Saturday, January 31, 2015

Being Nice Isn't Nice

My heart is so heavy today.
Worn down.
Feeling like I was scaling a mountain and I fell...way, way down...and I'm stuck.

I recently listened to this podcast about expectations.
It is amazing and terrifying and profound.
It tells the story of a man who lost his eyes to cancer before he turned two...both eyeballs removed.
Completely blind.

Only, not really.
Because, like all two year olds, he adjusted.
He intuitively started clicking and making noises to echo-locate in his world...just like bats.
He got so good at it that he uses a cane as a very minimal guide often just holding it up by his side.

Yes, no lie.
This blind man, rides a bike on his own by clicking as he goes.
He maneuvers through his world, very capably. 
He has his freedom...
but because this is so rare for blind people, he goes around the world explaining how it can be done.
Proving all of us who don't know any better, wrong.

So, all of us, with our über compassionate hearts who want to reach out and hold a blind person by the elbow and guide him along, take it all down a notch right now. 

It's not necessary.

What does Daniel Kish need from us?

An open mind.

To be seen.


I have a son with Down Syndrome.
His name is Patrick.
He is 15 years old -- capable and reliable and smart.
He's someone who always knows where his cell phone is -- much better than me in that regard --
and charges it up faithfully.

Patrick, as you may know, loves theater and Shakespeare and being in plays. He's been in over twenty performances of all kinds.  He memorizes scripts; writes his own scripts; plans cast lists and eagerly awaits the latest soundtrack from his latest Broadway favorite.

I know that's not the message that most of the world gets when you find out about 
Down Syndrome...but it's the truth.

Yes, he needs to be supported in his learning.

But in his living?
He is fine. Thank you very much.

He just needs to be seen.

He needs to be given opportunities and support.

But isn't that what we all need?

Tonight was the play that Patrick has been preparing for since early November.

He didn't get a part so he was allowed to do tech.
He was excited to be in charge of a spotlight.
The only problem was...he wasn't in charge of a spotlight.
He was in charge of following along in the script and cueing the student who was using the spotlight.

Ummm...that's not a job.

We all know that the student doing the spotlight knew the cues and needed no reminding.
I am cringing thinking of Patrick taking this job so very seriously, offering the cues, while the student who was doing the spotlight just played along.

That job which was no job sent a devastating message of incompetence and unreliability to every single student performing in the play...and every audience member...and every faculty member.

That message isn't one of inclusion.

It's one of exclusion.

A message of being set aside.

A message of:
you're only good enough to breathe the same air...not actually work on the same play.

Ironically, the play is called Metamophoses.
So much change and growth could have happened.
Should have happened.

But people who had very good eyesight turned out to be unable to see. Blind to the opportunity.

People with very big hearts and genuine concern for students tried to be nice.
But nice isn't nice.

Reinforcing stereotypes is never nice.
Lowering your expectations is not compassionate.

The result of these good intentions: people in the margins stay right there.


I don't know how you help someone to see.
How you change a perception.

All I can do is show up with my kid and hope for the best at every opportunity.
He knows what to do.

He just needs a chance...
a chance to be seen.

God bless Patrick.
Who took his job that wasn't a job and did his level best.

That's all you can ask of your child.

But I can ask the world to do better.
I can ask the world to blink.
Rub your eyes.

Pause for one minute and contemplate who you are not seeing.

Who do you overlook -- even with good intentions?

Who sits on the margins of your world?

Can you expand your view of the horizon a little bit more?
Who can you reach out to and lift up?

World, open your eyes.
You are missing out.



Sometimes, very rarely, things tie up with a bow.
They circle around and make sense.

This is one of those times.

After an early morning email to the director with many of these same thoughts enclosed, 
the director, kindly, thoughtfully, responded with his eyes wide open.

He had a second chance and he used it.

Tonight, the last night of the play, Patrick worked the spotlight.
Someone else read the script.

He stood on a cafeteria table...
"it gave me balance" he delightfully noted,
and used the pink or blue lens and shone that spotlight right where it needed to go.

He did it.

Awareness + second chances = opportunity

I'm grateful for a director who was willing to think about it.
Grateful for kindess.
Grateful for grace in the ordinary.

All my heart can say is thank you.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rainbow Ribbon

Let me be clear...I have an irrational love of ribbons in little girls' hair.
And JoAnn Fabrics feeds my addiction nicely.
We have basketball ribbon and valentine ribbon and Santa Claus get the idea.
Wrapping Caroline's ponytail with a ribbon and sending her off into the world makes me feel like she has a love letter special version of the kiss-in-the-palm mom love from that adorable book, The Kissing Hand.

And when you're in 3rd grade you're nearing the end of the ribbon-in-the-hair era...although I do have to say that sometimes if you're lucky there can be a bit of a resurgence in junior high or even high school for a brief moment.

Anyway, I fixed her hair into our usual tiny braid and then ponytail combo and placed my 
Rainbow heart was happy.
I kissed her good-bye at school and whispered my 2015 words of wisdom to her, "Remember Caroline, "no matter how small", remember it, find a way to do it. Make it a great day. I love you."

No matter how small.

Based on this quote...and the truth of it.

So I sent her off.
To her little school...with her cousins and friends...saying The Pledge of Allegiance...

working on multiplication (we're struggling with our 4's)...
reading and thinking and learning and navigating our world.

Only to receive an email at noon that let me know her school was locked down.
Everyone was safe I assured.


Agonizing minutes later it was revealed via social media that a bomb threat had been made to another local elementary school that was very very close to Caroline's school.

A bomb threat?
To an elementary school?

Those 4 times tables are really bugging you??

What on earth?

Now I am a teacher and I did live through lockdowns at my old school...but we worked near a prison where prisoners escaped and where helicopters searched and well, it (kind of) made sense.
And that was WAY before social media and seeing things unfold in real time.

Our parents often didn't know a lockdown occurred at all.

In 2015, I was part of a group text almost immediately.
Scared parents were sharing information.
Reassuring each other.
It was beautiful.
And awful.

I just wanted my Rainbow Ribboned Girlie next to me.
So did everyone else.

I received this email from Caroline's teacher...the whole class the middle of the lockdown...

"I just wanted to let you all know that we are doing very well and are safe in our classroom. The students are aware that something is wrong in the community and that they are in the safest place, besides their own homes, they can be. This morning, we conducted science experiments which included ice cream, marshmallows, fruit loops, chocolate, graham crackers and much more so, along with their lunches, we have plenty to eat! We will continue to reassure them and keep the afternoon fun."


I know I've said it before but

This teacher might have been feeling just a little bit of concern for her own two children...
but we didn't know it.

I got tears in my eyes.

To be so brave.
So kind.
So loving.
So focused.
In the middle of confusion and uncertainty...
honestly, there is no other word other than hero.

The other elementary school was evacuated in less than 30 minutes time.
Lunch was provided by local high school students
and teachers and anybody else who could pitch in.

Those teachers tried to keep a sense of calm and security and safety outside...
in a park...with a bomb squad checking out their school.

So if you haven't stopped and thanked a teacher might want to do just that...
or a principal, or a school secretary, or a janitor, or a lunch lady, or in our case, the lunch guy.

YOU, my friends, are the real deal.
Made of the right stuff.
Living examples of what we hope our kids might be when they grow up.

Thank you.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your cool heads, your big hearts and your courage.

"No matter how small" turned into "no matter how BIG" on Thursday.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Faith and Freedom

From the movie V for case you missed it, stop everything and watch now.

Today, in a city known for romance and world famous art, hate made its mark.
What kind of hatred?

The hatred of "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité"  France's national motto --
Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood

Those concepts don't seem controversial to me...but I am a free woman born and raised in the
United States of America.
I live in a place that values freedom and equality.
A place that allows every single faith to practice in any way needed.
A place that believes in educating everyone.
A place that allows everyone to speak their mind...and yes, draw their political cartoons.

We get heated discussions and disagreements among our people daily.

France does too.

But today, a group of three tried to use hatred and violence and fear to shut that down...
and this is how the world responded:
With a pen...grace in action...for the world to see.


Radical fundamentalists here's a memo:
you can't shut people down with fear.

Freedom doesn't just fly away.
Education doesn't stop.
Big ideas like Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood are here to stay.

Your actions although frightening, bold and brazen show a sad desperation.

You can't stop the flow of information.
You can't stem the desire for knowledge.
No matter what size guns you carry, freedom is bigger.

Love is louder.
Creativity and imagination overrule your hate any day of the week.

What can I far away from France?
Why should I care?
Why should I bother to hold my pen up?

Because it is clear that freedom has a bold and vicious enemy.
We cannot stay silent.

We cannot feel safe in our corner of the world and watch as freedom gets chipped away in other great democracies...
because it is only a matter of time until it heads here.

Salman Rushdie, 25 years ago, had his life threatened for writing a book.

The hatred has only gotten bolder.
The actions even more diabolical.
We have people chopping other people's heads off for God's sake!

We need to stand with France and stand with freedom.
We can take comfort in our camaraderie.
Our shared brotherhood and friendship.
France gave us Lady Liberty...holding her golden torch...welcoming our huddled masses.

The people of Paris need to know and feel our strength and resolve.
We are not backing away.

I pray more cartoons ridicule, revile and relish in the stupidity that is radical.
I can't wait to laugh out loud.

Boldly, Brazenly, Freely
as an educated woman who is educating all of her children
and has the audacity to hold her pen up.