Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Talking to Kids about Disability + Representation

It's the first year I genuinely am not ready for the kids to go back-to-school. I could easily have taken another 2-3 weeks of summa summa summatime. But regardless, the time for newly sharpened yellow pencils, early alarm clocks and the tedium of packing lunches day after day until the end of time is upon us.

Each year around this time I share my posts for talking to you kids about their special needs peers, and today I'm going to do the same. As part of this discussion I want to share with you WHY I wrote my upcoming children's book, When Charley Met Emma, that also aims to be a teaching tool to help children learn about disability as it is a part of the same conversation.

Back-To-School + Teaching About Disability
But first, lets talk about this wonderful opportunity back-to-school time presents for talking to our kids about their special needs peers. Many parents take the time to teach their children about kindness and inclusion this time of year, which is wonderful! I think it's important to continue to do that. I would like to encourage you to stretch that talk a little further by specifically teaching kids about disability. It is simply not enough to tell kids to be nice and kind when it comes to encountering children who have disabilities, especially when their young and inexperienced minds have never encountered someone with differences before. Children have questions! And concerns! And how's and whys and all sorts of stuff. It's really, really hard to remember to "be nice" when you're also trying to comprehend wheelchairs, limb differences, atypical movements or sounds, leg braces, walkers or any number of things that set our special needs kids apart.

The best resource I have for leading a discussion with your children is a post I wrote called Talking To Your Children About Disability. This post includes the main bullet points to cover with your children as well as including many links to videos and posts about other kids with disabilities so that they can really get a sense for the variety of differences out there--what those differences look like, and how they manifest in people. Honestly, kids are genuinely curious and even fascinated by disability and that's OK! Use that curiosity to demystify disability and to teach them about the great variety of the human condition. Personally, I think it's beautiful and amazing point of view.

My original back-to-school post dates back to 2015, when Lamp started Kindergarten and that first (and subsequent post) centered around what to do when you are out and about with your kids and you meet a child with a disability, perhaps for the first time. Here is the original post with my 4 step approach to guiding your child through this sometimes tricky situation entitled How to Navigate a Special Needs Encounter.e

The next year I did a similar post but with some slight updates: 

Those are my very best resources for talking to your children about disability and even what to do when they encounter another child with a disability out in public. I have received a lot of positive feedback over the years--from both special needs moms and typical moms alike.
I was recently interviewed in a podcast produced by Slate Studios in Partnership with Target teaching parents my four step plan for how to navigate a special needs encounter. I was interviewed by the fabulous Mallory Kasdan of the popular MILK podcast (Moms I'd Like to Know) and you can listen here, on iTunes or anywhere you get your podcasts! Also featured in the series are designer and entrepreneur Joy Cho of OhJoy.com fame and director Morgan Neville director of the Mr. Rogers documentary, Won't you Be My Neighbor.

Why I Wrote a Children's Book
Now about the book. You may remember that back in March I made the exciting announcement that I wrote a children's book and that it was getting published! In that post I detail how the book came about and what it took to make this dream a reality. More recently, I got to share the cover of the book, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, which means the title, When Charley Met Emma, was also revealed. That was a very exciting day for me!

However I didn't specifically talk about why I wrote this book. Of course the whys are all throughout this blog and the many things I've written over the years, but I want to be clear and specific about why I felt the need to specifically write and pursue the publishing of a children's book that features a main character with a prominent disability.

One of the whys, of course, is so that parents will have a beautiful, educational and interesting teaching tool to help teach their children about diversity. The idea is that you won't necessarily have to sit down and have "the talk" about disability with your children because it will be a natural part of your kids exposure to difference at an early age and part of an on going conversation. If children have a book with characters who have limb differences or other disabilities they won't be startled when they see a person in real life with similar differences. They will have a point of reference to help their young minds comprehend the beautiful truth that disability is a normal part of their world.

But lets take this a little further.

I wrote When Charley Met Emma with the hopes that one day my daughter can go to college, get a job, support herself, find accessible housing, get married and have kids (if she so chooses).

How does writing a children's book featuring a child with disabilities help Lamp got to college, get a job and get married?

Because REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

When I talk about representation what I mean is seeing yourself (ie people who look, think, talk, act, believe and live like you) represented in the world around you (ie in movies, television, advertisitng, magazines, books, pictures books and the media at large). Because when we see people like us in the media we consume it translates into our real lives.

If that seems like a huge leap to say that having more representation in media will equate to my daughter getting a good job, well... it's not. If people don't see you as a part of the world around them, do they see you at all? Are you viewed as a valuable member of society who has much to contribute? According to this article from Huffington Post, no. “There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume you must somehow be unimportant.(In a 1976 paper titled “Living with Television,” researchers George Gerbner and Larry Gross coined the term with a chilling line: “Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.”)

This article from Vice takes it a little further, "Carlos Cortes, a historian who wrote the book The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach About Diversity, [said],"First, whether intentionally or unintentionally, both the news and the entertainment media 'teach' the public about minorities, other ethnic groups and societal groups, such as women, gays, and the elderly,” Cortes wrote. “Second, this mass media curriculum has a particularly powerful educational impact on people who have little or no direct contact with members of the groups being treated.”Audiences—especially those with little exposure to those outside of their community—typically equate these limited, and harsh, media representations with the real world. That, in turn, can lead to “less attention from doctors to harsher sentencing by judges, lower likelihood of being hired for a job or admitted to school, lower odds of getting loans, and a higher likelihood of being shot by police." 

Representation matters. 

And here's the kicker for me. In many articles I referenced for writing about representation (at least 4, including the ones I link to above) not one of them even mentions representation for the disabled. People with disabilities don't just struggle to be authentically represented in the media--they struggle to be represented in discussions about representation.

I don't expect my book to be a game changer, but I do hope that it becomes one more cog in the machine toward more representation, which equates to more equality, which equates to more opportunity, which equates to a better quality of life. We need all the voices we can get to move this machine of equality forward. We need the big voices of the media yes, definitely. But more importantly I believe we need the millions of small voices that come from inside the walls of our own homes during dinnertime conversations and bedtime rituals, answering our kids genuine questions about diversity and disability and exposing them to media--(ahem) including children's books among other things--that will open their little minds to new ways of being in the world.

I genuinely hope we all (myself included) take the time to teach our children about diversity in the world. Because when we teach our children about diversity, diversity teaches them.

In the words of Hannah Gadsby, Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Taking Some Time Off


It's time for a little breather around here. I'll be taking a week or two off (or maybe even three!) while summertime is wrapping up. School starts back really early for us this year, and our new home is in the home stretch (OK, the beginning of the home stretch) and also, I just need a break. I need to read a book and watch a movie in the middle of the day just because I can.  I need to listen to music and watercolor and draw. I need to hang out with my kids and go to the pool and also finish ordering stuff for the house because yikes, it's getting down to the wire.

I love blogging and don't plan on quitting anytime soon, but part of that is stepping away every once in a while. There are natural lulls in my posting but rarely do I intentionally step away. What's the difference you may ask? When I have a lull in posting or writing or creating content, the pressure to produce something for the blog 2-3 times a week never leaves my mind. It is a constant mental presence.

Taking an intentional break allows for me to not have that constant nagging in the back of my head and to actually let go and relax for a period of time.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram as I'll continue to post there during my break (it's just not as stressful!) And I am super excited as I've got some fun stuff up my sleeve that I can't wait to share with you.

You can check my links above (About, Lamp links, Special needs spotlight, tutorials/DIY) for some great This Little Miggy archives. (Which reminds me... I need to update my links!)

I hope you're having a great summer!
XO,
Miggy

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Back-to-School Shopping with Carter's

This Little Miggy || Back to school with Carter's
This post is sponsored by Carter’s however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Thank you for supporting sponsors here on TLM as it allows me to keep bringing you the content you love. Mwah! 

Is it too early to think about going back-to-school? Probably. But is it too early to think about back-to-school shopping? NEVER! Especially when for the first time ever (cue trumpets) you have all of your children going back-to-school! Huzzah! (Zuzu is starting pre-K so not full time yet, but it's still very exciting.) 
This Little Miggy || Back to school with Carter's
Carter's invited us to be a part of their back-to-school ampaign and I'll be honest, I was like, "Um, I thought you only did baby and toddler clothing so thanks for putting lemon juice on a paper cut and reminding me that I don't have babies or toddlers anymore." Then 2 seconds later I was like, "Wait a second... thanks for putting whip cream on my ice cream sundae for reminding me that I no longer have babies or toddlers anymore!" (I feel like I might be a better big kid mom. Just saying.)

But the point is I was skeptical of their big kid line. Carter's is known for their high quality baby clothing (did you know Carter's invented the onesie?!) but would I find something that my preschooler would like and my elementary school girl and my middle schooler? I can barely get them to eat the same meal, let alone wear the same brand. But as I started browsing around Carter's Kid line I was impressed. Lots of cute clothes in lots of different styles. With sizing that now goes up to 14, I could easily find items that each of my girls would love. And I did.

Here's what I usually look for when shopping for my girls:
Style. Yep. #1. If I don't like the look/color/fit or if I don't think my kids will like the look/color/fit I'm not going to bother. With the new Carter's Kid line they have styles that are appropriate for kids at different age levels. I'm especially mindful of this with my middle schooler as she's now at an age where she's becoming more independent in regards to her style and choosing her clothes. For example, she's been loving the exposed shoulder style, but I haven't been loving it as much. That is until I found this cute polka dot shift that hits just the right note for me when it comes to this trend. And PSP loves this dress! She wears it at least 3 times a week. (Which I'm totally cool with BTW.)
This Little Miggy || Back to school with Carter's

Monday, July 16, 2018

Children's Book Cover Reveal!

You guys, I'm so excited to get to share a little sneak peek of the book with you today. For those of you who are new here, I wrote a children's book and it is getting published by the wonderful Beaming Books! The book is set to be released March 2019.

Are you ready?  Not only do you get to know the title, you'll also see the central characters and just how gorgeous this book is going to be. Eeek! This is definitely a pinch me moment.

I am so lucky to have this book illustrated by none other than Merrilee Liddiard. If you're not familiar with her work, allow me to pull your head out of the sand and introduce you to her blog MerMag and her shop where she sells all sorts of beautiful goods. In addition to illustrating books, making dolls and sharing creative crafts, Merrilee has done collaborations with some amazing brands like Wren and James, Gathre and Crate & Kids (formerly The Land of Nod.)

Are you ready?


Are you sure?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Special Needs Spotlight || Laina

Hi, my name is Tori and my husband’s name is Matt. We currently live in Logan, Utah with our two spunky little girls, Laina (4) and Mara (2), and are anxiously waiting for our little boy to join us (due in a couple weeks! Hallelujah!) Our oldest daughter, Laina, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to Cytomegalovirus (CMV) when she was a little over a year old. Since I had a pretty much perfect pregnancy, finding out our daughter had a disability was quite a shock. Luckily, we’ve been fortunate enough to have some amazing medical personnel added to our lives and one determined little girl who reminds us every day that anything is possible, it just might take her a different way to get there.
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Miggy: Hi Tori! Welcome and thank you for sharing your story and especially our daughter Laina with us today. First, can you take me back to the day Laina was diagnosed with cerebral palsy? Do you remember how you felt? Can you compare those first thoughts and feelings with how you feel now?


Tori: Like I mentioned before, I had a pretty perfect pregnancy. Every appointment was great, my baby looked good and nothing even remotely troubling popped up. Laina was born nine days early and was smaller than my doctor had predicted but she was healthy and passed all her newborn screening. We went home, blissfully happy new parents. Over the next few months things continued as normal. No problems nursing, she gained weight beautifully and hit the early milestones, like holding up her head and smiling. She was a very laid back and happy baby. 

When she was about six months old and wasn’t rolling over or sitting up, we expressed some concern, but didn’t worry too much as babies still do things on their own time. Then came 9 months and she still couldn't sit on her own. We spoke to our pediatrician about it and he referred us to an early intervention program called Up to 3. We met with them and got accepted for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech. She started to gain some core strength, slowly but surely. At Laina's year appointment our pediatrician expressed concern over her lack of weight gain, difficulty with eating and drinking, her rigidity with her left side and decided to refer us to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City.

We met with a pediatrician who, after talking with us and examining Laina, decided that her problem was either muscular or neurological. He gave us some things that we could do at home and told us to set up an appointment for lab work, an MRI and a swallow study. The first MRI showed calcifications on her brain and they wanted to do another MRI to get a definitive diagnosis. After the second MRI Laina was “officially” diagnosed with CMV, but that was only the beginning.

I’m pretty sure Matt and I were both in some sort of numb shock. I can remember looking at the MRI of my daughter’s brain as the neurologist was pointing out the differences between the white matter and dark matter and what it could mean. To be honest at that moment in time I was more concerned with getting back to my baby who was starting to come out of sedation. Once we were able to get back home and start working with Laina’s therapists again, this time with an actual diagnosis, the shock went away and we were in educational mode. As in finding out as much information about CMV as we could.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Favorite Dog Stuff Round Up + 2 Surprising Things as a Dog Mom

This post is in partnership with Backup Design. Thank you for supporting sponsors here on TLM so I can keep bringing you great content. 

It's been about 3 months now that we welcomed our August boy into our family. Today I'm sharing round up of some of my favorite dog products as well as 2 surprising things I've learned as a dog mom.

Round Up
I love having a dog, but just like kids they come with a lot of STUFF. And if I'm going to have STUFF around the house, I want it to be pretty and eye pleasing stuff. First up is the beautiful dog bed from Backup Design. This is by far my favorite purchase for August. Since we don't let August on any of our other furniture, it took him a while to understand that this was his very own special space, but now he loves it. It makes me so happy to give him a soft place to curl up and since he also likes to be close to us, I don't mind keeping it in the living room since it's so beautiful. Designer Elizabeth Backup sources all the vintage shibori and mudcloth herself that is used for each one-of-a-kind bed. The removable and washable covers feature a heavy-duty brass YKK zipper closure. She offers both quick-ship and made-to-order options with super soft inserts that have channels sewn in, which helps maintain an even distribution of the down alternative inside which means these beds won't get flat or lumpy over time. When August isn't using his bed, I have no problem using it as a floor pillow. Double win.
Here are some other items I'm loving for August, some of which we have, some we don't. Yet. What are your thoughts on doggy bandanas? Part of me loves them, part of me thinks they're trying just a little too hard.

top row: Himalayan Dog Chew || Food + Water Bowls
middle row: Dog Bandana || Backup Design Dog beds || Plush Dog Chew Toy
bottom row: Brass Dog Tag || Mudcloth Dog collar by Billy Wolfe || White Rope Toy

Monday, July 09, 2018

I Need to Talk About Nanette

I hope everyone has had time to watch the amazing comedy special Nanette by Hannah Gadsby on Netflix. If not please, please make time to watch it. First, as a comedy special it is hilarious. But it's so much more than comedy. This is a deeply thought out commentary on humanity, violence, identity and what it means to live in the margins.

IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE SPECIAL TURN BACK NOW. SPOILERS AHEAD.

For those who have seen it, welcome. I've been wanting to unpack this show a little and thought I'd attempt to do it now. I've seen this show 2 times in its entirety and I've gone back to watch several parts of the show again and again.

The brilliance of Gadsby's show is how she weaves her story together, starting with comedy and slowly building to an ending all the while circling back to the same themes over and over again. It's like a french braid, she loops back to the same patterns, adding a just little more bulk each pass over. She manages to deconstruct comedy and illuminate humanity's unbreakable link to art at the same time and somehow she makes you laugh along the way. That is until she makes you cry.

Living in the margins and worth
Gadsby talks about about being "a little bit lesbian" as a teenager in the 90's in Tasmania where she was raised and where homosexuality was outlawed until 1997 and how those formative experiences have affected her all her life. As she says, she was "soaked in shame." My favorite thoughts about this theme are when she declares that she will no longer do self deprecating humor, because when you already live in the margins self deprecation isn't humility, it's humiliation.

She also tells a joke about the time a guy thought she was a "faggot" coming onto his girlfriend. Which is funny because it makes no sense. (Gay men aren't attracted to women.) And when he realizes she's a woman, he says he can't hit women and backs off. This joke takes a more serious turn later when she tells the rest of the story. That the man realized his mistake, realizes that she's a "lady faggot" and that he can beat her up and he does.

"He beat the shit out of me and nobody stopped him. I didn't report him to the police and I didn't take myself to hospital and I should have. But I didn't because that's all I thought I was worth. That's what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate."

That idea of "soaking a child in shame" was a punch in the gut and a wake up call. I know I've been complicit in this, maybe not directly, but indirectly, particularly with regards to my faith tradition (I'm LDS/Mormon). The ripple effect that homophobic thinking can have on a person, on a group of people, is devastating. I'm not sure how to rectify this yet--how to separate my personal views from my faith tradition, how I can take a stand within my faith, etc--but my eyes were definitely opened. I want to do better. I need to do better. 

Separating the art from the artist
Gadsby talks a fair amount about artists like Picasso and her formerly favorite comedian Bill Cosby and the fact that we can't and shouldn't celebrate their art when they themselves are such horrible human beings. (I actually didn't know what a jerk Picasso was before listening to her set.) Like many people I've had a hard time drawing this line. I loved The Cosby Show and if it were still in syndication I might have a hard time clicking away--in part because it wasn't just all Bill Cosby. A lot of great people came together to make a great show. So that particular example is complicated a bit, But what about this, last year in Paris we went to the Picasso museum... would I have avoided it if I knew than what I know now about him? It wasn't until Hannah brilliantly made the following correlation that I really understood the seriousness of this of not separating the art from the artist.

"What about their humanity? These men control our stories and yet they have a diminishing connection to their own humanity, and we don't seem to mind so long as they get to hold onto their precious reputation.... to be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength."

Yes. These men who rape and exploit diminish their own humanity and yet they are the ones who get to tell our stories? Whoa. I think not. We cannot let those who have willingly parted ways with their own humanity be the ones to tell our stories. That is why we cannot, must not, separate the art from the artist. What do you think? Do you agree? Do you feel a new level of commitment in whose art you will or will not support? What about Presidential elections?

Power, Gender and Diversity
Diversity. That word carries a lot of weight these days. So many of us in the world value diversity in one form or another--race, gender, sexual orientation, size, ability, religion--which is a good thing, but my worry is that people are starting to tire of hearing about the importance of diversity and it seems as though the pendulum is swinging back the other way (ahem, Trump) and that is something we should all strive to resist. One way to do that is to share our stories, which is what Hannah does so brilliantly and beautifully. After sharing the story of her getting beat up she says that he did that to her not just because she was gay but because she wasn't feminine. She goes on to explain,

"I am incorrectly female. I'm incorrect. And that is a punishable offense. And this tension is yours. I'm not helping you anymore. You need to learn what this feels like because this tension is what not-normals carry inside of them all of the time because it is dangerous to be different... I don't hate men, but I wonder how a man would feel if they would have lived my life. Because it was a man who sexually abused me when I was a child. It was a man who beat the shit out of me at 17 (my prime). And it was two men who raped me when I was barely in my 20's. Tell me why is that OK? ... It would have been more humane to take me out to the back paddock and put a bullet in my head if it is that much of a crime to be different! I don't tell you this so you think of me as a victim... I tell you this because my story has value... 'You destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.' I will not allow my story to be destroyed. What I would have done to have heard a story like mine. Not for blame. Not for reputation, not for money, not for power. But to feel less alone. To feel connected... Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. Fear difference, you learn nothing."

One of the reasons I was so drawn to this special was because of her talk of difference and being a "not-normal." I have seen the tension of being a "not-normal" up close and it is something I am desperately fighting against. Fortunately these days most people with disabilities are seen with compassion--often masquerading as pity, but still--more than they're seen as "freaks" or a part of humanity we want to hide. However, there is still a lot of discomfort, misinformation and ultimately exclusion in regards the disability community. And of course many, many marginal groups experiences this same painful reality. Difference is a teacher. That sentence alone brings tears to my eyes. YesYesYes. Difference IS a teacher, diversity IS strength.

Only when you fear those differences, and act on those fears (violence, rape) do you learn nothing. And worse than that, you render another human powerless and separate yourself from your own humanity. 

It all connects. It is all woven together.

The main way we learn about diversity--because none of us can experience ALL the diversity--is to listen to other people's stories. There is a lot of great comedy out there that carry messages about civil rights, diversity, and feminism. Messages that we can learn from. But comedy has it's limits, which is why Hannah's Gadsby's transition from 2-part comedy (set up and punchline) to 3-part storytelling (a beginning, a middle and an end) is why this show will stay with you long after the laughs wear off.

Thank you for not wasting my time Hannah Gadsby.

What did you think? Have you been thinking about this show as much as I have? Those were the things that most stood out to me, what stood out to you? Did I miss something? I'm also well aware that these kind of (for lack of a better term) "pop culture moments" often have a counter side that many of us may not have seen in being swept up in the initial moment--is there something about this message that rubbed you the wrong way? Something you think Gadsby got wrong altogether? As I said before, I think this was brilliant. I want everyone to watch this special. Please, tell me what you thought.