Friday, October 23, 2015

Trunk or Treat 2015

The PTO put on our school's first Trunk or Treat on this fine October evening.  For those unfamiliar, this is an event where trunks are popped, decorated, and children travel from car to car to Trick or Treat.  A DJ, pretzels and pizza added to the fun.
"I want to be a fox and a pirate," Helena declared weeks ago and she stood by her plan.  

I donned a witch's hat, Alexander was an alien from Alien vs Predator and Sophie went as Doc McStuffins.

Mark arrived after working late and helped us set up our bubble machine.  He discovered that taking flash photography of bubbles mid-flight produces quite the image.

Despite Alexander and I having pneumonia (and spending a bit of time in the van in front of the heater) we were glad to have gone to witness the benefits of inclusion in action.  Sophie was interviewed by the high school tv kids who knew her from summer camp.  Her friends from class came and spirited her away from me for most of the event.  Would this be the case if she remained unknown to them?  I know in my heart it would not.  This is why our advocacy, promotion of inclusion, acceptance, and respect do not get sick days.  We do it for Soph and for all of us who happily reside outside of "normal."

 My little Hamlet

Friday, May 29, 2015

No Pity. No Charity.

“Children with disabilities are amongst the world’s most marginalized and excluded children.”
---World Health Organization, World Bank, 2011

I will never give up.  Out here in Philly we have formally declared an Inclusion Revolution

I am a revolutionist.  Are you?  #InclusionRevolution

Here are the thoughts of revolutionary educator Torrie Dunlap at a TEDx Talk.

Isn't it a pity? The real problem with special needs

What do we gain when we build a community where everybody belongs?
What do we gain when we separate kids and what do we lose out on when we do?

How do we want our children to be regarded? As something fragile, broken, and special? Or as people who have a right to fully participate in our communities? I believe that when we examine our own mental models around disability we will no longer default to pity and charity but instead we will put our efforts into building communities that are accessible to everyone and everyone will benefit.

#InclusionRevolution Pass it on!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Joyous May Day 2015

The winter was long and hard and we are limping to the finish line of this school year. 

For thousands of years when Spring was in full bloom the people would pause to celebrate the coming of the warm time and changing of the seasons.  May Day or Beltane as it is also known begins at sunset and continues through the next day.  This is a celebration of fertility and life.  It is a holiday of hope, beauty, and new beginnings. 


As a child in the USA I have memories of making May Day baskets filled with treats.  We would deliver them to neighbors by ringing their doorbell and then running away so that they would not know who left the goodies.  I have thought of this every May 1st since becoming a mother and decided this year I would introduce my children to this tradition.

The screech of the school bus’ brakes preceded little girl giggles that filled the air like music.  We celebrated the return of dirty bare feet on soft green grass.  White paper cups, a roll of twine, a hole puncher, crayons, and stickers would be used to create our May Day baskets.  M&Ms, Sweet Tarts, Life Saver gummies, and popcorn were the filling.  Alexander popped in for a moment or two for treats before going off to do his own thing. 


Traditionally the people would dance around a pole with ribbons woven in merriment signifying fertility.  Flowers, incense, feasting, and bonfires marked their celebration and ours.  Inspired from a scene in Alice in Wonderland, our Mad Hatter hat topped the pole which we secured in our umbrella stand wrapped in red, scrap fabric.  It turned out beautifully.

Neighbors shared long forgotten stories of their childhood May Day celebrations and I was dubbed the May Queen of Garrett Hill, which I quite like.  Our dinner was grilled and we feasted outdoors by candle light.  The last hours of the day were spent mesmerized by the dancing flame of our back yard mini bonfire and the sweet smell of vanilla incense smoldering on the log.  The girls fell asleep in the night air.  Only when the last of the embers had died out did their daddy carry them one by one to their beds, perhaps dreaming of magic and fairies.

A larger version of the video can be found HERE.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beyond Awareness

October is my favorite month of the year for many reasons; Halloween, pumpkin flavored everything, football, apples and cider, a chill in the air, turning leaves, hay rides, scary movies, footie pj’s, and tights. So here it is, October 1st, and I’m enduring an internal debate. I’m exhausting myself (as per usual).

This month highlights awareness campaigns for Down syndrome (DS), domestic violence (DV), & breast cancer. These 3 are big in my world and 2 of them have had great success in making us aware. Thanks to recent news surrounding the NFL, DV is finally starting to get the attention needed for real change. I pray the world doesn’t get bored and move on.

As I think about how I want to honor DS I can’t stop wondering, “what is normal?” What does it mean to be low or high functioning? What does a typical family or typical existence look like and how is that so different from my own? Disability is normal. It is a part of the human experience whether it happens prior to birth or later. Whether it is 'cured' or managed.

Everyone has challenges. Everyone. Sometimes they are financial. Marriages fall apart. Families are blended. Single parents do the work of a village. People lose jobs or get diseases. Those living with mental illness are stigmatized and are failed by a broken system. Our LGBT community still fights for fairness within the law and for the right to walk down the street without being brutally assaulted or shunned by our families. Addictions and sexual assault are commonplace. Sometimes through accidents or illnesses our loved ones pass away too soon all the while we continue to get older every day. Which of these are abnormal?

Awareness campaigns come from a wonderful place. When you are aware that early detection can increase your chances of surviving breast cancer, you’re more likely to feel your boobs and see your doctor. When as a society we begin to hold abusers and sexual assaulters accountable for their actions, survivors will be more likely to seek help and hopefully violence will lessen. When we tell you that language has power, those with compassion choose words that don’t demean. The invisibility of Autism dissolves as others comprehend public meltdowns.  As we continue to demand equality, our kids with special needs will receive the supports and services they need to thrive in school and in the community throughout their lives.

Those of us involved with Down syndrome awareness open our lives to the world. We let you into our private spaces to witness the gold, the shit, and the mundane so that we are no longer outliers, invisible pariahs and therefore irrelevant or scary. We strive to create a society where normal means acceptance, inclusion, equality. In doing so we support others facing similar challenges. We aim to make the world a safer place and I know we have.

And yet I’m restless. I’m beyond awareness. I want revolution and I want normalcy. My life’s work is to battle loud and fierce regarding; housing and program wait lists, budget cuts for education, supports, and services, funding and access to disease cures, legalizing medication that is long overdue, rights for all regardless of ethnicity, genitalia, religion, or who we love. I dream of a time when all of us are normal, where knowledge and understanding are so commonplace that what currently makes us outsiders will be nothing more than attributes to describe our existence to one another.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Independence Day

We decided to take this year off from hosting our annual Garrett Hill parade watching party.  We just weren’t up to the work involved in party prep.  Rolling out of bed late, I grabbed a quick shower and had my coffee on the front porch just as the parade began.  Some friends joined us and we filled the neighborhood with bubbles from our Gazillion bubbles Hurricane machine (Sophie approved).  Gazillion bubbles are truly the best, hands down.

Our neighborhood celebrated our 65th annual 4th of July parade and festivities.  We have an honest to goodness parade that happens to pass directly in front of our house.  Afterwards, the neighborhood park is abuzz with face painting, a dunk tank, a live show (magic in years past, a master juggler this year), bounce houses, a mini-train, spin art, hot dogs, pretzels, and drinks – all FREE!

I scooted Alexander over to our friend’s house as they were having their annual party that we are never able to attend due to hosting our own.  Their back yard bumps up against the park and gives them front row access (or back row as it were) to the live show.  Helena went off to the park with other neighborhood friends.  Mark and I strolled down with Soph at our leisure.

Typically we still have guests at this time and miss out on the activities in the park.  Typically it’s heat stroke hot, but due to some gentle rain before and after the parade and Hurricane Arthur it was perfect.  We were able to hang out with friends at their party and help ourselves to their food, which was a fantastic treat!  Although we missed our usual guests, this was great.

At most houses in our neighborhood, the sounds of parties and smell of BBQs filled the air.  After a lazy afternoon sipping wine, napping, and watching the Walking Dead marathon, we headed out for our township’s fireworks.  Again, we haven’t caught them in our 4 years of living here as we are all typically worn out by the party and heat and head to bed early.  It’s only a 10 minute drive, the entry fee goes towards our high school scholarship fund, and we met up with our friends who had terrific seats on the soccer field.  Grand!

None of the kids got scared and traffic home was a breeze.  I love this community.  This is home.  I’d like to thank our military for continuing to protect our freedom which allows us to celebrate in this way.  It is in their honor that I created this slideshow which I think captures a nice slice of what they work to protect.  Happy Independence Day!

Watch larger: 4th of July 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Last Day of School 2014

Yea, though I battle through the valley of the shadow of IEP season, I shall fear not using the Procedural Safeguards: for the law art with me.

With a brutal winter and a ton of snow days, our school year ended even later than it typically does.  It is with great joy that we have entered SUMMER

This IEP season for both kids has been the most difficult to date.  Countless IEP meetings in person, via email and by phone could not resolve differences in opinion between our family and our district.  Hiring a great attorney changed all that and with her help we are finally moving forward in a way we can support.

I’m not litigious and pride myself with my negotiation skills, so it is no small thing that we are ending this school year and entering ESY for summer with 2 settlement agreements.  I did not want to have it go to this level, but our core belief in inclusion, FAPE, and LRE just didn’t line up with our district’s plan for educating our 2 kids with IEPs. 

Despite our disagreements I continue to believe we have a fantastic team of teachers and therapists who believe in our kids.  When you have as many team members as we do, you have to get creative in order to be thrifty with thank-you gifts.  I ordered these extra large soup mugs in November intending to use them as holiday gifts, but then I had spinal surgery and they sat in boxes.  I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.  Mark helped me package them in cellophane and ribbons and dropped them off.

In any case, I’ve learned so much through advocating for our kids and I am more determined than ever to make systems change.  I’ll just need a little time to recover.

Welcome to SUMMER - rising 4th grade boy and 2nd grade girl!