Little Bird Girl by Mary Harniteaux
When we opened Dyslexia St. Louis Learning & Advocacy Center our concentration was on teaching our students to read and helping families navigate the system to get their children appropriate services and instruction in the school setting. When the opportunity to speak to educators, parents, and even students arose, Mary and I said yes. This was very new territory for us and honestly, not necessarily a place we saw our business going. We were nervous, no let’s be honest, we were terrified. This took us completely out of our comfort zone.
As we were preparing for presentations, Mary and I looked for that thing that would accurately represent our kids and allow the attendees to understand not only the academic struggles our students face but also the social-emotional consequences and struggles. During one of these searches we saw the piece our good friend and immensely talented artist, Mary Harniteaux, painted. Little Bird Girl and the artist’s statement was exactly what we felt our presentation was missing to represent our students. I reached out to Mary and got her permission to include the picture of her work and share her artist statement. It has been one of the most impactful pieces of our presentations. More often than not, the room falls completely silent. We are beyond grateful that she trusts us with her work and part of her story, and we wanted to share it with you all. Enjoy!
Little Bird Girl: Artist Statement
By Mary Harniteaux
“There I was, sitting in a blue plastic child-sized chair in front of two educators who were trying to decide if they believed dyslexia even existed. The fact that they had a choice made me feel hopeless and isolated. As they sputtered and groped to use any word other that dyslexia, a curious thing happened – I began to disappear. First, I couldn’t see my hands, then I watched my lap go up in a thin veil of vapor. I believe for a moment that I was only a pair of blinking eyes. No one noticed, but I disappeared into that place where the “D” word goes- that secret place all “unteachables” go. I went into the dark locker library of oblivion and neglect.
I was small in that place. My knees were under my chin and I curled my toes underneath my body. I might have to stay here forever. My body would, over time, become the shape of the locker. My spine would become bent and twisted. My legs would grow into my chest. My hands and feet would resemble folded bird claws. My clothes would become fused to my skin. I would turn grey with shame and self-hatred. I wouldn’t need food and water here, I would become something else, something a little less human in the place. I would just sit here and, I would focus on what light I could see through the slits on the door. I’d wait here until someone would let me out, or I’d wake up; because I am dreaming.
Little Bird Girl is me as a child. This is how it felt to be educationally undernourished within the educational realm. I had all of the tools to knowledge surrounding me, but the inability to reach them, and no one to help me. I was morally excluded. My potential was locked. What an isolating place. A place where I felt dehumanized by my difference on a daily basis. These feelings, they follow me through life no matter how hard I work to overcome them or how many years separate me from my experiences as a young student.”