Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Naughty List

Tonight she asked if I could snuggle in bed with her.
She wanted me up close and holding her hand...that's rare these days, so I went with it.
She didn't say much.
But the quiet wasn't comforting.
It was heavy and it made the room seem extra dark.

All of a sudden, out came the question...
"Do you think I'm on The Naughty List?"


Let me set something straight right now.

I'm not a fan of the Naughty List.
I don't use it...or talk about it...or even mention it.
And she hadn't done one thing that would be even close to earning The Naughty List distinction and yet, here it was.

I'm not a fan of doing good because you are guilted into it.
I know that must seem ironic since I am most definitely Catholic and we are good at guilt.

I'm all about doing good, being good, acting good 
because it's the right thing to do...
because that's who you are...
because you know what's important and you value it.

So the tiny voice asking about The Naughty List sunk me.

I had to snuggle in bed and take a deep breath and think about things...
I got close to her soft sweet cheek and whispered to her the only comfort I could bring.
"I know for sure you're not on The Naughty List.
For sure.
No doubt about it."
"Remember, I'm friends with Santa...good friends...I know."

Her body softened ever so slightly and I held her hand in the dark.

I inwardly cussed out whoever created that crappy old story we dish out to poor unsuspecting kids.

We know when we blow it.
We don't need The Naughty List adding another layer to our Big Mistake.

I tried to explain about the process of living and the idea that mistakes are just part of the deal.
I tried to assure her that the normal, day in day out, stuff of life was just that.
Santa understood.

But it's a tough gray zone.

We make mistakes...does that make us "bad"?
Are we only as good as our last mistake?
How do we ever make up for our mistakes?

Do you ever get off The Naughty List?


In the dark, listening to her breathe, feeling her familiar little hand, smelling her sweet Caroline scent I remembered another mother on another December night fighting for her life.
She died on December 23rd. of breast cancer. leaving behind a 4th grader and a 2nd grader when Jack and Mary Kate were in 3rd and 1st.

There was a time, long ago, when every mommy moment of mine was suffused with all of the mommy moments she had never had...that her boys never knew.
In my kids' teen years, when it was hard, I held close the privilege it was to be right there in the center of the ugly.
Even when it was extra hard I thought of her...and her white chocolate and cranberry scones.

But I admit, I hadn't thought of her for a long while.
Until tonight...when my December 22nd sliding into December 23rd reminded me...
of how lucky we are to be right there for the hard-ness, the bad-ness, the I-can't-believe-this-is-my life-and-not-some-really-bad-movie ugliness.

Life is hard.
Really it is.

Why add The Naughty List?

Tonight, as of this very minute, it's gone.
Santa has no list.
He doesn't need one.
Dude, you are good...so good...and if you're not...well, we'll deal.

You don't need no list to tell you a thing.

Trust your gut.
Know yourself.
Own your actions.
Fix your mistakes.
Make it better.
Move on.

Tonight I'm grateful for late night snuggles and quiet questions in the dark.
That's the good stuff.
The Naughty List, on the other hand, well, that can hit the road.

And Mary Lou, we still miss you.
Still don't understand.
Still wish it weren't so.

December 23rd is hard.every time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Have Some Data Too...

Ummm...hello, out there...anybody home??

Can we talk for a minute?

Can we discuss what on earth is going on for teachers right now?

Our world has had an information explosion and schools have been bringing up the rear.
We have old fashioned desks, limited wi-fi, email that barely works, projectors that still use VCR tapes (no joke) or CD's for music and an old computer or two hanging around the back of the room, posing as a computer center.

Of course there are fancy districts with the latest technology.  
Those lucky teachers might have smart boards, doc-cams, the ability to stream something from their computer onto a screen or even a class set of Ipads.
But that's a tiny portion of our school districts.
Many are sadly out of date.

Shame on you Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Apple and the rest.
Have a symposium or some sort of summit, pat yourself on the back for your initiative, your drive and your stunning intelligence and for God's sake get some leadership going.

I know, I know...not your focus.

But you sure love to provide the data, don't you?

I have this job where I get to go around to all sorts of schools in all sorts of districts and see what's going on.  
I work with the best teachers who mentor my student teachers.
It doesn't matter how fancy the technology, the size of the cafeteria or if the school has a garden, a PE instructor, or a science lab.

It's the teachers that matter.

In the poorest districts, in the richest districts and everywhere in between the divining rod of excellence is the teacher.

And, boy, am I privileged to see excellence in action.

I'd like to be the Lorax and speak not for the trees (they seem to have plenty of people wanting to talk for them) but for the teachers.

The-day-in-day-out-nitty-gritty-not-glamorous warriors that take our children and love them like their own. They plan, teach, re-teach, assess, reflect and just generally obsess on how to help their students succeed.  These people come in early, stay late, use their own money, attend conferences on their own dime and with their off time and they love it.
They sign up and stay in the trenches for decades.
Not for any reason other than that is their life's calling.
They care.
They take pride in their work.
It matters.

Guess what has happened?

We've turned students into a commodity.
We can collect data on them.

Like the early cave man, we are hypnotized by the fire we've just discovered.
We can't stop staring...and we are getting burned.

We are drowning in data.

Oh, it's so very sexy.
Bar graphs.
Line graphs.
Pie charts and percentages.

Can you really measure a six year old like that?


But it better be a damn good test.

And trust me, I haven't found a single one that slides into the "damn good" category.

Most are junk.
Testing on standards that aren't used anymore.
In ways that are pedagogically unsound.
Most of the numbers are meaningless...but they are numbers and that makes them powerful.
Very powerful.

So powerful that I sat in a lunch room today with two stellar first grade teachers, one with 26 years worth of expertise and one with 28 years, who were shaken to their core.
These two are no joke.
They embody every single accolade I can  possibly think up:
a true advocate for every child
child centered
miracle worker

Those two people got data from their principal that gave them a sleepless night.
Their scores in literacy were down.
Way down.
The lowest in the district.

Alarm bells went off at the district level.
The data had spoken.
One of the teachers actually said, "Yesterday was the worst day of my teaching career."

No one bothered to wonder out loud why that data was so off.
Like the proverbial 5th grade science experiment, nobody bothered to ask a question.
Or hypothesize.
Or just say...sorry, that doesn't make sense.

The data had spoken.

Ummmm...yoooo hoooo....can you all pause for a minute?

I have data too.
My data says that after 28 years of learning your profession you actually know something of value and it's damn hard to measure.

These two are experts in teaching reading, writing and math but they are living sensei in the bigger picture.
They know how to comfort a child.
They know how to inspire a child.
They make school magical and wonderful and creative and fun.

They know what to do for second language learners that do not know a single word of English but get tested in it.

They know how to help the child whose mom "just forgot to pay that bill that keeps the lights on".
The child who's hungry.
Or dirty.
Or hungry in their heart.

No test measures those things.
There's no data on that.

And guess what??
What those teachers do day in and day out on behalf of the most vulnerable, voiceless victims in this whole data game is nothing short of heroic.

Shame on administrators who believe the data first.
Shame on parents and cities that take pride in high test scores when in reality all it measures is privilege and access to opportunity.
Shame on testing companies who make gobs of money convincing districts that they don't need field trips but instead a whole lot more tests...that measure what exactly?


Spoiler alert: There's quite a bit of teaching and learning that is hard to quantify.
And I would argue that the non-quantifiable things are truly what matter most.

How do you measure a teacher who won't give up on a child?
A teacher who believes that every child can learn?
A teacher that can transform the way the child sees himself?

Tonight I am grateful for two very special teachers and the tidal wave of other similarly fantastic teachers who never hear this:

You rock.
You stay strong and drown out the nay-sayers.
Own it.
I am proud to know you and see your excellence in action.

No test can measure what I know to be true.
You are what every educator aspires to be.
And the test is what has failed, not you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

You Are Awesome! Yes, You!

Yes, I'm talking to you.
So, one of my favorite things to do is to enjoy my local Turkey Trot.
You probably have something like this in your town...it's a race (5K or 10K or kid's race options) and streets are closed off, and port-a-potties are lined up and a big finish line banner is hoisted and it becomes very official: people are running, or walking, or pushing strollers.

I have participated in my town's Turkey Trot one time as a stroller-pusher with Caroline strapped in as a toddler.  She seemed fine with it.  Patrick walked alongside me and it was a good feeling of participating as a group working toward being healthy and a citizen of my town.

But I didn't like it nearly as much as my sideline participation in the Turkey Trot.

You see, the Turkey Trot goes right by house.

And every year I get up, purposely late, walk to the corner and scream to the runners: 

I just yell and yell for about 45 minutes.  
Cheering on the runners at the end of the race.  They aren't the elite racers. They aren't the every-day-five-mile-no-matter-what runners.  These are the ones who are trailing behind and bringing up the back.

I pretty much repeat the same phrase over and over and I'm telling you, it's a winner.

The reactions are so honest and so beautiful and some are downright funny.

You have the "super-cool-and-I'm-a-real-runner" reaction...
they don't flinch, they give a head nod and keep running, they keep their pace and stay focused.
They are real runners after all and cannot be distracted by a weirdo yelling You're Awesome.

Let me also reveal for the record that I am most assuredly not a real runner.  
I attempted cross country in 8th grade and had some heart palpitations that sent my mom into her own heart palpitations and the distraction of running became a no no.
Couldn't even entertain the thought...besides...I didn't like it.

I'd much rather be a walker, a bike rider, a dog walking-dancing machine...anything but running.

So it helps that I truly do think these people running -- and that includes everyone -- are awesome for getting out there and doing it.

So back to the runners...
we have the "dang-I-can-barely-take-another-step" runner.  
These people are winded, tuckered out and shame faced when they come upon my cheering.
They mistakenly believe I'm cheering for someone else.
When I call them out and say, "Yes, you!! You are awesome!!" They look up and get that shy smile that is the effort of every cheering section on the planet.

And, for a millisecond they let it sink in...they are awesome.
Sometimes they brush it off but other times it perks them up and you can see the transformation.
You can see their mind calculating: "Wait. I'm not running, I'm breathing hard, I'm struggling, how can I be awesome...but that weirdo over there is yelling it directly to me...and well, I am out here running, and it is a foggy/rainy/cold day...maybe I am awesome."

I love it.

Yes, you are awesome!!

No proving it.
No worthiness needed.
You, right there, hon, you are awesome!!

When I'm doing my cheering, I get in the flow.
I don't care who sees me or how crazy it looks.
I love having the socially acceptable moment to yell "You are awesome!"
 to anyone and everyone on my path.

I highly recommend trying it sometime.

It makes your heart swell.
For a brief moment in time, you can see the awesomeness in all of humanity and it's pretty beautiful.

Of course, there's always the polite runners.
The ones who've been taught manners and thank you notes and reciprocity.
They are the ones that when I yell "You are awesome!" to them they yell right back to me, 
"You're awesome too. Thanks!"

I smile my shy smile because the mother in me wants to high five the mother that shadowed and loved and nurtured those runners...you see, that mother is most definitely running right alongside them.
Heloise would agree...manners matter...even in a Turkey Trot.

Maybe it's the time of year...steeped in gratitude, ginkgo trees and fire ash and oaks showing off, humanity has a halo of goodness built in for me.
But whatever it is, I love the Turkey Trot.

And if you didn't get to hear my cheer, here's one for you, 
You're awesome!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

You Find What You Look For

** This is my second in a series of essays for Jack, our oldest son who will be graduating from college in a few months. These are just rambling thoughts of a mother whose only gift she can think of are words. **

"Look and you will find it, what is unsought will go undetected." -- Sophocles

If I could tell you one thing that would help you on your journey it is this:
you find what you look for. 

For some reason, when I go on my quote walk-about searching for the right thing to place here, I always find it comforting to find that the Greeks had virtually the same idea all those years ago.

We're not that different.  
Those ancient Greek philosophers and you and me are pretty much on the same journey...
they just have cooler ways of saying it.

So, back to finding what you look for...or in the more Tony Robbins-esque way of saying it:
You get what you focus on.

It really is as simple as that.

I found this truth to be true in all aspects of my life but profoundly true -- powerfully, weirdly, prophetically true -- in the classroom.
The days that I made up my mind that I had the best class ever -- the most inquisitive, hard-working, clever group on the planet -- lo and behold, I did.  I found them cooperating, and answering tough questions and focusing in amazing ways.
The days that I decided my group was tough -- that they were low and difficult and energy-sucking...miraculously, they were.

It wasn't them.
It was me.
Almost every time.

I remember the day I discovered it.
I had had the most amazing morning.
My group was working hard, sticking with the tough problems and asking great questions.

Then we went to lunch.
And I had to deal with a car insurance company that didn't want to help in any meaningful way.  My insurance was going to cover nothing and I was going to have to figure out how to buy two new tires and I didn't have my paycheck coming for another week.

I came back from lunch and my group was inattentive, goofing around and making me crazy.
They could do nothing.
The more I looked, the more I found students who were causing trouble and flat out not paying attention.
It was a hard afternoon to say the least and I let them go and exhaled at my desk after school obsessing on my tires and my class and their terrible ways and like some sort of Oprah moment it all came crashing down on me.

My class hadn't changed.
MY focus is what had changed.
MY interest.
MY engagement.
MY level of connection...

and they felt it.
Like a giant mirror, they reflected it back to me perfectly.

As soon as I realized this, like some sort of mystical force, I could see it happening.
I had the awareness...which meant I had the ability to change it midstream if I wanted to.

As I've gotten older, this has become my life's mantra.

It's so obvious it can be painful at times.
Watching a parent create a self-fulfilling prophecy for their child.
Watching a teacher create the negative, non-supportive classroom that they most want to avoid.
Watching myself continue in a down-ward spiral even as I know it is happening.

Last night was a perfect example.
There we were with you at a delicious authentic, cozy Italian restaurant.
Our tastebuds were delighted in every way.
The candle light was flickering in just the right way to make the moment feel dream-like and joyful.
We were laughing and relaxed.
We leave the restaurant and Patrick gags.  He gets ready to throw up.
He throws up outside (but not terribly) and the magic is erased like a bibbity, boppity, boo swish of a wand.

It really wasn't that bad.
He really didn't make that big of a mess.
He just really needed fresh air...and a little extra room in his tummy.
He regained himself and we made it back home...but the moment was lost for me.

I decided to get angrier and angrier.
I kept reliving that one split second over and over...forgetting the million previous magical moments.

I lost the night...because I chose to focus on puke...
instead of my precious time with you...
instead of the conversation,
the laughter, 
the comfort of family,
the kindness of our driver,
the ability to take deep, cleansing breaths of fresh air.

All lost.

So, my sweet son, I beg you to see the power of your focus.
Your attention.
Your efforts.

Today, I choose to focus on the beauty, the grace and the time I get in your neck of the woods.

Like some sort of metaphor, the vomit is cleaned up and the day is sparkling and crystal clear.
What will I find?
What treasures will unfold?

I can't wait to see them...with clearer eyes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We Long To Belong


Sitting in my seminar this week with my student teachers we talked about how to manage kids in the classroom.  
We discussed the three guest speakers we had had the week before --
excellent teachers from all walks of life.

All three of them kept repeating the same message.
Even though they were from different cities and from different schools with different populations of students.

They said it many different ways but it all came down to this:

The student must feel unconditional acceptance from you.

The students need to feel loved and connected...
...and then, said so simply by one of my student teachers, this gem revealed itself:
we long to belong.

I've been rolling that around in my head for a few days...
smoothing it over like a favorite blanket...
petting it...
visiting those simple rhyming words...
and letting them sink way down deep.

No duh.

We know this at such a basic level that we overlook it.
As parents.
As friends.
As family members.
As community members.
As a couple.
And yes, as teachers.

I've been working on a little dream of my own recently and it has everything to do with belonging.
Everything about feeling worthy and celebrated and accepted.

We long to belong.

Every child should feel worthy.
Every child should feel cherished and treasured and wanted...
especially at school....
most especially if we say we're Catholic and work to have our children attend Catholic school.

Parents of children with disabilities are a special group.
They've been separated and isolated through almost their entire parenting journey.
That feeling of isolation can be crushing.
Not to mention lonely.
These families have most definitely felt like outsiders standing at the gate.
They knock on the door...but they just aren't sure it will open.

It's time we threw the door wide open.

We long to belong.

Yep, folks, right here.right now. we are working on full inclusion in Catholic schools.
We are supporting families, educators, administrators and priests or other religious with our 
vision and hope.

 Turns out belonging has a name -- fullinclusionforcatholicschools.org  

There's no entrance fee.
No golden ticket required.
You belong just by being you.
You are welcomed and wanted.

Come on in.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God's Greatest Gifts

I don't know what you hope for, long for or dream about.
I can just share with you the dreams in my heart.
Ever since I was a young, young child I dreamt of being a mom.

I know this is TMI and I know Mary Kate will be cringing as I share this...but, I got my period super late in life -- 15 years old -- sophomore in high school -- in other words, ancient.
Before that time, I knew that if you didn't have a period, you couldn't have a child.
Trust me, my reproductive knowledge was greatly limited but that I knew way down deep.
So my prayer for years was, I kid you not:
Please, please please God, let me get my period.
Let me have kids.

They were always called kids in my adolescent mind.
Always plural.
Not snuggly babies.
Or baby dolls.
Kids...and I wanted plenty.

I guess God knew my heart because he helped me find the right guy and gave me the joy of four great kids.


That still seems a bit greedy on my part.
I never thought it would be four...but I learned with my very first pregnancy -- which ended with a miscarriage -- that I was most definitely not in any sort of control.

These four are by far my greatest gifts.
My biggest joy.
My purpose.
They are the thread that helps everything else make sense.

I see my children in every child I encounter.
I see every mother in me.
I see every family in mine.

That separation that existed between me and the rest of the world felt a little less with Jack and Mary Kate but it fully disappeared with Patrick's presence.

Suddenly, the marginalized were part of me.
The "broken".
The disabled.
The slow.
The people that others look away from...the people that others don't discuss...that are okay to terminate...those people were now part of me.

There was no way to love Patrick and not see them too.

I look at the way Patrick has changed me and I think of God's gifts.

My dream as a teen...so limited and finite...busted wide open with the realness of His gifts.
It was way better than any dream of mine.
How could I know what to wish for?
Little, sweet Caroline?
How could I know to ask for such wonder?

I never could have imagined it.
Four busy, funny, quirky, messy kids.
Old and young.
Fast and slow.

All I can say is thank you.
Thank you for my kids.
Thank you for the joy that comes with
fighting with and for...

and for the heartbreak.

For in feeling so deeply we get close to what really matters.
This, right here, this moment, this meal, this day is what counts.

Thank you, God, for your greatest gifts.
Put my tiny dreams to shame, no doubt.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Love Is

So...do you remember the young couple I wrote to over here in the blog piece, 

Well a lot has happened since that time.
Just a few days after that post, sweet baby Jonah was born nine weeks early.
It was a traumatic birth for both mother and baby...brutal, difficult, scary.

Not one single step has been easy for sweet Jonah.

There were definitely moments where Jonah's life was in danger as well as his mom's.

Do you know what I've seen from Jonah's mom and dad, time and time again?


I've seen shy smiles.
I've seen tenderness and gentleness and overwhelming care for their tiny bundle.

They've been there waiting to hold him, love him, whisper to him and talk to him.
They've read him board books, brought loved ones over to see him and generally have been keeping vigil over their most precious son.

This, my friends, is what love looks like.

While ISIS does it's vicious, evil deeds in Syria and Iraq,
while Ebola becomes a common topic for discussion,
a new mom and dad are over here loving their precious son...
and letting him know in every way, every day that they are here for him.

Love is so very patient...tending and watching.
Love is kind...to nurses and doctors and others who are in the way...but always to that bundle.
Love isn't asking for an easier path.
Love isn't rude or self-seeking or easily angered.

Always protecting.
Always trusting.
Always hoping.

Love shows up.
Day in and day out.
Even when it's really hard and you don't want to.

Sweet baby Jonah is doing much better.
He's still in the hospital but he's getting chubby.
He's had his surgery for his intestinal blockage.
He's even had a bath!
He's getting real nutrition and beginning to have opinions...which is always a good sign.

Jonah is blessed to know deep, abiding love.
I couldn't be more grateful for Jeff and Melissa's example.
They are grace-in-the-ordinary dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

Melissa and Jeff -- congratulations to you both.
Through your love for each other and for Jonah you are changing the world.
We can't help but want to be more like you.

Love never fails.

You know that.
Thanks for the reminder.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Brave in September

Remember when I talked about wishing out loud? Well, here goes...Jack is graduating from college in May.  That's right, clearly, I was a child bride, and my oldest is now old enough to be darn close to a college graduate.  
That means that I've been thinking and wondering and pondering about the many, many wonderful gifts of congratulations I could give him.

I got nothing.

And then it came to me...I will give him my words.

For the next ten months, I'm going to write one blog post a month, just to him. And then at the end, in May, I will find a way to publish just those ten posts.  It can't be that hard,right?
How cool would it be to give him an actual book?
So, I'm wishing out loud.
right here.right now.

Physical book to wrap up and hand over.in May.


Dear Jack,

So, do you remember way back in 2011, when things were very very unclear and you were going down to Los Angeles but we weren't sure what that would look like and we weren't sure how that first semester was going to go and it was all confusing and cloudy and funky?

I do.

It was then, at that point, that one day I was walking down B Street with Caroline -- her tiny five year old hand in mine, when we began a conversation about all of the changes going on in her life.
One of her favorite people on the planet was leaving her world -- hint: you -- and she was beginning kindergarten and she was scheduled to go to the dentist for the very first time and that was the one biggie we were talking about.

And she kept walking and sort of mumbled, 
"I don't want to go to the dentist.  I'll be brave in September."

I stopped and was shocked at the beauty of that.

Brave in September.

Her five year old self figured out that human of all traits: 
postpoing the hard stuff.
Yep.  She wanted to avoid.

I got it.
I really did.

In fact, I was in the aovid-at-all-costs mode right then too.
I didn't want to think about my family changing.
Didn't want to contemplate you being out of my daily life.
Didn't want to deal with my dirty house.
My back-logged work.
All of the many things I'd been avoiding for a long long time.

But when Caroline said that it made me contemplate my avoidance techniques.

I needed a due date.


September became synonymous with pausing the big old freight train of life and checking out what I had shuffled under the rug.
In September I would face it.

Caroline never knew she gave me that gift...but ever since, I've used September as my get-it-done month.  
I've tried to be brave in September.

Maybe it was Patrick who made me brave...
it was his heart surgery that made me want to run for the hills.
I remember nursing him just two days after open heart surgery and looking right in his eyes and saying, 
"You are making me brave, Patrick. I can't believe I'm doing this."

All those Septembers ago I just didn't think I could do it...
but I had no choice.
And I got through it.

As you get older, you tend to put off more and more things.
You don't travel to the places you think about because the time never seems right or you don't have the money or you should be more responsible and use your time or money some other way.
You don't go after the job you think you should...or the education that you need...
or the _____________ . (insert dream here)
You have lots of reasons and most of them are very mature.
Other adults nod and understand because they are putting stuff off too...
or just not dreaming anymore.

So that's where you come in.

I am so proud of you.
Immensely proud of the man you have become.
As far as I can tell, you don't put things off.
You seize the opportunity.
You find a way.
You gut though.

Just like you did in that crazy, awkward, kind-of-in-kind-of-not first semester at college.

I guess I just want to encourage you to always live like that.

Don't let adulthood be the excuse for not trying something.
Don't let "real life" bog you down.
Please, please, please continue to dream and reach and fight back when you get shot down.

Cause it's gonna happen.
Life has a way of wearing you down.

Stop right now.
Listen to your heart.
What are your wild and precious hopes?
List them all.
Even if they seem crazy -- especially if they seem crazy.
Those are usually the best ones.

Promise yourself to be Brave in September and set a due date.
Go for it.

Most of all, know that you can do the hard things...
you can make the miracles happen...
you will find your way.

It doesn't have to be perfect 
or sane
or what I think is right.

It just has to be yours.
Hold it close...use the flint...blow on it...and light that fire.

It's gonna be amazing.

That hero is YOU!

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Know She Can Do It...But, Why Do I Have To?

courtesy of Katie Daisy Art

One day after I came home from dropping her back off at college to begin her sophomore year,
I steeled myself for the pain of the fridge.

Like the ice bucket challenge, I knew it was going to take my breath away, make me cringe, force me to do something I really didn't want to do at all.
I was going to have to deal with the ingredients...
her ingredients.

You see, my little chickadee likes to bake.
She bakes when she's bored.
She bakes when she's nervous or stressed-out.
She bakes for no reason...just to get a nice smell in the house.

Someday, she is going to make her own family very very happy.

Now, you understand my thickening middle.
When you next see me, just smile with understanding and kindness...please?

In that fridge, I found ricotta.
(For the record, never, in my adult life have I purchased ricotta.
Mary Kate has purchased more in her teen life than most non-Italians have in their whole life.)
For Ina Garten's Ricotta Orange Pound Cake...or maybe that's Giada's recipe?
I found chocolate frosting...left over from Patrick's Heart Day cake.
I found a whole tray of Lonna's insane pumpkin bars only partially eaten.

We are human after all -- our stomachs are finite.

What's a mom to do?

I lingered over the ingredients but knew they needed to go.

She's not going to be back until Thanksgiving...and by then it will just be gross.
Better to dive in right now, peel off the band-aid and face the truth.
She's gone -- for awhile.

Four plates at our table, not five.
No more blaring country music when I start my car.
No more moments of friction for dirty dishes, underwear lounging in places it shouldn't or endless TV marathons.

Dang it.

I know.  I know.
It's what you want and hope and pray for.
This is a very good problem to have.
She's happy.
She's found her spot.

It's just that I'm not in it.

My girlie and I go round and round.
Ours is not the companionable, mellow, obedient, docile relationship that some mothers and daughters seem (from the outside) to have.
Mary Kate and I have contentious, fractious moments.
But she trusts me with her confidences.
She shares herself.
She makes room for me...and if that isn't the biggest gift ever for a mom,
well then I can't think what it could be.

We just want a tiny, little bit of room.
A text.
A funny phone call.
A silly facebook inbox.
A tweet.
A shout out.
An Instagram shot, tagged with a hilarious hashtag.
Any tiny morsel.

Cause you know why?
You've got the whole kit and caboodle from us over here.
You have our whole heart.
Our full attention.
Our breath inhales and exhales with thoughts of you.
All the time.
Even when you think we aren't looking...
we are.

So baby girl, while I know you are flying high.
Send a feather or two to your ground crew.
We already miss you and it's been two days.

Dang it.

Be careful.
Be safe.
Be noble.
Be great.
Be smart.
Be funny -- that's a for sure.
Be honest.
Be gentle -- to others AND yourself.

But don't forget to just be.

Just sit in that wonderful quiet and know yourself.

You're pretty great.

Go show the world.

Your fan club awaits.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Egg and The Thank You

So a few weeks ago I was on the phone with my husband at midnight and I heard a loud knock on the door.
I asked my husband to wait and I went to the door.
My dog was growling -- a low, guttural sound that he rarely makes.
The dog is freaked out.

I opened the door, stepped outside and saw nothing out of the ordinary.
I asked into the darkness if anyone was there.
It was quiet.

Buddy was still not quite right and about 20 minutes later I opened the door again to prove to him things were okay.
He sniffed around, marked his territory and settled back into his nighttime sleepy fluffball position.

I didn't think about it until the next day.
I went upstairs to open up the windows to let in the cool morning air before the heat of summer pressed in...
and I saw it.

An egg smashed on my window.

I opened the window and looked around.
Suddenly I'm Sherlock.

I search every other window in my house.
I patrol outside.
I'm convinced I've been egged by haters.

But why?

What's controversial?
What have I done that would need an egg punishment?

I thought perhaps Mary Kate had said something at her work.
Could Patrick have bothered someone?

Who throws an egg at someone's house?

I know it sounds silly, but I spent my day obsessing on the egg.
I felt bruised.

Like I had done something wrong.
Like someone I loved had done something to deserve it.

John blew it off as a kid-thing.
He's so much better at being drama-free.

It was a summer day -- and the school-is-happening-soon clock was ticking.
I knew I needed to break out of my funk.
I did the take-the-dog-for-a-walk-and-ignore-it thing...
this tactic is very effective.
Until you get home...and see bits of egg shell mocking you on your roof.

I couldn't shake it.

Through lunch, grocery shopping, normal summer fun with the kids and even through dinner.
I had egg on my face.

Finally, it was time to walk Buddy again.
I asked Caroline to come along (to cheer me up) 
and with a dog on a leash and a kid holding my hand I was ready to face the mean old world.
I had my armor on after all.

I got to the end of my walkway and stopped.
Someone, a stranger, had taken the time to draw three chalk flowers next to Caroline's big flower on the sidewalk and next to those three flowers the words: thank you.

I was floored.
Who could that be?
I hadn't revealed my egg shame to anyone.
No one was around.
Those flowers weren't there this morning.
Where had they come from?

It actually didn't matter.
It was my chance to exhale...for the first time all day.
I just stared at those flowers and smiled...a really big, goofy smile.

A tiny act of kindness.
The tiniest.
Three flowers and a thanks washed away that gooey egg -- a sprinkle of goodness 
straight from the universe.

So tonight I'm grateful for the smallest of things, the "everyday deeds of ordinary folk"...
they do, indeed, keep the darkness at bay.

Your job tomorrow: do a small thing.
One simple act of kindness and love.
It's so fun to consider...so many options.

Go ahead.
I double dog dare you.
Sprinkle the world with some love.
We all need it.
You never know what you might wash away.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What I Want You To Know

***This is an open letter to a couple I met for dinner last week who are expecting their first child who happens to be prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome and in that moment, my mouth clammed up. I talked about sauvignon blanc and bike riding.  I had so much to say that I had to just wait until it could bubble out.  Right now seems like a good time to let it all come tumbling out.**


I have so much on my heart right now.
So much I want you to know.

First off, I don't even know you but I am proud of you.


When the world was telling you otherwise.
When the world was spitting fear and prejudice and ignorance...
you could drown out the noise and hear that little heartbeat from within whispering 
the goodness, the miracle, the truth that you could trust.

It is all going to be okay.

You got through the first really big hurdle that 90% of the population doesn't make.

You chose life.

You won't regret it.

Because by choosing life...
you really chose love.

And I don't care how cliche it is...
love truly does conquer all.

If you make a choice out of a loving place,
you will always be right.

And if you choose fear,
most of the time,
you will be wrong.

Simple as that.

This precious baby is welcome and wanted and loved.
Right now.
In this moment.
And that is enough.

Having a baby is miraculous.

You get it.

I suspect, you are going to rock this whole experience.

Seeing your bright eyes.
Hearing your hopes and plans.
Watching you together...
just made me want to start climbing that staircase in the Rocky movie and sing that song.

You got this.

So what do I want you to know?

Don't listen to experts.
Don't listen to professionals.
You know best.

Oh wait, clearly, you know that already.

Ok, next...

Listen to your heart.
Follow your gut.
Open yourself up and the universe will guide you.

Oh, wait, you've already done that.

Clearly, you're awesome.

I guess I want to tell you to hold that baby close.
Snuggle and cherish.
I have no doubt you will do this...but do it more.

It just goes too fast.

Your baby is good enough.
You are good enough.
And somehow 
good enough mom and dad + good enough kid = extraordinary family

I don't know the chemistry...but you got it.

Laugh a lot.
Poop, and fatigue, and nursing and babies in general make for crazy funny moments.

My husband brushed his teeth with Desitin in a sleep-deprived fog.
He knew that glossy shine wasn't quite right but he didn't slow down enough to question the fact.
He paid a white-toothed-slime price.
But we still laugh about it many years later.

And that leads me to quite possibly the very best gift this baby is going to give you...
the ability to slow down.

Your baby's pace will be exactly right.
And because he's first, it will be unfolding without any kind of toe-tapping antsy-ness.
One day, that baby will smile...angels will sing, goosebumps will appear and it will be like nothing you've ever experienced.
Each milestone will be savored and treasured.
Every step a victory.

Your baby will allow you to settle down, calm down and just be present...
for his presence.

And that is a gift I wish every person on the planet could know.

Slow is beautiful.

That is my take away.
Slow it all down.
Take a lot of pictures (and videos).
Read a whole bunch of board books.
Shake some rattles.
Stare a lot.

Stare some more.

Because there is no doubt that you are privileged to witness something very special...
and it won't be lost on you.

You are brave, adventurous, loving and accepting.
In exchange for all of those wonderful qualities, you get a son.

Seems pretty fair to me.

You're my kind of people.

I'm honored to know you.

Welcome home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tony Tobin Elementary School -- What Do You Stand For??

*** Note: This might seem eerily familiar to my last post.  It is!! This is a special post written on behalf of a friend who is working full tilt to have her son attend his neighborhood school fully included.***

Do you ever wonder why

social change takes so long?





Be an ally.


Beautiful Temecula, California holds an elementary school called Tony Tobin Elementary.
It's named after an amazing long time citizen of Temecula, Tony Tobin.
He was interested in recording his area of the world's history.  
He helped to build a museum and worked to save the historic chapel in town.
He was proud of Temecula and worked to make his city better.

Would he be proud of his namesake school?

Here is the mission statement of Tony Tobin Elementary:
"To ensure that each student will build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills, think independently, work collaboratively, and develop mutual respect and self-worth.  
Our school will set the educational standard of excellence of 
today, tomorrow and into the future."

That's a pretty noble mission statement.
I'd be pretty proud if I was the real Tony Tobin...
except for one tiny thing...
that mission statement doesn't seem to apply to all of its students.

It appears that if you have Down Syndrome, 
you don't get to attend the same school as your sister.

Monday was the first day of school and Hudson had to stand at the door of his home and watch his sister get her backpack on and head to second grade.

He had his backpack on.
He was ready for kindergarten.
He was uninvited.

To a public school.
His neighborhood school.
Alongside his sister.


Husdon, it turns out, has a little too much Down Syndrome.

Which, by the way, isn't even a thing.
People with Down Syndrome either have it or they don't.
They are all learners. 
They all have hopes and dreams.
Some might be more delayed but that doesn't mean they aren't learning.

What's going on in kindergarten that a child with Down Syndrome can't participate in?
Is it the social skills?
Well, let's be honest, Hudson won't be the only one who needs to work on that.
Is it the academics?
Pretty sure that Hudson isn't the only one who could use some extra help there.

Do you think that Hudson is so retarded that he can't "develop a foundation of knowledge, think independently, work collaboratively, and develop mutual respect and self-worth."

Pretty positive that Hudson could do every single one of those things with your guidance, support and high expectations.

Hudson isn't broken.
He doesn't need any fixing.
He just needs an opportunity.
The opportunity to go to his neighborhood school.

You know when they wrote the federal law in 1972, the authors had the audacity to write that "disability is a natural part of human experience and in no way diminishes the rights of individuals to participate in or to contribute to society.

Way back then, before the internet, Google, apps and Ipads, those visionaries thought 
They actually believed a person with a disability had the ability to learn and contribute.

How can Hudson learn or contribute if he can't even attend his neighborhood kindergarten?

How can he contribute if he is segregated?

May 17th, 2014 marked the 60th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court Decision of Brown vs.The Board of Education.
SIXTY YEARS ago the Supreme Court decided that "separate was not equal".

How in good conscience can you perpetuate segregation sixty years after the fact??

It is educationally unsound.
We have thirty years of research to support the academic and social success for students with disabilities who are fully included.
We also have the research for the rest of the kids.
Every single study.All of the research.Supports the positive social and academic benefits for typical students too.

We need bravery.
We need courage.
We need a whole crew of people to step up and shout that Hudson deserves to be here.
Right alongside their own kid.
Learning and growing.

We need voices.
We need action.
We need to live social justice and not just talk about it.

Come on.
Tony Tobin -- the school, the faculty, the parents, the students -- where are you??
Do you even know this is happening?


I know because I've lived it.
My own son, Patrick, who also has Down Syndrome, went to kindergarten at 
St. James School in Davis, California.  
His neighborhood school...six houses away from our house.
He actually went to first and second and third and fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh and yes, even eighth grade there.
Fully included.
He just graduated this year.

Was it perfect?
Did we learn a lot?
Was it worth it?
Most definitely.

Could we help you??
Of course!!
I've got not just one kindergarten teacher but two that would be willing to help.
(Heck, I've even got a couple of principals who would talk to you!)
They are amazing teachers and yes, they believe that Hudson can learn 
alongside of his classmates.
In fact, they know he will read and write and learn his math facts just like the rest.
It might take some more repetition.  It might take several different ways.
But it will happen.
In Hudson's way. In his timing.
And it will be exactly right.

And, I'd love to have an excuse to visit you down in beautiful Temecula 
and introduce you to Patrick...heck, maybe I could even meet Tony Tobin himself!
I'd love to do an inservice for your teachers and share what we've learned.
I work with beginning teachers as my job with our local university, UC Davis.
I can send you a resume.

And guess what?
We know what to do.
We know the teaching techniques that work.
We know what apps work.
We know how to use technology to help learners like Hudson

...and here's the good part...

that research, that technology, those teaching techniques won't just help Hudson, 
they will help all of your struggling learners...
and let's not pretend that Hudson is the only student who struggles.
There's a guaranteed  10% that struggle.
In every classroom.

Your entire school will benefit with Hudson's inclusion, both academically and socially.

Here's another mind-blower:
In the entire United Kingdom, it is standard practice to place every child with 
Down Syndrome into their neighborhood school fully included with support in kindergarten.  

If it's good enough for the UK, don't you think Tony Tobin Elementary could try?

I know you want to do what's best for Hudson 
and the rest of the students who attend your school.
I know you care.

What's best for Hudson (and the entire student body) is creating an environment that allows Hudson 
to learn at the same school as his sister.
What's best for Hudson (and the entire student body) is the message that he is valuable.
And worthy.
And good enough.

That's how you develop "mutual respect and self worth."
You actually walk the walk and talk the talk.
You live it.
As a school.

It stops becoming just some words on a website and starts to actually become the vision for your school.
ALL students can learn here.
ALL students are valuable.
We'll find a way.

Can you imagine how proud Tony Tobin would be??
Can you imagine how proud you would be as educators??

No one gets into education to be a separatist and exclusive.
Educators by their very nature love the underdog.
You should love your struggling students in such a way that they feel valued, honored, supported and expected to do great things
...and then watch what happens...
they'll do just that.

They will rise to the occasion.

They just need an opportunity.
Access to the curriculum.
And an unwavering belief that they will achieve.

Tony Tobin could put his name to that.

Stop being afraid.
Stop thinking you can't do this.

You just have to believe it is possible.

Do you think it's an accident that Hudson's mom and I crossed paths?
I don't.
I know it's what the universe intended.

Here is Patrick on his graduation day, May 30th, 2014.

It is my fervent hope that Hudson's mom will be inviting me to Hudson's graduation from his fully inclusive placement in 5th grade at Tony Tobin Elementary in six years.

Believe it.