Different isn’t bad…it’s just…different

The first Friday of the first week of Mrs Beach’s sixth grade is proclaimed the “Day of Differents” in Beachland. It’s the day that I share with my kiddos my M.S. story, and how we all have at least one “Different” that no one sees. Although we might think it is a glaring “Different,” we may be the only one that notices. I equally cherish and dread this day, because my students anonymously share pieces of themselves that may be humorous, or may be heartbreaking…

“I’m allergic to grass”
“I have a heart murmur”
“I was born with a birthmark on my neck”
“I think I am dyslexic maybe cuz I turn around letters”
“My dad left us when I was 4 because I looked too much like my mom”
“I have a Poland last name”
“Sometimes I catch attitude for nothing”
“My dad left when I was nine months and never came back”
“I always think I am gonna trip all the time”
“I suck my thumb at night”
“I have a diabetes pump in my purse”
“My dog died and then my granny died”
“I’m afraid of spiders really bad”
“I am alone all the time”

So, this is how the “Day of Differents” works:

I tell my Beachlings to think of a time that something hurt really bad, I mean…HURT, but did not leave a physical mark, like you stubbed your toe on the bed, or you hit your elbow on the desk, or you were left out of a game, or maybe were called a mean name. This pain is very, very real to you, but to no one else. We spend some time thinking about and sharing our invisible pains. Then, I ask them if they see anything on me or about me that looks painful. I stand up, turn around, do a little twirl. I am smiling and laughing with them. No one can find any visible pain on me.

I then show them the cord attached to the little black fan on my desk. We talk about how, when plugged into the wall socket, the electricity will flow through this cord, but we don’t see it because it is hidden safely inside the cord. That cord is protecting us from getting a big shock, and is showing the electricity where to go to make that fan turn. We spend some time talking about all of the things we know that have cords, and how difficult it would be to live without those important pieces of our lives.

I explain about how our nervous systems are filled up with our internal “electricity,” and how our nerves are covered in a sheath that protects us from getting inside shocks, and helps deliver the electric messages our brains send to tell our bodies how to move. If there were holes in the fan’s cord, the electricity would be interrupted, and the fan would not know what to do. Multiple Sclerosis affects our inside cords. It makes holes in them, so the current jumps out, and our bodies don’t know what to do first! The messages that our brains send to our nervous system get all jumbled up, so our legs don’t get a clear idea of what they should do…move, stop, run, walk, stop…inside confusion!!

I talk about stiff and painful legs. I talk about my body working so hard to understand the misfired messages, that I am exhausted for no reason. I talk about how I feel unsteady on my feet, and that quirky penguin walk is me trying to be normalish. But, I am not wearing a cast, or a bandage, or a sling, or any other thing that would give a clue to my “Different.” Sometimes, our pain is invisible.

Each student gets a yellow sticky note. In pencil, they are asked to write down one invisible “Different,” NO NAMES, and stick them on the old 1957 chalkboard I rescued from the library remodel. I do this because everyone is anonymous…same color sticky and writing tool. I am always surprised how quickly the kids write…like what they are saying is hot and they are quickly dropping it.

The first year that we shared our “Differents,” I left extra notes and a couple pencils on the base of the chalkboard. I knew there were a few students that were absent, and I would let them add their’s when they returned. The thing that touched my heart came later that month, as I noticed the board filling up with yellows. The original stickies had long run out, but magically more were there on the base. Throughout that entire year, students would come into my room and add their “Differents”…students that were not in my class, some I didn’t even know. They would come to school with them prewritten. They would spend their passing time silently reading the board….together.

Different isn’t bad, it’s just…


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