posted Thursday March 20th, 2014
Not long ago, Annabelle created her very own superhero.
It was for a school assignment — the big assignment of the year, in fact, the Third Quarter Presentation, a term uttered with dread by most every student at her school.
I love Third Quarter Presentations. From fifth grade on, each student is required to stand in front of two teachers and sundry family members and give a several (at least) minute rehearsed speech defending a pretty complicated topic, with just a few notes on a tri-fold board as prompts.
Fifth grade was history, last year was science, and this year, in seventh grade, Annabelle was asked to make a social justice connection to an existing superhero and then create her own.
Cool, right? She chose the Falcon and tied him to the Civil Rights Movement, researching MLK and Rosa Parks, as well as looking up current statistics that still separate African Americans and whites when it comes to pay and education. She did a nice job, but my favorite part was her own superhero, whom she named Equalitis.
Equalitis, as Annabelle explained, comes from a planet inhabited by both monsters and aliens, warring factions. Equalitis (rhymes with fetus) is of mixed descent — one parent a monster, the other an alien. As such, she is looked down upon by all, estranged from society on her planet, miserable and alone — until a particular point in time that corresponds with the delivery of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. At that moment, she receives her superpowers.
She has the ability to hear and even more important, the ability to change others’ mindsets. Not “mind,” as Annabelle explained during her presentation, but “mindset.”
During the presentation, I watched Annabelle, of course, but also stole glimpses of the faces of her social studies teacher, my mom and Ray. All three were obviously exploding with pride. My mother, who once taught political science to junior high students, wiped her eyes a few times.
I wished Sophie had been there, too. Originally, Annabelle had asked that Sophie come along — she thinks her social studies teacher would really love to meet her little sister, and having met him, I agree. But Ray and I worried that Sophie would not be able to sit still (and more important, keep quiet) for 12 whole minutes. This was Annabelle’s show. We didn’t need Sophie getting up in the middle to do the splits or announce that the girls are getting ready to switch bedrooms.
But Sophie did hear Annabelle’s presentation a few times as her sister practiced. She sat at the dinner table a few days before Annabelle was due to deliver the final version, and listened, while Annabelle talked and my dad scarfed the dessert I’d made him for his birthday.
Annabelle talked about how Equalitis had the ability to hear what African American and gay people were thinking, and to help people on her planet understand one another better.
Afterward, it was time for questions and comments.
“That was a five cookie presentation!” my dad remarked. (About as close as he gets to a compliment — on either presentations or baking.)
Turns out, it was Sophie who had the sharp response.
“Does she listen to Down syndrome people?” Sophie asked.
Crickets. We all looked at each other, not sure what to say.
“She does!” Annabelle announced.
(And then Sophie got up and stood next to Annabelle, hugged her, and announced to us all that this was her sister and they were, indeed, getting ready to switch bedrooms. Profound moment over.)
Two nights later, Annabelle practiced again, as Sophie and I cuddled on the couch in the living room. Annabelle described Equalitis’ upbringing, how she had a really tough time in school — that because she looked different, people thought she was unattractive and dumb.
Sophie leaned over and whispered in my ear, “That’s me.”
My eyes welled up at that painful glimpse of my younger daughter’s world. At the same time, I couldn’t have been prouder of both of my girls.