A ball for believers

If you follow my social media feeds, you’re probably already sick of seeing my pictures from last night’s GiGi’s Playhouse Believer’s Ball. I apologize if I seem overly exuberant. It’s been a long while since Jon and I have gotten really dressed up to go anywhere, and this was for a cause very near our hearts.

img_0442I’ve had a nasty sinus infection for more than a week, but I finally got antibiotics on Friday
and rested up as much as I could yesterday. I was determined to make this event.

If you’re not familiar with GiGi’s Playhouse, let me introduce you. GiGi’s is a network of
Down syndrome achievement centers. (I think the current count is around 30, including one in Mexico, with more opening all the time.) These are physical locations where people of all ages with Down syndrome and their families can gather for free therapeutic and skills training programs, socialization, one-on-one reading, math and handwriting tutoring and play in a fun and welcoming environment. Our Nashville GiGi’s is located in Brentwood, south of the city. As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I lead the Busy Bodies (previously 2 & Under) group for the littlest ones and their families. Lina has at different points participated in that group and a music and language img_0446class, and she and Corin now go every week to a Special Olympics Young Athletes event that focuses on beginning athletic skills. They LOVE that class. Most GiGi’s programs are led by therapists and experts in the areas they teach. Ninety-some percent of the people who work at our Nashville GiGi’s are unpaid volunteers.

When I talk to people about why GiGi’s is important to us, I go back to when Lina was a newborn and we were first trying to get our bearings. We had been introduced to the Down Syndrome Association, which offers fantastic resources for families. I was a little lost, though, on where to go to meet other families like ours. I wanted to connect in person with parents who had been where we were, but a support group felt too intense. Then I learned about a new place called GiGi’s Playhouse. At the time, we lived too far away to access GiGi’s as often as I wanted, but once we moved closer, it became a staple of our family’s social support system. As I’ve become involved as a volunteer, I have seen other families find in GiGi’s exactly what I was needing so badly when Lina was born: a place to connect, ask questions and find encouragement and support from people who just get it.

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Our girl on a centerpiece vase

In addition, GiGi’s is a big piece of Mission: Lina’s Future. It’s the answer to questions like, “What do we do to support Lina’s progress over the summer, when she’s not in school?” The answer: Sign her up for one-on-one tutoring and therapeutic programs at GiGi’s. “How do we make sure she and Corin have social support from people who understand their specific experiences?” The answer: Build a network of GiGi’s friends. “How do we support Lina’s independence as she grows?” The answer (or one piece of it – obviously this is part of a much broader plan): Get her involved in job training and social and therapeutic programs for older kids and young adults at GiGi’s.

img_0455GiGi’s works hard to build business and personal relationships in the community to educate and open doors for people with Down syndrome. These partnerships have allowed young adults with Down syndrome to learn floral arranging, become active members of a local CrossFit gym and find jobs at restaurants, businesses and even the Tennessee Titans. There is so much more I could tell you, but I think you get the picture: GiGi’s Playhouse is awesome.

The Believer’s Ball was a fun night out for a couple of parents who needed it. But it was also the biggest source of funding for the year for a place that makes life tangibly better for Lina and our family. So thank you to the many people who worked incredibly hard to organize the gala, to the many businesses and individuals who sponsored the gala and donated auction items, and to everyone who came out, bid in the auction and made generous donations. I hope you know how much it matters to a lot of families like ours.

It’s springing?!

I double-checked my calendar today, just to be sure. Yep, it’s still February. But today was 79 degrees and sunny, and all over town, flowers are bursting into full bloom. Lina desperately wanted to play outside, and I was happy to oblige. Temperatures are supposed to drop more than 30 degrees by tomorrow, so I figured we’d better soak it in while it lasted.

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“Catch!”

A conversation with my conservative friends

It’s been a while since I posted here. I, like many of you, have been distracted with events swirling around us. The noise has reached deafening levels, and as a result, I am doing some unplugging. But I also have some things I need to say. I’ve decided to say them here, where you can choose to read them or not and choose to comment or not. (While I am trying to unplug, I am always open to respectful conversation. I check email regularly and will be happy to talk to you about this or whatever else is on your mind.) Maybe this post will be helpful, or maybe it will just add to the noise. If it’s the latter, I sincerely apologize. I know you’re already bombarded from all sides. This is a long one, so hang in here with me.

If your social media feed is anything like mine, it’s recently been full of two broad groups of people utterly failing to understand one another. I’ve probably contributed to some of that myself, because I haven’t understood. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at events and wondering how things could possibly be happening the way they were. How could anyone think this way? How could anyone dream of voting for that man? 

But the unfolding of those events has shown me I’m clearly missing something big. The hand painted, billboard-sized, floodlit Trump sign a few doors down has shouted that I’m missing something. The views of members of my own family, people I love dearly, have shown me I’m missing something. So, I’ve been trying really hard to listen.  It’s not easy. I have very strong views of my own. Discussions can get tense. I get emotional. I don’t always hear what people are trying to say. I talk (or more often, write) too much.

Despite all of that, I think I’ve learned a few things. Trump supporters, I’d like to talk to you for a little while. Let me tell you first what I’ve been hearing from you; I’m sure you’ll tell me if I’m not in the ballpark.

You’ve felt for a long time that people in government – in Washington, maybe even in your own state capital – are worlds removed from you. The policies they debate and the laws they pass intrude but have little chance of making your daily life any easier. Maybe you’ve personally faced some hard times, and you’ve felt like Washington has made it worse.  You’ve seen opportunities you expected for yourself and your family disappear, and maybe it seems the government is taking them from you and handing them to someone else according to some twisted idea of fairness. But it’s no real surprise. These politicians don’t sound like you, they don’t come from backgrounds like yours, they don’t share your values, they’ve probably never held a job like yours. They’ve become a class unto themselves, existing to scratch each other’s backs, cater to wealthy special interests and big donors and perpetuate a godless system that places an increasing burden – of taxes, rules and limits – on the backs of citizens like you.  Everything you hear from Washington and from liberals says that you should be someone other than who you are, that you should believe differently than you do and that your way of life and values aren’t respected. 

Then, a candidate came along who sounded a lot more like the people you talk to day-to-day. He didn’t speak like every word was vetted by committee for its political impact. He made you feel like you could be proud again in who you are. He made you feel your grievances were real and justified, and he gave you hope that maybe your voice was being heard. He told you he was going to give back the opportunities that had been taken from you. He explained the world’s problems in terms that made sense to you and talked about solutions that sounded simple and straightforward. He seemed like the kind of guy who wasn’t beholden to anyone and did what he wanted, without the endless calculations of the politicians you’re used to seeing.

And yes, I know many of you voted for Donald Trump reluctantly, feeling stuck between two bad options. You chose to optimistically hope he would settle into the role, and that perhaps his outsider status really would be good for our entrenched system. 

Am I in the ballpark?

 I actually identify with some of that. I, too, feel that Washington is too insular, too far removed from the daily lives of “we the people.” I agree that donations for access and favor trading have become the status quo, leaving too little room for the voices of the people to drive agendas and shape policy. I think the executive branch of government has become too powerful and Congress ridiculously inept. I know our laws and regulations have become overwhelmingly complicated, and I know that many liberal voices in America have become increasingly removed from or even hostile to traditional Christian beliefs and values. I hear the condescension; maybe I’ve even sometimes been guilty of it.

But now I’m going to ask you to stay with me as I try to answer the question I have been hearing in various forms from so many conservative friends and family members: “Why are liberals so upset? Why the need for massive demonstrations? This is how it works. Your side doesn’t always win. I don’t remember this happening when Obama won. What’s with the whining/hysteria?”

 I’m not going to talk about what happened after Obama’s election. I’m not going to try to convince you that Trump is awful and you never should have voted for him. I’m not going to accuse you of being a racist. I’m not even going to rehash all the things he’s said, because most of you admit you don’t always love his big mouth/Twitter account. This is a conversation about understanding each other’s viewpoints. There will be no sarcasm here. I’m asking you to lower your defenses and step into shoes that may pinch a little.

I’ll start with the Trump campaign slogan, which has now become the mission statement for his administration: “Make America Great Again.” We’ve seen it everywhere for many months now. My friends who support Trump hear it as a rallying cry they can get behind after years of disillusionment.

Let’s break that message down. “Make America great again” contains at its core the idea that America was at some point in its past greater than it is now. In fact, it directly states that America is no longer great. Clearly, this resonates with many voters. But let me ask you a question: If America is not great now, when was it great?

I’ve heard man-on-the-street interviews on this question, and the responses vary. Some point to the Reagan years, some go farther back. I read an interview today with someone at the inauguration who pointed to the 60s as our golden era.

Again, I get it. You are likely thinking of more stable jobs, simpler family and social structures, foreign conflicts that had clearer moral grounds, fewer government regulations, a time when traditional Christian values bound us together.  We could argue about the accuracy of those associations, but I understand where you’re coming from.

But imagine now that you are a person of color in the south in the 1960s. What is life like for you? You are not able to eat at the same lunch counter, drink from the same water fountains, use the same restrooms or travel in the same rail cars as white citizens. You ride at the back of the bus, where the exhaust and heat are most oppressive. Your children’s “colored” schools receive a fraction of the funding of white schools. You will not be admitted to most colleges or universities. You live with the constant fear that you (or your husband or daddy) could be beaten or hanged from a tree because someone thought you looked too long at a white woman. You are expected to show complete deference to every white person you meet, no matter how you are treated. You face limited job and economic prospects. (And let’s not kid ourselves that it was much better outside the south.)

 Now imagine you are a woman in the 1960s. Many of your friends marry young and begin having children right away. Maybe you choose to go to college, where career options center on secretarial, nursing or similar occupations. If you choose a typically male area of study, you know to expect constant harassment from fellow students and an all-male teaching staff. You are barred from attending most Ivy League institutions. Once you are in the workplace, you face persistent sexual advances from male colleagues and may be limited in your ability to progress if you reject them. Once you marry, you are expected to quit your job to care for your home and husband. Birth control pills are still illegal in many states. If you are able to keep working after marriage, you may be fired as soon as you are visibly pregnant. You are not able to open a bank account in your name, and in many states, you are not able to serve on a jury.

What if you are a person with an intellectual disability? You are almost certainly hidden away in an institution to face torture and abuse, never to be seen or heard from in civilized society again. If you are lucky enough to have family who defies doctors to keep you at home, you have no access to education and certainly no hope of employment. It is assumed that you are incapable of even the most basic learning or independence. Predictably, your life expectancy is around 18.

If you are gay, you will likely never be able to publicly admit that identity, living in fear of being ostracized, beaten or killed. Any relationship must be conducted in absolute secrecy. You spend enormous amounts of energy keeping up pretense, feeling deep inside that something must be horribly, irreparably wrong with you.

I could keep going for pages; I’ve left out many, many groups. The point, my friends, is that the times you look back on as examples of American greatness were times of severe oppression and marginalization for many, many people. It is no coincidence that these times are long enough ago to have been softened by the haziness of memory, the sharp edges worn dull and the complexities simplified by forgetfulness. But for many people, those sharp edges and complexities were daily life. Can you understand why many of your fellow citizens quell at the idea of recapturing those days? Do you understand why the “make America great again” message, reinforced by divisive rhetoric and a reenergization of hate groups, feels to many like a rescinding of their rightful place in America? 

I know many of you feel the pendulum has swung too far; that deference is now given to minority groups out of fear of offending. You believe we have more than addressed historic inequities and members of minority groups are overly sensitive. But my friends, that view lacks the perspective that comes from experiencing that the lives of people like you always have been valued less than other lives. We do not live in isolation from our past. Our society was built on the authority of white, straight men over all other groups. When you complain about black pride because white pride is racist, you deny the entire historical context in which we live. When you talk of despising political correctness, we hear you saying you don’t want to have to consider the feelings of people who aren’t like you. You and I are not responsible for the inequities of the past, but we must live in a world shaped by them.

I know your climb has not been so easy. You hear the term “privilege” and feel angry, because you know how hard you’ve worked and how many challenges you’ve overcome. I’m not here to take that away from you. But please, try to understand: so many groups of people still face incredible hurdles just to reach the place where you started your climb. The progress our country has haltingly achieved toward rights for the marginalized is not guaranteed to remain or continue. Progress toward equality requires deliberate understanding and exhausting work to sustain. Maybe you feel the concerns and efforts around you are misguided. That is certainly your right, but please try to at least understand their origin.

On my news feed and in my daily life, I hear the voices of people from all walks of life, all races and all political persuasions who feel ignored and unheard. My friends, we must find ways to listen to each other and find common ground to make our government more responsive, more connected to the lives of its citizens. Gains for one group need not come at the expense of others, but that will be the result if we continue to operate from a place of fear and anger.

We live in a very complicated world and in very complicated times. We have no hope of facing the challenges ahead unless we begin from a place of kindness, listening to understand, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and valuing people more than ideas or identities. This is my prayer for myself, for you and for my country.

The “Oh, oh, oh” book

My mom learned to read with the Dick and Jane books. I learned to read with the Dick and Jane books. Corin’s first experience reading out loud was with – you guessed it – a Dick and Jane book. Lina recently went through a phase where she carried our big book of collected Dick and Jane stories everywhere, calling it the “Oh, oh, oh” book. (As in, “Oh, oh, oh. Look, Jane. Look and see.”)

And thus, the idea for this year’s costumes was born. We donned them yesterday evening for a fall festival at a church near us.

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Oh, Dick, oh, Jane, it was fun. Fun, fun, fun. But oh, Mother, oh, Father, were those kids ever tired when it was over!

Buddy Walk 2016

Last year, I wrote a soliloquy on the Buddy Walk. Definitely read it if you’re not familiar with the Buddy Walk, but this year, I’ll get to the pictures pretty quickly. What you need to know is that this past Saturday, 6,000 people gathered at Centennial Park in downtown Nashville to celebrate the people we love who have Down syndrome. Twenty-four of those were Team Lina, our people who went well out of their way to show their love for Lina and their commitment to helping us make this community the place it needs to be for her. Many of you donated and sent your love over the miles, and you, too, were a part of the day. We ate lunch, relaxed and chatted and participated in what – thanks to numbers that swell every year – was more a crawl than a walk, admiring the hundreds of posters featuring people of all ages who sport that extra chromosome. It’s easily one of my favorite days of the year.

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An already sleepy girl

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Catching up with our sweet friend Kirzden. Many of you joined us in praying for her during a very rough patch a while back. My heart grows a size when I see her smile.

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Team Lina rocks!!

The case for dried sweat

I’m pretty sure the people at my daughter’s school believe I spend my days as a stinky, frizzy-haired mess in exercise pants. I know this because it’s how I pick her up from preschool every day. I come straight from the gym, and I look like it.

I still remember the “oohs” and “aaahs” when I showed up to Lina’s first parent-teacher conference last year. That’s when it dawned on me that a lot of these people had never before seen me in makeup.

I look around at pick-up, and there are plenty of other moms in workout clothes. But not one of them looks like she’s coated in dried sweat and wearing a ponytail that endured an actual workout. This leads me to wonder, do these women actually work out? Do they wear those clothes to hang out at the coffee shop? Or do they know something I don’t about post-exercise grooming? (I’d certainly welcome suggestions for the fly-away hair halo.) Maybe they just don’t sweat like I do.

Also, let’s talk about women who wear makeup to the gym. Look, I’m not criticizing. If you can look that put together while hoisting a 39-pound bar for squats, more power to you. If I try to do it, I wake up the next morning to pores that look like the foothills of the Rockies.

I’ve always been in the “less is more” camp when it comes to makeup, anyway, I suppose, though I find myself using a few more products in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I like looking put-together. I like using cosmetics to give that bit of extra polish, in the same vein as the perfect pair of shoes.

But please, someone tell me it’s okay to look a little rough coming from the place I go to sweat, huff and occasionally grunt through the last set of bench presses. Not that it matters, I suppose. I’m unlikely to change my routine any time soon, which means, I suppose, that it’s time to own my dried sweat look.

‘Til next time

I have just a few pictures from our last day at the beach, and then it’s time to get back into full-swing daily life. Our last day was spent at Grayton Beach State Park, a lovely and relatively quiet spot a few miles west of Rosemary Beach on 30A. It was nice to enjoy the beach with a backdrop of natural sand dunes rather than the usual beachside development. The biting flies were our least favorite feature, but those seemed to be present pretty much everywhere.

The kids were more than ready for an early bedtime. They slept soundly under Mimi and Grandpa’s care while we closed out our vacation grown-up style. We hung with Justin and Katie on the moonlit beach, watching distant fireworks displays at Panama City Beach and Destin, and indulged in late-night dessert at the local tapas and chocolate restaurant. That night, with my toes dug deep into cool sand, watching a shooting star as the waves lapped the shore, I wondered why we don’t live closer to the beach. (Then I remembered all those Florida summers of my childhood and was immediately cured.)

Now we’re back to everyday life, but a little richer with memories. The leaves are starting to turn here at home, and there is much to look forward to about fall in Tennessee. It might just be time to bake something with pumpkin.