Tagged with " education"

10 Things My 30s Taught Me

On December 28, I turned 40. This came as no surprise, even to one as math-impaired as me.

It’s virtually impossible to throw a birthday party on my birthday, since everyone is exhausted from Christmas and saving up energy for a big New Year’s Eve blowout (if they’re even in town). There’s even an Old English word for it: symbel-werig. It means “feast-weary,” and that’s what everyone is on my birthday.

The worst it ever got was my 18th birthday. My parents had dinner theater tickets, and my brother was at his friend’s house (after his birthday, the day before mine. No, really.). My sister and I were home alone. She made a Pyrex bowl of raspberry Jell-O and stuck a taper candle in it. We watched Schindler’s List. Whoop-de-doo.

For the big one this year, though, I decided that nothing said “me at 40” like riding rollercoasters. Thanks to Nickelodeon Universe, the indoor theme park in the middle of the Mall of America, it’s actually possible to do this in a Minnesota winter. Also, yay for half-price unlimited ride wristbands from 5-10pm. There was the entertaining possibility that I’d get a mall security escort because I’d been a marshal at the #BlackLivesMatterMOA protest two weeks earlier. I planned to lure him onto rides, in case I felt like chanting anti-oppression slogans on the loop-de-loops. Alas, no joy.

Rolling over the odometer also made me think about what can happen in just one decade of living. I don’t feel older, or even different, just more like the person 30-year-old me hoped to be eventually. Still, I learned a lot of lessons in the last 10 years, so here’s the top 10 lessons I learned in my 30s.

1) Having a second child is nothing like having the first. I had my first son when I was 28, and my second one when I was 32. Instead of throwing up 20 hours a day for 5.5 months, I threw up 24 hours a day for 7.5 months in my second pregnancy. My labor couldn’t have been more different, too. And you needn’t look any further than this blog for how different the boys are from one another. Motherhood: what a weird, wonderful ride.

2) The key to my kid is the key to myself. When I was a kid, my parents and teachers told me I was “socially backward” because I was intellectually advanced. Slamming doors and balloons popping gave me migraines. I preferred the company of adults. And I recognized a lot of these traits in my older son; we joked that he inherited those traits. In fact, what we both were was autistic. Learning that unlocked memories and mysteries that plagued me my whole life, and understanding those helped me translate the world for my kid. We’re all so much better for knowing ourselves.

3) Intersectionality is everything. I’ve felt this way forever, but didn’t know there was a word for it until I read a Flavia Dzodan blog post that introduced me to the term, coined by UCLA prof Kimberlé Crenshaw. I also didn’t realize it was such a controversial idea until I started advocating it. How is this difficult for people to understand? We are all so many different people, and all of our selves are bound together when it comes to liberation. How can you be a feminist who excludes trans women? How can you be anti-racism and simultaneously suppress the contributions of women? How can you demand an end to oppression but hold planning meetings that are inaccessible to disabled people? In Flavia’s words, “My activism will be intersectional or it will be shit.”

4) Don’t move without a safety net. I learned this one the hard way. In Minnesota, you have to be a resident before you can apply for state health insurance. We had paperwork ready to go the day we moved, but we encountered a four-month wait. We’d saved money for an appointment to get me set up with bridge coverage for my fibro and depression. What I didn’t do was research doctors—the one I went to refused to continue the treatment plan I’d had for over a decade. The decompensation that happened without my prescriptions resulted in a summer lost to pain and despair, ultimately landing me in the hospital. Lesson learned? You cannot overplan for your medical care when moving–your life literally depends on it.

5) Family is what you make it. I grew up so close to my family that I refused to even consider moving to New Zealand to be with my Darling Husband, because I couldn’t imagine going so long between visits with my parents and siblings. But after I called out my family about 4 years ago for treating my autistic son like crap and undermining our parenting, everything changed. My brother and sister still won’t talk to me for hurting my mom, even though she and I are fine now. Thankfully, we’ve built a family of friends, old and young, near and far, who more than make up for the love lost. All that’s left to mourn is the continuity.

6) Sharing knowledge is more than the letters after your name. My grad school department kicked me out in 2005 because my area of study didn’t match their idea of subjects that build a “world-class history program.” Despite that, I have 15 years of teaching experience, and knowledge that I use everyday—with my kids, with other kids, with other adults, and in my organizing. Teaching is my vocation, plainly put. Even if the flood of post-recession Ph.D.s makes it unlikely I’ll get a college job again, I’m always looking for ways to share what I know in engaging ways.

7) Caucusing is hazardous to your health. Until we moved to Minnesota, I’d always lived in states with primary elections, so I was extremely excited to attend my first caucus on February 2, 2012. It was weird and idiosyncratic and strangely wonderful; I was too hyped about democracy to sleep until midnight. At about 1:00 AM, I woke with abdominal pain. By 5:00 AM, it was worse than labor, and Darling Husband took me to the ER. I had acute pancreatitis, caused by a gallstone. I spent a week in the hospital, and they surgically removed a bag of rocks from my gut. I now view caucuses as highly suspicious and potentially life-threatening.

8) I am committed with my whole heart and soul to equity. This isn’t about rights, or even history. It’s about empathy. If anyone’s potential is oppressed for who they are, then my potential is also less. I see the beautiful humanity in everyone, and want for them the joys I’ve found and the opportunity to be all of themselves. And yes, I’m willing to block traffic, invade public spaces, and commit civil disobedience to make this happen. I consider it a sacred duty.

9) Together, we win. I’ve never been very competitive, and I always plan for failure so that, as Lloyd Dobbler wisely advised, “…everything’s kind of a pleasant surprise.” But with the campaign for marriage equality, and against Voter ID, and for a new anti-bullying bill and a higher minimum wage, guess what I discovered? I like to win. I like it almost as much as the conversations and organizing it takes to come out victorious. These efforts and the folks I’ve met in them evaporated any cynicism I had about the potential of people power. I highly recommend it to everyone.

10) It’s never too late. I didn’t intend to really go balls-out for the last year of my 30s, but I accidentally did. I learned and performed burlesque dance, even in this imperfect body. I got two big tattoos, the first I’ve ever had. I went to a national convention for community organizers. I shut down highways, corporate offices, and the largest mall in America. I made my kid’s middle school change their negative, reactive response to common autistic behaviors, and re-centered them on positive reinforcement that nourishes all children’s education. All this with my physical and mental limitations. It’s never too late to do important things, and if you forget that, just ask me for a reminder.

Sep 20, 2013 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

What I Can Do For You

I didn’t set out to be a Woman of Mystery. Really, I didn’t–I’ve always thought the whole thing with secret identities was super-hokey.

But it appears that some folks don’t actually know what all I can do. That probably has a lot to do with having a number of different jobs, some of them concurrently. So I thought that maybe I’d write a post that just stands as a more chatty sort of CV, for future reference. I know I’ll be back in here to fiddle with the things I’ve left out, but this is basically me.

EDUCATION

I have 15 years’ teaching experience. Most of that is at the university level, but I substitute taught for middle and high schools for 3 years, where I was a special favorite of the foreign language teachers. I also have experience teaching short-term history and foreign language courses for homeschool collectives where kids to get instruction on subjects a little more technical or diverse than most parents can provide.

I’ve written whole courses, including websites and primary source collections, for Western Civ, Intro to World Religions, Women in Religion, Early and Medieval Christianity, and Rhetoric and Composition. I lecture, I organize group activities, I lead discussion groups, I write and grade exams, and I give one hell of a test prep session. And I am exactly the person you want to bring along on a trip to a museum or an historical site. (I may not be the person you want to go see a movie about medieval times with, though.)

I can train folks on skills commonly used in (but not exclusively by) community organizing. I’m a good consultant on issues of diversity, especially women’s and LGBT issues and neurodiversity, because I can effectively articulate the reasons why things do or don’t work.

EDITING/PUBLISHING

I offer professional services in copyediting and proofreading, as well as art direction. I edit for content, consistent style and voice, continuity, and flow. I can also check formatting in academic work using MLA or Chicago style. I’m good at highlighting problematic topics and language that might not be accessible or welcoming to every reader. And I’m like the kid from The Sixth Sense when it comes to proofreading: “I see typos. Everywhere.

I have had paid gigs editing and/or proofreading academic papers, roleplaying games, board game instructions, marketing material, self-help books, and SF/F novels. I’m eager to branch out into editing more genres of fiction (I would rule the world at romance novel editing), and I’m looking forward to my first paid job translating a major work from French to English soon.

I adore doing art direction, especially for RPGs, because I get very clear images in my head from the text, and I’m good at describing them for artists to interpret. I include copious photo references (all digital links these days) for people, places, correct period costumes, weaponry, and other relevant details.

CREATIVE

I crochet, knit, cross-stitch, sew, and make jewelry, as well as a number of more or less useful one-off crafts. I brew herbal medicines in my kitchen, including “magic stuff” which may be the most useful substance ever invented. I perform tarot card readings (yes, it seems to work equally well over Skype, email, or Twitter). I blog, and I write short- and long-form fiction–I would dearly love to participate in an anthology. I can design meaningful multi-faith (or no-faith) rituals for any occasion, like weddings, memorials, or baby blessings. I’m good at public speaking, and have performed speeches, sermons, and MC duties. I’m designing my first card game; I’m also writing a roleplaying adventure that teaches social skills to kids on the autism spectrum.

Weeklong Training #2: Melian Debate

Of all the readings I might have expected to be assigned during Weeklong, Thucydides (my old nemesis from History grad school) wasn’t one of them. Yet there it was, the chapter on the Melians, an island nation drawn into the Peloponnesian War, in our prep materials. Reading it in the context of how we act on our ideals in the face of a practical threat was enlightening, but I couldn’t see how it would apply to our training.

My confusion grew when I showed up at the first session Monday morning, and the group leader (Don, from the night before) asked who had participated in a Melian Debate before. Was this to be some kind of quiz in the form of a reenactment? I didn’t raise my hand with a few other folks who indicated this was new territory, figuring anyone who’s read that same passage at least five times before should fare okay.

Don lined up teams of four debaters, named them Melians and Athenians, then set them to argue their respective positions. The only rule, he told us, was, “I can interrupt.” He occasionally retired people from the line-ups and called new folks. Then he made the teams switch allegiance and argue the other side. Everything seemed like an academic exercise until he started sending people out of the room.

I wasn’t called until the end, so I sat there, half my brain trying to psychically will good points of argument to the various players, the other half frantically scanning for a pattern to Don’s interruptions. I couldn’t find one. People who hardly said a word were sent from the room. People who engaged ferociously for their side stayed for long minutes, then returned to the audience. No rhyme or reason.

Apparently, others started questioning Don’s calls too, because a group from outside the room came back in with the intention of disrupting the debate. They proposed sending an assassin to kill the Athenian delegation. Don responded by announcing that the Athenians start destroying Melian villages. The escalation of urgency drove both teams into ever more retrenched arguments, despite being increasingly uncertain what the end game or victory even looked like. Finally, Don called a halt to the exercise, about three minutes after I joined the Melians.

Then came the moral of the lesson: This wasn’t about winning or losing. In fact, the reenactment of the debate wasn’t the point at all. What really mattered is how we reacted to power–namely, Don’s power. The way we responded, individually and collectively, to Don’s commands revealed how we generally respond to people in positions of power. Almost all of us simply followed orders. We sat down when Don said to sit down, we left the room when he said to go, we grew agitated and desperate when he started giving “reports from the front.” None of us questioned his choices, and when a group did try to take back some control, they were disorganized and ineffective, ultimately still responding to the artificial emergency and not Don’s role in it.

We felt terrible. Because, deep down, we hated knowing he was right.

I didn’t find out as much about my own responses to people in power because I wasn’t called into things until the very end, but maybe that’s its own lesson. I tend to wait until I either see something that needs to be done, or I ask for jobs from people who seem to have a sense of the larger plan. When I’ve initiated my own plan of action in the past, I’ve been slapped down by people who don’t like a different way of doing things, or my take-charge attitude, or not vetting my plans according to the “proper channels.” And I’ve let those unappreciative responses intimidate me from being more of a self-starter.

People in power have absolutely no interest in making room for people out of power at the table, so you have to be willing to build your own power with other people until they have to take you seriously. We can’t wait for authority figures to ask our opinion, or sit down when they tell us to. For a room full of activists determined to buck the system and change the world, facing such undeniable proof of our less-than-commanding attitude toward power was an unwelcome Monday morning wake-up call.

Apr 2, 2013 - Psychology, Social Studies    3 Comments

Autism Acceptance Month: Resources for Autistics and Allies

Capture1Today is World Autism Awareness Day, but autistics and many concerned advocates have done a great job of rebranding it as Autism Acceptance Day/Month. What’s the difference, you may ask? To many neurodiverse people, “awareness” and “acceptance” are as far apart as “tolerance” and “equality.” We don’t want past and current generations of people who are differently wired than our neurotypical family and friends to just subsist on the fringes until a “cure” is found for those not yet diagnosed (or even born).

But many of those neurotypical allies don’t really know where to begin when faced with the complex spectrum of autism-related traits and patterns, and I know they’d be genuinely mortified if they grabbed the wrong end of the facts and proceeded as informed.

So here’s a very short, very subjective list of places you can go to experience some of the range and diversity of autism. If you’ve found something you feel should be on this list, please leave it in comments! I’m always on the lookout for new resources! And if you don’t know where something you’ve come across fits on the range of positive voices, please don’t feel embarrassed to ask–wanting to be informed is the first and most important step for any ally of any kind.

Filmography

The documentary Loving Lampposts, available on instant Netflix in at least the U.S., does an excellent job of approaching its autistic subjects with sensitivity and a willingness to truly hear their experiences. I especially appreciated that it included role models who are non-verbal, showing the brilliant thoughts that speech alone is incapable of capturing for them.

The only “fictional” movie I’ve seen that does a good job with autism is the HBO docudrama Temple Grandin (based on the real life of the autism pioneer), but two TV shows, Parenthood and Alphas, portray their autistic characters in ways that have made me gasp, laugh, and cry with recognition and gratitude. Many people cite the new BBC series Sherlock for the Asperger’s-like characteristics the title character shows, but given his other egomaniacal and insensitive traits, he’s not exactly what I’d call a role model, no matter how brilliant he is.

Bibliography

There’s a wide and diverse array of books out there about autism, but I’m only going to recommend the ones I’ve personally read. A few are fiction, but most are memoirs of one kind or another. It’s amazing to see your own life in print without having written a word. And in general, while autistics have found many ways to manage their symptoms and concurrent problems like food allergies or other medical issues, back away slowly from any book that talks about “preventing” or “curing” autism.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Look Me In The Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (he’s written two more memoirs since, and I assume they’re just as good as his first)

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch (he too has written successive books that I intend to get to in my Pile o’Shame)

If you only read one book on this list, read Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking, an anthology edited by Julia Bascom.

If you only read one author at all, read anything you can get by Dr. Temple Grandin.

Organizography (yes, I’m starting to make up words)

A great alternative to Autism Speaks, which is to be avoided at all costs, is the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN). Co-founder Ari Ne’eman works on behalf of the org to bring cases of abuse and discrimination to public attention, as well as to make autistic voices heard in the room for discussions of policy and programs all the way up to the federal level. Their motto is “Nothing About Us, Without Us,” and their website is a great resource for allies as well as autistic folks.

Both national and local branches of Autism Society are also generally positive, though some may be more or less dominated by parents and teachers of autistics, rather than autistics themselves. That’s something to gauge on your own; if you don’t hear from an autistic person within a few meetings or press releases, that may not be a great sign.

Blogography (that one may or may not be a real word by now)

The number of excellent autistic bloggers out there is too numerous for me to do justice to, but you may want to start with a group on Facebook or Twitter like ASAN, Autism Women’s Network, WrongPlanet.net, or The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. They boost signal on blog posts and articles from a lot of great authors, not least among them are: Julia Bascom, Steve Silberman, Emily WillinghamIbby Anderson-Grace, Shannon Des Roches Rosa, Estee Klar, and Lydia Brown. I know I’m forgetting a ton of good ones, so start friending/following the ones you like, and they’ll lead you to more and better, I’m certain. That’s how I got started at least.

 

Feb 28, 2013 - Psychology, Social Studies    8 Comments

Lock And Key

Friday is the Autistic Day of Mourning, a day to honor the autistic people who have lost their lives to the desperate or careless actions of parents and guardians, or to the crushing weight of the sensory world that seems inescapable by any other means but death.

As long as myths and misinformation are spread about what life on the autism spectrum is like, there will continue to be caretakers who feel that autistics are less than human, and autistics who feel that every door in the world is shut and locked against them. This is my story of those doors and locks, and the keys that turn up in the most unexpected of places.

I wrote this for an event around Mothers’ Day, called Listen To Your Mother. (It may have been too weird for them.) But I really wanted to share these words I’ve crafted, and the occasion to commemorate those who never found their keys seemed fitting. I hope it unlocks something for you, too.

________

Parenthood is all doors and windows, keys and locks. Change blows them open and slams them shut. Heat and grief swell the frames so they stick stubbornly. Time and anger jam the pins and squeak the hinges. Then suddenly, a word, a fall, a breakthrough, and we stumble over the threshold.

My son’s autism diagnosis was the key to a lock I didn’t even know existed. Kindergarten was rough, rougher than it needed to be. Connor talked as fast as he thought, ideas rushing out so fast his little mouth garbled and stammered over the vocabulary of a high schooler. He knew the names and origins of every superhero and Star Wars character, but related them with so much detail, kids his age gave up and walked away. He struggled to function in the constant noise and color of the classroom, where he could never settle and instead slingshotted among activities and classmates.

The other kindergartners didn’t understand, and responded with cruelty beyond comprehension. Five-year-olds on the bus home at half-day told him they would beat him like a piñata until he broke open. They said they would come into his room and set his bed on fire. They hit him in the face with ice balls until he needed stitches. And I cried as I scrubbed the blood out of his little winter coat, as I held him in the night after dreams that woke him screaming. As I filed the papers to transfer him to somewhere safer.

We got called to a meeting within the first month at his new school. “We’ve noticed some things we’d like to talk to you about,” the counselor said. We feared a repeat of the last school’s message: “Your son is a discipline problem. Fix that.” But in that room with his teacher and a staff we barely knew, they slid a list across the table to us that told the story of our son.

My husband and I laughed. Out loud. It startled the school folks to see parents erupt in gales of hilarity and recognition at an inventory of symptoms. But there it was, clear as day on that paper: every strange, wonderful, frustrating, inexplicable thing that our son did. “It’s okay,” we tried to reassure them. “This is the Book of Connor, the pattern we couldn’t figure out. Until now, we thought it was crap parenting.”

It has a name, they told us: Asperger’s Syndrome. “How wonderful,” we replied. “If it has a name, it’s a language we can learn.” We shook their hands, agreed to meet again soon to talk about how to help him. We thanked them, over and over. “Thank you for giving us the key to unlock our son.” I went to the library, checked out armloads of books, and built a fortress around myself, so I could read us all out of the dark.

But the key we had fit another lock, too. It fit a lock in me, a lock I didn’t know I had. His patterns were my patterns, or had been as a child before I learned to hide or work around them. I saw the world in stories too, and had visions clearer than eyesight from the books where I went to hide. I fixated on things without even trying or wanting to. And when it was too much, only dark and quiet and heavy blankets and the rushing, patternless sound of a fan could steady me on the tightrope again.

His lock, my lock, they’re the same. My son is autistic. I am autistic. We are both autistic together. We share this key, and we’re unlocking doors I never dreamed I would pass down to my child.

Grownups say they wish they knew then what they know now. They have no idea.

My son’s lock is my lock. His key is my key. Every door it opens, it opens for him and me. And I walk that terrible, glorious road of discovery with him again like it’s the first time for us both.

Closing Arguments

I’ve been working on the campaign for marriage equality here in Minnesota since March, and as I’ve written before, it’s the most fulfilling political, social, and activist project I’ve ever worked on. I’m a total addict to the amazing people and experiences I encounter every single time I put in some time, and I’m going to crash hard on November 7, even if we manage to win. I’m already getting the shakes. Last night, I asked my friend and co-trainer Scott, who works in politics for his day job, for a new campaign–I’m lining up a new dealer once Minnesotans United for All Families skips town.

MN United has built a campaign unlike any other, rejecting the messages and tactics that have failed in 30 states where anti-marriage amendments have gone up for a popular vote. While talk about the rights and benefits that attach to marriage, and how the denial of those rights amounts to separate-but-equal discrimination on par with civil rights fights of the past, are important to many supporters of marriage equality, they aren’t generally persuasive for people who are on the fence about gay marriage. So we’re having personal conversations with voters, using our own life stories, to make it clear that marriage is about love and commitment, no matter the gender of the partners. These stories are powerful, and they change hearts and minds and votes.

Only four days remain until the election, so I’m going to share the core of the conversations I’ve been having with you today. If you’re in one of the four states voting on marriage equality, I hope that this strengthens your resolve if you’re a supporter, and opens your heart to the conversation if you’re still undecided.

Our first walk as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, 5 October 1996

I find this amendment personally hurtful on so many levels. I have the great good fortune to be married to the love of my life, despite the astronomical odds that we would ever find one another on opposite sides of the world. And for the last sixteen years, we’ve had each other in good times and bad. I’ve rejoiced in the affection and the support and the million inside jokes and shorthand references that weave us closer, and I’ve buckled with relief into that tightly knit fabric of partnership in the times of crisis and grief. I think marriage is the best game in town, and I devoutly wish the same celebration and endorsement for every loving, committed couple who lean into the unknown future together.

All of this hinges, though, on one critical fact: my beloved was the opposite gender. When we fell madly in love, we had many obstacles to overcome so we could be together, but the legal right for me to marry him and secure his immigration status so we could start our new life together was not one of them. We obtained a K-1 “fiance” visa that allowed him to enter the country and get on the fast track for a green card by submitting evidence of our marriage. We went through the separate interviews to assure our marriage wasn’t a scam.

But I’m bisexual. There was no guarantee that my soulmate would be a man. And if he weren’t, the last sixteen years–all the love, all the progress, all the family we’ve built–disappear. That one thought blows through my gut like an icy wind and fills me with unbearable sorrow. I cannot imagine the pain and devastation of being told I couldn’t marry and be with my beloved.

And I look at my amazing, difficult, brilliant, gorgeous, perfect sons, and I marvel even more. We didn’t have to submit any applications or pass any interviews before we decided to conceive them, and not once have we ever had to fear that they would be taken away from us. We’re far from perfect parents, but no one has ever questioned whether we’re the best people to raise them. It’s assumed that they’re safe and happy and healthy and loved, and there’s no awkwardness when I introduce their other parent at school events or church functions.

Believe me, all this “traditional”-ness is positively mortifying to a weird, eclectic nonconformist like me. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. We didn’t set out to create a “traditional” family, and we’ve done everything in our power to the least traditional traditional family around. But we are very aware of our privilege, and there’s no reason in the world it should be reserved to our narrow demographic.

Marriage is an important but limited part of how I envision family. I’m a child of divorce, and even as an eight-year-old, I knew that my mother and father weren’t working out. I knew that marriage stood in the way of being our best selves, and I told my mom often as a kid, then a teenager, then an adult, that she made the right call. That divorce didn’t dissolve the ties of family, though–I’m still close with my father’s family, and I kept my birth last name as a second middle name when my stepdad adopted us years later. But I also watched my grandparents’ marriage, which started with my grandma saying, “I’ll marry you so I can get out of the house before I kill my sister. But if it doesn’t work out, you go your way, I’ll go mine, and no hard feelings.” It lasted 62 years.

We teach our sons that families come in all shapes and sizes. Of course, we didn’t have to work too hard to teach them this: they already knew it. They have friends who have a mom and a dad like they do, and friends who only live with their mom or their dad, or travel between their parents’ houses. They know friends who live with extended family, or foster parents, or adoptive families. And they know friends with two dads or two moms. All they care about is that their friends are as loved and secure as they are.

So I’m voting no.

I’m voting no because I treasure my marriage. No other word in our language and society so completely sums up the lifelong commitment and enduring love that I share with my partner, and it hurts to imagine being told that we didn’t qualify for that word by something we couldn’t change or improve. My marriage is strong, and no married gay couple down the street, arguing about bills and chores like we do, makes that less secure.

I’m voting no because I hold my sons in hope and love. I feel that they’re better people because we’ve taught them that every person is worthy of the same dignity, no exceptions. My dream for my boys is to dance at their weddings, and the only thing I care about is that the person they marry loves them as much as I love their father. I’m going to dance, it’s going to be Bad Mom Dancing, and it’s going to live on in infamy on YouTube, to forever embarrass them, like every good mom should.

I’m voting no because my understanding of the world’s faiths teaches me that the most universal truth among humans is to treat one another the way we would want to be treated. Whether it’s the Judeo-Christian Golden Rule, or the Confucian Silver Rule, this is held as a central tenet. We rarely follow the ancient scriptures that prohibit same-sex partners on other subjects; we acknowledge that they’re historical documents, and that society’s values have evolved since they were written. I want my church to have the religious freedom to marry gay and lesbian couples as our faith embraces as equally entitled.

I’m voting no because I’m a historian. I can see that the institution of marriage predates the Bible and that it began as an economic transaction to link families and secure heredity. It was not always a sacrament, and it was not always available to every heterosexual couple. It hasn’t “always been” any particular way. Marriage for love is a damned newfangled idea, relatively speaking. If you married someone not from your hometown, you’re already breaking “traditional” convention, let alone someone of a different church, faith, ethnic group, or race.

I’m voting no because I’m a teacher and a parent, and the health, safety, and wellbeing of every child matters to me. I can’t imagine the horror of waiting to know how the state where they were born is going to vote on whether they and their families are welcome. LGBT youth are so fragile already, under siege in schools and churches and media, and it’s a sacred trust we are given to show them that they can aspire to fully participate in society and experience the range of human love. I have great confidence that other teachers will continue to teach age-appropriate lessons, and that as parents we still have the greatest power to teach our children about morality.

I’m voting no because I’m a patriot. I believe in the founding principles of our country, especially the purpose of our constitution as a document that secures personal freedoms and limits government intrusions. The constitution should never be used to carve out a segment of the population and deprive them of the same liberties as others enjoy. And we certainly shouldn’t be putting rights up for a popular vote. Ideological conservatives have made some of the most persuasive arguments along these lines.

I’m voting no because I’m an optimist, and I believe our society is moving toward a broader, more inclusive understanding of one another. The less we allow race, gender, faith, class, and sexual orientation to cloud our vision of a common humanity, the more we will recognize that we all want the same thing. We’ve got a long way to go on all of those issues, but we can (and should!) work on them simultaneously. I reject the arguments of fear, division, and misunderstanding, and I put my hope in the journey we’re on toward life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

A Government of the People

I think we can all agree on the winner of last night’s first presidential debate:

Big Bird.

Seriously, more than the President’s apparent NyQuil mishap, or the former governor’s faulty truth software, or the tragic demise of both Jim Lehrer’s moderator cred and the formal debate format, it’s Romney’s comment about getting rid of Big Bird when he would defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that’s blown up my social media feeds today. If Joe Biden doesn’t say “Bin Laden is dead and Big Bird is alive!” at next Thursday’s veep debate, he’s missing a great opportunity.

But that got me thinking. We’re big PBS and NPR fans in the Banks household, and the way I see it, the takeover of the federal government by the combined talents of those two organizations could only improve life for us all.

So here’s my plan for the new, improved CPB American government: Calm, Patient, Brilliant.

THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH

I think a Garrison Keillor/Carl Kasell ticket is just the thing to bring dignity, truth, and mildly humorous storytelling to the White House. Martha the Talking Dog could bring a new articulateness to the role of First Dog, and fill in as White House Press Secretary whenever Peter Sagal needed a break.

The Cabinet is where my plan truly shines. The Dowager Countess is an obvious pick for Secretary of State, as is Wordgirl for Education. Bob Vila‘s got Housing and Urban Development covered, and Bill Moyers would make a strong, moral, incorruptible Attorney General. Clifford the Big Red Dog will advance a “speak softly and carry a big stick” policy in his Department of Defense. Ken Burns gets the Department of the Interior, with its oversight of national parks, monuments, and natural resources. Helen Mirren/Jane Tennyson would be a ferocious head of Homeland Security. Click and Clack should do nicely for Transportation, as would the Antiques Roadshow folks for Commerce and the Victory Garden people for Agriculture. Marketplace could manage both Treasury and Labor, and the Frontline reporters have been with the soldiers all the way through the last 10+ years of warfare, so they’d a natural pick for Veterans Affairs. Martin Clunes/Doc Martin is good for Health and Human Services, especially coming from National Health Service as he does. And let’s give the NOVA guys the Department of Energy–at least they don’t think the cast of Dinosaur Train are the only source out there.

THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH

My plan is beautiful in its simplicity for Congress. Over the years, I’d wager Masterpiece Mystery has killed off at least 541 people. If we include the perpetrators, that’s enough to field candidates for actual contested races in all those states and districts. For that matter, probably enough to completely staff the home and Washington offices.

Between the corpses and the criminals, we’ll achieve roughly the same levels of trust and productivity as the 112th Congress. And probably a better gender and minority balance.

THE JUDICIAL BRANCH

Sesame Workshop’s got this covered.

 

And, obviously, Nina Tottenberg continues to provide dramatic readings from the transcripts from this esteemed body.

 

A FEW LOOSE ENDS

The Yip-Yip Aliens can only improve the FCC. Sid the Science Kid might be a bit young for the CDC, but at least he won’t treat it like a faith-based department. Bob Ross, bless his soul, would’ve ruled as director of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Cyberchase kids should be outstanding at all the electronic surveillance over in the CIA. Terry Gross is a relentless interrogator who could whip the FBI into shape in a heartbeat. And Congressional Budget Office’s reports might take a little longer with Count von Count at the helm, but the constant thunder will comfort everyone that he’s always hard at work. Neil deGrasse Tyson already should be the head of NASA, so that’s a no-brainer.

And Curious George would definitely be a pro-legalization Drug Czar.

The CPB government will eliminate all personal income taxes, but you’ll have to deal with Fall and Spring pledge drives. The guilt trips will be epic, but between Austin City Lights, The Mark Twain Prize, and This American Life, there’ll be some outstanding programming twice a year to get citizens to chip in their fair share.

I’m sure there are many positions I’ve forgotten, or other excellent candidate for the posts I’ve named, so feel free to suggest your own in comments.

Wouldn’t it be nice to finally have a government for 100 percent of America? And commercial-free, too.

 

Defiance and Expectations

This post is going to be fast and messy, but it’s been a big week, and I feel like I need to get this out there for the people in my life who get news from this blog or care about the topic at hand.

The school year started for the boys on September 4, and it’s been a rocky start. Connor, our 10-year-old, liked his teacher, and was overjoyed to be back with his friends, but every day it’s been excruciatingly difficult to get him out the door, and now Griffin is putting up the same fight because he’s taking the cue from his brother that School Is To Be Avoided.

Connor’s still fenced in by extreme anxiety when it comes to math (despite his extraordinary abilities in the subject–at least in my case, the anxiety came from not being able to do it). We’ve established psychiatric care and a great therapist, but he hasn’t got into the real swing of things with them yet, with regular appointments and close monitoring. And while the partial hospitalization program in which he participated last spring has removed the immediate threat of suicide, he’s still emotionally volatile, though to a less extreme degree and in fewer instances than he was before we found a combination of medications that work well for him.

Through all this, we’ve always been able to answer quickly and honestly that Connor is not a danger to anyone but himself, except in the instance that a concerned adult might try to put him/herself in his way when he’s in full, physical meltdown mode. This week, that changed. For reasons we still don’t fully understand, he attacked one of his good friends in class, at the end of a short, incredibly fast series of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, frustrations, and other perfect-storm-like colliding factors. He put her in a chokehold, refused to let go, then flung her down to the floor, and bolted from the room.

He was immediately swamped with remorse, and he doesn’t fully remember the instance, a good indication that his emotions had completely derailed any kind of reason (from a previous post, the elephant was in full charge, and probably lost the rider entirely for a time). And as parents, the news that your child hurt and frightened another child is so close to the horror and anger and grief of your child being the object of such an incident. We all took word of his 3-day suspension without a word of protest.

But the school social worker indicated quite plainly that, while Connor has a safety plan in place to prevent meltdowns or self-harm, he had crossed beyond what they can reasonably be expected to accommodate. She told us that she could schedule a tour of the dedicated special education school in the district for later this week. We acquiesced, but I found myself immediately digging mental trenches for a long, difficult fight.

I had very clear expectations of what a move to this school would mean for my son. I expected the crowded, chaotic special ed classrooms I’ve seen in the schools I’ve attended and worked for. I expected lots of much more severely disabled or troubled kids, grouped together by age rather than ability level, each working with a teacher on everything from just holding a pencil to lessons well below their age level in difficulty. I expected to smell urine, to hear screams and overloud sounds. I expected to find a place that would be safety first, education a distant second, and the potential to crush my son’s soul. I expected to be told he would have to stay there for the rest of his education.

With thanks to the Saint Paul Public Schools and all the universal forces that watch over us, what we saw today at the RiverEast School couldn’t have been more different than what I expected to see. They’ve just expanded into more space, and the hallway with the fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms is open and peaceful. The classrooms had only three to five students in them; the class maximum is eight. They were uncluttered, functional, low-stimulation spaces, but brightly lit and well-equipped. Each room has a teacher, a paraprofessional, and a mental health specialist in them at all times. The kids were attentive to the lesson being taught at the front of the room, and nobody was telling them to stop moving in their own idiosyncratic rhythms of calming and self-stimulation.

I asked how they handled meds and meltdowns, and was satisfied with the answers. I asked if they offered gifted services. The program coordinator said no, but went on to explain that if Connor showed himself to be capable of working on sixth-grade math, they’d just move him up to the sixth-grade classroom for that subject, an accommodation that his regular school has never offered. She informed us that they use the same curricula as the rest of the district, which means that as they help him learn to work through his fears and anxieties about math, they’ll be helping him use the same curriculum his peers are using back at his regular school, so the transition back would be minimally disruptive. The reading curriculum is already determined by skill level, so he can work as far ahead as he is able.

Additionally, group and recreational therapy are a part of the everyday schedule, and their curriculum is responsive to the needs of the kids, so if there’s a particular issue that keeps coming up, they can spend some time working on that specific skill or emotion. And finally, the goal is to mainstream the kids back to their regular school as quickly as possible after reaching a stable, healthy, consistent level of self-management. This isn’t a warehouse for defective kids.

So we’re going to go along with this. I’m still feeling enormous guilt for not just taking on the task of homeschooling or any of the other, more parent-centered options. Heavens know I’m equipped to teach him, but our financial needs just don’t allow, and neither, frankly, do my own mental health needs. But of all the possible solutions to Connor’s emotional, intellectual, and physical needs, this one surprised me by being a real, humane, supportive option.

This isn’t the end of this story, by a long shot, but that’s where we are right now. Parents are never sure they’re doing the right thing by their kid; with special needs kids, that’s doubly so. But we can’t just stand still and wait for things to get better. We have to keep moving, and for now, this is the best direction we can find.

Family Game Night: Friday Night Lists

I haven’t done a Friday Night List in a while, mostly because when it’s summer break, Friday night’s no different than any other night. But now that we’re wrapping up the first week back to school, it’s a blessed relief for all of us to flick off the alarm for tomorrow morning, so I thought I’d celebrate.

NEWS ALERT: We are a family of gamers. Shocking, I know. But even more than it being both work and passion for the Darling Husband and me, gaming has become instrumental in our parenting and education styles. They’re fantastic ways to sneak math and reading into their intellectual diet, and kids’ll often tackle concepts far more complex than grade level eagerly to master new levels of success in the game.

And, possibly more importantly, they’re perfect rehearsal spaces for a variety of social skills that all kids need work on, not just kids on the autism spectrum. Games teach turn-taking, graceful winning/losing, flexibility at unpredictable change, calculated risk-taking, cooperation, and enjoyment of others’ enjoyment. Honestly, how many adults do you know who have all those mastered?!

So, here’s a list of what we most frequently play at home these days. It’s very, very far from complete, and there are a number of embarrassing omissions, most notably Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (the DH’s current sandbox) and Once Upon A Time (one of my company’s best kid-friendly games, gorgeous 3rd Edition due in October ). But good games rotate through our regular play schedule, and we’ve got a few great new ones on deck to try out too. Here’s what’s in demand at the moment:

1) GLOOM (Atlas Games): This one is evergreen for my kids. In Gloom by Keith Baker (art by Todd Remick), you’re in charge of a truly despicable family, and it’s your job to make them as miserable as possible before bumping them off in a horrible way. Meanwhile, you want to shower blessings and joy on your fellow players to prevent them from meeting the same fate. Up is down, and down is up, and kids positively cackle with delight when I moan and thrash and castigate them for something so repellent as a picnic in a park. Educational Skills: Positive and negative integers, and awesome new vocab like “consumption,” “dysentery,” and “chastised.” Social Skills: Turn-taking, cooperation/collaboration, winning/losing, strategy.

2) GET BIT (Mayday Games): A new favorite by developer Dave Chalker, the mechanics are very simple and attractive: You are one of a line of swimmers being chased by a shark. You have cards 1-7 which you play to determine each round’s race. The one left at the end of the line gets bit. The swimmer pieces have detachable body parts that give a satisfying LEGO-like snap when they come off, though the little pieces require kids to pay special attention during clean-up. Educational Skills: Probability, anatomy (?) Social Skills: Turn-taking, winning/losing, strategy.

3) WILDCRAFT! (LearningHerbs.com): I was attracted to this game by Kimberly and John Gallagher because it teaches kids to recognize common medicinal plants in nature and their uses, and I’m all about nature awareness for my kids. But the game mechanic is purely cooperative, and fosters truly collaborative game play toward the goal of getting everybody to and from the mulberry patch in the middle of forest in the time between sunup and sundown. Players draw Danger Cards for ailments like bee stings, fatigue, blisters, and sunburn, as well as plant cards; a system of symbols and detailed botanical drawings make the game playable even for pre-literate kids. And they collect Cooperation Cards that they can use to bring the last player up with them to get through the forest faster. Educational Skills: Plant recognition, herbal medicine. Social Skills: Turn-taking, cooperation/collaboration, strategy.

4) CASTLE PANIC (Fireside Games): In this game by Justin De Witt, players defend a castle in the center of a board shaped like a bullseye, which is accurate, because you’re under heavy siege by monsters of all kinds lurking in the forest around your keep. As the monsters advance on all sides, players cooperate to defend their walls. It’s largely hopeless, but it’s excellent fun to toss resource chips and skilled warriors back and forth and see how long you can hold out this time. Educational Skills: Um, trolls? Castle building? Social Skills: Cooperation/collaboration, strategy, graceful losing (not much winning).

5) LIGRETTO DICE (Playroom Entertainment): Otherwise known as “The Noisy Game” in our house, each player gets a cup full of six-sided dice of four different colors in this game by Inka and Markus Brand. You shake and dump them out, then race to put your dice on the board in ascending order in each color column. It’s a little bit Yahtzee, a little bit speed game. Adults might have to throw a few games ’til the kids get up to full speed, but once they climb the learning curve, it’s game on. Educational Skills: Numbers, colors, pattern recognition. Social Skills: Fast decision making, calculated risk-taking, winning/losing, strategy.

6) BLINK (Out of the Box Games): Another speed game (designed by Reinhard Staupe and artists John Kovalic, Ariel Laden, & Jurgen Martens)  in which players work through a deck of cards by add to two central piles by matching the number, color, or shape of symbols on the cards. Like the previous, adults may have to handicap themselves a bit at first with younger kids, but it’s great for preschoolers and remains challenging long after they’re literate. It’s also a good, portable game to keep handy for unexpected, open-ended waits (along with LCR). Educational Skills: Colors, numbers, pattern recognition. Social Skills: Fast decision making, winning/losing.

7) MUNCHKIN (Steve Jackson Games): There are so many variants that took off from the original dungeon-raider theme, designed by Steve Jackson and illustrated by John Kovalic; our copies are Super Munchkin and Munchkin Axe Cop. You build a hero, outfit him with gadgets and armor befitting the theme, and go up against villains to win loot. Early in the game, you need more points than you probably have in your hero alone, so players need to negotiate with players to fight off high-value villains, but as players start getting their heroes close to their game-winning 10th Level, those team-ups start turning toward piling more villains on the frontrunner, forcing him to run away or lose valuable assets in battle. Educational Skills: Addition, greater than/less than comparison, reading. Social Skills: Turn-taking, strategy, cooperation/collaboration, calculated risk-taking, negotiation, winning/losing.

 

Jun 16, 2012 - Domestic Engineering    1 Comment

What I Didn’t Know 10 Years Ago: Friday Night Lists

Next Tuesday, my eldest son will be ten years old. This is unimaginable to me, and must therefore be false. As part of my effort to grapple with this harsh reality, here’s today’s installment of Friday Night Lists:

10 Things I Know Now That I Didn’t Know 10 Years Ago

YEAR 1 — Leave the diaper on until the last possible second, unless you feel like a visit to the Bellagio.

YEAR 2 — Birthday cake and banana make awesome, all-natural punk hair product.

YEAR 3 — Parents who disapprove of a Jon Stewart-themed 3-year-old birthday party because The Daily Show is on at 11.00pm EST don’t understand DVRs.

YEAR 4 — If you think 4-year-olds can’t come up with sophisticated rhetorical arguments why they should be allowed to stay up as late as their newborn brother, you’d be wrong.

YEAR 5 — When your kid asks you “What’s the Ring Cycle?” ask “Why do you ask, honey?” before launching into a 20-minute lecture on Germanic folklore, opera, and Looney Tunes. Because he may just be mispronouncing “rinse cycle” after hearing it in the Chipmunks movie.

YEAR 6 — The key that turns the lock in your child’s mind may unlock yours too.

YEAR 7 — Imaginative children sometimes change religion after a really good book. Be open to it.

YEAR 8 — Summer is the best time of year, because kids can just grow right out the bottom of their shorts and you don’t have to worry about pant length until school starts in the fall.

YEAR 9 — If your kid tells you he wants to die and tries to hurt himself, he’s as serious as a heart attack. Listen to him and get help.

YEAR 10 — Wishing for a son like Calvin (of & Hobbes fame) is both a best and worst case scenario, because you might actually get one. (Or two.)

My boy, after a hard day. SuperTiger is always beside him as he sleeps.

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