Life with an open heart

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I live pretty much with my heart on my sleeve. It’s not the world’s most comfortable place to keep such a thing. With my emotions exposed, I walk this life with immense vulnerability. When something happens- a purposefully cruel message, challenging conversation with a boss or co-worker, someone isn’t kind to my child, or when the ultimate betrayals occurred with my ex-husband,  I have felt these emotional responses longer than what I have always perceived was normal.

I vividly recall having been told by those closest to me not to feel so much, not cry so hard, to keep it together. I’ve been bullied by people that were supposed to accept and love me to “drop it” or “dead it” or repeatedly asked “why do you care so much.”

With my 37th birthday looming, I’ve done some deep, introspective work lately. I’ve meditated more- sometimes for 5 minutes in my car at lunchtime, sometimes pulling over to catch my breath after a rough day, and have written many unpublished pieces  exploring who I am to those I love. In this work I’ve been trying to identify things that I want to improve about myself. How to be a better mother, wife, stepmother, daughter, friend. While exploring these concepts, I keep circling around this concept that I wish other people didn’t affect me as much. Other people have recently tried to throw some of their misery and fear in my lap, and in turn I’ve cried, felt awful and generally just been sad. If only my heart wasn’t so open. If only I wasn’t this vulnerable to what these people said or thought, I’ve said to myself many times.

This morning, upon reflection, I’ve realized that I’m done apologizing for my vulnerability. I’m proud of how much I love other people and how much I try my best to lead with a pure, open heart. I’m proud that I am passionate and emotional. There are certainly destructive paths I’ve gone down to quiet my resentment and pain. I’ve lashed out at others to hide my shame and enormous disappointment. Frankly, I’m done with these uglier ways of treating myself. I’m done with fighting against my nature of living emotionally and I’m tired of the shame of what’s happened to me in  my life. I’m tired of be ashamed of my lack of relationship with my father, and what happened in my first marriage. I’m proud of how I still have an openness to love and the ability to feel things.

I do need to recognize the beautiful good that exists while I process tougher emotions. This perspective is so critical to anyone’s well-being (thank you for the amazing reminder this morning Haley). But I want us more emotional people, who feel that our hearts are sewn on the outside of our clothing, to stop with the self loathing. We need to stop with trying to cover up or apologize for feeling our way through this one life we all have to live.

There will be others trying to shed their own pain near us all, and it’s up to us how we handle that. Do we handle it with our own defensiveness? Or do we find empathy for what they’re experiencing instead. I’m working on that second part at this very moment, and in the meantime I will continue to accept who I am. Bleeding heart and all.

Sending you truth tellers lots of love and hopefully open-hearted inspiration,

Eloise

Dear Parents

As I sipped my coffee early this morning, I casually scrolled through my Facebook page. Buried amongst the copious amounts of baby pictures and political posts was an article from a local Idaho paper. The article was regarding a father’s Facebook post detailing the senseless and cruel bullying his son endures because he has Treacher Collins Syndrome. Dan, Jackson’s father, details what his son has lived through- the intensely cruel name calling, the brutal physical abuse, and he painfully describes that this abuse has driven his eight year old son to consider ending his life.
 
My heart is broken. I sat quietly this morning for the better part of an hour, tears rolling down my face. The emotional reaction wasn’t only because I worry this will happen to my child, it’s also because if a child with TCS feels pain – we all feel pain because one of our tribe has been brutally hurt.  I don’t know Jackson’s parents and I’ve only now written to his father.  But, when I study Jackson’s sweet smile, his perfectly shaped face, I see Landon.
 
Syndromes like TCS have incredibly similar facial features so that we may realize that we are one tribe. Each child belongs to us to help support, love and make sure that if they endure pain at the hands of others that they hear from us that they are loved.
 
Last weekend, while visiting family, we went to an art fair. Booths lined the roads with trinkets, clothing, paintings and games. Our girls immediately saw baskets of prizes and rushed to get in line to spin a prize wheel hosted by a local company. As we approached, a boy seated next to the prize table locked onto Landon’s face and  grimaced. His arm stretched out before him and his finger pointed directly at her. “What’s wrong with her eyes? Do you see them?!” he yelled toward his father. His father immediately grabbed his arm and twisted the child toward him, leaning in for the lesson, reprimand, nothing that we could hear. I stood behind our girls and ushered them up to the table. I helped navigate the choice of fidget spinner, glasses or lollipop while Eric went over and introduced himself to the father. While Eric worked to create empathy and share kindness with the seemingly embarrassed dad, the boy was wailing from whatever his dad had said. We left quickly afterward, but I turned around, trying to catch the boys’ eyes to smile- an attempt to show him we were just another family. They had moved and we didn’t see them again. As I read Jackson’s story and recall the finger pointing at Landon, it’s easy to fear the world in which these children live. What I choose instead is to try to teach, to ask more of the parents I know and who read my stories here.
 
Parents, I implore you alongside Jackson’s family to sit this weekend and talk to your children. Many of you have emailed me the beautiful stories of conversations you have had with your children. You have generously shared comments your kids have made about wanting to be Landon’s friend, about how they plan to help change their classroom or school. But here I am asking again, because these conversations are required of us regularly as parents. Not once and done, but as a part of our running dialogue.
 
Tell your children Jackson’s story, show them photos of Landon and talk about how she loves Trolls and Moana and hilariously does the chicken dance when music plays. Tell them how these completely normal children with kind and open hearts are sometimes treated like they don’t belong. They are treated as outsiders simply because their cheeks rest lower than theirs. Their eyes are smaller and they may need help hearing with hearing aids.  But these same children love and want to be loved just like your children do- just like we all do.
 
Ask your children if they know any children in their school that sit by themselves. Ask if there are children that have any differences that they’ve noticed. Hearing aids or different sized ears, and listen to the stories they may tell you. Teach them ways to show kindness. Describe what actions they can take to live a life of inclusiveness. If you and your family haven’t read Wonder, buy it here. Encourage your children to read it and talk to you about how it makes them feel, what have they learned, and let their natural kindness lead the conversations.
 
Children are not born to see differences. No one in Landon’s three years of school has yet to even notice something different about her except that they want a headband just like hers. One dazzling child has exclaimed that she wants bahas too. They learn to notice differences and judge them because we aren’t engaging as parents on how to understand them, nor are we giving them the tools on how to respond with kindness and love. We avoid these conversations because we think it will be too hard to navigate or assume they teach this stuff at school. I am asking you now to change that today.
 
I know there are a million things on our plates as parents. I know that the world is also a very scary place in so many ways right now. But this, this is also important. These are all of our children.  Look at us, hear our stories, imagine yourselves as the parents of sweet Jackson. And ask yourself, how can you help us in our mission to change the world? How will you teach kindness to your family
 
Below is Dan’s Facebook post:
 
“My heart is in pieces right now…my soul feels like it’s ripping from my chest…this beautiful young man my son Jackson has to endure a constant barrage of derogatory comments and ignorance like I’ve never witnessed. He is called ugly and freak and monster on a daily basis by his peers at school. He talks about suicide…he’s not quite 8! He says he has no friends and everyone hates him. Kids throw rocks at him and push him shouting these horrific words…please please take a minute and imagine if this were your child. Take a minute to educate your children about special needs. Talk to them about compassion and love for our fellow man. His condition is called Treacher Collins. Maybe even look it up. He’s endured horrific surgery and has several more in the coming years. Anyway…I could go on…but please educate your children. Please…share this. This shouldn’t be happening…to anyone.”
 
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And to Dan, as I wrote you earlier this morning- I see you, I hear you and I am sending you more love and continued strength. Jackson- you are one handsome devil. I would love nothing more than to meet you one day and cannot wait to write a letter with my children and send it to you. You are all loved very much.
 
xoxo,
Eloise

 

Five.

Dear Landon,

Today, you turned five. FIVE! This morning as you climbed in my bed at 6am sharp, and snuggled your little body next to mine, I hoped aloud that you would always want to start your days that way.

This past year has been full of incredible experiences and seminal moments for you and our new family. You have surpassed toddler-hood and entered kid-dom, yet you will still excitedly grab older toys or books and proclaim that they’re from “when you were a baby.” This year you’ve continued to conquer making new friends and now keeping old friends. Your burgeoning confidence has emerged, propelling you forward in your little classroom. You began playing soccer, learned to swim, and are mastering the balance beam at gymnastics. You fell more in love with Star Wars and discovered there might be another Disney character besides Elsa to love. You still carry small toys with you most everywhere you go- from Troll dolls to My Little Ponies, Moana and sometimes C3PO. Yet still, your love and devotion to Lenny the lamb is paramount.

Most of all, you and I celebrated our love of two others this year. You once again became someone’s daughter- an adoring stepdaughter to Eric. And of course, you formally became a sister. I say “formally”because you and Anna have behaved as such since you first met one another. You love so easily, sweet girl, and our growing little family is also made to laugh and delight in your jokes, dance moves and hilarious stories.

As I similarly have reflected in each of your birthday letters thus far, your spirit and love have inspired me to become active in helping raise awareness for rare syndromes and hearing loss. This gift, one inspired by your spirit and beauty, has made me realize my true self. Your determination, courage, intelligence and quick wit prove to me and countless others that people should never underestimate you or anyone else with a syndrome or hearing loss. You proudly maneuver through everything with your bahas and operate them almost all on your own now. I am so proud to be your mother.

May you always continue to be as unique, generous, loving and determined. You are my light. You are my joy.

“I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart.”

I love you, sweet girl. Always. 

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This is Treacher Collins Syndrome: Meet Logan!

Treacher Collins has become this incredible way in which I’ve been able to meet people all over the world. Facebook and Instagram have been these wonderful mechanisms for connecting me with families who have changed me, helped me, lifted me up. I cannot wait for Landon to eventually connect with some of these amazing children and adults. These families’ stories give me the opportunity to say “me too!!” excitedly and our beautiful children are just one way we’re able to connect on so much. What’s amazing about the family I am thrilled to introduce you to is that we connected through a mutual friend and our children were born just a month apart.

The next family within our Treacher Collins tribe that I’d like to introduce you is Logan’s family.

  1. Tell us about your family!

Hi!  My name is Nicole Killeen.  I’ve been married to my husband, Matt for 6 years.  We met in college and got married 4 years  later.  Matt is a police officer by day and a volunteer fireman by night.  He enjoys boating, the beach and spending time relaxing by our pool.  I am a high school Business Education teacher in our area.   I enjoy spending time reading and relaxing at the pool and beach.  Our son Logan was born on August 30, 2012.  He is such an outgoing, loving, FUNNY little boy.  Logan will do ANYTHING for a laugh and loves spending time with Mommy, Daddy, and his 2 dogs (labs) – Bailey and Jameson.  He absolutely LOVES trains.  He enjoys when he gets to go to the train station and watch trains go by.  He also loves firetrucks and police cars and wants to be a “train driver and fireman” when he gets older!

  1. Did you know your child had TreacherCollins Syndrome (TCS) before he/she were born?

We did not know.  They thought they saw a cleft palate at my 20 week ultrasound but they brought me back in and did not see the cleft.  Logan was born WITHOUT a cleft palate but we wonder if they started to see some characteristics at this point.

  1. What has your experience with TCS taught you as a parent?

It has taught us to be strong.  It has taught us that God only gives us as much as we can handle.  Most importantly, we have learned that every child is unique and beautiful in their own way.  Logan has a wonderful personality and makes us laugh daily.  He is a character to say the least. He will do ANYTHING to make you laugh.  He always has a smile on his face which keeps a smile on ours even on the hardest days!  Our 4 year old is a true inspiration to my husband and I.

  1. What is the most common misperception about TCS, or what would you like others to know about the syndrome?

That these kids are different and are “sick.”  Logan is a NORMAL 4 year old boy with just smaller facial features and a speech delay.  He enjoys life just like every other 4 year old boy.  He plays, eats and learns like everyone else his age.  He just has to do it with a hearing aide on!  He enjoys playing and learning just like all his friends.  These children are FULL of life and live life to the fullest – they may have features that look a little different than other kids (smaller ears) but they sure are an inspiration to everyone around them.

  1. What is one thing you’re most proud of so far in being a parent of a child with TCS?

We are proud at how strong and tough he is!  He had his first surgery (Jaw distraction) when he was only 3 months old.  He has been a tough cookie ever since. You would never know when he has a simple fever (yes he runs a normal 103 fever)  and he acts 100% normal.  During Christmas break last year he fell and needed multiple stitches.  The doctor was shocked that Logan didn’t even flinch when he started stitching. He just laid there and didn’t make a peep.  The doctor said he’s the only 4 year old he has dealt with that didn’t even flinch!  He sure if tough and teaches us all about life and how to be strong!

  1. How do you feel about Wonder– the book and the upcoming movie? And do you have any special plans to see the film in November?

We personally can’t wait!  We actually did a lesson on movies and entertainment in my high school Sports and Entertainment Marketing class.  During this lesson we look at different trailers for different movies. I introduce my students to TCS and Logan during the first week of class.  During this particular lesson I reminded them about Logan and the struggles we go through on a daily basis – then showed them the trailer.  This class was my crazy, talkative class – but during this trailer EVERY SINGLE STUDENT was silent.  They listened, watched and then clapped and cheered at the end.  It was an amazing reaction that I will NEVER forget.  This made me even more excited to go watch the movie.  My best friend and I plan to go see the movie the day it releases with our husbands.  We are counting down the days!

  1. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

We’ve had a crazy few years.  During my pregnancy, my husband Matt was involved in a car accident while on duty (as a police officer.)  He broke his pelvis and tail bone.  He left the hospital and had to do rehab before he was able to come home due to learning how to walk again and using a walker and wheel chair.  He also broke his hands so he had a special walker he had to use.  It was a VERY long few months.  I had to leave my job and take care of him 100%.  At this point, I was about half way through my pregnancy so I was pregnant, having to teach my husband how to walk again.  It took him 3 months to learn how to walk again and then finally get the okay to drive.  He got the all clear to drive approximately 3 weeks before I went into labor.  Luckily, he was able to drive me to the hospital when I went into labor.  We smiled and thought – after all we’ve gone through  the past few months its all behind us and we are ready for our baby boy to be in our hands.  Unfortunately, when Logan James was born it didn’t go as smoothly.  When they looked at me and said something was wrong I thought my world was over.  I didn’t think anything could go wrong – we already had my husband almost die when I was pregnant – this was the light at the end of the tunnel – there can’t be anything wrong. …. and then Logan was taken to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with my husband at 10 hours old and I had to stay at our local hospital.  It was tough – but looking now – it was all worth it in the end.  He is a special little boy – and he’s ALL ours!  He has taught us more about life than anyone ever could!

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Thank you Nicole, you and your family are such beautiful examples or love. Sharing your story will no doubt inspire so many others.

Sending you so much love.

Xoxo,

Eloise

This is Treacher Collins Syndrome: Meet Beth and Drew (and their family)

When Beth sent me this post the other day, I stopped in my tracks as I read it. I then proceeded to re-read it 6-7 times over the next day. What floored me was how similar Beth’s story of Drew’s birth was to Landon’s birth story. My husband Eric and I marveled at how many similarities there are in here between stories, hopes, fears that we both share.

Beth’s courage and open hearted writing is exactly what I wanted for this series. I deeply want to connect anyone that reads this blog with the beautifully raw, real and awesome stories of families touched by and living with Treacher Collins Syndrome. I want each of you to walk into the theater in November or curl up with the book Wonder and carry these families in your hearts as you see, hear and read Auggie’s story.

Settle in and ready your hearts for Beth’s tale. She and her husband are sharing their story with vulnerability and in doing so they are teaching us so much about love and kindness. I am honored to share their story today and more excited that you get to read it.

1.       Tell us about your family!

(This is Beth): My family – a 3 ring circus!  Andy and I have been married coming up on 15 years, and we have 2 athletic and energetic sons – Michael, who is 14, and Drew who turns 13 in August, and who has Treacher Collins Syndrome.  We also have cats and dogs, and a penchant for getting ourselves involved in too many sports and spending a lot of time on sidelines supporting each other.

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2.       Did you know your child had Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS) before he/she were born?

This is a tough one.  I have TCS, a milder form, but no doctor ever put all of the pieces together.  I wear hearing aids because of the undeveloped middle ear bones, had jaw surgery as a teenager, wore glasses … and Andy and I talked about Drew maybe having to wear hearing aids, because my dad did also.  But no one ever uttered “TCS” to us.

I ended up having a c-section because Drew was super happy where he was and I was 2 weeks late.   The silence in the delivery room when they took him out was something I hope no other parent ever has to experience.  The delivery room nurse said, (and this is an exact quote) “You have a boy.  There is something wrong with him – he doesn’t have ears – and we don’t know what else”.  And then they whisked him away.  That moment in movies where the baby gets placed on your chest and you bond?  It stayed in the movies.  So we waited.  Almost a full day after he was born, we had very few answers and then a geneticist came to see us in our room.  The geneticist, along with several medical students, stood and looked critically at Drew and said, “Oh!  He has Treacher Collins Syndrome.  And he gets it from you!” (And pointed right at me.)  I was stunned.  I didn’t know what to say, so I think I asked how he knew that, to which he responded, “You have a small lower jaw and your left eye is droopy.”  I turned to my amazing husband and said, “Does my left eye droop?” (because that was where I was mentally – I then KNEW I was responsible for Drew being born the way he was), and Andy responded, “Baby, I always thought it was cute!”

I try to talk about the dark place I was in as a result of the words from the geneticist, and if I tell someone the story, the emphasis always goes on the fact that Andy was in it with me – that he saw my “flaws” as beautiful.  We had genetic testing done, and the TCS came from my father’s side of the family.  It all made sense – my hearing loss, my dad’s hearing loss – the small “Calhoun Family Chin” – but it didn’t make it easier.  It made it harder because I felt directly responsible for the challenges Drew would face in his life.  I still feel that way to some extent, although those waves of guilt don’t drown me anymore.  They wash over me in moments when I feel helpless and angry, but then I look at who Drew is and I have to thank the universe for giving him the personality he has because he can deal with anything.

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 3.       What has your experience with TCS taught you as a parent?

That most of us, as humans and as parents, don’t know how to effectively and compassionately teach our children how to acknowledge and talk about people with differences.  I think most parents of able bodied kids have the right intention, but so many times, when children are staring and curious about Drew’s lack of ears or hearing aids (bone conduction aids that snap into his head), they stare and don’t know what to say.  Parents seem to rush to turn their children away and say “Don’t stare”, which then only makes the questioning child more curious and more confused.  We so often deal with the staring, the questions, the looks … that it is our reality.  But pretending it doesn’t exist by shepherding your child away from mine makes your child think that there is something “wrong” with mine.  As Drew has gotten older, we have learned how to address it with other kids and how to break someone’s stare.  We have a plethora of answers to questions and know that for young kids especially, it isn’t about cruelty – it’s about curiosity.   “How can he hear if he doesn’t have ears?”  And that is a legitimate question!  But telling them not to look – that just puts my kid into a box he doesn’t belong in.

So, as a rambling answer to the question – it has taught me that sometimes, despite my best intentions as a human to not make people who are different feel different – for many years, I did exactly that.  We have tried so hard to raise our boys to be compassionate and understanding, but a large part of that means acknowledging that differences exist and learning to celebrate the ways that people deal with those differences.  Different doesn’t mean lesser, and that is often hard to remember.

4.  What do you want people to know about TCS?

Wow – this is a tough one.  Appearances are deceiving.  It’s not quite ironic, but it is Alanis Morisette-esque:  Drew doesn’t have ears, but he can hear more about what is in someone’s voice than anyone else I know.  TCS kids are compassionate and beautiful beings who are so in tune with others emotions and experiences – primarily because they are so acutely aware of what it feels to be different.

That the syndrome is a part of my child, and myself, but it isn’t who I am or who Drew is.  Yet many people will define him that way because he looks different.

That TCS affects the way he looks – not the way he thinks or feels or functions.  I think that is one of the biggest misconceptions about craniofacial disorders – that it impacts one’s ability to think or process.  It doesn’t.  The bones in his face didn’t grow the way they should have, but his brain did.  He’s smart as a whip, as many other TCS kids are, and people underestimate his cognitive ability because he looks different.

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5.       What is one thing you’re most proud of so far in being a parent of a child with TCS?

Drew is outwardly fearless.  He loves sports, and he loves acting, and he isn’t afraid to be in front of anyone.  He is compassionate and caring, but relentlessly sassy and smart-mouthed (in a good way).

But that’s enough about him … let me talk about my other son here.  Michael is as affected by TCS as much as Drew is.  No, he doesn’t have it, but so much of our lives is touched by TCS that it is impossible to ignore the impact it has had on all of us.  After we had Drew, we struggled with the decision to have more children because I felt so guilty about the TCS.  So, we became foster parents and were gifted Michael, who came to live with us when he was 3.  We are so lucky to have found him, because he is the perfect compliment to Drew and to us.  Michael is 14, and while he is deep in the throes of being a slightly selfish teenager, he is so acutely aware of how singled out Drew is when we go places.  He gets angry on Drew’s behalf, and doesn’t understand why people are “so annoying” (see the teenager emerging?). He sees the stares and gets angry and defensive and protective.   But more than that, Michael has had to watch hours and hours and hours of Drew being first – for appointments, for conversations, for tears, for so many things.  He goes to school on days Drew has surgery and waits, anxious and scared, until we call the school to tell him that Drew is okay.  He knows more about medicine and surgery than he should, and he asks mature and amazing questions.  Andy and I have to work hard to make sure that he gets the time he deserves because he sacrifices so much to make sure Drew has what he needs.

So I love my boys and I love our life, and I am so proud of how they both see the world through the eyes of compassion and love.

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6.       How do you feel about Wonder– the book and the upcoming movie? And do you have any special plans to see the film in November?

I’m scared.  I’m so excited because I love the actors and I love the book and I love our life with TCS.  But I can’t watch the trailer without sobbing, because I see Auggie in Drew (or is it that I see Drew in Auggie?)  We have built a world full of love and protection, and now we are opening ourselves to the world.  People might say “That kid looks like Auggie!” or reduce him to just what they have seen on the screen.  But maybe I’m wrong – maybe the people who see it will be more compassionate and loving … I don’t know.   Andy is really excited about it, and Drew is too.  Both Drew and Michael read the book in class in elementary school, and that is another paragraph for another time.  But I think my mama bear instinct is coming out and I am just worrying unnecessarily.

But my biggest concern?  I’m an English teacher, and I beg the universe – please do the book justice!!!  Please honor the characters and the message and make it spectacular!  I trust that Julia Roberts wouldn’t make a crappy movie that didn’t honor the book.

7.       Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Drew is a HUGE Drew Brees fan (from the New Orleans Saints).  I wrote to Drew Brees when he played a preseason game in Baltimore and the date coincided with Drew’s birthday, and asked if he could meet him.  He said yes. (Well, it was a slightly more complicated process than that…)  It was the highlight of Drew’s life, and it raised the bar for birthday presents WAYYYYY to high.   It was one of the first real times that I thought about asking for something special for Drew because of the fact that Drew deals with so much and asks for so little.  So, we got to go to Ravens Stadium for the Ravens/Saints Preseason game, and it was truly remarkable.  Drew Brees was amazing, and the fact that he took a little time out of his life to recognize the strength and challenges our son has – well, that was priceless.  I was glad I asked for something like that for Drew.  I can’t change a lot about his life, but I could ask for something little in return.

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On that note, I must say this.  It is so easy, as a parent of children who are different, to forget to take care of ourselves first.  I’m not good at that, so it is somewhat hypocritical to suggest, but so few people know what the daily challenges are.  Andy and I have struggled in our marriage because of the emotional and financial strain this can put on a family, and I am grateful to have a partner who shares the struggles and triumphs with me.  I am grateful to have a child (Michael) who doesn’t care that Drew is different (except to protect him).  I am grateful for this little life we have, but have to remind people – it isn’t always Facebook fabulous.  We have to make hard decisions about our child’s medical care that will affect them for the rest of their lives, and we do so after spending hours and hours researching and asking questions and trying to learn.  We struggle and cry and yell and scream, and we oftentimes forget to take care of ourselves.  Just because I don’t bring it up doesn’t mean I don’t need to talk about it, and just because you don’t know how it is doesn’t mean you can’t offer thoughts and distractions.  We have been lucky to have a really strong support system and soft arms to cry into, and I hope other TCS families have the same.


Beth- you are so beautiful and I will be forever proud I got to share this with our amazing tribe on this blog.

Sending everyone love, acceptance and kindness-

xoxo,

Eloise

Back to School

As you start your back to school rituals of new haircuts, countless trips to Target and uniform or clothes shopping, I’d like to urge you to sit and have a conversation with your littles before that first bell rings. What I am asking you to discuss is the topic of children with disabilities, children who look different, and the children who might get excluded, or sit by themselves at lunch. Sit with your kids while you still have the summer hours and talk about what kindness looks like in the classroom, the lunch room, and the playground. Talk about what they can do or say if they have any questions about another child’s differences. How should they ask if they want to know what those little boxes are on the sides of a little girl’s head? Or why her ears are small or why she wears that cool pink headband?

Talk about this “hard” stuff with your little ones before school is in full swing and you’re focused on homework and their new teacher, constantly looking through packets and cleaning out their backpack, and the schedule doesn’t allow for nightly conferences on such topics. I’m asking that you open the door to the conversation and see what they fill it with. Ask if they noticed a kid last year who was different, had a disability or simply looked sad often in the lunch room. Ask them if they’ve been in a situation where they were curious about a child and didn’t know what to do. Tell them it is okay to ask you questions, or even ask the child and give them the tools to be kind with their questions. Explain what acceptance and kindness look and sound like.

No age is too young to start this conversation. As children approach Pre-K (and sometimes sooner), these notions of what’s normal and “different” are forming. At 4-5 years old, girls and boys are looking more, pointing sometimes and want an explanation. Much of it is innocent, but some has an added layer of teasing or nonacceptance. All of it can be handled now, as soon as you can, with a conversation.

We sat the other night with my stepdaughter and asked her to reflect on her school year last year. Did she notice anyone with differences or disabilities? We gave her examples to trigger her memory- did she remember meeting or seeing any children with hearing aids like her sister’s, a wheel chair, someone who walked differently? We asked her if she recalls seeing any children sitting or playing alone often. We engaged with her on what she could do to make sure no one felt alone during the school day. What could she say to a child who was somehow different because of a disability (and explained what I meant by that word).  I also told her that I think it’s okay to notice the difference. It’s totally fine to ask how something works. She could also simply sit down and say hello, to be friendly and smile. We openly encouraged her to choose to sit with the kid who sits by themselves.

A lot of adults avoid these conversations because they feel it’s just too hard or maybe you worry you’ll say the wrong thing. Adults often tell their children not to point, don’t notice that difference, stop asking about that little boy and change the subject to avoid anything unpleasant. Inadvertently, adults often close the door to teaching kindness without even knowing it. By not suggesting our children make the kind choice to sit with another child who appears lonely or was made fun of by other kids, we are avoiding it ourselves. WE the parents need to give them these tools, not just the teachers.

Many of you have now read the book Wonder or watched the movie trailer that I’ve posted as often as social media will let me. Many, like yours truly, are struck by the scenes in the cafeteria when two different kids sit down with Auggie and they are friendly, joking with him and laughing together. One of the most poignant moments for me is when a little girl named Summer sits down with him and he says to her “you don’t have to do this,” and she is hurt by that statement, saying “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Auggie.”  I’m curious if any of you thought “would my kid sit down?” I wonder if you simply hoped so or believed they would. Possibly they would, but have you sat down and asked them? Have you talked to them about differences of any kind, not just what’s polite but what actions embody kindness? If not, it’s time.

In spreading kindness, acceptance and love, the conversation isn’t that hard after all. You might fumble through it at first, but that’s all of parenting isn’t it? Sit down, ask them questions and get them talking. It’s more important to try and start somewhere than avoid it because it’s possibly awkward or you worry about what you might say. Children are born to accept and love. Babies and toddlers do not see differences or disabilities. We teach them what to see, how to act, what to say over time and we can change the narrative in the school hallways. We can start with a conversation and spread our message of kindness.

Kindness is contagious, after all.

landon

XOXO

Eloise