Chloe and Madeline

June 3, 2010

Chloe has a video called Madeline, about a French orphan, who “may be teeny, tiny, diminuitive, petite/but that will never stop her/from being very neat.” Madeline, the smallest orphan, is the heroine, and no matter what she does–getting her apendix out, winning the Brooklyn Bridge at a baseball game, riding in a rodeo–her fellow orphans cheer her on. They never get jealous. In fact, every time Madeline triumphs, they are pleasantly surprised that the “smallest girl” has won again.

At first, I thought this show was a little silly and saccharine. And it is, but the other day, I realized that the attitude of Madeline’s friends is not so bizarre. It’s the way Chloe’s classmates treat her. At the class Christmas party, each child got a present from the teacher, and when it was Chloe’s turn, the whole class cheered as her para pushed her to the front of the room to retrieve her prize. No one else got cheers. When I went with her class on a field trip to watch a baseball game, I saw the way the other kids crowded around her, crawling over each other so they could get close enough to hold her hand or ask her a question. In her class, everyone agrees that Chloe gets special treatment.

Obviously, Chloe and Madeline are very different. Madeline’s “disability,” short stature, is not actually that limiting (take it from someone barely over five feet tall), while Chloe’s motor problems affect everything she does. Chloe’s friends at school see that she can’t do the things they do–running around, talking, even eating snack, so they make a big deal about the things she can do. And Chloe, like Madeline, makes their efforts worthwhile. She never demands the attention, and she always responds with smiles and giggles.

Sometimes, I feel a little weird about the special treatment Chloe gets from the other students and even the teachers, but the thing is, it seems so natural. Chloe has her role, her place in the classroom, just like all the other kids do, and yes, her disability is part of her place, but so is her smile, her energy and her enthusiasm. Chloe will always be different from other kids, but those other kids also know that, like Madeline, “inside, she’s great!”

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