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Underwater Hearing

I was born deaf February of 1996, then born into the hearing world about five months later.  When my parents brought me home from the hospital in June–the second of their triplets girls to escape the NICU–they noticed I was suddenly reacting to sounds.

That summer, I passed a hearing test for the first time.  

Say that it’s God.

Say that it’s modern medicine.

Say that the delicate nerves in my tiny, shell-shaped cochlea finally caught up to my closed eyes, my paper-thin skin, my toothpick ribs–the wonderful knitting together of a body already outside the womb–and tell me science isn’t miraculous.

 

In second or third grade, my teachers and parents began calling me distracted.  I was always a step behind in class. When my mom called our names from the porch as we played outside, I was the only one who wouldn’t come running, and other kids told me I talked too loudly.

I was 8-years-old, blonde and skinny, with a mouth full of crooked teeth that laughed a lot and stuttered constantly.  I had relentless strep throat and ear infections. Speech therapy, colorful braces, and a tonsillectomy helped. But I still couldn’t hear.

I was always a wildly imaginative kid, with an entire town of imaginary friends before I started school: a nameless, faceless airline pilot husband who was always gone, a co-worker named after Steve from Blue’s Clues and his wife, and a whole brood of baby dolls and stuffed animals who I called my children. When I wasn’t creating another world, I had my nose in a book, soaking up someone else’s creations.

I thought that this habit of retreating into my own head is why I didn’t notice when my hearing started to vanish.

Now I’m wondering if I lived in my own little world because the volume was too low on the real one.

 

Fifteen years later, I think about what I can hear.

Making dinner in my apartment: the AC hums, arrhythmic ceramic clanks as I stack dishes in the sink, paper packaging crinkles, and bouncy show tunes blast from my phone. Drawers sliidddee open, then close with a bang. Food sizzles and water runs.

Have I always been able to hear that?

If I can hear all of that, while my blue hearing aids sit on the counter, can I really call myself Deaf?

 

When we arrived in early February, instead of late May like we were supposed to, my two sisters and I were scientific marvels just for surviving. Rachel struggled more than Lauren and I did. She had severe cerebral palsy, brain damage that caused nearly all of her muscles to be tight and difficult for her to control.  For almost a decade, she survived in a body working against her.

My hearing wasn’t a big deal. I couldn’t always hear well in class, but I could talk to my friends about playground crushes and ramble to my mom about Disney Channel shows or my favorite Ramona Quimby book.

Lauren, the neighbor kids, and I spent hours on end climbing trees, hanging from the swing set, and skinning our knees trying to imitate the bike tricks we saw on the X-Games.  Rachel couldn’t do any of that. Most of Rachel’s friends couldn’t do any of that. I was lucky, by comparison. I was normal.

I don’t get stared at when I go in public. I live independently, and will probably never struggle to get a job because of my hearing. I don’t get accused of being lazy or demanding for what I can’t control.  The social, physical, and financial barriers that bind many disabled people don’t apply to me.

ASL isn’t my mother tongue, and while I’ll turn captions on at home, I’ll never be forced to leave a movie theatre because a outdated, clunky hand-held caption generator couldn’t keep up with the plot. College classes tend to have less background noise than elementary school, so other than making my professors aware of my hearing loss each semester, I didn’t require any accommodations in school.

So am I deaf enough to call myself Deaf?

 

I was nineteen when I found the community I never knew I was missing. While working as a camp counselor for disabled kids, our hard-of-hearing teens became my people.  They begged me to teach them to make friendship bracelets, shyly asked for advice about starting high school, and crushed me in basketball every single day. They borrowed my flashlight, my Uno cards, and my sanity.  

They borrowed my hearing aid batteries, and gave me advice on how to keep my aids dry.  Nobody whispered. Nobody got frustrated when they had to repeat themselves. When we rode the pontoon boat one night, many of us sat sideways to keep the wind from roaring across our microphones.  

The following summer, I sat on cool, hard concrete in a circle of young teen girls.  We swatted at bugs and faced each other to lip-read as we reflected on bullying, future plans, and middle school romance. For some of us hearing loss was discovered at birth, some at 10 or 11, but we all had a story of the first time we heard something.  Mine was birds chirping.

A couple days before this conversation, I’d asked a young writer I was working with to look at me as we talked so I could hear him better. He said, “Oh, is that why you sound funny?”  Only brutally honest children comment on my lisp. I have no idea how my voice sounds different from others, but I can feel it. High-pitched ss- and sh- sounds get stuck at the corners of my mouth, in between my lips and teeth.

I asked my campers if they’re ever embarrassed by their Deaf accents, and a high school sophomore who spoke her first sentence at age five immediately shook her head. “Nope.” She said. “It doesn’t matter how you speak as long as you make your voice heard.”

 

During that same week of camp, my group was walking back from an activity when it started to pour. We scrambled to help our kids get drying pouches from their backpacks to protect their hearing aids and cochlear implant magnets. Our equipment is the size of coins and costs what my rent does in a year.  All I could hear was raindrops pelting my microphones.  I ripped my aids from my ears and held them cupped in my hand.

“I need to get a pouch like that.” I said, loudly, pointing.  I was hoping the audiologist on staff had an extra I could snag.

One of our adult volunteers looked at me funny. “What would you use it for?” He asked. He was a middle-aged Deaf man who escaped 60-hour-a-week office work to rough it in the woods with our kids. Despite the rain, he hadn’t removed his CI magnets.  

“My aids.” I said, opening my hands like showing off a firefly that might escape.

Even around a hundred other hard-of-hearing kids and adults, he said, “Oh yeah, I forgot you had them.”

So am I deaf enough to call myself Deaf?

 

My campers and I agreed it feels like drowning to be called apathetic and spacey when your face is tight with the concentration is takes to understand every other word of a conversation. 

When I supervised the teens-only night swim, our dozens of wide-eyed campers couldn’t hear me without their aids. They didn’t listen to my signs and gestures.  

When fluid fills my ears like clockwork every October and January, I feel like I’m hearing underwater. In between doses of Sudafed that makes my mouth feel like playdough, my own voice echoes too loud in my skull, and every other noise blurs together.

Spoken word artist Sarah Kay declares in a poem about friendship: When they make fun of your accent, I will take you swimming because we all sound the same underwater.

 

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What Happened On Monday July 9

Essaying Daily has spent the last few weeks publishing Day In The Life essays from dozens of writers. Check out some here: https://www.essaydaily.org/2018/07/july-9-emilio-carrero-shamae-budd.html
I didn’t record my observations on the Summer Solstice, but I loved this prompt so much I decided to try it for myself. 

Day In The Life

My first alarm goes off at 7:15. I spend the next 25 minutes arguing with myself that I either need to go back to sleep or get up because aimlessly clicking through Twitter isn’t a healthy way to start the day.

I text my sister a heart and tell her to have a good day. I brush my teeth, then trip over baskets of unfolded laundry, pull on jean shorts and a black tunic with orange flowers and bell sleeves.  I should probably put my laundry away, but I probably won’t.

Coffee first.  My small kitchen is bright and lovely with summer sunlight, and I put on the soundtrack to the musical Bandstand. My hips swing along with the bouncy 40s-big-band style music while I fix a pot of coffee and unload the dishwasher.  My bell sleeves are in my way already, and I push them up past my elbows so I can hand wash a couple glasses. I microwave my sponge until it steams because some mom on WikiHow said it kills germs. The coffee pot sputters, and I fill my tallest Pooh Bear mug with coffee, then milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. The cinnamon floats. The sugar sinks.

I take my coffee and phone to the couch, and light a tea candle that smells like the ocean. I flip open my journal and make my to-do list for the day: reading, teaching, putting away that laundry. Returning a house key to the family I dog-sat for over the weekend. Groceries? I write with a question mark.

I grab my Bible.  At the suggestion of a friend, I’m trying to get through Acts this summer. Today’s the first half of chapter 9, the conversion of murderer Saul to compassionate, intellectual Paul who took the Gospel to Damascus.  My study notes talk about the Holy Spirit. I pray about power and strength–finding it in myself, remembering it’s already been gifted to me. That makes me think of my mentor, who told our students “Dare to be strong!”

I remember that this week her son will have his 39th surgery in 15 years, and I pray strength and peace for them. Peace. Comfort.  I’m curled up on the loveseat, my Bible and grey journal on my knees, my head drifting towards the back of the couch. The soft, thick blanket draped over my lap is making me sleepy again.

Paul’s blindness troubles me, but I have to leave in 10 minutes. Why did God make Paul blind then restore his sight? To show His power? To make real Saul’s spiritual blindness? Why blindness? How do modern blind people feel about these stories? I jot down a note: “try to find some non-cringey readings about disability and faith”.  

I fold my blanket, take another drink of coffee, and wander into my room for my makeup bag. I sit down cross legged on the floor in front of a full length mirror.  From my phone sitting at my side, Jon Foreman sings warm, haunting prayers and love songs. I brush my blonde curls into a ponytail, swipe on some mascara, then roll lemon sugar perfume into my wrists and the crevice of my collarbone. It’s 8:45. How do I get up so early and still manage to be behind? Where are my earrings?

Coffee into a travel mug, tiny silver tree earrings into skin, journal and wallet into bag, hearing aids into ears. The AC rattles and the ceiling fan clicks. No thanks–hearing aids off.

As I’m walking down the steps with my coffee cup in one hand and my car keys, house keys, and purple sunglasses dangling precariously from the fingers of the other hand, I realize I haven’t eaten breakfast. Oops.  

There’s construction on the interstate, so the Monday morning traffic on College Avenue crawls for about 15 blocks. I’m following a White Buick advertising Pings Lawn Care. Switchfoot’s Where the Light Shines Through has been in the CD player 80% of the time for almost 2 years now. It’s the heartbeat of this car. I open the sunroof, skip to the last track, “Hope”, and sing along, thumping the drum line into the hot black steering wheel with the heel of my hand. At a stoplight, I fish a half-melted Blushing Berry lipstick from the pocket of my bag and apply it in the rear-view mirror.  

All of the interns are running late today. It’s going to be a long month of construction.
“We’d all get to work on time if people would just take turns!” One girl complains. “I was at the stoplight at College and 30th for 20 minutes because no one would let me turn left!”

Our writing prompt for the day is “Tell me the story of how you got your name or nickname”. The intern who couldn’t turn left reads about her long, rhyming nickname, which makes our 6-to-9-year-old class giggle.

Another intern shares how she learned that her last name was given to her ancestors by their masters, when “people who look like [her]” and people who look like the dozens of little faces staring back at us could be property. She takes an intelligent question from a 3rd grader who is too young to pronounce “slavery”, but lives in its aftermath.

Kids wiggle in their seats and laugh as they share their nicknames: Pooh Bear, Baby, Tater Tot, Ladybug, JJ, AJ, CJ.  I tell them my dad called me Pickle.

“Cause you liked pickles?” a 7-year-old asks.

“No, because I was bald as a pickle.”

Our students were named after celebrities, book characters, favorite uncles, great-grandmothers. A little girl tells me how it makes her mad and sad when people say her name wrong, and we agree that names are important. Someone snaps a picture of me surrounded by a tableful of sweet, giggly kids with pencils in their hands. When I see the photo later in the day, I try to focus on the joy, and not the greasy shine across my forehead or the dark shadows around my eyes. They’re shadows, not bags, right? I’m only 22.  I post it on Instagram with the caption, “My favorite thing in the world is writers whose feet don’t touch the floor.”

Our older class, just returning from recess, is electric with awkward preteen drama. One boy puts his head down and goes sullen, and his buddy tells me he’s having a bad day. Another girl tells me she turned 11 at exactly 10:40am. Over the weekend, her mom took her shopping and out for ice cream, and she shows me her new sunglasses.  It’s incredibly loud and I’m having a hard time focusing. I find myself nodding, giving tentative yeahs, and leaning, twisting to try to read their lips.  

We get to see our book cover before we leave. Hundreds of young voices will be in print, encased in this beautiful, unique cover. We ooh and ahh as we pass around our director’s phone.  A couple people ask about my job search. I’ve had a few interviews, but nothing set in stone yet, and my weekend job at the Children’s Museum starts Friday. Our director was a reference for me; she tells me that she told my new boss I’m smart, patient, unflappable. I smile and thank her profusely, and she gives me a high-five.

I need to drop off that key before I go home. I drive past historic houses made of brick and stone with perfectly manicured lawns, and tell myself I should look up how far I am from affording one.  “Umbrella” by Rihanna comes on the radio, which transports me back to 2007: this song blaring on HOT 96 from a radio balanced on a beach chair, cracked concrete burning our bare feet, a Limited Too swimsuit, my cousin dancing next to her pool.  Then a song I don’t recognize comes on. When I turn it up, it’s a jingle for Blue Bunny ice cream, which reminds me that coffee isn’t breakfast and I want to go home and eat. Eat. Now. I drop the key in the mailbox of one of these big beautiful homes.

I snack while making lunch. A hunk of pepperjack cheese, a Milano cookie, a swig of orange juice from the bottle as I fry some wilting leftover zucchini, then two eggs. I refill decorative containers of olive oil and coffee grounds. I toast a mini bagel, then slide the eggs and zucchini into a bowl and cover them with salsa. Maybe I do need to go grocery shopping.

My phone rings as soon as I sit down to eat. My Internet company. Did I pay the bill? I let the lady give me her 90-second script for their streaming service, then have to say “No, thank you” three times before we can hang up.  My phone’s still buzzing: updates on our book from my mentor, how to reschedule substitute teaching orientation, New York Times daily recipe subscription I never read. I dunk my mini-bagel into salsa and egg yolk.

I spend the afternoon dozing and picking up bites of Internet:  

Prince William and Kate Middleton are serving 7-year-old brandy-steeped wedding cake at baby Louis’ christening.

 Lin-Manuel Miranda used his infant son’s tiny feet to play “Heart and Soul”.  

People are still trying to ban straws. Disabled people are still fighting it.

One of my favorite Broadway stars is giving a sneak-peak of a performance with his wife.

A teenager from my hometown was killed in a car accident.  

My old creative writing professor wrote once that we hear bad news too early in the morning these days.  I’m thinking about how these headlines blur together in my mind, here-then-gone with a click.

I sign up for a yoga class.

Click.

It’s already 5pm as I’m sitting here writing. I still haven’t put away my laundry or gone grocery shopping. It’s still hot, and I’m still trying to ignore the noises from my fan.

My phone’s still buzzing. Maybe I’ll leave it at home for a while.

Balance

I love yoga because it forces me to do all of the things I’m bad at.

Slowing down.

Paying attention to tiny details.

Turning my brain off and not overthinking.

Trying again when my muscles are quivering and I’ve fallen over three times and I can’t stay upright.

Stock Illustration of Yoga on Mountain

I’ve always been flexible; as a little kid I watched PBS Kids and Disney movies while standing on my head. I learned to do summersaults, then cartwheels and handstands. I did flips everywhere I went.

At nine, my greatest trick was a handstand into a bridge. It was fairly impressive–until I didn’t know how to get back up and the semicircle of my spine would collapse flat into the mat, or the grass in the outfield at softball, or my living room floor.

At nine, my biggest goal was to do a back handspring. I ogled over the Olympics and the other girls in the advanced tumbling class. I spent hours practicing sloppy backbends against the wall, too impatient to focus on keeping my arms strong, my core engaged, my hips up. 

I was just desperate to find the strength and momentum in my skinny body to propel myself backwards, so I’d have something else fun to do when my dad complained I couldn’t sit still.

So I’d know the power that came with flying through the air.

So I’d have another trick to show off to kids on the playground; something else to try to impress the tall, Type-A, soccer players who did perfect long division and told me I was weird.  

I wanted all the things that came with acquiring a new skill without the work of building that skill. 9-year-old me would’ve huffed and gotten defensive at that observation. So would almost-22-year-old me.

When I was about 12 or 13, my mom got me a “Yoga For Teens” book for Christmas. I hung onto every word of encouragement on the brightly-colored page. I stared at the photos of girls my age calm and centered and strong in crazy poses. I tripped on my way out of a handstand and kicked a hole in my grandma’s wall.

I’ve never been athletic. I quit gymnastics and soccer by 10, basketball and softball by 12.  But I did yoga on and off all through high school and even into college.

This time last year I got really burnt out. For a lot of reasons. I ran myself into the ground within the first two weeks of the semester because I can’t say “no”, and ended up with a draining, frustrating month-long ear infection.  Two teaching reading classes–milestones in my major–were necessary, helpful, inspiring, and stressing me the hell out.

All semester there seemed to be some “crisis of the week”: Car trouble, an argument, a broken finger, a classroom to visit or a paper due, and no no no why do my ears hurt again

For about four months, the only phrase I could come up with to describe how I was feeling was off balance.  

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Over the summer, I worked childcare at the YWCA in my hometown, and spent a surprising amount of time picking kids up, mostly 5- and 6-year-olds who needed a boost to squeeze into the baby swings. After a couple weeks, my dad noticed that my arms–which he’d always teased me for being thin as matchsticks–had some muscle to them. I liked feeling strong.

Last year, during my Off Balance semester, I relied entirely on my brain: 17 demanding credit hours, tutoring at the writing center, weekly Bible study, and throwing everything else I had into a daring essay about inclusive education.

It took coming to college to believe that I’m smart. I wanted to harness that.

I wanted to dive into every opportunity without looking back.

And it was exhausting.

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About six months ago, I impulsively bought a yoga mat on a late night Target run.  A couple times a week every since, I pull it out from it’s spot in my closet between my heaviest winter coat and a dollar store broom-and-dustpan.

Sunlight streams into the huge picture window behind my couch, casting shadows across  my back.

I’m facing a sink full of dirty dishes, trying to set my drishti, my gaze, on the light switch above the sink. A candle flickers from my kitchen table.  The orange mat is tacky, and a scrap of notebook paper at my feet reminds me the sequence of poses.

When I’m pushing myself to take just one more deep breath in a low chair pose, picturing lighting shooting through my extended fingertips to the ugly titled ceiling, I can’t dwell on my long list of teens who can’t read, or the sassy 12-year-old who rolled her eyes at me.

When my transition to a lunge feels wobbly and I have to reset my feet to keep from falling into my fridge–thinking about pressing my feet into the earth, the angles of my hips and spine–there’s no room in my brain for an endless loop of show tune lyrics or TV quotes.

My to-do list full of unread books and unwritten essays doesn’t touch my long, strong Downward Facing Dog.

 My dreams and fears of my soon-to-be-career as a writer, educator, and advocate are nowhere to be found when I’m leaning deep into a Triangle, focusing on stacking my shoulder blades on top of each other.

Weekend plans or concern for my friends don’t hover over me when I’m hovering in a plank, thinking about stretching my heels to the couch and my brilliant, overworked brain towards that sink of dishes.

I use my front door to practice backbends now instead of the wall of my parents’ living room. I’m more mindful of strong arms and high hips as I walk my hands down down down, my spine curling into a perfect C.  My back or belly presses against the cold, hard door for 5, 12, 15, 18 seconds at a time, as I try to build up the strength and confidence again to walk on my hands like I did when I was a kid.

I’m only focused on one more full breath: In two three four five six and-Out two three four five six seven…

gymnast-silhouette-clip-art-1233917

My progress is slow. I’m pretty clumsy.

I love being reminded of all of the incredible ways I was created to be strong and graceful and powerful and limber.

I’m trying to find my balance.

You want dream jobs? I’ve got 20!

Before kids even start school, adults ask them what do you want to be when you grow up?  As if there is just ONE thing a person can be, or should be, or has to be, or is meant to be in 40+ years of working life.

Middle school and high school kids are told picking a college major is one of the most important decisions they can make.  And they might change their major a hundred times, but once they have a major they like nailed down, the rest of the path is peachy. That’s an even bigger lie.

When faced with a million appealing options and avenues, some people get so overwhelmed by indecision and fear they freeze. If they can’t guarantee they’ll pick the right thing, they won’t pick anything at all.

That’s valid. I understand that mindset.  But that’s not me.  I want to do.  If I have a million appealing options, I’m going to do ALL of them.  I find myself biting off more than I can chew. And then I stubbornly keep chewing.  (I know, that’s not always a great thing. I’m writing and praying through that. I’m learning. it’s hard. stay tuned)

I’ve had a lot of good, challenging conversations recently about valuing non-linear paths and unorthodox routes.  I have a lot of thoughts and questions about balance, and remembering Who is in control (thankfully not me!), and if “having it all” is a lie, and where I can make the make impact, and if maybe God sometimes can put dreams in your heart to tease you.

I’m trying to pray through all those things, and write about them, and wrestle through them.  I know I can approach the Throne of Grace with confidence for help in every need, and that His plan for me is greater than anything I could ever dream myself.   I know writing is the comb that untangles my thoughts.

But it’s the end of the semester and, y’all, I’m too capital-T Tired to unpack all that right now. 

Instead, here are, in random order, 20 things I Want to Be When I Grow Up 

    1. Dog Mom 

      puppy
      If I achieve nothing else in life but having a Golden Retriever named Waffle to tuck into bed every night, I count it a win.
    2. Middle School English Teacherteacher2


      (Do I want to be Feeny? Kind of)
      Now, technically, my teaching license will cover grades 5-12 so I could feasibly teach squirrelly, brace-faced intermediate school kids all the way to 6-foot, bearded, driving, almost-adult high school seniors.  But young teens are my favorite.

      They’re passionate–their passions might be Pokemon Go or the cotton-candy boyband of the moment or some bizarre emo webcomic I’ve never heard of–but they have passions, and many have a save-the-world kind of attitude.
      They’re young enough to not be totally burnt out on school, but usually mature enough to start to read more complex pieces, write in different genres, and dig deeper into big questions.  I spent time in a 10th grade class and a 7th grade class this semester. The high schoolers were fun and very bright, but too well-behaved for me.

    3. Food Truck Owner


      I’ve always said if I drop out of school, I’m getting a food truck called Mack and Cheese that sells only speciality grilled cheese sandwiches.  Line up now.
    4. People Mom (maybe through adoption)
      mom1
      I LOVE big families, and I’ve known since I was little I want at least a few kids of my own. I recently started watching a Youtube channel of a family who has half of their kiddos by adoption:  4 biological daughters, a son adopted domestically, a son adopted from Congo, and a daughter with Down Syndrome adopted from China.  And they have 3 dogs and a horse. and the husband is hot as heck. Family. Goals.
    5. Professional Hammock Napper
      hammock
      preferably on the beach with a magically refilling iced coffee.
    6. YA Author
      writing 2
      I’d love to write the kinds of books I love to read: School and coming of age stories, historical fiction, family dramas, quirky slow-burn books where the protagonists are named after flowers.
    7. Perpetual Camp Counselor
      Summer-Camp.jpg
      goofy camp songs are still cool when you’re 40, right?
    8. Peanut Butter* Taste-Testerpb.jpg
      *Replace PB with cookie dough or wine or mac&cheese and that’d be chill too
       the good part of this is I’d get paid to eat peanut butter off the spoon, even the expensive, fancy, special flavored ones.  but it’d also mean tasting the not-good ones.
    9. Special Education Teacher

      I’m not sure if I can see myself teaching in an isolated Special Ed room long term (I can’t see myself doing anything long term, which is the point of this post). But I’ve been thinking a lot about the joy I’ve gotten working with people with complex communication needs/non-verbal communication, and severe physical and cognitive needs.

      There is nothing like seeing a person who has been told their whole life they will never do something achieve tiny inch-stones.  There are few experiences more tedious, more mind-bending, more rewarding than learning to communicate with someone who communicates with something other than their voice.  There is nothing like being able to look at someone society pushes to the side and say I believe in you.   I know I can get these experiences in mainstream classes too. I know kids who are marginalized and cast off exist in typical classrooms.  I want to reach those kids, too. But there’s something so unique and special about working with people with disabilities, and I want that work to always be part of my life.

    10. Baby Goat Rescuer 
      The internet is a dangerous place full of videos of tiny goats in tiny clothes. Go follow Goats of Anarchy on Instagram and 100% Goats on Twitter. You’re welcome
    11. Inclusion Cheerleader

inclusion

I’ve written about this occasionally here, and even more other places the last several months.  All semester I’ve been chugging away on a mixed-genre piece about disability justice in education.  Basically, my experiences with my sister with severe cerebral palsy, my own hearing loss, and my time as a camp counselor for kids with disabilities are told in prose and lists.  I talk about how those things influence my perspective as an almost-teacher and my passion for inclusion programs. It explores the gap between what preservice teachers get to be prepared for a diverse classroom and what we get, and how to remedy that gap.
It’s gone through several drafts and has several more to go–shout out to my mentor for being so darn patient with every reiteration! I’m incredibly excited about it and while working on it has made me more and more passionate about the importance of kids of all abilities learning to work and play together.

12. The trope Weird Old Lady in every kids book/movie

gloria
The witches. The crazy cat ladies. The “don’t mess with Grandma” characters. They collect all kinds of bizarre junk.  Eccentric and flighty, maybe even reckless. They’re WEIRD, but they’re fun and kindhearted and at the end of the day give really good advice.I’m thinking what Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus and Toph from Avatar the Last Airbender grow up to be, Gloria Dump from Because of Winn Dixie, the female version of eccentric mentors like Dumbledore, Gandalf, and Uncle Iroh.
yeah, I want to be that kind of crazy old lady.

13. Creative Non-Fiction Essayist
writing 1
Two, soon to be three, semester of CNF classes have taught me so much about how to dig into my experiences and what I see in the world around me.

14. Amusement park ride testerRollercoasterthe good: Get paid to ride roller coasters. The bad: hella dangerous and scary if I have to test a shaky, crazy pop-up prototype.

15. High School Speech/Debate Coach
debate.jpgI did competitive debate for  3 years in high school and 1 1/2 years in college. it’s a lot of fun and I bet would be fun to coach!

16. Perpetual Student


I’d stay in a supportive, stimulating liberal arts community forever and ever if I could. I want it all: History. Literature. Women and Gender Studies. Multicultural studies. Disability studies. Experimenting with every kind of writing under the sun.   I’ll learn a new language. Maybe, I’ll try to learn to draw.
my mentor told me the other day that being an English major is perfect for me because I just get to sit with smart people and talk about books. Why would I leave that community?

17. Professional People-Watcher
4826511b5e69975680935f8d1d70d733

People are FASCINATING and eavesdropping  is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s the writer in me.

18. Yoga Instructor
 Stock Illustration of Yoga on Mountain
Breathe in…Breathe out. 

19. Inclusive Children’s Ministry Advocate inclusion2.jpg
I don’t know what to do with this one yet. I struggled to even come up with a short  “title”. But I read an article recently (read here) about the importance of parents/caregivers of kids with disabilities bringing their kids to church, and the importance of responding with grace, empathy, compassion, and flexibility when working with people with disabilities aren their families.  Some of that article resonated with me, but some of it I found problematic.I won’t rehash that all here, but that article–combined with some conversations I’ve had recently–made me realize that there need to be more practical resources for churches to best serve people with disabilities and those who love them.  Maybe it’s in my future to create those kinds of resources!

20. Flower Child

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If all else fails, I’ll make myself a flower crown and go live in a treehouse by myself.

Community

“Self perception is like a funhouse mirror” 

I wish I could tell you who said this or the full context of this quote.  But I heard it at church a couple of weeks ago and it’s been turning over in my mind every since.  The sermon was about living in community with other believers, so the quote was about self-perception of sin.

But I think it’s true of a lot of things in life.

Of writing.

Of relationships.

Of perception of our physical appearance.

Without the honest, loving input of people around us, it’s nearly impossible to have an accurate gage of our own strengths, weaknesses, sins, talents, and struggles.  And this is true for one very simple reason:

We weren’t made to live this life alone. 

Sometimes when I think about other peoples’ loving input, I think about my best friend. When we were six years old, I marched up to her on the playground and said “Hey, we have the same name! We should play together!”  And we have been through everything together since then.

One day, when we were in middle school, she pulled me aside as we were walking to lunch. “Hey.” she said. “Are you okay? Is there something bothering you, or something going on I don’t know about?”

I was confused. No. I promise. I’m doing alright. 

“Good.” She said. “You’ve been really rude lately.”

What? I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I wanted to be furious but I couldn’t be.  And, because I was looking in a funhouse mirror, I had no idea what she was talking about.

I don’t remember now exactly what about my behavior had frustrated her and my other friends–probably impulsive interrupting or excessive eye rolling or something of the sort. But I do remember how gently she explained it to me, and how she assured me that she wasn’t mad, she just wanted me to know.  I apologized, she forgave me, and we moved on with our lives.

I’ll always remember her gentleness and bravery to tell me.  It was embarrassing and a little awkward, but not untrue or unkind. She asked first if I was okay, if there was anything influencing my behavior.  We were close enough that she knew she could tell me without hurting me.

Years later, during our first semester of college, I shared with this same friend about a stressful, complicated friendship. She saw signs of an emotionally manipulative, dangerous situation and waved a huge red flag in front of my face.

Friends who are lovingly blunt bend and break the funhouse mirror until you have a more accurate reflection:

Your outfit is cute as hell, but you have lipstick in your teeth. 

Yes, you are smart and talented enough to take that job/class/internship. Don’t settle or sell yourself short.  

You’re not the only one struggling with this.

Being nice doesn’t mean being a doormat. Stop being passive aggressive and go stand up for yourself. 

I see the funhouse mirror other places too.  It distorts my words until they’re illegible squiggles across a page. It bends and twists my thoughts until they form a spiral of self doubt.  It puffs up my talents and accomplishments and attitudes until someone whispers, reminds me that hubris is a fatal flaw.

 

Community is a vital part of being a writer. Words, stories, voices were made to be heard.  I know my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer not of my own intuition or talent, but because I have loyal, loving, kind, intelligent peers and teachers who carefully give their time and energy to speak into my writer brain and heart and lay it all out honest.

Their feedback opens my eyes to new paths for my work, relieves the blurriness caused by the silly concave mirrors, untangles the lies and distortions wrestling in my brain.

When I interned with the Indiana Writer’s Center, we had author’s chair everyday.  Kids of all ages, backgrounds, personalities, and skill levels got to share their work with their peers and mentors.  We had only three rules: Read loud and proud. Listen quietly. No judging.

I love those rules.

 

I’ve written a lot about camp. And a lot about empathy.  And I’m working on projects now that dig deeper into camp, empathy, teaching, writing, grief, people with disabilities, and where all of my identities intersect with those things.

But let me just throw it out there that there are few things more comforting and satisfying than the words me too.  Me. Too. 

 

In my quiet times with the Lord the last several weeks, I’ve been coloring Paul’s letters.  Grace, mercy, hope, or gift are always purple.  Death/dead, sin, or any other negative word is gray.  Life is a bright green because it reminds me of plants. Strength, courage, or justice are dark blue.  Joy or blessing is a bright yellow the color of sunshine. You get the idea. It helps me have a focus and purpose for reading (important in the world of my English teacher friends) and find patterns in the Word.

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As I’ve been coloring the life of the early church, I’ve found sweet, life-giving repetition of the Gospel. Constant reminders of my need for Jesus.  Joy, life, strength, justice, and undeserved grace found only in Him.

But I’ve also been surprised to find Paul urging unity, and emphasizing our oneness and sameness under Grace.

United. 

Stick together.  

Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  (Romans 12:15) 

No black or white or blue or red or Jew or Gentile.  Reconciled BOTH to God and to each other.  

One God, one Father, one church, one baptism.   (links lead to whole passage) 

Support one another. Discipline one another. Spur each other on to do good. 

It’s come up over and over and over again.  We need each other.

When I color in my journal or my Bible, I make unity the same color I make peace.

We weren’t made to live this life alone. Help me not to forget that.

Happy Saturday, friends.

Ghosts of birthdays past

 

I’ll be 21 on Tuesday and I’ve been looking forward to my birthday for weeks.  I’m the baby of my English friend group and it’ll be nice to not have to turn down offers to go out.  

But, like every year since I turned 10, before I can look forward to my birthday, I have to look backwards.

Birthdays are special. They’re even more special when you have sisters to share them with.  Being a multiple means being born with your closest companions. and the fact that ours are spread out over three days just extends the party!

Birthdays are messy. They’re even more complicated when every birthday is both a joyous celebration of new milestones and a deeply painful reminder of life without your other half.  After spending 25 weeks side by side by side in the womb, and 9 years  8 months of life together, I now have to confront every year knowing that Lauren, Rachel, and I aren’t at the same stage of life.  I can’t think of a stronger embodiment of the word bittersweet.

 

If you’ve ever had a conversation with me for more than five minutes, you know about my heart for inclusion.  I truly believe that when kids of all backgrounds and abilities are empowered to work and play together, everyone develops more patience, confidence, empathy, and respect for diversity.

 

Sometimes when I think about inclusion I think about my dream future classroom.  I see goofy, insecure, awkward, bright, passionate middle schoolers with a variety of diagnoses, skills, strengths, weaknesses, and backgrounds engaged in the good, hard work of authentic reading and writing together.

 

Something when I think about that classroom I get really overwhelmed.

Sometimes when I think about inclusion, I think about camp, where we never said “you can’t” and watched confidence and independence soar.  

I think about Delrey, the school that Rachel went to when we were little. It was an incredibly special place where all of the kids had cerebral palsy.  I begged to go to school with Rachel as often as I could. I absolutely loved getting to interact with kids of all races, backgrounds, and physical and cognitive abilities.  My memories of going there flicker like candles. Sights and sounds flash in and out of the back of my mind: a cheery nursery rhyme sung with a combination words, technology, and signs;  happily painting or playing dolls alongside kiddos who used wheelchairs; the vastness of the main playroom, a wide open space with navy blue walls and enough floor space to be navigated by any means of mobility. 

 

 

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But today, as I’m thinking about inclusion and looking forward to my birthday, I remember my eighth birthday party.

On our 8th birthday, we went to a skating rink.  It was a cool, big kid place with loud music and neon lights and soda in tall glasses without characters on them–nothing like babyish Chuck-E-Cheese.   I was obsessed with the X-Games at the time, despite my lack of coordination, and could think of nothing better than being able to show off all my “tricks” for my friends.

But as we finalized our birthday plans that year, Lauren and I realized something else incredibly exciting: Rachel wouldn’t be the only one on wheels.  

Even though Rach used her own wheels instead of renting skates, she was able to fully engage in everything we did.  We all skated in circles, round and around, waving at the adults every time we went by.  We made trains and held hands while skating.  We tried (and failed) to hop or skate backward like we saw older kids doing.

All of us took turns skating with Rachel each lap and she smiled and laughed the entire time. She was so social and daring!

Rachel and I loved playing race car. In the long hallway at our elementary school or in empty aisles at the grocery store, I’d push her wheelchair back and forth as fast as I could run.  I’d make loud, goofy race car sounds and she’d smile and laugh and wave her fists. Just like any other sisters, we fueled our imagination and our daredevil streaks together. It’s always felt like our secret, special game.  Skating was just a more extreme version of race car!

Rachel, despite her disability, was 100% engaged in having fun at her eighth birthday party with her sisters and friends.

This is inclusion. This is my fire.

 

 

5 (ish) Lessons from Semester 5

When I started high school, a friend of mine several years older told me “don’t blink”. When I graduated, she told me again “don’t blink. College goes by way faster than high school”. And she was so right. I’ve just finished my FIFTH semester of college. I almost called this post the semester of firsts: First semester with a job, first semester living off campus, first time seeing my favorite band live, first time in upper level methods class (AKA feeling like a real teacher!), and tons of other “firsts”.
But, since college is supposed to be about learning,  I decided instead to share what I’ve been learning about over the last several months.

  1. About finding your people 

    I’ve been learning a lot this semester about the blessing of hospitality, and how sweet it can be to have friends in and out of our space. How great it can be to let other people into my life.
    Doing homework becomes a party.
    Pizza and craft nights turn to all-night heart-to-hearts about our biggest dreams, hopes, and fears for ourselves and for our friends.
    An open invitation of “come on over for Sunday breakfast” became one of the highlights of my week–An intentionally slow hour of coffee, laughter, book recommendations, and “Hey, how are you really doing?”.   It became so much more than friends sharing a tall stack of French toast or pancakes–around our table we could deepen friendships and help point each other’s minds and hearts towards Heaven.
    4826511b5e69975680935f8d1d70d7332-3 years ago, when I first thought about what college might be, I expected I could always go to my fellow English Ed majors for questions about classes, homework, and A++ book recommendations. I figured it might be fun–but mostly really scary and stressful–to participate in workshop with other talented, dedicated writers.
    I never could have anticipated feeling as close as I do to my creative writing classmates and professors. We are shaped by each others’ lives and art, as we slowly inhale and exhale beautiful, personal, painful essays. But we also know how to play, especially on Twitter:  Memes,  music recs, and Gilmore Girls wars (#teamjess fam).

    I never could have anticipated how I’d feel the night before turning in lesson plans:  Cursing my procrastination, doubting every word I was writing, sure I would be a horrible teacher.   But I then I would send a text “GUYS  ALL MY ACTIVITIES SUCK AND I HATE THIS! How are you doing??”  and I’d immediately have brothers and sisters behind me, cheering me on, commiserating with me, asking and answering questions about the assignment. And yeah, we got through each lesson plan, each paper, each eleventh-hour, caffeinated, stressful night. But more than that, time and time again we give each other perspective of why we do what we do and what it really means to be a teacher.
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    We weren’t made to live this life alone, y’all.

     

  2. About finding your thingFor the first time, I think I’m starting to see ways for all my passions to converge and work together. And it’s really really exciting. My advisor/school mom and I are in the early planning stages of hosting mini-memoir workshops for siblings of kids with disabilities.  There is nothing more comforting than the words me too.  And I’ve dreamed for years of providing space that for kids like me, and give them the connections and outlets they need.  To combine that with my loves of teaching and writing? Wow.
    For my semester YA lit project, I studied the representation of people with disabilities in young adult literature and intertwined it with my personal experiences with my sister, camp, and my own hearing loss.  There’s a very good possibility of me expanding and refining that piece for publication. A serious, grown up, professional publication that my instructors think would really be unique and impactful.14071944
    I still don’t know where all these years of frustrated journaling, soap-box rants, serving and loving people with disabilities, and dreamily planning my “ideal” school are taking me.  But I’m excited about the opportunities I’ve been blessed with so far.
    I’m also realizing that absolutely everything I’ve ever written is influenced by Rachel.  And I’m learning to be okay with that, too.
  3. About being your own person

    Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely.  This one is a real struggle for me, and something I’m really committing myself to focusing on in the next year or so.  I often find myself getting so desperate for other people’s affection and approval, and want to stretch myself to please everybody. (See #1 and #5).  But  I’m not a genuine friend if I’m changing myself to who I think other people want me to be, or refuse to stand up for myself when someone’s hurt me. I’m not taking care of myself if I shoulder everybody’s problems. And most importantly, I’m not here to please Man, I’m here to please God. And I know if I know that my identity is secure in Him, I don’t have to look for approval and affection in everything and everyone else.  But, to be completely honest, I’m just not there yet.   I’m trying though.One of the strangest things about being an “adult with training wheels”, as my dad calls me,  is that I’m in a phase of life I’m learning more about the world and forming my own opinions on it.  Sometimes my opinions aren’t the same as everyone else around me. And I’m learning to be okay with that. (Re: people pleasing).
    I’m learning to respectfully disagree with people I love to pieces, and to not be afraid of hard conversations.
    I’m learning to get my feet under me and really dig into why I believe what I believe–spiritually, politically, in relationships,  even things as superficial as my unique tastes in music, books, and movies.
    I’m learning to not feel like I have to apologize, justify, or hide who I am or what I love.But this is one area where the training wheels are still scraping the ground hard, and it’ll probably be a while before they can come off.
    If I ever hurt you in this learning process?  please, please TELL ME.

    Some of my sweetest, most relaxing, most fruitful times this semester were Friday mornings by myself.  I only had one class at noon, but everyone else would head out earlier. I’d sleep in a little, make coffee in my Pooh Bear cup, and an actual breakfast–not granola bar on my way out the door, or a handful of trail mix and a bruised apple. I’d make my nest on the couch or the porch with my blankets and my coffee and my Bible, journal, and colored pencils.  Friday morning was my time with the Lord and my thoughts with no interruptions, no places to run off to, no technology.  I started art journaling, and being more consistent with Thankful lists.  I found some answers, and a lot more questions. As much as I wish every morning could have been like that, I loved starting my weekend in a quiet, peaceful, contemplative place.

  4. About saying YES 
    I’ve said “yes” to a lot this semester and I’m so glad I did.
    “Want to take a weekend road trip and explore a new place?” YES
    “Wanna drive in circles, get fast food, and sing along to the radio instead of doing homework?” YES
    “Want to dive headfirst into a new project/experience/job even though it’s a ton of time and emotional energy, and it’s a little bit scary?” YES, YES, YES.
    giphy1Sometimes being enthusiastic and impulsive has it’s perks. Because I jumped up and said “YES”  I  got to live with three wonderful friends in our own little house (see #1). I got to go to a Teachers of Writing Conference. I got to TA for a class of talented, passionate freshmen teaching candidates. I started a working as a writing tutor. I got form sweet relationships with several older people at church and benefit from their kindness, stories, enthusiastic sense of humor, and perspectives.
  5. About saying NO
    Like #3, I’m definitely still learning on this one.  I was just reminded of this early today, on a coffee date with some hometown homies. The two of them have been my ride-or-die since we were six years old. We’ve been through a TON together, and know each other freakishly well.  I’ve loved growing up together.
    Right now, we’re all learning about setting boundaries in healthy relationships.  That self care isn’t selfish.
    That I’m not a trained therapist or a fairy godmother.
    That empathy needs to have it’s limits. 
    That I’m actually a better friend if I don’t bite off more than I can chew, and try to bear crosses that are not mine to carry.
    I’m still learning.  I WANT to dive into every new experience. I WANT save the world. I WANT to be able to wave a magic wand and solve everyone’s shit. I WANT to avoid conflict at all costs. But sometimes…Like my long-lost-twin Jess Day says:large

    Wow. All that to say, I made it through another semester. Happy Winter break friends! Thank you for reading!