Living as if the world we want already exists

24 December, 2013

Last week my sister went along to her youngest boy’s first school nativity. They were shocked to see him sitting in his uniform on a bench next to the teaching assistant- the only reception child not in costume and the only reception child not in the play. Wondering why, my sister approached the teachers involved who told her that he wasn’t participating because, due to his autism, he’d spoil it for the other children.

Words can’t describe my sister’s hurt, my family’s rage, all of our friend’s disbelief.

If it wasn’t so upsetting it would be laughable. The original nativity; in a manky stable with foreign wisemen, smelly shepherds, shitting sheep, overbearing angels, a nursing mother with leaking breasts and a wailing baby, all welcome and all important. And a tiny school in rural England exclude a beautiful four year old from their tribute because he is different.

I guess it is just fear, at the bottom of it all, isn’t it? People are scared of difference, of being different, of new things, of change. We find it hard to make inclusivity our default- it is why we need Human Rights Conventions and Equality Legislation.

And a human need to control. To erase any possibilities of unpredictability, to manipulate circumstances so things are exactly as we want them. So while the first nativity was majestic chaos there was a 2013 version in a corner of England where the children were so controlled a little girl wet her pants instead of disrupting the scene.


I think this end of year holiday is a chance to let go of our fears and our need to control. Whether we are celebrating the confusing birth of a deity to a poor teenage mother or gratefully heralding the lightening of the days in the Winter Solstice, it’s an invitation to be our better selves, our golden selves.

To be kind and courageous.

Welcoming and inclusive.

To believe in others, to trust them.

To be at peace.

We had our leaving party in London on Sunday (we are actually doing this. This moving to New Zealand thing.) And a couple of days beforehand my Aunty suggested we redo my nephew’s first nativity, reclaim it. So midway through the bash all the kiddos (and some childlike adults) donned their outfits and my mum narrated a nativity that almost certainly rivalled the original in terms of disorder.

We had two Josephs, about a squillon angels, a star that very much looked like a Winnie The Pooh helium balloon and some wise girls and boys that followed it uproariously and at great speed around the hall. Of course, my nephew sat impeccably through the whole thing with the obligatory tea towel headgear, completely accepted, loved, included, just as he is.


I was struck just last week by this bit in Escape From Childhood by John Holt;

Paul Goodman, in his many talks with young people, used to say that one good way to work for a truly different and better world was to act in their daily lives, as far they could, as if that world existed. What would you do, he would ask them, if the world had become more or less the kind of place you want it to be; how would you live, how would you treat other people? Live that way now, treat them that way now. If something prevents you, try to find a way to deal with that. We can begin to treat children, even the youngest and smallest, wherever we may find them, as we would want everyone to treat them in the society we are trying to make.

Let’s do it, eh? Starting this Christmas. With children and adults. In our playing, our laughing, our talking, our disagreements, our arrangements, our mealtimes, our family politics, our school PTA, during our grocery shop; let’s act as if the world is run on love, as if it is already the kind, inclusive, brave, embracing society we want.

Peace to you x x

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  • Umm Yahya 24 December, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    I am shocked and appaled at that school! There are no words, they must be stuck in a thankfully long gone time… 🙁

  • Kate 24 December, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Read that and my mouth fell open, just totally mortified 🙁 well done to your family for doing the right thing but how utterly ridiculous that they had to x

  • Maureen McNamara 24 December, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    Well done you lot, remember when you had your first babe and the beaming joy on Tim’s face, going to miss ya. I hope life is all and more than you wish for

  • Ali 25 December, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Im so sad at all things that the school, the teachers, the other parents and other children are missing out on by excluding a child. What message does that give the children in the class? Wrong and awful in so many ways.
    In my littles girls reception class of 21 children in a rural school there are 4 who had differing needs ( all children have differing needs, some more pronounced than others). In my daughters nativity they signed all the songs and most of the children can now sign confidently so signed some of the speaking parts too. It was beautiful and wonderful and everything a kids nativity should be … Wise men and women, 6 shepards, 4 angels, more stars than you could shake a big stick at. Not a dry eye in the house and for all the right reasons! Merry Christmas x

  • Sarah 25 December, 2013 at 3:46 am

    Sad beginning but beautiful ending. So many wonderful truths within this post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amanda 25 December, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I am shocked and upset at reading this so how your sister must have felt must have been terrible 🙁
    As a Mother of a son with autism, I know personally of the constant fights and battles for inclusion….at times it can be quite simply heartbreaking.
    We’re very lucky as DS goes to a fabulous special school which I believe all the staff should be awarded OBE’s!
    Your nephew’s school were wrong and I hope you sister has very much highlighted this to them.

    Well done for putting on your own show, the picture looks fantastic! 🙂
    Hope you and all your family have a lovely, happy and healthy Christmas and 2014 🙂

  • Jenni 25 December, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    A truly beautiful post. I’m glad your nephew got to be in the nativity play in the end. The photo looks like merry chaos, a sight to behold 🙂

  • Teeny 27 December, 2013 at 1:46 am

    Yeeeeeer, that is not on. Not allowing him to be a part. My adorable nephew is also ASD, and it would break my heart if he were to be treated similarly. Thank goodness yours has such an amazing family to get behind him and be the wonderful bunch that you are. So you definitely are moving back to NZ!? Well then, my country will be better off for having you here! Happy travels. x

  • Katie 28 December, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Appalling. I think that the teachers involved did not give enough credit to all the children involved and that they needed to relax. Who wants to sit through a perfectly controlled Nativity play anyway. Not. Me. This year, I got to watch a beautiful Nativity. There were a few children enjoying being a part of the play in their own way and all the children were tolerant, helpful, guiding and caring towards eachother. Gently leading their peers to the right place, whispering prompts for lines, and being patient and understanding while being poked and proded by the bare feet of another. I hope that I never forget this beautiful Christmas scene and remember it as a lesson to myself when having a desire to control things in an attempt to make things “perfect”. Well done on your own Nativity! And best of luck with your continuing adventures!

  • Mrs_scholes 28 December, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Wow, I would be making a serious complaint to the head teacher! They couldn’t get more creative than simply ‘leave him out of it’? If he has a TA, they need to replace her!

    I am delighted you gave your family another opportunity to run it through properly. What a great idea.

    Peace to you and yours too.

  • Vivienne 31 December, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    I think I read about this elsewhere (if not, another school has done a very similar thing) and I’m still appalled that they could exclude him in this fashion.

    • Lucy 1 January, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      I went on a bit about it on Twitter 😀

  • Pinkoddy 8 January, 2014 at 11:31 am

    That brought tears to my eyes.
    My own little boy just had his first nativity and I’m sure him and his support worker stuck out like a little sore thumb. But you know how many parents were watching him, proud of him for me, and came up and said how well he’d done.
    I’m glad your family did it him for him this time but I hope by next time the school include him – everychildmatters.

  • Jenny from Cheetahs In My Shoes and Just Photos By Me 8 January, 2014 at 11:31 am

    That is just so very wrong.

    In the Nativity play at school last year, they put the Cheetah Keeper (who has trouble getting from sitting to standing and vice versa) in the middle of the stage at the back with nothing to support him. He found it exhausting and so didn’t enjoy it – and all the children around him were annoyed because he couldn’t keep up.

    This year, nearly all the children were on little chairs, his TA had re-made costumes for him because he couldn’t cope with the feel of them and what I didn’t know until afterwards, was his teacher spent the entire performance lying on the floor behind him (completely out of sight) to make sure he was ok. The other child with additional needs in his class was equally well supported.

    Your family look utterly amazing in that picture – full of wonderful memories and fun – I hope you have it framed and a copy on each side of the world x

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