Homeschool: Black History Month

We have already introduced the concepts of “prejudice” and “privilege” and “racism” when we did this project:

 

We re-watched that video to transition into Black History Month by going to see Hidden Figures.  We talked about the historical context, and processed after about the things they noticed that were oppressive or due to prejudice, privilege, or racism.  We then explored the new terms of “segregation” and “desegregation”, using the movie examples of the separate water fountains, bathrooms, coffee pots, library areas, and schools as the children noticed them in the movie.

To stretch their understanding of other important historical figures, and to start connecting some of the timeline from slavery to civil rights to current protests, we focused this week on a few other famous black heroes – this time each child picking a hero to study more in depth and work on a project to present to the rest of the family.  We watched some videos to get us started as Mary picked  Rosa Parks, Kirk picked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Alex picked Muhammed Ali.

We also read this book:

 

We also, of course, watched the “I Have a Dream” speech, and used THESE WORKSHEETS to memorize pieces of it and write our own speeches.

 

In the worksheet, it has the speech written out in pieces easy to memorize.  But it also properly has the quotation marks when he references other texts.  So we had good practice at identifying commas, different kinds of punctuation, and quotation marks specifically.  We also got to talk about poetry, poetry in prose, and other techniques like parallels and allusions, as well as rhythm and black preaching.  They loved this!

We then went back to the quotation marks and were able to look up the items, like the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, for example, that each of those quotes referenced.  We then got to expand social studies and science both, talking about how these documents are preserved.

 

 

The other quotation marks are in reference to the song, Free at Last, so we looked it up, too, and learned about Negro Spirituals and work songs.

 

Then we watched a group perform a version of Free at Last:

 

That took us to music, and they loved singing this song!  We talked about the word “negro” and why it was used and how it was taken by white people and used in ugly ways, even becoming uglier words, and how we do not use ugly words for people, nor do we use any words at people.  We talked about Mary being bi-racial, and how she will choose as she grows up which words are more comfortable for her, whether that is Black, or Black-Biracial, or African American, or not, or something else.  We have talked with some of her biological family about these issues, so she is exploring it already on her own and shared some of her feelings.

We used her example of this exploring what it means to be her to connect all the way back to Hidden Figures.  This time we talked about all the “firsts” those women accomplished and what they fought for, and how sometimes it was very simple things they could do in every day life to make big changes for many people.  Courage doesn’t always have to be big for it to be meaningful.   That brought us to the simple but powerful story of Rosa Parks, which we studied HERE.  Then we used THIS WORKSHEET to structure our discussion and THIS COLOR SHEET to explore our responses to what we learned.

 

When we talked about Cassius Clay, or Muhammad Ali, we used THIS WORKSHEET to help focus Alex especially on some of the things we learn from this hero rather than only the fighting!  Autism makes understanding something like boxing tricksy, and I can’t have him running around punching everybody.  So while I thought it was a great pick for him, we did need to focus his ideas, and that worksheet helped as it told the story of him overcoming his fear of flying.  I then used THIS SITE to talk about how Muhammad Ali actually struggled because he loved attention so much, but grew into a humble man.  And yes, we watched the boxing clip!  We also used the talk about boxing rings, which are circles, to bring in math.  We talked about measuring and length and area, and practiced doing that on squares and rectangles and measuring lengths of prize ribbons.   We also used the time clock to review time, and the counting down of minutes in seconds, and doing some multiplication for how many times he won if each event had three rounds.  It was so great!

Just to top it off, and to ask for my own natural consequences, we did use boxing to have PE, and talk a little about the rules – and how to play hard while still following the rules. That seems risky, maybe, but super important!  It’s actually super critical, especially with Alex’s autism or Kirk’s cerebral palsy or Mary’s Deafness, to be able to hear the directions accurately and be able to follow them without getting out of control.  We thought it was a great day!




And after all that restraint about peaceful protesting, I think they were super excited about learning how to Box!

 

Who knew it would be teaching them to box that would finally make them so QUIET?!

What fun we had today!

Some Day Sabbaths

Fast and Testimony Sundays always bring with it the added layer of limited coping skills, when you are hungry which somehow makes you tired and weak, and reliant on your faith and spiritual self in a whole new real way than when you can just avoid feeling anything by eating what you want when you want.

We crawled to church, all of us, ready by noon but somehow still not storming the building until after one.  Because they have been baptized, the second graders want to fast and are trying, though we would of course give them food if they chose or needed it.  The preschoolers have asked to skip breakfast because they want to be cool like the big kids, but they eat lunch on the way like Kyrie does.

The point, then, is to keep as easy a morning as possible, so that fewer coping skills are actually needed, right?  So we make sure everyone but Mary and Anber has showered the evening before, and then keep things low key as everyone takes turns getting dressed while I do Mary and Anber’s new braids for the week.

This morning it was watching their own YouTube channel, where they have all their parody songs posted in a playlist so it just loops one after another.  They love this, and its the most accessible home movies ever, after the old filmstrips Nathan and I used to have when we were little!  We also get fun notes from other families who also let it play for their children, some of them other kids in the hospital like Kyrie, so we are glad to cheer them up!

This morning, though, was extra special for our morning cuddles together.  They wanted to watch their playlist of the adoption videos as well.  I don’t know if they were just feeling sentimental, or if it was because of seeing Alex’s dad and Kirk and Barrett’s mom recently, or if it was our recent news that Anber and Kyrie’s mother has gone to prison, Mary’s mom is back in jail, and Kyrie’s father is back in jail.   Now all my girls have both sets of biological parents in jail.  Sigh.  It’s been rough news around here, even if it is also a relief as far as safety goes.

We have tried to liven it up with fun things, though.  They have figured out the “live feed” on the Keeping Kyrie fan page on Facebook, so have had fun sharing silly time with friends and family that way:

 

The second graders also had a very funny day in homeschool last week as we talked about Groundhogs!

 

It’s so funny that technology can keep us connected in such simple ways.  I am so grateful!   I know it can be abused, and the kids are more and more in charge of what they share on the blog or fan pages as they get older, but it has been really good for staying in touch with family and friends.  Or even me!  Nathan and the children sent me this video while I was at work tonight after church:

 

I shared my testimony of these joys in church this morning, not because I had anything planned or fancy to say, but because it is true.  It has been eight years since I met the missionaries, and I am so grateful!  Everything changed, and we have endured some hard experiences, but all of it has been progress and I wouldn’t change a moment.  Happiness does not depend on our circumstances, but it is something we create as we love and serve one another.  I am so grateful Heavenly Father had mercy on me to show me such a thing, and so grateful for this family that has been gathered and the family we are becoming!  What a life we share, and what adventures we have!

Civil Disobedience

The day I got cancer?  That was bad news.

Life-changing bad news, the kind that takes ages to recover from and the kind where even if you survive, nothing will ever be the same again.

The day we brought Kyrie home from the hospital (the first time)?  That was amazing news.

It was amazing news, but the kind where you knew life was going to be really hard for a long time and there was no way around it.

Keeping up with politics the last two weeks?  That was INSANE.

There was so much happening so fast!

Nathan and I are trying to read to be aware and understand, and he is way braver than I am in some ways for asking questions publicly on social media.  I mostly just read both sides of the story and compare, then talk to him and a few select friends who can discuss without being pushy one way or another.  We have been surprised how negatively some people have responded just to questions, and grateful for others who have had the maturity to discuss without imposing their own beliefs or being ugly about it.

I won’t speak for Nathan, but I will say that I am a registered Independent.  I want to study the people, and the issues, and the party responses, rather than commit myself as a “member” of that kind of nationalism.  It feels dangerous to me, but maybe I read too many books from hundreds of years ago and ought to catch up to modern times.

I do participate consistently, though, and make a decision in time before primaries and re-register so I can vote how I want in primaries before the big elections come.  I want to be independent of the two party-system by default, but that doesn’t mean I vote for a third party candidate.  The one in Oklahoma this year was nuts!  The other big one in the country wasn’t an option in my state.  The big one before him, who lost to Hillary, had a few cool ideas, but no way could he pull it off.  America just wasn’t ready for that kind of change.  It wasn’t going to work even he stayed independent.

I don’t want to commit to a third party any more than I want to commit to one of the polarized parties.  It just is creepy to me, and makes me feel all suffocated.  I’m just too oppositional, I think.  I wouldn’t even be a member of my church if I didn’t have such a testimony of its truth, and its a miracle I ever married Nathan, excepting that he was so exactly me that even I knew it.

But now here we are, with a new President and everyone is all cranky about it.  Some people like him and are being really inconsiderate of the people who are still adjusting, and other people don’t like him and seem to be shouting all the time.  It has been such a politically charged atmosphere, and it seems the unfolding of events – or, rather, the response of the people, has really polarized everyone.  It feels divisive and gross.

Thomas Paine said:

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of liberty
must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

I have thought about that quote a lot as the last few weeks have unfolded in all its drama.

I believe our government, though not always its people, has something true and special about it that is unique from other governments.

Maybe that’s like a church, where you believe it is true even though the people that make it up are so human and full of mistakes sometimes.

I also believe that our Constitution, which establishes and explains our government, is most sacred.

But I see this play out with the Bible, when I work as a chaplain, and so many people interpret the same thing a hundred different ways.

So it’s tricky.

It gets even trickier when people are so passionate about what is happening: some people are passionate because they are so excited for serious changes the government has needed for a long time, and other people are passionate because they are actually afraid for different groups of people and the future of us all.

All of them, though, are having trouble keeping up with what all is happening because so much is happening so fast!  I read in one place that previous Presidents have had three or four major things on their schedule each day, but Trump has an hourly agenda.  They say he only sleeps three or four hours a night, so it’s no wonder he can work so hard so fast.  It seems he is working the government the same as he worked a business: on overtime, with his staff running to keep up with him!

I think he’s also the first President to use social media to the degree that he does.  There has been a presence for a while, but not personal use or the frequency or intensity of that presence like there is now.  It’s like having a live Eagle cam, except instead of little baby birds we have the Oval Office and all that’s happening.  That’s legit, and feels intense in a new way, something different than our society has ever experienced before.  It’s like we just got the first television set, all over again.

This experience also requires, developmentally, a higher level of thinking and processing than just critical or abstract.  Almost everything that happens in the White House now has two sides to it, and we the people are left wrestling with it and what it all means and what the implications might be.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s easier when things are black and white, or this and that, or we have some preparation time before our whole lives change again.

For example, news that Trump wants to cut funding for the arts was heartbreaking, right?  Obviously with Nathan’s background and the education level we have and the activities we enjoy with our children, we are great fans of the arts and theater and music.  It’s really, really important to us, and we believe in its value in our culture and its impact on the development of our children.

But at the same time, we know Trump is serious about the budget.  And when our family is keeping a strict budget, we have similar cuts.  We don’t get to go to the movies or the symphony or the ballet or fancy art shows.  We may get free tickets to the dress rehearsals, or go on a free Saturday at the museum, but frivolous stuff like that gets cut from our budget when every penny goes to keeping your baby alive… even though we really, really, really love it.

It’s one of those times you just wish you were wealthy, in an imaginary and obscene amount of wealth kind of way, so that you could just rescue the programs by funding them forever.

Because they are worth it.

One thing we can all agree on, though, is how honest Trump is.  I mean, lots of people talk about lies, and there are all the arguments about “alternative facts”, but what I mean to say is that Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do.  In fact, the very language of the rhetoric of the executive orders is taken directly from the campaign trail.  So while he may be super aggressive and doing more than we can keep up during his very long work days, he is doing what he already said he would do.  No one should be surprised, even if they disagree with him.

The text of the executive orders in the last few weeks also reveal how involved that Bannon guy is.  He has a very apocalyptic view of the world, and some of the hysteria from the people will only reinforce his views.  The people who do not agree with Trump need to be very careful how they respond, or there will literally be more of what they already don’t like.

And Bannon means business: he’s the one who broke the bio-dome, you guys!

In fact, some people are saying that Trump wanted to move more slowly with all the changes, but Sessions and Bannon were the ones who wanted to hit hard from the beginning and push so much through all at once before there was much opposition.

True or not, it also seems that when there is big drama over one thing, ten more things happen that slip past the media.  I wish everyone would simmer down so we could all pay attention.  That would be more effective than just being fussy.

That begs the question, then, when to fuss or when to just be present.  One Muslim friend told me that since they have had to condemn extremists of their faith for sixteen years since 9/11, then moderate Republicans should condemn the Alt-Right now that they are fighting extremists in their own party.  Those are big words!

At the other end of the spectrum, an evangelical friend told me that all the personal inappropriateness from Trump before he was President should just be let go already, because it was in the past and because the office of President isn’t personal.  I think for me, it feels more personal because Trump is so present and active in his own social media story.  Maybe that’s just me still adjusting through the transition from reality star to real life, maybe.

The circumstances of our family also make it personal, of course.  That’s true of any family.  The way it impacts us is the comments DeVos made about special needs children.  That exchange got my attention since I have six special needs children, obviously.   The other piece that got our attention was the immigrant issue, which is why we let our children respond so directly as I stated before, since our faith tradition is built on immigrants, and our ancestors are immigrants, and we never would have had Kyrie without Muslim immigrants.  Her biological family was directly caught in that drama, and it’s been hard to see those issues at a personal level rather than just the broad view of politics.  We also have our oldest daughter whom we fought for so long to help get her green card, which is now at risk, plus our friends from India and Mongolia and Korea who are immigrants and have families in other countries that are affected.

The other big piece affecting us is if Trump really moves Medicaid to “block grants” or repeals or defunds the ACA, which would affect our children who have already met their lifetime caps otherwise, and all of us who each have different pre-existing conditions.  So no matter what the actual issues are, as soon as those topics start getting debated in politics, we get anxious and start paying attention and maybe sometimes are even afraid.  Having insurance or having those protections help make us feel safe, so it’s scary when those issues are even on the radar, much less threatened, even when in reality maybe nothing would change or everything will be fine.

Sometimes it’s not about facts or alternative facts, but about the experience of the facts.

A friend told me this morning that Trump has good plans for the country as a whole, but is just terrible at social skills.  Another friend debated back that it wasn’t about Trump at all, but that Republicans are good for the economy but Democrats are good for humanity.  I think that for me, whether any of those perceptions are true or not, a girl sure thinks about it differently when she has six special needs children to raise.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”

I think that’s the start of the answer, when debates over politics start to intrude upon civil rights.  That’s the answer to the question about when to fuss or not.  That’s the answer that comes when you ask about how long do I wait before I protest in defense of my faith?  How long am I quiet before I shout for the protection of my daughters who will grow up as women in this world?  How long do I listen to political sparring before letting my mind wander to my brown daughters, to my ability-challenged children, to the supplies and doctors and equipment I need to keep my baby alive?

Political ploy or manipulation tactic or real life or not, when even other countries around the world start an outcry against what feels like certain groups targeted, and comparing it to things that happened with Hitler, how can I not respond to that?  It pulls at my heart because I have been to Israel, because I have studied its history and its people, because I have been to the candle-mirror-memorial where the lives of children were ended to quickly and too violently and without anyone speaking up for them.

I promised, that very day, I would speak up.

Never again, we say on Holocaust Memorial Day.

So I think it’s fair to be diligent, even if this is not that.

Because we have to stop this before it is that.

So it’s fair to take two weeks to listen and learn and watch and see, to ask questions until you understand, to even protest or speak up or shout out against oppression, even if just to be sure you are on record as saying That. Was. Not. Okay.  Never.  Again.

Henry David Thoreau wrote that:

“true patriots are not those who blindly followed their administration
[but] those who followed their own consciences and in particular, the principle of reason.”

I believe in America.

I believe in the Constitution.

I believe in our government being the best we know how to do so far.

I might even be proud of it, of our country, of us.

I appreciate that there are some things needed to protect our country and its government that are sometimes very uncomfortable, whether that be budget cuts or protests about them.

I appreciate that we have the right to discuss and debate and even dissent.

I appreciate that we are empowered to “undergo the fatigue of supporting” that which we call “liberty” and “freedom” and this government charged with ensuring rights for all of us as humans sharing this land together.

I can barely run my family of eight, and have no idea how the leader of a whole country can do it – especially with every single moment highlighted on television or social media.

My friends who are Republicans are saying that Trump is doing exactly what he promised, and that it’s all good and will help things, and just to trust him and watch and see.

My friends who are Democrats are still grieving the loss of the Obamas, feel Trump is being tricksy, and are overwhelmed by so much change so fast.

I read this morning in Alma 60, where there is a story of our champion Moroni complaining about the government.

Well, he doesn’t complain at first.  In fact, he specifically does not complain.  He trusts the government to “govern the people” and “manage [their] affairs”.  So even when things were hard, and resources scant, and the people were hungry and had little help, he did not complain.

He didn’t complain until he felt the government had actually neglected the people instead of caring for them.

Even then, he didn’t really complain about the government so much as protest by confronting directly and just straight up discussing it.

And in that protest, he notes how once again the people are in crisis only because they first allowed themselves to be divided by contention.  He writes:

Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies,…

But then he says something subtle but super important:

But why should I say much concerning this matter? For we know not but what ye yourselves are seeking for authority. We know not but what ye are also traitors to your country.

He asks the government, through what he writes during this little protest, what is actually going on.  He says why they are scared, and what they are concerned about, and why it is frightening.  He calls them out, giving voice to the people, and stands his ground in protest until he gets an answer.

Now, in that story, he does get an answer, and everything gets untangled, and Moroni goes on to support the government in conquering a rebellion.

But the point is, the questions were fair.

Sometimes in the church world, we forget that questions are part of the process.

In our church particularly, we cannot forget the power of questions, not when our entire faith tradition is founded upon one young man’s questions.

We see in the scriptures over and over again how nations fall because they are divided among themselves, because of contentions that leave them vulnerable.

We are becoming a country divided, and I wonder what can we do to rise above that, to learn to listen to each other and not lose hope in one another?

What can we do to celebrate the triumphs of those with whom we disagree?

What can we do to slow down and have compassion on those who don’t see what we can understand?

Are these not the very covenants we make at baptism, to mourn with those who mourn and to comfort those in need of comfort?

We cannot rise above as long as we see the drama as us versus them, whether that be conservative versus liberal, or Republican versus Democrat, or my God versus your God.

None of that is of God.

None of that brings peace.

There are ways to understand each other, even if we disagree.

There are ways to appreciate each other, even from different perspectives.

There are ways to stand together, to hold the hand of someone a world away, to be a light to those who don’t want to be unheard, or forgotten, or to be left alone.

This is the answer to every religious question, my supervisor said today:  LOVE.

These experiences transform us, with “form” referring to who we are and “trans” referring to “beyond”.  How can we grow beyond who we were yesterday?  Is that not our theology, even as Latter-day Saints, even as we talk about eternal progression?

I don’t have a personal audience with Donald Trump, but I can talk to my representatives about the needs of my families.

I can’t protect everyone on the planet from all the terrorists out there, but I can work on my own self-talk so that when I get poked by others there is nothing but love to come out.

I can’t help my friends get into the country to be safe, but I can send them supplies that they need to be well until we know what is going on.

I can’t rescue the arts budget for the nation, but I can teach my children to love the worlds of music and color and imagination.

I can’t keep up with the political news as fast as it is coming out, but I can make a difference in the lives of my neighbors.

I can’t make other people agree with what I think about which issues are important or why, but I can listen to them and learn why their issues are important to us all.

In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—

~ Alma 46:12

Kirk’s Talk

Kirk really, really wanted to talk about the doctors saying Kyrie would die, but we tried hard to redirect him to stay on his assigned topic.  He was also excited to wear white today, since he got baptized yesterday!  I love this sweet boy!

Jesus followed Heavenly Father’s directions and created the earth.

He created the earth so we can live here.

We needed to come to earth because before we didn’t have bodies. We were only spirits.

Also, God sent us to live here because he knew that we needed to learn how to make good choices.

It’s easy to make good choices when my parents are watching me, but I have to learn how to make good choices on my own.

Just like that, we can’t see Heavenly Father right now because he wants us to learn to be good on our own.

One good choice we can make is going to church.

Getting baptized is another of the good choices we can do.

We have to get baptized while we are on earth.

We also need to follow directions, and listen to our parents.

If we’re going shopping and Papa says don’t get on the cart, then you have to not get on the cart.

I can also help my baby sister not get hurt.

Adam and Eve were the first ones to get on earth.

But because of their choices, they had to leave the Garden of Eden.

Sometimes we all make bad choices.

We have to repent.

We have to pray to God, say I’m sorry to the person, and promise never to do that again.

Jesus makes it possible for us to be made clean again through the atonement.

I have a testimony that good choices make us happy.

I know that if we keep the commandments, and repent after bad choices, that we can live with Heavenly Father again.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Seasons and Voices

We are coming out of some very hard years, and very slowly settling into a new season of reuniting together and just being still, after the hard years of fostering with children coming and going, the hard years of ambulance rides and life flight helicopters, and after me working eighteen jobs while Nathan works several while trying to run children around town.  If there is anything we have learned from Kyrie’s palliative care team, it is that nothing is more important than time together.

That still means we have to have jobs, if we would like our time together include a roof over our head.  But it feels good to be completing significant phases in our recent history:  five years of thiry-eight children in diapers, chaplaincy training, and trying to teach our new children sign language so that we can share a common starting place.  Hurting my back has meant some extra time at home, as I can do one thing a day: either Kirk’s baptism OR the pinewood derby; lift Kyrie in a crisis or work a whole shift at the hospital; sit still and hide at home because I hurt, or be creative and sit still in ways that help my little ones.

For example, on my day off I wanted nothing more than to just crawl in bed and sleep for a week or five.  But, the best thing was to have some dates with my babies.  First, I knew it was Barrett’s turn for a one on one date, so I took him for a haircut:

 

He was very impressed with himself afterward, and anything that reminds him that he is almost five (and so please let’s be five instead of two) is good with me.

 

Anber’s turn was the next time, and on that day I took her for hot chocolate.  She wanted to “talk some girl talk,” which turned out to be how smart we are, so that was hilarious.

 

 

Another thing I was able to do with the kids in the last few weeks, while sitting very-very- still and resting my broken ribs, was taking them to see Hidden Figures.  We have been discussing NASA in science, as we prepare to go visit there in Houston this summer, and obviously black history and culture is always of huge important for my girls.  But I also want my boys to understand, all my children to understand, where we have come from as a nation and as people, so that they better understand what is happening right now and what kind of people they want to be in the future.  I did preview the movie first, since it was obviously a movie for grown-ups, to be sure it was appropriate for the children.  But it was great, and I loved it, and they were dying to see it.  So I spent some time talking to them about the story before we went, including researching the real people and understanding the story and what was happening in the background with NASA and Russia at the time, even who JFK was and they loved that Martin Luther King was in the story.  Then we finally got to go see the movie with our tickets given us by a friend.  We were so grateful!

The kids loved it!  They were glued to the screen, soaked in every bit, and cried in all the same places I did.  They really understood!  I loved seeing them cheer, not caring who else was in the theater, when the one woman won the court appeal to go to college, and when the supervisor woman walked her group of programmers into the room full of men who didn’t know how to make the computer work, and when the other woman saved John Glenn’s flight (and life).  I loved seeing the looks on my girls’ faces when they saw daughters with brown skin on screen for the first time, when they shouted “Mama!” and pointed at the screen to see the same hair braids I give them, and when the man knocked down the colored restrooms sign.  And I was glad to see my boys cheer, too.

I love these kids, and I am really, really proud of them.

Mary and Kirk have really matured so much, and grown up so much.  It is fun to be starting new things with them as older children instead of just babies.  Nathan and I officially introduced them to Doctor Who this week, and they love it!  We kept warning them it might be scary, but so far they have laughed through all the scenes that terrified me!  They are braver than I am, I guess!

Alex is doing really well, too, and even is regulating his responses and noise-making and emotions so very well.  I am really proud of him.  He even came inside twice from playing outside during the little ones’ naptime the other day, and managed to get what he needed and get back outside without waking them up!  I was so proud!  Autism, though, presents a challenge, however, with discerning reality and television or movies.  He’s not ready for the good Doctor, but I think he will flip out in excitement and appreciation once it is finally his turn.  He is making progress that direction, finally clicking what reading means – not just being able to read, but realizing that the words in a book actually tell a coherent story, so we are introducing so good tales that are super fun and imaginative so that he can better appreciate some of the books and movies we enjoy, without them needing to be a children’s cartoon or without him needing to act them out for the next three months.

Together, they have all really gained an interest in politics.  Not politics like we think of it, but history, and putting the pieces together, and noticing connections between long ago and now.  They are realizing adult have different opinions about things, and that how not everything is so black and white.  They are realizing some people fight badly for good principles, and other people are bad and ignore principles all together, and that this can happen across party lines.  It’s some serious abstract thinking for such little ones, and it’s fascinating to watch them explore – and sometimes challenging to experience the questions they discover.  I love watching them learn and grow!

We did get a good handful of nasty grams for a video that we let the children make of them protesting (on our own front porch at home) and chanting Let Them In!  Let Them In!

But the people who know us, and our family, and read our blog or our book would understand better why this is one we let the children do.

We have been studying citizenship, and protests are a part of history – especially in deaf culture, and black culture, and disability culture.   We have also been studying history itself, including the persecution that happened in our own faith tradition, as refugees from abroad became refugees from Missouri.

We also just watched Hidden Figures, in which there are historical protest scenes which looked to the children a lot like recent political protest marches in recent weeks.  So we have been talking about protests, and why people participate or don’t, and what they would want to protest or not, and why some protests are effective and others are not. We also talked about practical pieces, like safety, and about respect, and about being wise enough to stick to principles and obeying the laws of our land – which is different than just being hateful and angry.  We talked about the difference between peaceful protesting for a specific human right, and political protesting for particular political agendas.  We talked about chanting at protests, silent sitting protests, and rioters that are troublemakers and cause problems instead of solving them.  These are big things the children need to learn and understand, especially if this is the world they are growing up in because of what the adults are doing throughout their childhood.

Besides this, the children know that Kyrie’s biological family is Muslim, and that the grandparents were currently traveling and got caught in all the political drama.

For all these reasons, hearing on the news that refugees got stuck in an airport, unable to enter the country because of political drama, really had an impact on the children.  Regardless of political sides, what they knew were that friends and family were stuck there, and that specific faith groups were being targeted as ours has in the past, and all these pieces we have been talking about.  So that’s when the children decided to chant their own little protest, and for those reasons.

They didn’t go downtown last week to protest Trump’s wall he wants to finish in the mountains between here and Mexico, and they didn’t go yesterday to protest about a pipeline they don’t yet understand yet.

But friends stuck in an airport?  They understand that.

People targeted because of their religion?  They understand that.

People targeted because of their ethnicity?  They understand that.

People trapped against their will?  They understand that.

They even understood that the President said one thing, a judge said another, and the military voted for backing up the President.

It wasn’t about politics for them.

It was about people.

So in this case, we let them show their support, and were proud of them for doing so.

But doing so comes with great responsibility: it makes a political statement whether they intended to or not, and so that’s the next part of what they have to think about – and the implications of it.  The challenge isn’t just to rescue others, or even to comfort others.  It’s bigger than that.  There must be a rising above division, and even trying to support the voice of the oppressed implies there is an oppressor.  But it isn’t necessarily helpful to argue about who the oppressor is: the government in the country they left?  The government in the country where they arrived?  Or their neighbors back home who turned them in?  Or their neighbors here whose silence is violence?

The wise thing is rising above it all, but lifting everyone else, too.

Those are the baptismal covenants we make: to bear others’ burdens, to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those in need.

Sometimes, as I watch my little ones get baptized one at a time as the months roll by, I can’t help but feel like I am raising little stripling warriors, who will grow up into a world so very different than the one I will someday slip away from so quietly.

I want them to grow up wise as much as strong, and becoming wise takes practice and means learning from mistakes.  So we let them try because it teaches them something, because it’s using their agency, because it’s the only way to progress.  Sometimes these are beautiful moments we will always look back on fondly; other times they may have to chalk it up as a fail; and still other times, it could even place us all in danger.

But we are doing our best, even when we try to rest, and that’s part of growing up together.

And they must always, always have a voice, and make sure others do as well.

Family Cars

We invited Kirk’s bio-mother and Alex’s bio-dad to help us paint their pinewood derby cars yesterday!  They had a great visit!  These kinds of positive experiences are so crucial for their healthy attachment development!

It’s not always possible, though.  Despite repeated invitations, Mary’s bio-mother hasn’t come to see her in over a year.  Her bio-father is in prison.  Kirk’s bio-dad lives states away, and we tried to see that family once when we were in Cincinnati for the baby, but that was still too far away for them.  We will try again someday.  Alex’s bio-mom usually waits in their car because she can’t stay clean so can’t come to visits.  He gets to hug her and wave, though, when she is safe enough for that, but she doesn’t even always want that. Sometimes she just wants to watch him.  They are all getting old enough to recognize more and more about these issues and the implications of it, but it’s so good for them when it does work out! 

Family is always worth it.



Faith Marches On

My great-aunt Bobbie, who was my father’s mother’s sister, passed away last week.

She was blind, and that was how I first got interested in blindness, and why I pursued studies in braille later after I became friends with one of my mother’s librarians who was also blind.  Her name was Helen.  My brother and I used to play with braille cards, the little note cards with the Braille alphabet on them, when we were young and hung out with her a lot.  Nathan’s mother spent her career working with blind children also, so that was a pretty neat connection when I first met his family.  A few weeks ago, when Mary and I spoke at the social justice symposium, Mary met her first blind friends, and spent the day learning how to use a cane.

Obviously with my hearing issues, and having these blind influences in my life, it makes sense that I was totally obsessed with Helen Keller from an early age.  Now, as an adult, I have several deaf-blind friends, plus my own deaf daughter and hard-of-hearing daughter.  Besides that, sign language has been really good for my other children:  my autistic son that struggles to express himself and regulate his emotional responses at the same time, my son with cerebral palsy who struggles to get his words out, my son with fetal alcohol syndrome who doesn’t know how to pace his paragraphs, and my reactive attachment preschooler who would rather sign than speak in many environments.

My husband is hearing, and doesn’t have any disabilities like those, but he is a man of the arts.  He is a writer.  He writes musicals, and collaborates as the lyricist for musicals written with an additional composer, and comes up with the most fantastical plays, and writes gorgeous songs – some of which choirs and colleges use for their competitions, so it’s fun to google his songs on YouTube and watch different people performing them.  They are doing their best for their group, and don’t even know about our little family and the story of us, or that Nathan was only in high school when he wrote the song they are performing.

Nathan writes very differently than I do.  He is a slow writer, like one who tastes every bite of every course rather than rushing through dinner.  He picks up each word, mixes the right colors to paint it, and knits together phrases like an intricate embroidery that takes hours to make the perfect flowers.  When I think of Nathan’s work, he sometimes reminds me of Monet, and I mean that because of how long it must take to tap down so many dots of so many colors, and how you have to stand back and see the whole picture.  He doesn’t write fluff, and he doesn’t write trendy, and he doesn’t write copycat stuff just to sell.  He doesn’t throw in loads of “inappropriate” material just to sell his work.  He is very intentional, very congruent to character, very nothing-like-ever-before.   That’s what makes his deep stuff so deep, and his fun stuff so hilarious, because you never know what to expect.  There is an art and a science to what he does, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

My writing is different, both in style and in voice.  I write very quickly, but way too much.  When we write together, and he helps edit my work, he takes out at least two-thirds or not more of my words.  Always.  I have a specific “voice” in my writing, and he leaves that, but he makes it much more powerful editing down the volume.  Even our book, Keeping Kyrie, would have been half as thick, if he had anything to do with it!  But he totally respects when I draw the line to defend a particular phrase or sentence (or paragraph), though usually he is right when I look at it again from his ideas.

It’s a very intimate thing, all these language things, whether it comes from bumps on a page or hands in the air or words on the page.

It’s about having a voice, though.

And everyone has a voice because everyone has a story.

And their story is theirs.

No one else gets to write it.

I think, sometimes, when we – as individuals or as society – have failed to live in such a way that respects ourselves and respects others, the story starts to get lost.  I think this makes people panic and makes people angry and makes people afraid, because if you lose your story, then you lose your voice.

On the other hand, when we respect even those who are different than us in one way or another, and when we can learn from those with whom we disagree, and when we can be present with someone even when we do not understand their story, then we help protect their voice.

I think that’s part of why people want to march, to make sure their voices are heard.

And that’s fair.

But not always effective.

And like arguing preschoolers, shouting over each other won’t let any voice be heard.

My daughters and I did not march on Saturday because we were at Aunt Bobbie’s funeral.

But I got lots of text messages from friends who were there, and followed social media to learn about what people were thinking, before I could discern what I was thinking about it.

My text messages were from friends who were Democrats and friends who were Republicans.  I got pictures of friends who were there because they were Pro-Choice, and others who were there because they were Pro-Life.  I got texts from women of color and texts from friends with disabilities and texts from one white friend who has such a thick southern accent that I can barely understand what she says.  I saw banners made by friends who were LDS, Catholic, Sikh, Buddhist, Methodist, Agnostic, Episcopalian, Protestant, Evangelical, and “Word of Faith”.  I saw friends there who are straight, and friends who were there with GLBTQ groups.  I saw friends who went alone, who took their whole families with all the children, and friends who went with groups of friends.

Some voted for Trump and wanted to remind him to be kind while shaking things up enough to make changes, and others did not vote for Trump are just plain scared about what might happen with such an aggressive President.

They were all there because they are women, or love someone who is a woman, and wanted to share their voice.

I’m actually okay with that, and would have loved to take our children for the experience of peaceful protesting, and even got us the pink hats, not because of any political drama, but because I want them to know that they have a voice, both by girls and my boys.

We are learning about government in our little homeschool, and learning about what it means to be a citizen, and studying the Family Proclamation that includes lines about nations being held accountable, and I think a peaceful protest would be a great experience for them to see all of this in action.

As far as the politics piece, it is true that I want my daughters to know that no one has the right to touch them without their permission.  But I also want to hold them responsible, and we talked about how just because you let someone touch you and it feels good doesn’t mean it’s love.  It just means your body is working as it was designed.  It has nothing to do with the other person, not in and of itself.

And, besides that, I want my boys to know the same thing.  They have no right to touch anyone else just because it feels good.  But I also want them to know that just because someone does let them touch them, doesn’t mean they are good for them.  They need to be able to talk about these things.  Touch does not equate with control for either the boys or the girls, and it’s not okay for touch to be used to manipulate another or have power over another.

Historically, the women’s march means a lot, even if not everybody was happy about this one.  I would want my kids a part of it if only for that piece, even if for nothing else.  It was women who first marched through the streets to Versailles in 1789, demanding their voice be heard by the governor, beginning the French Revolution.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 was also started by a women’s march.  It happened in America in 1963, resulting in the powerful I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a ritual, a rite of passage, and part of the winds of change.  It means, even if nothing happened to make today any different than the day before the march, that things will never be the same.  So many voices united together crying out for change is exactly why Trump says he ran for President.  That means that even the anti-Trumpsters give him points by agreeing with him that things need to change, and giving him points for shaking things up enough to actually have their attention.

I want my children to see what is happening even now, and to understand how it all unfolds:  these people voted for Trump because of this, and those people didn’t because of that.  These people think he will be great because of this, and these people think there are concerns because of that.  These people are “pro-choice” because they think women should get to choose for themselves about their own bodies, and these people are “pro-life” because they are advocating for the babies in those bodies.  People with disabilities, or people of color, or GLBTQ people talk about human rights because of the kinds of violations they have endured in the past.  This faith tradition is mean to people who believe differently because…., while that faith tradition persecutes this other one because they disagree about…

I want them to understand, because this is their life.  Once again, how the grownups of America handle this will determine their entire adolescence and entrance into adulthood.  It’s like we have all become the foster children of planet Earth.

It’s real stuff, and I don’t want to just teach them my side or Nathan’s side, or what his parents think or what my parents thought.  I want to teach them how to think.  I want to teach them how to discern.   I want to teach them to love others by being able to see the world from a different perspective, by having a heart soft enough for God by being kind to those He has created.

I want them to know that when someone thinks they are being mature by politely refusing to listen to another person who believes differently than they do, that it is not the same as loving the way God loves.

I want them to remember that the people Jesus hung out with were the people that all the religious people had rejected as bad: bad politics, bad behavior, bad choices, and bad interactions.

I want them to remember the people who were humble enough to listen to Jesus were the people who were brave enough to ask questions.

I want them to remember the people Jesus served were the poor, and the disabled, and the orphans and widows (those without access to the priesthood).

I want them to remember that all the prophets called by God were humble people who felt inadequate, or disabled, or unwanted, or rejected in some way.

I want them to know it’s not about what other people say, but about what God says, and about the testimony they share.

I want them to know it’s not just about knowing.

It’s about feeling.

It’s about being pastoral, about being present with others in their worst moments – not about condemning them, or shaming them, or being too good for them.

I want them to feel what it’s like to have a voice, and know how to use it effectively.

I want them to know why protesting is a thing, but feel the benefit of keeping it peaceful.

I want them to express themselves in words painted on banners, but also know how to pick up their trash and clean up after themselves.

I want them to know a parade is not the same thing as breaking windows.

I want them to experience, and defend, and march for something besides just the easy stuff.

I want them to discern the difference between peaceful protestors, president supporters, and the kinds of secret combinations that set up a Nazi punk to get fake-punched just so he can get his own army.

I want them to know what it means to choose the right, but also to lose gracefully, and absolutely to be prepared to give their lives for their faith.

Nothing is more important than your testimony, we say.  Not even your life.

But I also want them to know that you don’t just get a testimony for freebies.  You work for it.  You harvest it.  You pray and study and ponder and pray some more.  You wait and wrestle.  You ask questions and experiment and try things out and make huge mistakes, even public ones, and then put yourself back together again with what you learn and try again.  You keep trying, because you know who you are and whose you are and why you are here.

There were a lot of people at that march that I maybe disagree with on some (or many) things, but a lot of people I do agree with, too.

And one thing a lot of people said was a weakness of the march was that there were so many different causes represented.

But for me, when I talked about it with my children, it was about having a voice.

It was about the right to be.

If we only let people who agree with us, I said, have jobs and housing and food and the kind of care people need to live good lives, then there is no way to bridge that gap.  We become the great and spacious building, and they are left hopeless.

But, I said, if we work together, and share, and make sure everyone has a voice – even when it is one we disagree with – then we have freedom for our family, and our church, and our liberty, just like Moroni said.

But we can’t do that if we don’t think, if we don’t feel, and if we don’t discern.

So yeah, I would totally take my kids to the march if we hadn’t been at a funeral.

I will even post a picture of our pink kitty-cat hats when they are finished, ears and all.

Not because of any civil disobedience or political drama, but because I want my kids to know how to see with open eyes, to discern with open ears, and to feel with a soft heart.

Because two of us have brown skin.

Because we are eight pre-existing conditions.

Because we are a family of disabilities.

Because we are of a historically persecuted faith tradition.

Because we are children of Heavenly Father.

Because we have the right to live our lives.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.
 
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
 
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
~ Helen Keller