Float is a five-and-half-minute Pixar short film that boasts only one spoken line, and yet for so many families like mine, it speaks more truth than most full-length feature films. If you are lucky enough to have Disney+, you need to make watching this short a family viewing priority. It will lift you up, crush you, and likely leave you with a new perspective on life as experienced by families that include children deemed as something other than normal.
The short film opens with a dad delighting in his child. The joyful and precious gift of those first tender moments is cut short as the father rapidly discovers that the community around him does not embrace a child that floats.
My favorite thing about this film is that the isolation of this precious little family is never really resolved. And that is perhaps the most resonate truth of the short film. Spoiler alert: The dad takes his floating kid to the park, and it does not go well. There is no warm smile from a welcoming face. There is retraction, silence, and stares of both shock and judgment. The father breaks and so does the child. Then in a raw and authentic moment, he eyes the exit. It is the reality of exclusion. The comfort of buying into the lie that our differently-abled children must prove they are worthy of inclusion — worthy of a chance to play on the same playground, swim in the same pool, and have equal access to education.
Ultimately, they decide to stay, recovering in the sunlight and barred from any acceptance other than their own. I know this sounds quite dark and a bit bleak. And it should because it is. Exclusion has become “normal” for far too many. “Normal” is not a goal anyone should be striving for. “Normal” looks like the mom who took to the popular Redditt feed AITA to boldly ask the internet if she was an a-hole for electing to exclude only one child in her child’s class from a birthday party because he was autistic. Here comes another spoiler alert: The internet resoundingly told her she was one. But here is the thing. She is not alone.
As a mom of a neuro-diverse child, my privilege has been checked beyond imagining. There are no words to explain the pain of sitting at a table full of people who view your child’s inclusion as a gift they can give or retract. There are no words to explain the pain of understanding that when we ask for inclusion, real inclusion that allows your child to maintain their voice and value, some will simply say, “Nah, not worth it. Your three minutes are up. Unless you can tell us how to make us feel comfortable and make this easy, you are just complaining.” It hurts. Party invites are not even close to a top priority in my universe. And I doubt they are to the mom whose son was made the focal point of the AITA Reddit post.
One of the things I discuss with some regularity with my fellow moms is the work we have to do to forgive ourselves for what we didn’t know before we knew it. And one day I hope that the original poster looks back and realizes it is not the lack of an invitation that stings. There is one line of that whole post that is devastating, and it has nothing to do with a single party invite and everything to do with worth and dignity:
“The school my son goes to has a program for special needs kids where they are put into a ‘normal’ class once a week. David is a high functioning autistic child who was put in my sons class to help him socialize and to help the other kids learn to not discriminate against special needs people.”
First of all, her editor isn’t as good as mine. And second, our differently-abled children are not object lessons for “normal” children. They are whole children. They have the same right to an education and to community that every other child enjoys. They are not props to teach kindness. It’s just cathartic internet fun, I know. But, this mom of a nuero-diverse kiddo doesn’t think that mom is an a-hole. She doesn’t need a label. She needs perspective. She excluded a child. She was unkind to a child. She listened to gossip rather than building a direct relationship. She is misinformed. But she is more than that one choice. And calling her an a-hole, well, we are worthy of more.
The pull of running for the exit and to hide in the shadows is strong when we face a world that doubts our worth. It feels like protection. But it’s not. The cold reality is that often when we seek a seat at the table, a swing on the playground, and equal access to education, we must do so knowing that there will not always be a warm welcome. We will be our children’s sole cheerleaders, sometimes. But that is not hard — not when we keep our focus where it belongs on our children’s hearts. It’s not hard to know that our children are worthy. It does not require a multifaceted plan, it requires understanding and humanity. I will shout their worth from the rooftops and whisper it in their ears. Our worth does not come from outside of us it lives inside all of us.
I am so blessed. I am surrounded by a rich community of parents, grandparents, friends, and family who are beautiful advocates and inclusion warriors. I am blessed because, like the author of Float, my life has been deeply enriched by all of my children. I am not blessed because of, or in spite of, any perceived differences that make up who we are. We are all whole. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. We float.