I have memories of my mother taking me to the library frequently, especially during the summer. As I ambled through the shelves of books, trying to make the perfect decision, I often paused in the history and biography section of the library. My love for history began early and was fostered by my mom, a voracious reader, and my father, a lover of history himself. I consumed as many books about as many diverse topics as I could, and frequently returned to some of my favorites, including a biography on Steven Spielberg and an account of the Hindenburg disaster. In a teacher's library I borrowed the book Daniel's Story and was immediately drawn into the fictional narrative of a boy living through the Holocaust. I still recall the exact way the book felt in my hands as I learned about this period of history. Years later, I found the same book at a book fair and as my hands touched the cover, I was excited to be able to return to this story. It was the beginning of a journey for me, delving into the history of the Holocaust, and it was to be a long one.
Fast forward to a summer teen camp field trip to the Holocaust Museum Houston. I had visited the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial a year prior and recall that I was deeply troubled by how upset I was as I spoke to my mom on the phone, even later that evening. I knew the major themes of the Holocaust and understood the basics of the timeline, but seeing the visual displays of photographs, artifacts, and hearing testimony from survivors was different from reading it on the pages of books from the library. Our group settled into the theater at the end of the tour to see local survivors give snippets of their testimony and each of us felt moved by the stories shared. But I specifically remember our preparation to leave. As we turned to exit the theater, I saw an elderly man in the back of the theater, hunched over, hands in his head, and he was sobbing. My heart broke for this man, this stranger, that, for whatever reason, felt deeply touched by what we had all just seen. My soul was touched and I wanted so terribly to console him in that moment, to connect with him in whatever way I could. I walked away instead, but I feel forever changed by witnessing that one minute, understanding on a deep level that feeling empathy for a man I didn't know in his time of distress was the best lesson I could have taken away that day.
A few years later, I again found myself at the Museum, this time ambling through their shelves of books as I researched Jewish resistance during the Holocaust for a major paper for two of my high school classes. While the paper taught me a great deal about an aspect of the Holocaust I had never thought of before, I discovered a new found level of love for thumbing through the pages of books, searching for hidden information, and putting it down on paper. The researcher inside of me came alive.
Later still, as I prepared for my first year of teaching, my advisor sent an email from the Museum inviting us to apply for a fellowship that May. The Warren Fellowship for Future Educators was an opportunity to learn from world class teachers about many aspects of teaching the Holocaust and Genocide, but also to learn more about pedagogical practices in general. Additionally, we promised resources and, the best part, time with local survivors, including Naomi Warren, who the fellowship was named after. I jumped at the chance to apply, but tempered my expectations, I considered myself until that point as an afterthought, someone that people concluded "Oh yeah, we should have considered her instead" and then shrugged their shoulders and moved on. Imagine my surprise when my invitation to join the fellowship arrived. The week was intense and I was, again, forever changed. To this day I think I am processing parts of that week and I know that I implement aspects of it on a regular basis. To learn these stories and to meet these survivors creates a sense of obligation and duty to attempt to make significant changes in the world we live in. Further, this fellowship opened doors of opportunity in other ways as well. A trip to Israel, a trip to New York, time in other institutes, and FaceTime with countless survivors, educators, and other important members of our mission in teaching the Holocaust would never have occurred without the aid of the Warren family. Thus, I am forever grateful and forever changed.
Four years ago, when learning about Johnny's diagnosis and condition, my interest and commitment to Holocaust education came to a screeching halt. The burdens I willingly shouldered to teach others about the victims of the Holocaust became too real and too raw as I realized that some of those victims were just like the little child I was growing in my belly. Thinking about the hatred and disregard for their lives and how we may face prejudice, hatred, and discrimination was a lot to take on as I worried about matters of his physical well being. My fragile emotional state, heightened by my own lack of understanding, my growing concerns, and, of course, those ever present hormones, quickly led to my bowing out of my work with the museum.
God had other plans.
By chance, a friend of a friend posted a video about the Holocaust on Facebook. Due to the random algorithms used by Facebook, it showed up in my newsfeed and I, naturally, commented and a conversation ensued. Another friend, due to algorithms, saw our conversation and approached me at church the following weekend exclaiming that he had no idea that my knowledge of the Holocaust was so vast. As I told him about my time learning with the museum, he excitedly gave me the opportunity to speak for a group at church. I accepted. This led to another speaking engagement which led to another speaking engagement which led to more speaking engagements. Soon enough, I was fully entrenched in reading and learning about the Holocaust once again. I sheepishly showed people in the waiting room of Johnny's therapy the titles of the books I was reading and watched their eyes grow large as the titles sunk in. I begrudgingly found fiction to take on our vacation this summer after Matt protested that Holocaust history was not appropriate for our time away together. I engaged and opened myself to these opportunities, waiting to see what was in store.
Last week I signed a contract to do work with the Holocaust Museum Houston. I couldn't ask for a better job right now. I am working with the education department to do research, curriculum writing, and speaking to area schools, groups, and organizations. As I sat in my first meeting last week, I was surprised by how natural it felt and how ready I was for the chance to do more. I forgot what this is like, being entrenched in something that consumes you. As I drove home from that meeting, Matt asked me how it was. I shook my head over the phone, unable to describe the range of emotions and feelings I had. Every historian dreams of the chance to work at a museum and I am grateful for this rare opportunity to achieve a dream I thought was only that. Our work is important and needed, I am honored and humbled to be a part of what is in store.
I cannot close without mentioning the timing of the beginning of my work. Naomi Warren, the survivor mentioned above for my fellowship, passed away last week. As I began the interview process, I knew her health was failing and was struck by how many doors her family opened for me and how, without my time in each of those places, I wouldn't be person I am today, let alone the educator this position needs me to be. Hundreds of educators have been changed and shaped by their time with the Warren family and that is such an important part of the legacy of the Holocaust. I believe we all carry a piece of her with us, ready to educate, lead, and choose correctly as the situation warrants. It adds to the honor I have in doing my work, to remember the Warren family's contribution to my journey.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
I never thought I would have to live a year without one of my children, let alone did I think I could survive a year without them. Understandably, it feels a little different with a miscarriage than if we had gotten to know the little person we were growing, but it feels a lot the same too. Our love, hopes, dreams, desires, and gratitude for Baby Locke were no different than those we have for our older three.
If surviving the past year has been a surprise to us, the fact that, in reality, we thrived the past year has been an even greater surprise. But it all points to the child we lost. Rather than waste his or her life, we let the loss resonate and ripple through our own lives in a positive and meaningful way. We improved our health, we devoted time and efforts to our ministries, we poured into the three older siblings entrusted to our care, we spent time doing more and seeing more, and with each passing month we came closer to being the version of ourselves that we always wanted to be. Because God said, "Not now" we worked to better ourselves in preparation of a day He might say, "Yes." And while that day hasn't happened, we know that taking advantage of every opportunity we've had over the past year has been well worth it. Not that the loss of our child has ever or will ever be worth it, but because the circumstances are what they are, that our life has still been full in spite of. Further, even if He doesn't say "yes", the ways in which we have bettered ourselves, devoting time to tending to ourselves, each other, our family, our friends, and our ministries, that can only serve Him and thus, is worth it too.
I think about our sweet Locke almost every day. I'm reminded of all the ways our life would be different if he or she was with us on a regular basis. I miss this child terribly. Through it all, God's goodness has been evident. I still laughed and smiled despite my heart breaking a year ago. I still nourished and cherished the kids I have here. Matt and I still worked to comfort and care for one another. And as time passed, the grief lessened. My tear soaked eyes of sadness turned to joy for others who ushered their little ones into this world. My prayers for myself turned to help others in similar circumstances. My racing heart that broke for Locke turned into one that beat more fiercely for those I could love here.
His goodness is most evident in small ways, a friend with four children, all the same ages as our own, including a boy just older than our Locke would have been. He serves as a gentle reminder of the stages and milestones we would have been anticipating. Also a friend who has an older son whose birthday is the same as our due date was. He serves as a reminder of that joyous anticipation we had and the love for someone we don't know yet. These two boys together remind me of Locke in the best of ways, that even though I didn't know him or her, that Locke will not be forgotten, which was one of my greatest fears as we lost him or her. Locke is beyond fine, resting in God's presence and knowing only the most complete love. We are thankful for that too.
We pray we continue to thrive, whether that includes another child or not. We seek God's purpose for our lives and pray that we listen with open ears and hearts to His plan for our family. We praise Him for the blessings and the sorrow, for we know He with us and for us through both seasons of life and everywhere in between.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
I started running in September.
There. I admitted it.
It wasn't something I wanted to do, but it was something I very much needed. Our miscarriage left me desperate for change, change mentally, change physically, and change in my overall attitude. I literally told myself, "If you aren't pregnant you may as well become a runner."
I am not sure how that logic works, but it did. I fought the logistics for awhile. I told myself it couldn't be done because kids and heat and effort. At the end of each day though, no matter how much I walked or what little exercises I did around the house, it wasn't enough. I have been carrying doubt and what I termed as leftover Johnny weight, but, honestly, some of that weight was gained after he was delivered. At least 15 pounds, if not more.
Thus, I began. I went slowly and cautiously. I took my walks with a double stroller and added in intervals of jogging. I added in longer jogging stretches. I began waking up early to jog/lumber/run by myself. I listened to my body for distance each day rather than what my preconceptions thought was a good run. I began running longer stretches and actually began to crave it. I added in weights and missed running on the days I didn't do it. I found a few videos (check out YouTube's The Fit Law) that totally met my workout needs on days it was too rainy or Matt wasn't here in the mornings. I stretched longer and longer runs. I didn't talk about it online because I was afraid I would give it up. It was easier to slide it casually into conversation in person than have accountability in "print".
I saw change. Change in my body. Change in my skin. Change in my sleeping habits. Change in my overall health. Change in my motivation. Change in my ability to process. All for the better. It's, for the most part, me and the pavement and whatever issues or concerns or prayers I want to bring along.
It's not easy. It took awhile to be consistent and to work up to longer runs. It took a lot of effort, but every grudge filled step was worth it. Most of my runs are between 2.5&3.5 miles. I set a goal for myself at New Years to run 5 miles in a single run before the end of January. I attempted it today and told myself each step of the way that I was in control. That this goal meant nothing to anyone else but myself. That this was all for me and nobody else had any say in what I did or how far I took it. I got motivated at the end and ran 5.85.
Then I felt like I was going to throw up and asked Matt to check and make sure I still had legs and a skull.
I am blessed to have a husband that cares enough for my health that he encourages me to get out for my workouts. It is helpful to have his support. While I would like to work up to pushing a stroller for a 5k, I wouldn't have gotten this far physically and emotionally without the time to myself. I don't feel guilty for making this time. Usually it's before the kids get up and even when it isn't, it teaches them an important lesson that Mommy's health is important too. It makes me a better mom, not just because I have had that quiet time for myself, but also because I have more energy and I'm more likely to do activities with them. We have also been getting out more as a family. Some evenings involve long walks and races and enjoying time together. All for the better again!
I have new goals, none of which involve paying for a race or running anything that ends in "-athon". I still have work to do in the weight department, but I like the progress I've made and that it is with changes I can manage. I'm not punishing myself by forbidding foods that I love. Life still needs to be lived! I get to go shopping...in my old wardrobe that hasn't seen the light of day for four years!
It's a big milestone, or five of them, but I'm looking forward to seeing where the health benefits go from here.
Monday, January 11, 2016
Yesterday we joined some friends at a local burger place that has an outdoor play area for the kids. It was a decent day, the food was great, and the company better. One of the kids we were with adores Johnny and takes him off to play with him any chance she gets. I love her heart for him. As we supervised from across the lawn, we took notice of the other kids running around and all took turns counting to make sure everyone was accounted for. After some time, MacKenzie came over to me and said that a pair of older boys (9 or 10 years old) said that "Johnny walked funny".
It's a first.
Our first of many.
Things have been said off hand to me, by adults. But this was the first time the girls heard a comment made by someone young. It will happen again. It will happen to our faces. It will happen behind our backs. It will be innocent comments like this one. It will also be not so nice insults.
Honestly, I'm surprised it took this long for our first comment like this. And I'm thankful for such an easy comment to work our way into. I pass no judgement on the boys. I wasn't there to hear what they had to say, how it was said, nor did I know what they meant. And, like I told MacKenzie, Johnny DOES walk funny. Because he is learning how to walk and he is unstable. Are there different ways the boys could have worded that comment to be kinder? Yes. But, I don't think it was a taunt. Not this time.
I'm thankful because my girl knew enough in her heart that, what those boys said didn't sit right with her and she made the decision to come tell me. We had a conversation about it being ok to observe differences between people, but ensuring that we are being kind about it. We discussed that she did the right thing, listening to her heart to come tell me, and that there will be times I ask her not to worry about it, times that I address it between the two of us, and other times that I talk to the others directly. I am thankful because we are equipping our kids with language that allows them to ask genuine questions out of a thirst for knowledge and encourages them to voice their concerns over injustices (both legitimate and embellished) that they observe.
I was caught off guard by the whole interaction, not expecting, as I stuffed my face with burger and brisket cheese fries to deal with a milestone of a different kind. But I wasn't sad or upset about what happened. Look at all the victories. The reason the boys even noticed that Johnny was walking funny is because he was trying to walk. The reason he was trying to walk was to play on a typical playground. The reason he was out on the playground was to keep up with friends who adore him and beg me to let him play. The reason we were out to lunch was to spend time with friends who are (along with countless others) walking this journey right alongside us. How could I be upset?
But the biggest part of that, is the fact that he was in a place where he could be observed and interacted with. We put him out there, exposing him to the world, waiting to see what he would do, wanting him to experience as typical of a day as possible. It's a fantastic thing! And part of putting him out there is risking that he may get hurt. He may fall. He may eat dirt. He may struggle. He may fail. He may be "made fun of". For our family, that is part of growing and learning. I would never shy away from a chance for him. Does he need support and modifications sometimes? Absolutely. But there are times when he needs to experience a struggle or hardship for himself. For every offhand comment that is made towards him, there is a chance for an older sister to mature and learn. For every fall, there were stairs or ladders that were conquered. For every fail, there are days of marked progress, small progress, or even just a single step in the right direction.
I refuse to build castle walls and dig moats around my kids to protect them from the world that exists out there. Instead I work to equip them with the tools they need- strength, courage, bravery, understanding, and communication. I make sure they know they are loved and cherished and send them on their way.
This was the first of many. There will be harder ones to come. I'm praying for each moment that comes our way. I'm praising God for the great moments we've already had and the many more I know are in store.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
One of the first questions we got when we began announcing our fourth pregnancy was whether we desired a boy or a girl. Just as with our three, it never mattered. When my stepfather asked, I began to respond with my old fallback, "It doesn't matter as long as he or she is healthy." Then I remembered our boy, how worrisome and fretful his pregnancy was, how erratic his health is, and my realization since having him that even healthy makes no difference. So I stopped myself mid statement and responded "It doesn't matter, God will equip us to care for whomever He needs us to."
I didn't know that a mere two weeks later, I would be done caring for our child.
It's difficult in so many ways. It feels abstract because of the lack of physical proof and evidence that we had our child with us. Two pregnancy tests are all we have to indicate that he or she was here. But I know that he or she was real, the baby's impact on my body was evident before I even missed my cycle. He or she altered me, causing me to feel woozy for hours each day and gave me increased exhaustion. But the outside world doesn't know that, even Matt, who was as ecstatic and excited as I was, knew our child as a concept rather than a physical being. Because of this, I find grief difficult. Mothers that have lost pregnancies of their own can surely relate, but many others understand that we are sad without comprehending the sense of emptiness that follows the physical presence of that child being removed. I knew he or she was within me, just as sure as if I had held that baby in my arms.
Grief has been challenging as I celebrate others, rejoicing for their pregnancies and new children. I don't covet their children, just as I have never coveted the expansion of families around us for the past 27 months of our trying to expand ours. It is harder now though. Again, not because I covet their child or want their child, but because I miss mine so much. I think about how I would be moving into elastic waist clothing, would be saving up for teeny diapers, and would be dreadfully (and blissfully) nauseous for large portions of the day. As soon as we saw our positive tests, I began to think about the best moments of new life- the first movements especially when you aren't sure if they count or not, the large belly that becomes a clear sign to the outside world that you are growing life, and labor and delivery which peaks with the child leaving your womb and you feel the weight of him or her in your arms for the first time. I fell asleep imagining how he or she would feel in my arms.
When it became fairly evident that we would not be holding our child in our arms here, I prayed so many things. I began to plead with God, asking Him to protect our child because I wanted him or her to feel love. In that moment of despair, I felt what I can only describe as still. It wasn't peace or comfort because I very much fretted and cried over what I knew was happening, but God stilled my heart and gave me understanding over my plea. He assured me that my prayer for my child to feel loved was a guarantee that He could make and one that was more assured than with my other children. My child was delivered from my womb directly to His side, to His presence, and would always know His love alone. This dear one, who was so desired, would never know the fear, pain, or anguish of this world. Selfishly, I wanted (and still want) this baby to know how much we loved, desired, and cared for him or her. But God's love is enough.
We move, not on, but forward and carry his or her memory with us. The grief comes and go and changes depending on the day and the cause. An offhand statement from one person may cut differently than a similar offhand statement from someone else. Matt was left bewildered with a sobbing wife yesterday as I just proclaimed how much I missed him or her. I treasure my three, and praise God for each of my days with my four.
We named our baby Locke. It had been our girl list since we were expecting Keegan and, seeing as it can be a boy name as well, felt it appropriate for this cherished one. Locke means a stronghold, I gather resolve from the knowledge of Locke's presence in the stronghold of our God and the knowledge that we will meet Locke there one day. In 2 Samuel it is written "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior- "
We lean into God as our stronghold, our rock, and the provider of our salvation. Our time with Locke was brief, but he or she will not be forgotten by our family.
Friday, August 28, 2015
There is a campaign out there to encourage more companies to include kids with special needs in their advertising. I'm not going to link their name because on one hand, I appreciate what they are doing.
I get it. I do. I want inclusion for my son and other kids with special needs in all aspects of life. I completely agree with toy companies including kids of all needs playing in their advertisements because that is one way of showing adaptability of products. I encourage movies and tv shows that appropriately include kids and adults with special needs because everyone needs representation and to identify with film, it's one way to understand ourselves and everyone likes entertainment!
On the other hand, I'm not sure how I feel about this specific project. At the end of the day, these are advertisers who are trying to make money, and their choice will be the most beautiful and least shocking of all kids with special needs. These kids will be made up, dressed up, frosted and filtered, and altered as the objective of selling more product is the goal of all campaigns. And I'm ok with that, sort of...
At the end of the day, I could care less if anyone else thinks my kid(s) are beautiful or handsome or cute. Do I dress my kids in certain outfits or clothes in order to look cute or look nice? Of course. Do I lament when in an outfit doesn't elicit "likes" and "comments" from others? Absolutely not. Their clothes may often be conventional, but I have to like them and, now that the girls have a very strong voice, they have to like them too. My questions to the girls when they put together some wild outfit are- Do you like it? Are you comfortable? Is everything covered? That is what matters. There are times I say more about what they wear, for special occasions or nice events, but even then, it is about looking near and put together. Their looks are at the bottom of the list of what I want feedback from others on.
That is why this campaign bothers me so deeply. Rather than knowing my kids are placed in a product ad that is inherently superficial, in all cases, not just inclusion based cases, I want to know what people's perceptions are beyond that. I want people to question whether my kids try hard, use the intelligence they have, are kind, and love others. I want people to report back on how MacKenzie shared about her love of science, how Keegan shared with a friend, or how Johnny learned a new word from a friend. I want a stranger to comment on how interactive Johnny is rather than how he is a "special sweet angel". I want my friends to provide opportunities for inclusion at play dates (I have great inclusive friends by the way), for inclusion at schools to be the norm when appropriate, and for accommodations to be made to help all people who need a little extra assistance. I want a campaign that is focused on changing our schools so the needs of all kids, from the highest functioning to the lowest can get an education tailored to their level. I want my Facebook feed filled with demands for resources for classroom teachers, administrative staff, and educators and therapists that are helping kids learn livable skills. I want a hashtag that urges people to change their hearts, to be kind, understanding, and encouraging to kids and adults with special needs, rather than just being ok with how they look on the outside. I spend time telling my girls that beauty is subjective, that everyone has aspects to their physical body that is beauty, but that real worth comes from inside of them, so how can I promote a campaign that is about little more than a picture in a magazine or on a billboard? My son and my daughters are worth so much more than a photoshopped smile, regardless of their needs. This campaign speaks about changing advertising, but I see it as molding and changing the most "typical" looking kids into the societal norms that are already standard.
And really, there is nothing wrong with that. That is what modeling and advertising is, but I caution anyone who thinks they are changing anything because a kid with special needs is included in one season's print ads because of social media pressure.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
On Monday, Mac started school. It was a day she, and her parents, looked forward to for weeks. She carefully picked out her backpack, lunchbox, first day of school outfit, and requested a family trip to IHOP to commemorate her next step. I could be sad, I could cry, I could voice my frustration that "it all just happened too fast". I could. But I honestly didn't feel that way. I began to feel a little like everything is happening too fast, but our journey with her isn't over, it's just different now. I was too excited to see her move on to school to be sad. And my heart spilled over with pride to see her excitement and confidence.
As she approached the curb from the car line, she hesitated once. She turned back to the car, momentarily forgetting what her next step was. I knew she would be fine walking into the school and finding her classroom, we had toured and gone over what she should do several times. This was new however, and her looking back, was a normal sign of needed support. I didn't hesitate however, Matt and I have her a big smile from the car and out of my passenger seat I waved her on, silently urging her toward the door. She smiled back, turned, and walked in to the building.
The reason I don't feel sad or wistful is because this is what I have been preparing her for over the past years. We have known for some time, that we would begin with mainstream schooling for our kids. As we raised her, we worked on the skills she would need to be successful in this setting. We worked to create scenarios where she could test responsibility and independence under our guidance. As appropriate and when safe, we allow, and encourage, her to push the boundaries of her limitations, to see what she is capable of. All of this was to create a confident little girl who walked into the school building by herself AND to prepare her for obstacles she will face in her world as it grows beyond the confines of campuses in our neighborhood.
The other day, when spending time with friends of mine, we mentioned the scene in Finding Nemo when the baby turtle, Squirt, gets lost in the current. As Marlin freaks out, the older turtle holds him back, voicing a desire to give the little guy a chance to figure it out. It's one of my favorite scenes in any Disney movie. A friend turned to me and said that the scene was "me", that the scene I mentioned described my parenting. It was an honor to hear because that is what Matt and I both try to do. To never place our kids in danger, but to allow them to grow when and explore when the situation allows. There are times we need to hold their hands and times when they can run ahead of us. There are times when we rescue them off the top of the playground and times when we push them off the diving board. There are times we guide them through friendships and relationships and times they need to figure it out themselves. Finding that balance for our family has been crucial in how we parent.
So Monday was our biggest test yet. She has her own days, her own memories, and large amounts of her own time now. We will be there to support, guide, and teach her along the way, we simply have more help from this point on with teachers, counsellors, and new friends. She WILL stumble along the way, but that's part of the process. We are so proud of her and look forward, expectantly, to hearing everything she wants to share. With a smile and a wave, we send her on her way!