WHAT ARE YOU?

Though I’m full-blooded Filipino (which, only means that both of my parents claim Filipino birthplace and identity), I often get the “What are you?” question.

My heritage roots come from a series of islands that have indigenous villages of people who would mistakenly be identified as African. Through colonization, immigration, and cross-pollination, I have roots of Chinese, Spanish, and local Pinoy. My skin is light, my hair is light, my eyes are colored light brown while their shape are distinctly round-and-almond. My brothers have coarse hair, dark brown skin, dark brown hair, and wider noses than my own. Yet, we come from the same two parents.

In this latest NY Times article “Black? White? Asian? More Americans Choose All of the Above”, I am reminded of both my own What are you? questions but also that of my children, who in my opinion, truly identify with two distinct heritage backgrounds: Filipino and Puerto Rican. Like with any marginalized group that experiences isolation, young people of mixed heritage backgrounds are finding solidarity and a shared experience with one another. Where the what are you? question is usually served with a heaping dose of eye-rolling, individuals from blended heritage backgrounds are sharing stories — some painful, some hilarious — of “that totally happened to me, too!” and “I know what you mean!”

Many young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting the color lines that have defined Americans for generations in favor of a much more fluid sense of identity.

Does the increase in multiracial families mean, as so many like to leap, that “racism, prejudice and discrimination are slowly losing their power”? I always say, there’s personal racism/prejudice/discrimination which, I guess, you might be able to say blended families are beginning to deconstruct. We are starting to embrace the fluidity of identity, a concept that human development practitioners have always believed. That, with each life stage and each new experience, we have opportunities to grow and incorporate new ideas into our lives.

No one knows quite how the growth of the multiracial population will change the country. Optimists say the blending of the races is a step toward transcending race, to a place where America is free of bigotry, prejudice and programs like affirmative action.

Pessimists say that a more powerful multiracial movement will lead to more stratification and come at the expense of the number and influence of other minority groups, particularly African-Americans.

 

I have noticed an interesting occurrence as I work with college students around issues of identity. For the population I serve, there isn’t a formula for how students identify: I have some students of mixed heritage of White and Black or Asian who strongly identify with one or the other. As the aunt of a few biracial children where 1 parent is White, I want them to know that the “White” part is just as relevant — just as important — as the Asian or Puerto Rican side. They need to know that being 1/2 White holds significance, that it holds information about what they will know about and experience about the world and our society.

 

While I don’t believe that multiracial identity signals the destruction of racism (if it was only that easy!), what this does signal to me is movement in the direction of not just having to choose ONE thing. I believe this signals a move away from everything being so black and white (no pun intended!). That we can, indeed, be both black and white. We can, indeed, be both White and Asian; Puerto Rican and Filipino; or all four and more. In recent months, passport applications have changed to include “parent name” from “father and mother.” More and more places are adopting gender neutral bathroom signs; more and more people are referring to “parents or guardians” rather than just “parents.” And, more progressive environments are moving away from the assumption that everyone has a father, mother, one of each, or both.

None of us want for our children to be excluded. Whether it’s a spot on the soccer team, a seat at the cafeteria table, or a chance to be in the school play, we seek to include our own children. That seems a natural role for us as parents.

How are we including the stories, lives, and experiences of all children — of all adults — in our world?

Make it a daily practice to ask yourself, how am I including all voices and all people in that which I do.

The Strength to Carry: One Mother’s Journey with Genetics

These past few days, I’ve been experiencing breast pain. While it may be just the normal ebb-and-flow of breastfeeding, any pain in my breasts makes me scared, anxious, and nervous. I was going to hold on to this essay for a while – not sure when I was going to release it. But, today, I’ve decided that 2010 will be the Year of My Mastectomy. So, during this season of giving thanks, demonstrating love, and seeking peace, here is my latest essay into my personal journey as a cancer mom, cancer sister, and a cancer pre-vivor. Thanks for reading! -Liza

“I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just going to say it.” Those words hung in the air like smoke in fog. Time sped up and stood still all at once. Slow motion met the click-click-click- quadruple fast-forward of my DVR menu. “Your daughter has cancer.”

I clutched the waist of my 2-year old daughter sitting still on my lap. I could feel my own heart racing through her tiny body, and I could feel her breath on my arm take the place of my own breathing. I wanted to scream and crawl in the fetal position, recalling just two short years ago when she was safe and protected in my round belly.

“Please do not give her anything to eat or drink,” stated the pediatric opthalmologist. “We may have to operate today. If her cancer is advanced, we’ll be removing her eye tonight.”

Within 24 hours, my daughter went from a carefree 2-year old in an Elmo shirt to a child with cancer. The 6-hour surgery to remove her eye freed her from the tumors that had destroyed her vision. Enduring six months of chemotherapy meant we could kill any stray cells that passed into her optic nerve, reducing her risk of cancer cells spreading to her brain. Once our lives settled into the routine of chemotherapy, hospitalizations, exams under anesthesia, and bi-weekly flushes of her port-a-cath, I obsessively combed through photos to find signs of leukoria – the tell tale white reflection in my child’s eye that would have alerted us to retinoblastoma. In the hundreds of photos taken between birth and her 2nd birthday, I only found a handful. But, those handful have tattooed themselves into my palm. The guilt stamped it’s place in my heart. The image of her a prisoner to IV lines burned in my brain.

“What did I do to make this happen?” I tortured myself with this thought every day. Once a skeptic of prayer, I found myself on my knees every night asking, begging, pleading with God to let me switch places with her. “Please, God, let me have cancer instead. Please, God, give me her tumors. Make me feel her pain of chemotherapy. Make me a prisoner of the pain. Just let her be a kid. I’ll do anything.”

While my daughter was going through treatment and recovery from enucleation, I became pregnant with our second child. My already lengthy prayer requests had included a new request: “Please, God, seriously this time! Please let this baby be healthy. Please don’t let this baby have cancer.” I was asking God this even though we had no confirmation that my first child’s retinoblastoma was related to genetics. Given that her retinoblastoma was unilateral — only in her right eye — her cells likely mutated with no specific direction from her DNA. But, we had not undergone genetic testing for her cancer, so we were unsure about the cause at that time.

My pregnancy was both a blessing and an emotional curse. While my growing belly was a welcome distraction to our hospital and doctor’s visits, I was consumed with the fear that my body had created the retinoblastoma in Joli. When pregnant with Joli, I was a healthy weight, ate all organic food, avoided caffeine, and got lots of sleep. My body was my temple. Now, with my second pregnancy and a sick child, most of my dinners consisted of leftover hospital food. Anxiety kept me awake at night and exhausted during the day. Caffeine was the only way I could make it through my 40-hour work week in a relatively stressful job. And, the first pregnancy and stress made every bit of food stick to my hips, thighs, and butt. My body was less like a temple and more like an empty cardboard container where “two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun” once lived. Drive thru.

Shortly after I gave birth to a healthy 8lb 9oz baby, doctors checked my new infant’s eyes for any signs of tumors. Thankfully, she did not show any signs of retinal tumors at 3 weeks old. This baby child continued to have eye exams every 3-6 months for the first 2 years of her life since we did not have any confirmation of whether the original cancer was genetic in my family. Each time she went for an eye exam under anesthesia (done this way so that the retina specialist can examine a young child without having to struggle), we held our breath and prepared ourselves for the worst. I did this each time out of sheer protection against a surprise diagnosis. Now, at age 3, my younger daughter has been cleared of any risk of retinoblastoma and has graduated to once-a-year exams in the office.

Just after my older daughter had finished chemotherapy, and just when our lives were beginning to return to normal, my oldest sister, Mary, was diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer at age 36. Given our family history with breast cancer, her doctors asked if they could test her for the genetic marker — known as BRCA — for breast and ovarian cancer. Mary tested positive for the genetic deletion. However, regardless of the genetic outcome, Mary had already developed advanced stage cancer — the kind where you begin to plan for a life without her — and had aggressive chemotherapy, radiation, and then a bilateral mastectomy. My sister was already so immuno-compromised when she went through the very risky surgery of of a bilateral mastectomy. She needed to follow this protocol because the tumor in her breast was so large that they had to shrink the tumor before even trying to remove her breasts. It was at that point when my sister, Grace, decided to get tested for BRCA. At age 34, Grace had not been diagnosed with cancer, but she wanted to assess her risk of developing cancer. After all, having the BRCA gene meant that there would be a 80% chance of developing breast cancer and a 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer.

After working closely with a genetic counselor, Grace tested positive for BRCA gene. She decided that a prophylatic bilateral mastectomy — a procedure done to reduce the risk of cancer preventatively — was the route she wanted to take.

Having just put my daughter’s cancer battle behind us, I was reluctant to get tested. And, I was hoping to play my schoolyard odds with “Well, best 2 out of 3, right? I mean, 2 people already have it, so there’s no reason for me, the 3rd, to have it.” That was the fun side of me talking. The more angry side of me sounded like this, “No way, there is no way that I would test positive for BRCA. We’ve been through too much already. I’m pretty sure shit doesn’t hit the fan twice!”

Through peer pressure, or “sister pressure”, I went and met with a genetics counselor in Boston to gather some information about the process, about BRCA, and about my odds of having the gene. In October 2007, I walked down the very familiar hallways of the cancer treatment center that had become home to my family from August 2005-April 2006. I knew that the benefit of doing all of our testing in one place would be the ability to share information. We could share not only the information of the sisters, but we could also include my daughter’s cancer information if it ever became relevant to our own BRCA experience. And, so, I began my testing.

I sat across from a kind, caring, and friendly genetics counselor who reminded me of a childhood friend that I dearly loved. Arrogantly, I told her that she did not really need to go into all the details about cancer, BRCA, and genetics given my experience and my sisters’ obsession with all things BRCA. “Go ahead. I know all the statistics. I know that I have a chance of being BRCA+. I know that, if I do test positive, that a mastectomy would reduce my risk by about 80% and an oopherectomy — removal of my ovaries — would reduce my risk of ovarian cancer by around 60%. But, I’ll cross that bridge if I have to. For now, let’s just get some results.” With all that we went through with my daughter having cancer, I was confident that I would come up negative for BRCA. I figured God, destiny, faith, or the good natured order of the world would make it so.

Apparently, I was wrong. Yet, my prayers had been answered. Not my prayers to avoid being BRCA positive, but my prayers back in 2005 by my daughter’s bedside. Just a few weeks after I gave blood to my genetic counselor, my test came back. I, too, was BRCA positive. While I knew what the results meant for me, I felt a sickening pain for what the results meant for my kids. What is the likelihood that I have passed on the BRCA gene to my two girls.

What have I done? What did I just do to them? What kind of mother am I? I really didn’t care what I’d have to go through. After all, I just saw my oldest sister go through chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy. I watched as my other sister went through a preventative surgery to have her breasts removed. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, though. All I could think about was my daughters. Particularly, my daughter who had just finished cancer treatments. Did I give her the genetic predisposition for both breast and ovarian cancer? Does the baby, too, carry this ticking time bomb of DNA?

I found ways to distract myself from obsessing about my genetic responsibility and my own physical responsibility. I began doing what any psychology major would have done — I intellectualized the process. Freud would be so proud. I began speaking more about retinoblastoma, participating in fundraising events, creating college workshops and presentations on the experiences of cancer and pre-cancer, and joining online groups for pre-vivors and even for young pre-vivors. I’ve dedicated blog entries about being BRCA, spoken publicly at work, followed up on all of my medical tests and baseline diagnostics, and have even talked at length with my sisters about their surgeries.

But, I have never seen my sisters and their mastectomy sites. I never touched their drainage tubes. And, the very thought of what their saline-and-sewn breasts must look like makes me queasy. I’m immensely proud of them for what they have endured, and yet I can’t bring myself to look at them.

In December 2009, my sister Grace called to tell me that she was celebrating her Mastectomy Anniversary. “That’s great, Grace! Happy One Year Anniversary!” I said with such pride. “It’s been two years, Liza. Two years,” she replied.

Shit. Two years? It’s been two years? That means that it’s actually been two years (and 2 months) since I first met with the genetics counselor and discovered I was BRCA positive. It’s been three years since the breast specialist and the gynecological oncologist both said to me, “We can schedule your surgery anytime. Any time soon.” The folks in those clinics don’t mess around. When they get confirmation that you are BRCA positive, they expect you to be in a paper thin johnny in the Recovery Room shortly thereafter.

***

In July 2008, after a year of baseline tests that determined I had not developed any cancer cells, I found out that we were going to be expecting our third child. I was filled with joy and excitement. And, I was even more excited when my cancer team called to set up my next appointment because I said, “Yeah, about that appointment. I can’t do any tests for a while because I’m pregnant.” Needless to say, they were less than thrilled. “You know that this means we won’t be able to monitor you closely for any cells, right, Liza?” Did I have to say, yea, kind of the point? Freud would not be so proud.

***

In October 2008, at a routine obestrics exam, my OB/GYN felt a solid lump at the 7 o’clock location of my right breast. “When you check your breasts, have you noticed this lump?” he asked. I heard myself say, “No, why? Do you feel something?” What I was thinking, though, was “You mean IF I check my breasts, right?”

“Feel here. Deep. Right here,” he said as he positioned three of my fingers in the 7 o’clock position near my right nipple. I pushed down where he had placed my hands and felt a pea sized lump deep within the tissue of my right breast. I felt my fingers leap off of my breast, and felt a grapefruit sized lump begin to form in my throat. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry, I kept telling myself. Breathe now.

“You should call your cancer team right away,” said my OB/GYN in a panic. “Can they see you right away?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, they can.”

***

I called my cancer team from the parking lot. And, sure enough, my appointment for a Fine Needle Aspiration was scheduled in 2 days.

***

Those two days were awful. I fought the urge to let my imagination run wild. I lost that battle. I also did something a person should never, ever do when in a stage of crisis: I Used Google. I searched for all types of outcomes regarding cancer and pregnancy, chemotherapy and first trimester, radiation and fetal development, mastectomies while expecting. Naturally, nothing positive came out of those late night searches. I’m pretty sure it would have been a good time to buy stock in Kleenex tissues, because I can only imagine how much of their product I used in 48 hours.

***

The day came for my Fine Needle Aspiration. I was scheduled for an FNA as well as a breast ultrasound. Whenever I speak to students studying Health Care Administration, I usually bring up this doctor’s appointment because it was one of the most nightmarish moments of my whole BRCA experience. Exposed, topless, and already emotionally unstable, I was subjected to a “well-meaning” doctor who decided to tell me that I was already delaying any survey of my condition because I got pregnant, that I really shouldn’t breastfeed after my baby is born so that I can start up my survey tests immediately after I gave birth. “After all,” she says,”I have seen too many women with advanced stage cancer because they decided to breastfeed and forgo their examinations. Breastfeeding doesn’t promote bonding. Breastfeeding isn’t any better than formula. And, I have 2 kids, never breastfed either of them, and we love each other so much.” Oh, lady. Please stop talking….

If my boobs weren’t flapping in the wind and my growing belly in the way of getting up quickly, I would have walked out of that room and demanded her supervisor. But, already emotionally wrecked, all I could do was roll my eyes and “uh-huh” her.

Thankfully, my cancer team (aside from random Breast Ultrasound Doctor) is amazing and called me with my results as I was walking to the parking garage. “It’s fine. The lump, which we all agree is there, does not have any cells of concern after doing 2 Fine Needle Aspirations. Come back after you deliver so that we can begin our survey of you quickly. Have a beautiful pregnancy.”

I got into my car and cried tears of relief. Then, I cried tears of pain. I’m not sure how many of my readers are familiar with Fine Needle Aspirations, but that procedure hurts! I think I had numbed myself to the physical pain in anticipation of bad news. Once the good news came, so did the burning pain in my entire breast area. And, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I realized that I was leaving Boston at 4:00pm, with no additional passenger to ride the HOV lane with me. And, I really had to pee.

***

I managed to put the breast lump experience behind me and focus on having a healthy pregnancy. I convinced myself that this was my last baby, my last shot at feeling a growing being inside of my belly. This would be the last time I would feel the kicking, the hiccups, and the heartburn. This would be the last time I would place my hands on my stomach at the end of a long day and feel comforted by a stray heel, an intentional turn around, or a tightening Braxton Hicks contraction. This would be the last time I would provide nourishment for my biological child through breastfeeding. The last time I would lie down next to my infant and comfort him or her to sleep. With the removal of my breasts and ovaries, this would be my last time.

***
On March 24, 2009, I delivered my son. He was a healthy baby, 7.5 pounds, 20 inches long, dark brown eyes. Soon after I delivered, our pediatrician looked at his eyes to make sure there were no tumors. At 3 weeks old, we brought our son to our retina specialist for an exam. And, at 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months, our son returned for exams under anesthesia in case our genetic test stating the retinoblastoma of my daughter was an isolated mutation –which is only 80% accurate — missed something. As of his 9 month visit, we are still clear of any tumors.

***
At my visit to my OB/GYN for a routine exam, the doctor said, “I see in your chart that the OB who delivered your baby in March recommended that you consider the permanent birth control. You turned it down. Why?” she asked. “Well, while I’ve talked seriously and publicly about how this is my last child, it’s much harder to actually make that happen when the decision is possible. So, I’m not going to really consider a permanent solution yet,” I replied with much more confidence than I had in the past. “Well, given all of your genetic testing and information, are you sure you want to keep passing these mutations on?”

“Well,” I said calmly. “Given that my children only receive 50% of my DNA and 50% of my husband’s DNA, that’s still a pretty good chance that they do not have all BRCA or any other genetic mutation. So, yes, I think I do want to take my chances. But, my concern isn’t with what I’m passing on. My concern is more focused on how much time I can buy and gamble with knowing that I am BRCA positive.”

I’d like to think I created a teachable moment for the young doctor who had just joined the practice a few weeks prior to my appointment.

***

I’m not sure where the story ends, quite frankly. There are days when I feel I have no strength to carry, and there are days when I’m not exactly sure what load I am carrying. Just the other day, my daughter, the cancer survivor, asked me about how she got her cancer (a cellular mutation) and how her aunts got their cancer (a genetic mutation). When my daughter was going through her treatment, I made a single promise to her. I promised I would never lie about cancer. I explained about “good copies of DNA” and “sick copies of DNA” and how those combinations sometimes result in cancer. As I spoke of her aunts — my sisters — she then asked if I would get cancer. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but that I probably was going to have surgery on my breasts no matter whether I got cancer or not. My daughter began to cry. “Mommy, I really hope you don’t get cancer. Cancer really hurts, and I don’t want anyone to be hurt.” I explained that sometimes we have to experience hurt in order to see the beautiful things. That it hurt when I was in the hospital to have my babies, but that they were all the most beautiful things in my life. We talked about how it must have hurt to have her eye removed — though, she doesn’t remember it — but that now she is a healthy and beautiful 6-year old girl.

***
I always promised my daughter that I would never lie to her about cancer. There are just some days when I wish I didn’t have to tell her the truth. The truth is a burden to carry. The inabilty to predict the future is the uncertainty to carry. But, my children, my health, and the will to be around for many more years to come gives me the strength to carry.

Ask To Loosen the Mind

A mother turns to her 9-year old daughter and says, “It’s an incredible moment in history, dear. This is the first time, the FIRST time, that we have come so close to having a woman help run this country! Do you know what this means? It’s such a proud moment in our lives. I don’t agree with everything she stands for, but the fact that a woman is even on the ticket is monumental. Do you know this? Do you get it?”

While that conversation could have been any mother-to-daughter discussion in the 2008 election cycle, it actually took place 14 years earlier. Geraldine Ferraro. At that time, Ferraro was the first woman nominated by a major political power as its candidate for VP of the United States. I remember my mom talking to her friends, cheering, hoping, wishing that this would be the historic moment. They didn’t necessarily agree with the political agenda, but they definitely understood the significance.  And, they made sure we – my sisters and I – knew that it was significant.

But, did we? Nearly 15 years later, I can’t really say that I held on to the lesson of Geraldine Ferraro. I mean, I get it now. In fact, I’m even more amazed that it happened back in the mid-1980s because I don’t recall that decade being a particularly progressive one. Then again, I was 9-years old. The only “superwoman” in my life (aside from my mom, of course), was Barbie. She had a Corvette, a cute boyfriend, an amazing swimming pool, and cute clothes. Because, after all, that was the measure of success to a 9-year old. I also loved Care Bears, and felt it was my moral and humane duty to adopt a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Politics, not so much. I didn’t really care. I was nine. But, my mom wanted me to make sure that I knew that it was a significant moment. While I didn’t quite understand it back then, I certainly gained an appreciation for the context of her candidacy 15-years later. There were many events that helped to shape my early interest in feminism and gender equality, and I wonder “Was the Geraldine Ferraro event something that shaped it with latent effects?” I can’t say that I looked at her and thought, “If she can do it, I can do it too!” related to a career in politics. But, did something stick with me about power and gender?

So, this leads me to a question I’ve been asked a number of times in the past few weeks: “How much do I make out of Princess Tiana’s racial identity to my children?” Do our kids even get it? Do they care? Do we want them to care?

Ask To Loosen the Mind: In anticipation of the new Disney release “The Frog and the Princess”, a number of readers have written questions about whether or not they should draw attention to the fact that Princess Tiana is the first Black princess in a major Disney film. Here is a question from Emily H. that sums up many of the questions.

How would you suggest that I bring up the race of (Princess Tiana) in the new movie? I’d like to talk about it with (my) girls, but I don’t know how. On the one hand, I don’t – at all – want to “pretend” that she’s not African American, nor is her race any kind of taboo topic. On the other hand, since my girls seem totally comfortable with people of all races and race doesn’t faze them… How do I discuss it with them without ME making it an issue for them? — Emily H.

 

If I wasn’t too cheap (WordPress charges me to put video on my blog), I would be able to upload a video I took of me bringing home Princess Tiana dolls to my girls. In the video, my girls open up their Princess Tiana action figures and are thrilled by having a new toy. “Ooohh!! It’s Princess Tianaaaahhh!! Thanks, Mom!” they squeal and run off to play. Off camera, you hear my voice: “Girls, come back here! I want to talk to you. Do you know she is the first Black princess in Disney? It’s that so great! It’s so nice to have a doll that looks like you! See feel her hair, she even has hair like yours!” The girls continue, “Oooh!! Let’s play! Let’s play!”, virtually ignoring my historic lesson in racial identity and politics. I can’t b-e-l-i-e-v-e they want to go and just play!

The video goes on for about a minute. The girls talk about wanting to play. I lecture about how great it is that there is a princess that looks like them. They ignore me. I get upset they are ignoring me and my anti-racist lessons. They leave. I shut off the camera. But, before I hit the red button to turn it off, my off camera voice says, “You’ll understand it later.”

I didn’t quite think anything of it while filming. When I watched the video again later that night, though, I felt differently about what I had just done. As Emily asks, was I making more of an issue for them?  Certainly race is not a taboo topic in our house, either, but how much was I pushing this? If you ask my girls to tell you something important about President Obama, one of their first responses (after, “He’s the President” or “He’s smart” or “He’s a good dad”) would be “He’s our first President with brown skin.” That lesson certainly was not lost on them. President Obama has the same skin color as their dad, as their grandfather, as the leaders in their school, and as many of their friends. During the election, we showed the girls pictures of our past presidents and did a lesson on “differences and similarities.” They quickly picked up the difference in skin color. They also quickly picked up the similarity that the Presidents were all “boys”. My husband and I felt it was very important that we highlight President Obama’s heritage. Also important to us was that he was the father of 2 young girls, and my daughters shared that in common with their dad. They liked that the President had 2 little girls.

I don’t think my girls completely understand the “FINALLY, a Black Disney Princess!!” response that I feel when I see Princess Tiana. I grew up on Cinderella, Snow White, and Belle. I grew up on Barbies, white Cabbage Patch kids, and white characters in my books. I rarely owned anything that wasn’t white. I certainly didn’t own anything or read anything that had an Asian character. Now, as an adult with some purchasing power, I seek out dolls that look like my children. These days, I have more options. I recently bought a few dolls that have textured hair, like my children’s. And, I think that’s what I appreciate the most about Princess Tiana dolls. I like that my kids can play in this fantasy-like world and imagine themselves in it, included in it. I like that they feel her hair, and her hair feels like their hair.

We haven’t seen the movie yet, and I hope to write more of their reactions after seeing the movie (where, ahem, Princess Tiana spends most of her time as a FROG. Uh, huh.). But, much of what I have been reinforcing with my children in many examples (when we read multicutural books, play with multicultural dolls) is to point out differences AND mention that differences are a good thing. One of the biggest stumbling blocks that my college students seem to run into is the notion that differences=bad. They have been socialized to not recognize difference; that if you are different, you must be strange. So, if I think of you as the same as me, you must be okay. I find that, on a basic “treat me like a human” level, to be fine. However, pointing out any difference beyond basic humanity makes them socially uncomfortable. This discomfort around talking about differences is why I make a point to discuss it in a very casual way with my children. It’s been important for me to point out to my children that differences=good.

With my older daughter’s disability, it would be silly to pretend like she doesn’t have a prosthetic eye. It has become a part of her. That experience of going through chemotherapy, prosthetic fittings, dozens and dozens of doctor’s appointments has shaped who she is. So, to not treat her as such would dishonor her very difficult journey. It would be silly to ignore that she is different; different is what makes her so interesting.

I suggest finding a casual and informal way of pointing out that Princess Tiana is the first Black Disney princess. Perhaps gather their other dolls and do a simple lesson in “Similarities and Differences.” They will likely come up with things like, “They all have long hair; they all have 2 eyes, 2 arms and 2 legs; they all are Princesses.” They will also likely come up with “This Princess has brown skin; this Princess has white/peach skin.” Your reaction, and your leading, is what’s important here. It’s a good chance to talk about where Mulan comes from. In Emily’s case (she has biracial children with an Asian man), they might draw similarities between the way Mulan looks and Asian family members/friends. It might be a neat lesson to introduce them to the heritage of Pocohontas and Jasmine. If you react positively, and casually, to the different characters, your children will pick up that these differences and similarities are just a part of who we are.

I would also add that simply being comfortable with race is very different from talking about race.  Talking about race is something that takes practice and effort. It’s not enough to simply be comfortable with “being nice”, we need to practice “being nice”, right? Same with the race/diversity/etc. My colleague, Donna, the budding athlete, said to me, “It’s not enough to just like basketball and to be comfortable watching basketball. If you want to be good at it, you’ve got to pick up the ball and shoot some hoops.” (thanks, Donna).

My kids may not quite understand what that means for them or for me right now, but my hope is that they can look back and connect the significance later in their lives. The more exposure they get to different skin colors, hair colors, and stories, the less narrow their world becomes. So, thanks Princess Tiana!

Now, let’s just see if the “live action” Tiana (at Disney or on Ice) is actually played by a woman of African heritage. That’ll be the real test, right?

Gifts

Yes, yes, I’ve been blog-slacking. Truth is, I have about a dozen “drafts” in the box that just haven’t seen completion in the past few weeks. It’s a combination of recovering from a nasty battle with bronchitis, some very charged race stuff going on at work, and the overall insanity of the holiday start up.

So, here is a quick one from me — timely, no less, given that it’s the start of the traditions I abhor the most… GIFTS.

I’ve written about the following ad nauseum: I am a terrible gift giver. There is just something about the materialistic nature of “gift giving” that makes me crazy. I absolutely believe that Joli’s illness was one of the best things that could have happened to our family. Prior to her illness, I was a shop-a-holic. I loved giving gifts, receiving gifts, buying things for absolutely no reason at all, and loved collecting items. Once Joli got sick, I felt such an aversion to “things.” We didn’t buy much of anything when she was in treatment (mostly because all of our money was going to medical related expenses). That Christmas, we were the recipients of one of those “giving trees” that people do at work. You know, the one where you get an anonymous tag that says “2-year old girl” and bring the gift into work? We had no idea, but our visiting nurse had put Joli’s name on a number of different trees. Two days before Christmas, our tree had just a few presents underneath. On Christmas Eve, an ambulance pulled into our driveway, and a few EMTs came to our door and delivered about two dozen gift boxes for Joli!! I began sobbing at the sight of all the presents.

While we were so thankful for all the gifts we received from anonymous donors, I still felt an aversion to spending money on anything superficial. Despite our forced frugal living, I still chose to live with very little luxury during Joli’s treatment. And, truth is, we have still kept it up. I rarely shop for anything that we don’t need, and have only recently begun to allow myself a rare treat (hello, new iPhone — though, I was using a phone with no “7” button!)

What I find most difficult, though, is buying “stuff”. Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, Weddings…. people rarely get gifts from me. (feel free to gasp here) Now, my siblings give me plenty of crap for it, don’t worry. They shake their heads, call me “cheap”, and are embarrassed by my non-gift-giving policy. But, I just can’t bring myself to buy things for people who already have basements, attics and bedrooms full of “stuff.” I think of all the people who have nothing — whether by choice or by circumstance — and it pains me to buy yet another toy for a kid who already has bins of toys.

My exception to the rule? Buying a thank you gift. If someone has done something so amazing that words cannot even express my gratitude, I truly enjoy surprising them with a little thank you gift. Honestly, that’s quite possibly my only exception. I find such joy in buying a thank you gift for someone!

My gift aversion has also helped me to discover more environmentally friendly ways to give. I love using Freecycle. If you haven’t gotten into Freecycle yet, I encourage you to find the one in your local town/city. Unlike Craigslist, people who join Freecycle agree that they will not charge (nor re-sell) for any items. It’s a way to keep waste out of our landfills and to be a resource for your local community. I’ve Freecycled clothes, books, baby gear, etc., and it has felt so good knowing that I’m a) not contributing to landfill waste, b) helping out someone directly in my town, and c) giving of what I already have as opposed to spending money on more junk.

So, how does this all fit in with this upcoming season of gift gluttony? Find ways to give to a friend/kid that limit the amount of waste in our landfills and in people’s homes. For kids, help teach them that time and love are much more valuable than plastic and wrapping. Here are some ideas of things to give:

1. A “day out” with you where you treat for lunch and a movie

2. A membership to a local museum

3. A book that you’ve found on Freecycle or at a book exchange

4. something homemade that uses existing materials in your house (a friend had her 6-year old son make me an awesome sea shell magnet for my birthday! it’s one of my favorite gifts so far!)

On the receiving end? See beyond a “new” gift. Help kids to redefine what it means to feel loved and to be shown love. More presents does not equal more love.

My family is far from perfect. We, too, have a basement full of toys  — many of which have not been played with since they were opened. We have toy boxes overflowing with dolls, stuffed animals, and books. We have a doll house (the combined gift for my 2 girls last year) which was played with for about a month and then retired to the cold basement. Every time I go downstairs to do laundry, I feel embarrassed by how much my children have, and am reminded of how little others have. I mentally add up all the money (spent on toys) that is sitting in that basement and can’t help but think of how many trips to the hospital that could pay for, how many nights in the parking garage, how many bottles of Pediasure, and how many co-payments that could have covered for any of our cancer families. I think of all the fundraisers we have done this past year to help ease the financial burden of some of our cancer friends, and think that there is at least that amount of money in just ONE of the toy boxes.

My kids like toys. I like a nice treat. We all deserve something that makes us feel good. And, in this spirit of the season, I encourage you to find ways to share love, time, interest, and hope in ways that transcend plastic, wrapping, and those damn twistie ties that hold the toys to the cardboard.

If we can teach our children that what’s on the inside is more valuable than what’s on the outside, we give them some of the greatest gifts: the gift of believing they are worth our time and our love.

What gifts will you give your children? Your friends? Your family this year?

On Growing Up

Who the heck is that girl? Who IS that??

photo(4)

circa 1993

First off, I can’t tell you how many imaginary vodka tonics I had to down before building up the courage to post my high school senior picture. Yeah, I thought I was the shit back then. And, oddly enough, my hair actually does still look kind of the same (sans the spiral perm, of course). Major differences? Well, gee, let’s see. I suppose we can start with the couple of tens of pounds I’ve gained since I was 17 years old. (side note freak out: I am just realizing that was 17 years ago!!) Someone, pass another bottle of Sky, please?

Why imaginary vodka tonics? Well, as such things have evolved, and thanks to a pretty immature and early tango with alcohol, I no longer choose to drink much anymore. Could be all the alcohol I dumped into my body in a brief amount of years — back when I definitely wasn’t mature enough to handle it — and a few too many alcohol related regrets. Drinks, now, pretty much consist of a sip from Jorge’s glass of wine a few times a month or an occasional drink at a reception.

But, I digress….

Coming up soon, I’m going to be reliving a major part of my high school experience. Think, “Glee” but with sparkly magenta dresses, Aqua Net hair styles, blue eyeshadow, and more jazz hands. Where the brown kids (the 3 of us in the entire choir) had to endure wearing “nude colored uniform nylons” which made the white girls look cute but made dark girls look like chocolate lollipops on little white sticks. Yes, fans, I was in Show Choir. And, I loved it. Like crack, if we had crack in the suburbs. I loved performing, dancing, singing, and warming up as if we were running the NYC marathon. I recall hitting the track – on my own time – so that I could build my stamina for a brief 15 minutes of singing and dancing. Uh-huh.

While there are key things I loved about high school — orchestra, show choir, some of my classes, music competitions — I don’t often look back fondly on those years. Now, as a 34 year old, mother of 3, survivor of a billion medical obstacles, and educator, I sometimes feel embarrassed for my 17 year old self. I was immature, annoying, and insecure. And, like any kid struggling with those issues, I was often mean, petty, catty, gossipy, controlling, and obnoxious. I didn’t know how to be comfortable in my own skin, and so I didn’t know how to connect with people who did. In an effort not to show anyone that I felt like I was worthless, I tried to over compensate by putting other people down and not giving room for other kids to thrive. In the kindest terms, I was ‘not nice.’

College didn’t get much better for me. On one hand, I knew I wasn’t mature enough to be on my own and ended up commuting to a local college my first year. That was definitely a good idea as it forced me to be somewhat a college student, but still enabled allowed me to live in this high school/dependent world. But, seeing all of my friends leave our hometown and have amazing stories to tell about their college experiences only made me feel more insecure. I turned to alcohol. I was desperate to find ways to connect to people. I took a lot of the anxiety out on myself and made far too many unhealthy choices. When sophomore year rolled around, I did feel ready to leave the nest (from a safe distance of only 1 hour and 15 minutes away). I felt myself growing up a little bit more, but still made lots of bad choices.

As a college administrator now, I am always so in awe of my students who really put themselves out there and who demonstrate such maturity. I look at some of them and can’t see myself in them at all. I have students who have studied abroad, who spend more time volunteering in the community than sitting in classes each week, and who know exactly what they want to do with their lives. I work with students who are in college for the sole purpose of creating a better life for their families. I meet with students who possess such a deep level of maturity, of sense-of-self, and of purpose.

Yet, it’s the student who isn’t quite sure what to do, or who is struggling, or who is socially awkward that I’m drawn to the most. I see myself in them. I see the same panic in their eyes that I had. I see the same tenseness in their bodies, the same timidness about their futures. But, this time, I hear the comments that others make about them. I hear the subtle groans that others make when these kids talk or act. And, I can’t help but accept that others had noticed my own awkwardness when I was in college.

Honestly, I can point to the exact time in my life when I finally let go of my insecurities, my awkwardness, and my self-doubt. I was 29. I had just been told that my daughter had cancer. People sometimes look at me funny when I say that “I’m thankful for Joli’s illness” but, it’s so true. It forced me to be genuine. I grew up. From that point on, I never tried to be anything other than what I could be. I gave up my obsession with being the most “perfect” person — popular, thin, brilliant, a size 6, wildly charismatic, effortlessly funny, etc. I finally accepted being just me. And, Me was the only thing I could offer my child. ME was the only thing I could offer myself. I gave up wanting to try so hard to be the best mother, sister, daughter, wife, worker, and just allowed myself to accept the kind of ME that I am. Heh, the funny thing is, that once I gave up trying to be all those things, I started on the path towards being all of those things.

Sound like complacency? I guess it is, sort of. But, I have found great peace in not wanting to “keep up with the Joneses” anymore. I have no desire to out-do anyone, to belittle anyone to lift myself up, nor to be anything but the authentic me. I stopped trying to have the best clothes, the best car, and all that goes with upward status mobility. Yes, that authentic me is way fatter than my 17-year old self. But, the authentic me is also a hell of a lot happier.

I’ve been through hell and back. And, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get sent back-and-forth a few more times. That’s okay with me.

So, why the anxiety about going back to high school this weekend? First, I don’t think I’ve ever made peace with my 17-year old self. I think I’m still angry at her. Angry that, when I was 17, I didn’t think enough of myself to just love who I was. Angry that I relied on other people and other means to define who I was. Angry that I likely made some people feel horrible so that I could feel better about myself.

I think I need to take some cues from my high school, though. I’m going back to that school for the first time in 17 years. And, I hear it’s gone under lots of renovation and rebuilding. In a notice I received about the weekend, one of the organizers wrote, “Wait until you see the new auditorium!” Healthy dose of symbolism, anyone?

I’m a different person from the girl I was 17 years ago. Half my lifetime ago. Here’s hoping that I can come to peace with who I was, where I have traveled, and who I am today. I’m sure I’ll have to take a deep breath, sit in my car a minute, and brace myself for the insecurity that’s gonna overtake me when I walk into that gym. And, in those moments, I hope to put my arms around those 17-year old thoughts and say, “You did your best. It’s who you were. It’s who you had to be.” Then, I plan on walking into that gym, dancing my much softer/wider/jiggly body that was home to 3 absolutely beautiful babies, singing with happiness, and give thanks for all that my 17-year old self had to overcome in order for me to be who I am today.

To loosen that…

What’s So Hard About Teaching Truth?

Wow, sometimes post topics just fall into my lap — or, fall into my Facebook, to be more accurate. Seriously, what did we all socially write about before people’s Facebook comments, status updates, and links?

Picture 2This one comes courtesy of a simple comment about “Columbus” (this being, ya know, Columbus’s big DAY and all….)

A friend status-ed about loving Columbus. So, I bit, and commented that I hope my friend loves the day off and not actually what Columbus did.  That led to the response that the teacher does teach a socially responsible unit on Columbus (yay!! Give it up for one more teacher who teaches the truth!). Another person then asked what Columbus did. I, unable to resist, simply stated that “Columbus gets credit for discovering a place that already had people, language, culture, traditions, etc. That would be like me walking into your apartment, saying that I founded it, and then making you go get me a drink.”

A response came along — the kind you hope for when you’re in a blogging rut — with something like this: “Yeah, but how much violent-invading history are we really gonna teach 3rd graders, or their parents, who want everything to be sugary and nice?” I actually agreed here because I thought the commenter was heading in the “yes, and therefore we shouldn’t teach Columbus=Discoverer”. But, alas, the commenter wasn’t making that point. The commenter then proceeded to say that the “(n)ative (p)eople in Plimouth were rude and off-putting with their political agendas worn like a giant chip on their shoulders.” I swear, I can’t make this stuff up….

Giant.Chip. On.Their.Shoulders? Yeah, there sure is a chip; and that chip is called “we were having a grand old time, then random people came, stole our land, killed our people, and then told stories about how we shared some turkey, jokes, and smiles.” I’d be rude, too, if kids dressed up like my people, athletic teams mock my elders, and people took tours of my land every November to see a rock.

But, really, my question goes back to this statement: “How much violent-invading history are we going to teach 3rd graders?” Right, exactly. So, let’s not teach it. If you don’t want to teach the true history of the First People, then at least let’s not teach Columbus=Savior. Okay, if you don’t want to teach the atrocities of the Pilgrim/Native times, at least let’s stop teaching that the Pilgrims saved the Native people.

You can teach the truth in age appropriate ways. After all, those populations and peoples are/were MORE than the events that happened to them. Picture 3Teach the cultures as they existed before colonization. Do work beyond what is given in just the most basic (and empty) of textbooks. If you teach 3rd grade, then make sure you do your own age appropriate (adult) homework. Pick up Howard Zinn’s book. Read Ronald Takaki’s work. If you teach, read James Loewen. Challenge the education that we received growing up. Teach that Columbus didn’t end up where he thought he was, and that’s why he landed where he did, calling Native people “Indians.” (Heck, I’m pissed that the nickname my sister gave me when I was 7 years old has still stuck with me; Imagine being stuck with the same nickname for, oh, 500+years!) Teach that Europeans did not discover the world; that people existed long before colonization; that colonization, itself, relates to a lot of the playground antics that exist outside during elementary school recess.

So, what’s so hard about teaching the truth? These days, teaching the truth takes some effort. While many textbooks are finally telling stories other than just European history, many still do not. And, for most teachers in my generation and older, we grew up on a very different telling of history. We were educated during  a time when social perspective was rarely challenged. But, today, now, there is an emphasis on teaching the truth. And, indeed, as most historical truths are a result of “violent-invading-forces”, we need to teach that there exists different truths. Don’t we always tell our kids there are “always two sides to every story?” Playground rules, right?

Teaching the truth also teaches our children to think critically. They learn that there is a perspective other than their own. They learn to think bigger than a situation. They learn to seek the truth rather than just accept the truth. By learning both/all sides, they learn to engage in conflict resolution and mediation.

My kids are little. At least few times a day, they grab from one another, they tease one another, they take credit (or blame) from one another. They trick one another into doing their chores. If someone gets a treat, a sibling will almost predictably try to distract then steal a piece of that treat. And, at least once a week, one of my girls will kick the other girl out of their shared room. Sound historically familiar?

We end up having talks about these actions. And, I know they won’t end anytime soon (after all, puberty and teenage years are still a bit away…). The lessons learned don’t involve violence. Rather, we talk about respect. We talk about fairness. Justice. Equality. Kindness. Why can’t these truths be taught in terms of history?

They can.

They should.

They must.

So, let’s realize that teaching the truth is possible. Let’s realize that we can teach a sugary version of the truth that is also historically responsible. Let’s realize that the “chip-on-the-shoulder” is usually a result of the truth being withheld. If people were spreading lies about you, about your friends, about your family, you would be pretty pissed off, too. When you hear that a people/person is pissed off about something that historically has been misrepresented about them, ask why. Listen to the answer, and you likely will be listening to their truth.

(hat tip to my friend Jenn who teaches with this book to help her students understand the different stories surrounding Columbus)

What are some age appropriate specific resources that other anti-racist parents and/or responsible educators are using in their homes or classrooms? Please share! Make teaching the truth a whole lot easier!

What Makes them Whole

(Note: I wrote this back in the Summer of 2008, swore I had published it somewhere, but can’t seem to find it. So, my apologies if you’ve read this already, but I figured it was worth re-posting anyways! Enjoy – Liza)

There are so many times when I’ve wanted to give up the fight against racism. There are many of my friends and a few of my favorite bloggers who have. There are days when I sit at work thinking, “Is this worth it? Can we really heal? Can we really learn? Move forward?” There are days when I want to scream, “I quit!”

Thankfully, I know that there is at least one week during my race-filled year when I do recharge and when I am humbled. This past week, I spent our 2nd visit to Camp Sunshine, a retreat camp for families with children with life threatening illnesses. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer just a few weeks after her 2nd birthday. It rocked our world. It changed our lives. She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma – a rare eye cancer that resulted in the removal of her right eye, 6 months of chemotherapy, and dozens upon dozens of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, and tests.

I tend to link disability activism with racism activism because I believe that, at it’s core, our goal is to raise children who treat others like human beings in this world.

Coming to camp has been a fantastic experience because “camp” is the place where we all feel normal for a week. Retinoblastoma children get to be in the majority. They get to experience privilege. They get to experience power. Confidence. Support. Every family that attends that week has been affected by retinoblastoma. Some children have both their eyes, having sucessfully treated their cancer with laser, radiation, or chemotherapy. Some children have lost one of their eyes. Some children have lost both of their eyes and navigate our sighted world completely blind. Each family has a slightly different story, but at the heart of our experiences is cancer in our children. Families from all over the country fly in to be together, to heal, to relax, and to be in the majority for a week.

One of the many things that I find interesting about coming to camp is that race, ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, and gender all seem to fade away. It’s a place where people find that they are bonded by their experiences with cancer, rather than the identity labels we are faced with outside of this little heaven. For most of my year, I talk about race, diversity, sexism, etc., and for this one week, none of that even enters into my mind. We are all united by cancer. Our conversations are guided around the “cancer lens” through which we all see the world. And, for many of us, that cancer lens has given us a strong faith in the human spirit.

For 51 weeks out of the year, my daughter lives in the numeric minority. She is different than any other child she plays with at school and at home. She doesn’t interact with any other children with a prosthetic eye; and, outside of the hospital, we never meet any other children her age with cancer. Camp is where she feels normal, where she is in the numeric majority. Camp is where she doesn’t have to worry about dumb things people say when they notice she only has one eye. She doesn’t have to worry about what people will say if there is goop on her eye or if her prosthesis happens to pop out while she is rubbing it. Camp is where kids talk freely about chemotherapy, about their “special eyes”, and about their radiation. And, camp is where, if they choose, they don’t ever have to talk about it at all.

Camp is also where my daughter learns how to interact with children who are Picture 1differently abled. She has made fast friends with two girls , Tacey and Mayci, who both lost their sight at around age 7 from reoccurances with retinoblastoma. Through their stubborness and their insistence that they not be perjoratively treated as “blind kids”, Tacey and Mayci defy stereotypes. They defy preconceived notions about blind children. They set a new standard, a new “normal”, and a new understanding of how high our children can soar if we give them wings rather than weights. Tacey barrel races horses in her homestate of Texas. Mayci plays softball on a sighted team (and, when given the option of having a “beeping sound” signal an approaching softball, she made the officials turn off the beeping because it was annoying her!). Parents and kids watch in awe as these two little blind girls actually lead each other around hand-in-hand through the camp grounds (which, yes, gives new meaning to “the blind leading the blind.”).

At first, my daughter was afraid of Tacey and Mayci with their white canes and the blank, unresponsive look in their eyes (they both wear prosthetic eyes). But, Joli really wanted to make friends with these two girls. When the girls would walked by, Joli would wave at them and, in her smallest voice, say “hi.” This happened a number of times, but I just watched to see how she would respond, react, and adapt to her method of “waving hello” to a couple of blind girls. Eventually, Joli grew discouraged and their un-reciprocated “hello” and said to me, “Mommy, I don’t think I like Tacey and Mayci – they never say hello to me. I don’t want to be friends with them.” We had to explain to her that “they can’t see you waving to them, Joli. You have to actually say ‘Hello, Tacey and Mayci! This is Joli and I am in front of you waving.'”

Simple, right? Right.

We practiced saying, “Hello, Tacey and Mayci! This is Joli saying HI to you!” Joli tried that method the next time she saw Tacey and Mayci. They, of course, said “Hello, Joli!” and were so excited to make a new friend. Tacey and Mayci began to feel Joli’s hands, her face, her coarse curly hair, and her glases. They also felt Joli’s smile that was stretched from ear-to-ear in pure happiness! Since that day, the girls have been inseparable and even keep in touch during the school year. It was that easy….

This year, our second daughter was now old enough to experience camp with her sister. Of course, the first kids we saw when we pulled up to camp were Tacey and Mayci. Joli hopped out of the car, announced she was there and invited the girls to touch her — feeling the change in her height, the shape of her new Hannah Montana glasses, and her tight braids that stretched from the front of her head to the back. Once the girls reacquainted themselves, Joli brought her 2-year old sister, Jada, over to meet the girls. When Jada first saw Tacey and Mayci, she kind of freaked out. They were touching her face, touching her hair, and “seeing” Jada with their hands. I watched Jada’s body tense up and tears well in her eyes. Joli felt it, too. Joli, the now experienced 4-year-old-big sister, held Jada’s hand and, in her most delicate way, explained what Tacey and Mayci were doing. Jada stopped crying. Jada stood still. Jada touched back.

Camp is special for me for so many reasons. This time around, though, it helped renew my faith in our children – for whom many of us parents/teachers/counselors/friends want to raise in an anti-racist world. As I re-read my post, I mentally substituted words related to blindness and disabilities with words that are related to race and anti-racism. It’s amazing to me the connection between what we experience as a family with a differently abled child and as a family with race and ethnicity at our core. Through both lenses, we constantly learn and reinforce valuable lessons about treating people as humans.

We learned valuable lessons about making mistakes and finding ways to move beyond them. We teach and learn that sometimes we can control how we interact with others (saying “HELLO” to a blind person) and how sometimes we have no control over a situation (a healthy toddler being diagnosed with cancer). We learn that kids sometimes do know better than we do. We learn that kids make the same pre-judgements that we do, and that kids can also quickly learn how to challenge those pre-judgements. We witness that our children are more adaptable than we are. And, they are often more resilient than we are, too.

My daughters and their friends many not necessarily think about living in an anti-racist way. They just want to make a new friend. They just want to be treated kindly. They want to have the same opportunities as others have, and they truly want to share their happiness. Learning from my children gives me hope. On those days when I get so discouraged having encountered a racist person, a racist practice, and an unjust system, I think back to those first moments when my kids met Tacey and Mayci – how hard it was to feel left out and how easy it was to make a friend. They don’t see one another despite their disabilities, they see one another in light of their disabilities. They have seen beauty in being different.

And they know that different is what makes them whole.