Saturday, June 29, 2013

Learning from teaching. Again...

This week Liam and his friend went to a little camp put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee. The idea was for kids with Down Syndrome to learn and play alongside age-appropriate peers. Liam and his friend were a couple of the peers. We signed them up because they're sweet kids and we figured they'd be patient and kind and understanding that people are people, no matter how different they might seem.

In fact, when we asked Liam's friend if he wanted to go he said, "Of course! I bet only nice kids will be there because mean kids might not want to play with someone who couldn't do everything they could do." I mean, you couldn't build a much better peer than that! Liam was not quite as altruistic but agreed to go if his friend was going. I figured it would be a good opportunity for him to mix and mingle outside his comfort zone, and hoped he would learn first hand not to judge a book by its cover.

When I picked them up after the first day and asked how it went, I couldn't help but wonder if sending him was such a good idea after all. They told me it was, "good and bad." Good because they got to play with each other; bad because "those other kids" were really mean. When I pressed to find out which other kids they were talking about, they were quick to tell me it was the kids with disabilities.

"Yeah," said Liam. "People with Down Syndrome are really mean!"

I couldn't believe it. "You guys!" I gasped. "These kids have Down Syndrome. Let's cut 'em a little slack, okay?" I tried to help them understand what it's like to have Down Syndrome (although, I'm certainly no expert) and asked them to try harder to be helpful and compassionate.

The next day was more of the same. When I asked them about their morning, they told me that some of it was fun, "But not when that girl poked me in the eye or pushed me out of the way!" By dinner time, they were both begging not to go back.

I was so disappointed. Why wasn't Liam more eager to reach out and help someone who might benefit from his assistance? Where were his big brother instincts? Was he going to come away from this experience completely jaded? Because no amount of thoughtful conversation can trump learning something first hand (even if you learn it wrong...).

Not knowing what else to do, I reached out to my friend who has worked with the Down Syndrome Association a lot over the years. I was hoping she could tell me exactly what to say to make the boys try harder. Maybe if they knew more about what it's like to have Down Syndrome, they would be more tolerant? Surely she had some magical words of wisdom I could use.

Her response caught me completely off guard.

Rather than telling me what to do to make Liam a better peer, she immediately took his side. "It is NOT okay for him to be getting hurt! There is absolutely no reason he should have to put up with that."

Honestly? That had never even occurred to me.

In my quest to teach Liam not to judge a book by it's cover, I was doing just the opposite. Instead of thinking about the situation at hand and trying to see what I could do to make it better, I was giving an entire group of people a pass. Those kids can't be mean, Liam. They have Down Syndrome!

I was embarrassed but still glad I asked for help. It made me realize that by not making a big deal out of the situation and telling Liam to just suck it up and be cool, I was completely ignoring the fact that within every group of people there's a wide range of personalities. Just because someone has Down Syndrome doesn't mean they can't also be a jerk (or have a bad day). By letting someone off the hook simply because of their disability (or job title or age or outfit or whatever else we initially judge people by...), it's like completely ignoring the fact that they're a person.

The boys weren't upset about the camp because some of the kids had Down Syndrome. They were upset because they felt like they were getting picked on. They're not mean or judgemental or impatient. They're kids. Kids who are fairly new to the whole camp scene. I mean, they probably could have used as much guidance as the rest of the kids!

The next day when I dropped the boys off, the camp counselors and director assured me they were aware of the situation and would do everything they could to make sure the boys had a good morning. I thanked them and took a mental note how effective it can be to just communicate when there's a problem. (Duh.) It's not mean to speak up when someone who happens to have Down syndrome is treating your kid badly; it's mean not to. To my own child, yes (I have to give him the benefit of the doubt...if he can't look to me to be his advocate, I've pretty much failed), but also to the whole group of individuals I thoughtlessly lumped together.

Fortunately we nipped this in the bud on Tuesday so we had the rest of the week to turn the experience around. By Friday, the boys were singing the praises of camp and I was no longer worried that they'd be forever jaded. Would I send Liam again? You bet. As long as he knew what he was getting into (the peers actually had quite a bit of responsibility) and was willing to do whatever it took to make sure he felt safe and had a good time. Even if I didn't think to come to his rescue. Although I have a feeling this lesson is going to stick with me a while. Nothing like a first hand experience to change a gal...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Oh, happy day!

When I was a child, I used to think how lucky my grandparents were to have lived when they did. They got to see so much happen in their lives. I mean, they were alive before television. When everything was black and white! (I was maybe not the smartest kid.) I felt kind of sorry for myself because the world was already so developed by the time I came around. What else could possibly happen in my lifetime?

So, so much.

Our world is changing every single day. It's incredible. Like watching one of those time-lapse National Geographic films where entire life cycles happen in the blink of an eye. Our consciousness is shifting right before our eyes. We're growing and learning and understanding more and more each and every day. It's a beautiful thing. Kind of mind blowing actually.

When I told Liam about the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and showed him the picture I was working on (I think this was the first time I've been inspired to make something for no other reason that it felt like I should), he simply said, "Cool. More rights."

That's it.

Because in his world, ruling that gays and straights should have marriage equality is just a technicality. Of course all people should have equal rights. Discrimination is so last generation.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bonna-wrap up.

I have to say, Bonnaroo was pretty fantastic. We had a nice shady campsite, our bed was beyond comfy (blow up bed + memory foam = we're old and don't care who knows it!), and the weather was darn near perfect.

We got to see Paul McCartney and R. Kelly AND Beach House and I didn't even get one single mosquito bite. As far as camping/music festivals go, I think we hit the jackpot.

Before you go penciling it in for next year though, let me make one thing clear. We did not have general admission tickets. We were guests.

Guest tickets are kinda like VIP or artist passes but better in my opinion because you get to camp in the woods. (All are available on Craigslist or ebay, btw...)

Instead of spending all day in the hot sun, waiting in line for port-a-pottys, and getting too-close-for-comfort with hundreds of thousands of other fans just to catch a glimpse of a band, we mostly hung out in the hospitality area, lounging in hammocks, drinking micro brews and watching bands we didn't recognize get interviewed. 

When we wanted to actually see a band, we usually got to go in a special guest entrance.


When the special area was reserved for VIPs or artists only, we would usually hang out for a song or two and then one of us would say, "Want to go walk around?" Then we'd either walk back to our campsite for a bit or grab an arepa (like a grilled cheese on a corncake) or fresh donut to share.

Sometimes we would skip the audience all together and just find a quiet spot in the hospitality area to hear a band. Because catching a glimpse of Jack Johnson while pressed up against thousands of sweaty 18 year olds is not nearly as fun as hearing bits and pieces from the cool comfort of an Adirondack chair. 

Spoiled? You bet. But we wouldn't have enjoyed it any other way. We came home relaxed, and refreshed and ready to step back in to reality. How many vacations can you really say that about?

And in case you're wondering if I would ever take my kids to Bonnaroo, it depends. If they loved music and being around lots of people and didn't mind the heat or using port-a-pottys, I would have no problem taking them. The whole thing had a very wholesome vibe...honestly, it felt more like church camp than Woodstock. So, yeah, if my kids were into it (which they're not), I would be fine with them tagging along. Of course, then it wouldn't be like going on vacation; it would be like going to Disney World.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Bonnaroo, Hatch Show Print and some random rambling.

Hey friends! Just a quick update before Bill and I pack up the car and head out to Bonnaroo for the weekend. You're either like, "You're going to Bonnaroo?" or you've never heard of it. Both responses make equal sense. All I know is it's an outdoor music festival but since it's my first time going I can't really say what it's like. This little snippit from the Bonnaroo website should tell you more than enough:
4 of the best days ever. 80,000 happy campers. 700 Acres of Tennessee Nature. 150 epic performances. 10+ stages of music. Several dozen comedians. An escape into Excitement. Music. Art. Discoveries. Trees. Fresh Air. Green Grass. A mini film fest. Friends (Old / New). Adventure. Overwhelming happiness. Hugging a stranger by accident. Sharing and Generosity. Bonnaroovian Dancing. Hyperbolic verbiage. System overload. The perfect bite of ice cream. Sandals. Fallovers. Chirping Birds. Flashing Lights. Food and Drink. Variety. Singing. Laughing. Short shorts. High-Fives. Rocky IV in the cinema tent at 3am. Spicy Pie. Memories. Someone dressed up like Teen Wolf. Holy Cow(!) Moments. Interesting factoids. Egg sandwiches. More music. Adventure. Deep Breaths. Big smiles. This. That. The Other. Hellos and Goodbyes and reminders of all that we have to celebrate and look forward to next year and in the future.
I know. Crazy, right?! I like that I waited until 35 to experience something like this. It kinda cracks me up. Bill went last year and honestly hasn't stopped talking about it which is really saying something for him. On more than one occasion Liam has even called him out on it. "Ugh, Dada. Are you seriously talking about Bonnaroo again?" Needless to say, I had to see what all the hubbub was about.

I'm not sure yet but it seems like it might be the perfect combination of what Bill and I like to do. He's a music guy and I love to camp and be outside. Ok, I like the idea of camping and being outside. If it's too hot or buggy or not perfect, I kind of wimp out. But the weather is supposed to be great this weekend and I'm hoping the Woodstocky vibe injects me with enough positivity to just get over myself  and have the best time ever.

I've got my Bonnaroovian wardrobe all picked out and even took a trip to our new H&M to round out the details. And by details I mean every single thing I'll be wearing this weekend was purchased yesterday. Like jean shorts. Yes, really. What can I say? I enjoy myself more when I dress the part. That way instead of just going somewhere for the weekend, I get to take a vacation.

My sister and her family are coming here to stay with the boys while we're gone (so lucky) and when we get back they'll leave Jack with us for a few days while they go home to work. Then Moose will come back to get him and my cousin Alexa and her friend will fly in for the weekend. I am SO excited for this. I haven't spent time with Alexa since she was in high school and now she's a college graduate and a grown up and a beautiful, amazing lady and I seriously just can't even tell you how honored I am that she's coming to see my and my family. Can. Not. Wait!

Like usual, having company is my favorite excuse to look around my house with hateful eyes, trying to see all the things I want to fix. There were just a few major things we decided to address this time around. The biggest deserves it's very own post: Finny got a big boy bed! Other than that, we're switching out some lighting (aka, getting rid of the hideous track lighting we've had since we moved in almost 9 years ago...), fixing a few things and freshening up the artwork on the walls.

Which is what I really wanted to tell you about! If you're a Hatch Show Print lover like me but never know what to do with your oddly sized posters once you have them home, I have a super cheap and easy solution for you.

Go to Michael's right now and pick up some 18 X 24" poster frames (on sale for $7.99!). Choose some mat board (also in the frame department) in whatever color you like with your print. (The mat boards I got were $6.99 each and were the perfect size for two frames.) Just center your print on the mat board, frame and voila - super cool custom wall art for under $20! Our kitchen has never looked better (not that you can tell from this awful picture but whatever...).

Ooh! One more thing before I go. The Tennessean ran my post about unschooling yesterday and I am beyond thrilled. My editor titled it: "Unschooling is really using the world as a classroom" which is just perfect and exactly what it is and I'm so happy to be able to shed a little light on something that is so often misunderstood. I feel really...proud. Like maybe in my own way I'm helping this movement gain a little traction. Be the change you want to see and all that.

And with that I'm off to spend the weekend in a field! Wow, things just got really hippie up in here. : ) I hope I get a chance to tell you about our weekend sooner rather than later but, like I said, lots of fun stuff coming up. This summer has been crazy busy, y'all. In the best possible way, but still. Hard to find a minute for the ole laptop.

Have a good one! xoxo

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


When Liam's homeschool swim club announced they would be having a swim meet for anyone who wanted to participate, I thought for sure Liam would opt out. He's mentioned on more than one occasion that he's "the slowest swimmer in class" and has rarely, if ever, jumped at the chance to compete. Competing in a race he knows he won't win? No chance.

Since I assumed he wouldn't have any interest, I almost didn't even bother telling him about it. Imagine my surprise when I happened to mention it one day and he ran to put it on his calendar.

Leading up to the meet, I must have reminded him a dozen times that it was voluntary. "You don't have to compete at the swim meet if you don't want to, you know."

"I know, Mama. I WANT to."

"Do you think it will bother you if you come in last?"

"I don't care about that. I always do my best and have fun. That's all that matters."

Still. On the day of the meet I was a little nervous for him. I know it's hard to be the slowest - it's not like his lack of athleticism came out of nowhere - and I didn't want his first semi-competitive moment to be a bust. I thought we had all made peace with him not being an athlete years ago. Why was he forcing himself out of his our comfort zone?

As soon as the first heat started, all of my fears and misgivings went away. This is such a great group of kids (and parents). If the kids weren't in the pool, they were running along side it cheering on their friends. Even if the "race" went on and on and on people kept cheering until the end.

Nobody cared if we weren't a bunch of junior Olympians. Not the kids, not the parents, not the coach. In fact, the only time I heard anyone even mention winning was when Liam came in first in the 25 meter breast stroke.

As soon as his pruney little fingers touched the wall, he popped his head out of the water, pulled his huge mask off of his face and looked around, gasping, "Wait. I'm first? Seriously?!"

"Well," I said, high-fiving him. "You did finish first but you accidentally did the wrong stroke. You were supposed to do breast stroke but you did freestyle. It was still awesome though!"

"Ohhhh," he said, watching the other swimmer finish. "That's why everyone was yelling my name. I thought they were just cheering me on."

Bless his heart.

They were cheering for him though. We all were. But especially me. Because he really did swim a great race. Seriously! All this time I had believed him that he was just doing his best and having fun but he's also been getting really good. He swam like a real swimmer. In a swim meet! I couldn't have been more proud if I tried.

The next morning he had karate, the other sport he's been doing his best at and having fun with for quite some time. Unlike some of the other kids who show up early and practice in the hall and look like they could seriously kick some butt, I half suspect Liam's favorite part of karate is getting to stand in front of the big mirror. Which I totally get (hello, dance class). Since he's seven and will probably never have to defend himself against any ninjas, I really don't care how good he gets. As long as he's having fun and wants to keep going, I will keep taking him.

I usually have Finn with me when we go so I don't get to watch much of his class. But on this particular Saturday, it was just me and Liam so I was able to really see him. I couldn't believe it. My kid was actually kind of good! He's always known all of the moves (he has a black belt in memory) but now they were starting to look...strong. Like he was doing more than just going through the motions. I was very impressed.

I also felt like a jerk. Why, of all people, was I surprised that my child was improving at something he's been working on for two years? Had I really not realized he was capable of change?

Of course he's different than he used to be - we ALL are! If I was able to miss it in a child who is obviously growing (I've got the basement full of too-small clothes to prove it), chances are I was missing it in other people as well.

It's so easy to believe the stories we keep telling ourselves - that we're shy or our child is bad at math or our husband's always late - but how much of it is really true? If we were to step back and take a fresh look at our children, our friends, our families, our selves, what would we really see? I think we might be completely blown away.

Monday, June 3, 2013

And speaking of Family Farm Day...

Oh my gosh, you guys. I seriously can't believe I forgot to mention this when I wrote about Family Farm Day earlier. I made a cut paper farm for the silent auction! I'm donating the original which I'm really hoping will bring in a big wad of cash because it won't be easy to let it go...

Such a fun project. And, one more reason for YOU to come out to Family Farm Day

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Round up.

Man-oh-man, summertime is definitely here. Even though we're technically homeschooling year-round, there's just something about summer that feels completely different than the rest of the year.

Our days are full of fun, our washing machine is full of beach towels, and our freezer is (temporarily) full of Popsicles.

Even though we haven't had a whole lot on the calendar, fun stuff just keeps jumping up and grabbing us.

On more than once occasion a quick outing, carpool or conversation has turned into a whole day of fun.

These are my favorite kind of plans. The one's you don't have to make. You can almost always ensure some good memories when you end the day somewhere other than where you thought you were going to be.

Still. After SO much fun we were starting to get wiped out. We had to have an entire do-nothing pj day to recover.

Well, Finn and I did (he even gave himself a mani-pedi when I wasn't looking...). Liam went to Art Camp (and yet another play date!).

He's been a busy kid. He swam in his first swim meet, lost another tooth, earned his purple belt in karate, learned a duet (with me!) for his very first piano recital, and has read about a dozen Captain Underpants books.

It's a big job keeping up with him. No wonder Finn keeps falling asleep on the couch!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

iCan Bike Camp | Family Farm Day.

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled broadcast (sad face) to bring you two exciting events happening next week in Nashville...

First up, iCAN BIKE CAMP!

iCan Bike is a five-day program for people with disabilities who want to learn to ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle independently. During camp, participants each attend a 75-minute session Monday through Friday. Riders learn on special equipment, assisted by camp staff and volunteer helpers.

Volunteer helpers...this means YOU!

Camp is June 3-7. It's an all day event but volunteers are only asked to help for about an hour each day (there are several different time slots still available). Click HERE for more info. This will be my first year participating and I'm really excited. It's an opportunity to fill up on "warm fuzzies" (as my friend/event organizer puts it) and might even give me the skills I need to finally get Liam off training wheels.

If you are able to help at all, please e-mail or call Erin Kice at 615.337.1230 to learn more. Free childcare! Warm fuzzies! Bikes! Camp! I mean, really, if you have the time, you'd be crazy NOT to do it...

Exciting event #2 - Family Farm Day at Buffalo Valley Farm!

Community Food Advocates, a Nashville non-profit striving to end hunger in Middle Tennessee (no big deal), is hosting its first ever family friendly farm-to-table fundraising dinner and it's going to be a blast. If you've ever seen one of those PBS or Food Network shows where wholesome looking people come together in a field to share a lovingly prepared meal while appreciating the farmer and the crops and the animals and the Earth while the sun slowly dips behind a rolling green hill and thought, "Damn, where do I sign up for a life like that?" Well, here's your chance! AND it's family friendly? I'd call that a dream come true.

Sunday, June 9th 3:00-7:00 pm, Buffalo Valley Farm. Event proceeds support Growing Healthy Kids, a program of Community Food Advocates, which brings parents of public school children, students, and community members together to increase access to healthy food in public schools.

For tickets or more information, email or go HERE.

Hope to see you there!