Want to raise kind kids? Make their world more diverse.

The Christmas season is here. As we sing songs about peace on earth, goodwill toward men, I’d like to chat about what has become a vaguely loaded subject.

Parents, pull up a chair.  Let’s talk diversity.

Your kids’ early experiences shape their view of what is normal. If their relationships center on people who look like them, talk like them, and have backgrounds similar to theirs, it will be much harder for them to relate as adults to the exceptionally diverse world that awaits.

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Our friends Kate and Hayden

It’s not news that our culture is more divided than it’s been in a very long time. We’re losing the ability to empathize with people who are different from ourselves. As our social interactions move online, our differences are magnified. The only cure – I’ll say it again – THE ONLY CURE is to build real connections with people who are different from ourselves.

Take a hard look at your social circles. What do your children see? Who are their friends? There’s a good chance your child’s world is much less diverse than the wider world around them.

I’m not judging. It’s natural for us to be drawn to people with shared experiences. We need those people. It’s not easy to expand beyond that comfort zone. Even if you want to, it can be hard to know where to start.

To get you going, here are a few tips for building more diversity into your kids’ daily lives:

1. Step outside your neighborhood. Widening your geographic circle can immediately broaden your kids’ experiences. Consider playgrounds, Mother’s Day Out programs, churches, libraries and social events in more diverse areas. Visit an accessible playground near you. Reach out to the people you meet there and look for opportunities to build new friendships.

2. Think beyond race. Diversity is not just about skin color. As the parent of a child with a disability, it’s important to me that your children experience disability as a natural part of life. Whatever your own beliefs and identity, your children need to be able to interact as equals with people of different genders, ethnic backgrounds, religions, economic levels, sexual orientations, political beliefs… Think as broadly as possible about the perspectives that are missing from your kids’ world.

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Lina, Baby Margaret and me

3. Take a close look at your kids’ play. Do all their dolls or action figures look like them? What type of world are they experiencing as they play? Kids need to see themselves in their toys, but they also need differences to be normalized through play. This blog links to some fantastically diverse toy options.

4. Use books to broaden your child’s world. Research tells us that literary fiction builds empathy. The stories we read take us to new places and allow us to connect with a limitless range of characters. The books your children read from the earliest ages can shape their views. As your children grow, encourage them to explore stories outside their normal areas of interest or experience. Fill your home with books that allow your children to see the world through all kinds of eyes.

5. Talk about it. I hear white friends say things like, “Why are people making race such a big deal? I was raised to be color blind.” But let’s face it: you’re not color blind (or disability blind, etc.). Neither are your children. Those of us who are not part of a given minority group often miss the ways our language, systems, and cultural norms dehumanize and “otherize.” (This article is an excellent exploration of research on children and racial perceptions.) Talk to your kids about inequality. Call out discrimination when you see it. You don’t have to know all the answers. It’s not about creating guilt. Just acknowledging the bias and barriers others experience – and the ways we can help – can go a long way to raising children who will make the world a better place.

We live in unsettling times. Divisions are deep, and civility is waning. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Christmas song has it right: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

What kind of year has it been?

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A year of kindergarten special education in one photo

I’m in a reflective mood this evening. Tomorrow is my youngest’s last day of kindergarten, and my oldest’s of third grade. I’ll spare you the cliches about time passing, but know I’m thinking them.

I’m not really sure how to feel at the end of this year. I don’t know what lens to choose.

It’s been a hard one in many ways. Lina has struggled with waxing and waning behavior issues over the course of the year. (Hello, old friends “non-compliance” and “social aggression.”) We’ve had to work exceptionally hard – much harder than I expected, after our comparatively breezy preschool experience – to get the communication we needed from Lina’s special ed team. Math has been challenging for her. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about things I have little control over.

Corin has had his struggles, too. He is a bright student who has spent this year learning about the increased accountability of letter grades and real homework assignments. We’ve worked hard to keep the responsibility of those things with him, rather than taking them on ourselves. That’s meant making peace with B grades for a kid who’s capable of straight As. He’s also still the kid who collapses when he gets home after the strain of meeting expectations all day long at school. He’s the kid who can’t function without 10-11 solid hours of sleep, and the kid who has trouble acknowledging difficult emotions and expresses them with outrageous emotional outbursts.

But… But, but, but. It’s also been a GOOD year. Lina was reading on a first-grade level by mid-way through kindergarten. She has made so many sweet friends in her class, and their families have gone to extra lengths to include her. The room mom this year was extraordinary, hosting more than one social event for all 20+ kids in her own back yard. Lina’s classroom teacher was a living example of the kindergarten teacher every kid deserves: so kind and encouraging, but gently prodding her students to grow and do their very best. Her love for those kids was evident in every interaction. Toward the end of the year, Lina triumphantly read the school’s mission statement (including the phrases  “balanced education” and “lifelong learners”) over the P.A. to the entire school during morning announcements. The staff in the room applauded when she was done.

Corin is currently reading Lord of the Rings (which, I here admit, I didn’t manage to finish until college)He has gradually pulled his grades up, entirely of his own accord. He has made new friends, explored new interests, and shown flashes of surprising maturity. His teacher had a tough class this year, with some challenging behaviors, but she handled it with tremendous skill and grace, never lowering her bar for the kindness and respect she required. She cared about her kids and was deeply committed to their learning, both in academics and in the skills they’ll need to become responsible adults. Corin has continued to develop his vivid imagination and his love of writing, and it’s clear he takes after his mama in his love of story and communication. He has built a wide circle of friends, and has bonded further with a couple very close ones.

So how do I summarize all that has come with this school year? I suppose, like so much of real life, it defies easy categorization. It was messy and hard and glorious and necessary. It was beautiful, in that the two children I love the very most successfully navigated another year of learning and growth.

I worked from home today, which meant I didn’t have to run out the door before the kids were awake. I lay beside Lina in her bed at 6 a.m. and read her stories. Corin came and snuggled in. I was tired and needing another hour of sleep. They clambered over and around me to poke and tease each other. It was silly, and chaotic, and exhausting, and beautiful.

Happy summer, friends.

Lina’s Bakery & Sweet Shoppe

We celebrated Lina’s 6th birthday on Sunday. The theme came naturally for a girl who never met a sweet she didn’t like. In fact, when I asked her what she wanted to eat at her party, she rattled off “cake and pie and ice cream…” So, we threw dietary caution to the wind and fulfilled her wish.

This was the first year I could see her really anticipating the party and presents. She knew what was coming, and the day of the party, she was ready. She was thrilled to see her family and friends, dug into the cake (literally, on a mission to excavate every morsel of frosting), tore into the packages and loved her gifts. She had a blast, and so did we.

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Now We Are Six

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three,
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

-A. A. Milne

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She is six today.

The poem is from A. A. Milne’s Now We Are Six. It made me cry. A lot of things make me cry lately.

There are times when I wish I could grab Lina, take her home and never leave again. Here in the safety of our cocoon, I can delight in my affectionate, smart, funny, sassy girl. She can be fully herself, and we can ignore the pressures of the world outside our door.

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Last night as a five-year-old

I cried over that poem, because for a moment, I wanted it to be possible and knew it wasn’t. My girl is growing. She is six today, but even if we both wished, she would not stay six for ever and ever. She will grow, and I cannot keep her here with me.

And I am glad. Through my little bit of heartbreak, I am glad she is growing. The dreams we have for her are much bigger than our cocoon. Soon, she will dream bigger dreams for herself. She will own more and more of this precious life she has been given. She is a kindergartner now, and that larger sphere can feel pretty scary. But an ever expanding world is where she belongs. She is making her place there. Of course there are bumps and challenges, and yes, there is hard work every step of this journey, for all of us. But we are not alone.

Every morning, God gives me courage and wisdom for the day. Every morning, He walks with both my children as they enter those big elementary school doors. He has provided us with a village of epic proportions. The teachers and aides guiding Lina, the parents and advocates paving the way, the friends listening to my fears and talking me back to reason, the extended family walking with us… They make it all possible, one step at a time.

Lina is six today. She is a gift, to me and to the wider world that awaits her. There are big things ahead. Maybe that’s A. A. Milne’s point. Six is more than five, and five more than four. Every year, she is bigger, more clever, more herself.

 

Happy birthday, Eline Katherine. Six is just a start. Go, make the world your own. We’ll be here, a little tearful, but so very proud.

Corin begins third grade

There is nothing quiet like the bittersweet ache of these first days… Looking through the lens of my camera this morning nearly took my breath away. I could swear he just started kindergarten.

This is what the older folks mean when they say, “Enjoy every minute. It goes so fast.” It sounds crazy to a frazzled parent just trying to make it through the eternity of an afternoon with little ones. But I get it now. The details we sweat, they matter so little. The hard stuff fades. And suddenly, that baby who wouldn’t feed, the toddler who threw stuff out of the cart at the grocery story: he’s a third grader, still anxious and sleepless the night before his first day, still willing to hold his mama’s hand on the way to his new classroom, but so tall, and every day a little more confident, a little more independent, a little more himself.

I have prayed with him and for him, and I will whisper countless more prayers through this day, and every day. He is my heart, and he is growing into the young man he was designed to be. Thank you, God, for this dimpled, freckled boy of mine.

Happy third grade, Corin.

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Memorial Day weekend, huzzah!

Our holiday weekend was full of some of my favorite things: outdoor adventures, memory-making and family.

We started with a picnic Saturday along the Natchez Trace, followed by a hike that quickly turned into a hard-rain dousing, to the enormous entertainment of the youngest members of our crew.

 

 

 

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We came home, took showers, had a spaghetti supper and closed the day with a few holiday weekend fireworks, courtesy of Uncle Ryan.

 

 

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We spent Sunday at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, held at a real-life castle in Arrington, just a short drive from here. We ended the day hot and tired, but everyone had such a good time. We toured the castle, and the kids really enjoyed the junk food, the games and shops and the shows – pirates and Robin Hood, a knighting ceremony, birds of prey and jousting (the clear favorite).

 

 

 

 

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Memorial Day was lower-key, with biking and walking at the local arboretum, a little driveway basketball and squeezing in as much play as possible before my brother and the family headed home. I am reminded, as I sort through photos and look back over the weekend, that these simple pleasures, of family bonding and hiking in the rain, of cousins building Legos, riding bikes, rolling down grassy hills and waving sparklers in the dusk, of outings and memory-making, are all possible thanks to a very steep price. Others have paid for this life we live, and I am grateful. Those who have lost someone to service – including my mom, who remembers her brother today – deserve our remembrance and respect. It’s easy for me to type those words, but living it out, through a bone-deep commitment to the highest ideals and values that make us American – that is where the meaning lies.

Easter and Luke turns 5

This past weekend was beautifully rich and packed with family celebration. It began on Saturday morning with the remarkable SonRise pageant held every year on the campus of Southern Adventist University.

The weekend of celebration continued in the afternoon with a birthday bash for our very own Easter baby, my youngest nephew, Luke. The family gathered at the clubhouse in my parents’ neighborhood for Luke’s requested spaghetti dinner and Easter egg hunt.

Then came opening of the birthday gifts at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

And then came Easter Sunday, spent coloring and hunting eggs and eating pizza at my brother and SIL’s home.

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(Yes, that would be my son hunting eggs in a Rocket costume.)

The message of Easter is one of infinite hope, joy, renewal and life. As we spent the holiday weekend celebrating together, I was struck by how all of it – life and love, family and laughter and childhood joy — points us back to the God who gave everything for us and who continues to pour His gifts into our lives.