(The following is an excerpt from the book Snapshot of a Soul Place in the land of special needs, written and illustrated by Kari Burk, with much gratitude and thanks to the author for permission to share.)

“Are you a monster?”
he asked while climbing around
at the playground.
“No!” she said with
a laugh.

Is that cat green?
Why is it green?
I’m not used to seeing a green cat.
Why does it have two different eyes?
Eeek! I’m afraid of it!
Is it a monster?
Where does it come from?
What happened to it?
I don’t know if I can be friends with it.
Yikes! That cat seems weird to me!

I created this Green Cat painting in response to Mielle being innocently asked by another child,

“Are you a monster?”

The love, care and acceptance shared within families and friendships
sometimes has to carry the weight of its opposite,
which is exclusion.

I remember how painful it was for me when Mielle was younger and some
kindly person would have to tell me that she couldn’t participate
in a class or program because she required one to one attention.
I would climb into the car and weep,
and Mielle, oblivious to the problem, would ask me, ‘Why mom?’

In her teens Mielle started talking about ‘kids’ eyes’ when we were in
a grocery store or park. I realized she was aware of children staring at her
because she is different and on occasion this would bring her to tears.
We’d suggest not letting it bother her,
that kids stare because they’re curious
and maybe she could say hello and make a friend.

But her feelings were getting hurt because she felt unaccepted.
She thrives on social interaction and is highly sensitive to failure.

I first saw a person with Down syndrome at eight years old in the corner store
and I did the exact same thing, I stared for a very long time.
The storekeeper was kind enough to notice my bewilderment and talk to me
about this special person which helped me not be afraid.

Children who are exposed to the world of special needs
are more comfortable with differences. Inclusion in whatever way possible
is extremely valuable for all concerned.

I try to stay positive for myself and Mielle but there have been many times
where I too have cried when a wall suddenly appears.

I have to look to my skills and practices to create a door or window in this wall,
to see it as an opportunity more than a struggle,
to move forward with good choices
and keep rowing the love boat gently down the stream.

Author and illustrator Kari Burk is a multimedia artist and landscape gardener who operates Muddy Tutu, Organized Grime and Garden Art in Castlegar, BC.  A graduate of Emily Carr School of Art and Design.  She’s a painter, poet, performance artist, musician, dancer, cartoonist and curator.  She has self-published fourteen chapbooks of poetry and exhibited and performed throughout BC.  Her art is available for sale and by commission.  Kari lives on a Kootenay mountaintop with one of her greatest works of art,  her daughter Mielle.

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