Needless to say, proms are her THING. This one was no different. They danced and had fun, and Tanner and I stood to the side as much as we could besides during the whole chicken tender/hydration situations. When the time came to announce prom king and queen, our family and the prom king’s family were able to slip into the back unnoticed. I can’t explain the amount of joy that filled the room when they were announced prom king and queen. It was contagious, and you couldn’t get away from it. There were screams and smiles, and laughs, so many videos, and some tears. Not only were they accepted, but they were CELEBRATED, and at the time, I thought that’s all that I could ever ask for as a sister. But, I was wrong. Now I’m asking something more.
As magical as that night was, when I thought about it in the weeks and months following, I didn’t only feel the joy that I felt that night. That joy was definitely still there, but there was a twinge of sadness thrown in there. For the longest time, I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. But, now I know. Making Jordyn the prom queen was so special, and it was a night that we will never forget. But do you know what would have made that night even more special? Being invited to take pictures or go out to dinner before prom with the people who made her prom queen. Jordyn had so many friends in school who were all so kind to her over the years. People who realized just how special my girl really is. People who were kind enough to make her prom queen! But the invite was never there. All of the pictures are with our family, and all of the dinners were with our family, or Tanner and I, as we saw her classmates at the same restaurant. They always came over to say hello and tell her how beautiful she looked, but no one ever invited her to follow them back to their table. And that is what I’m asking you to do. Extend the invite. Take a look at your table (literally and figuratively) and figure out who’s there. But more importantly, who’s missing?
Get ready to Scoot over and make some room.
Prom season is here, people. Before making a person with a disability your prom king or queen, make sure that they have a seat at your table first. And if not your table, somebody’s table. As a sister to someone with a disability and a special education teacher, I have a request. While my sister’s proms are done, I have students who I love like they’re my own. They will have their own proms years from now. My request is that people no longer make people with disabilities prom kings and prom queens out of pity or out of heroic efforts, but because you KNOW them and KNOW that they deserve it. Really knowing someone means that they’ve got a seat at your table, and hopefully many many tables. No more waving from across restaurants, or voting for someone to be prom queen when you’ve never spoken a word to them. It’s time to start practicing inclusion, and I mean real inclusion.
To all the high schoolers out there, as you finalize your prom plans, take a look around your table and see who’s missing. Let’s all promise to scoot over and make some room in all areas of our lives.