Posts for hard conversations

Raising Girls Who Know They Matter

Forever Family - Allison Kenny - April 6, 2017

 

Before my daughter came into my life, I worked for a decade as a theater teaching artist. Children ages two to twenty-two of every race, gender, ability and learning style taught me to be a compassionate human. I got used to thinking on my feet, tuning into their particular needs, and speaking from my heart. All of this prepared me for parenting.

“That sign says Black Lives Matter, Mommy. What about me? Does my life matter, too?”

I remember the day my little girl asked me this question. She was almost seven and was learning to read more every day. She was in that exciting threshold between reading nothing and reading everything. Spacing out as we moved through the world and noticing every billboard, menu, and sign. This was a big opportunity for me, too. She was asking me, her White Mama, to unpack the Black Lives Matter movement while we waited in line at our favorite mac n cheese spot.

A big part of why my wife and I choose to stay in Oakland, CA after adopting our little girl was to make sure conversations like these were part of our everyday experience. We’re commitment to living on a street with folks of all races, sending her to a diverse school, and making sure she has teachers who look like her. My wife grew up as one of few Black people in an all-White suburb. This was hard on her. She wanted something different for her daughter.

READ MORE on RAISING RACE CONSCIOUS CHILDREN

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How I Told My Daughter That She Has Special Needs

Forever Family, Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - January 25, 2017

We are sitting at the dining room table for yet another teary session of math homework. She has used up all her focusing tools- chewing gum, lighting a peppermint candle, choosing which problem to start with…nothing is helping. Then I see the light in her eyes change. They grow dark and serious in that intense way I know so well. She is fighting for truth.

“Mom, why can the kids around me do math but I can’t? I learn it but I can’t remember it. The other kids remember. Why, mom? It doesn’t make any sense.” There is shame in these words. And desperation.

I’m not planning to have this conversation today. I didn’t wake up knowing that I would be called on to deliver this news in a way she can digest it. My wife and I are still digesting it ourselves.

We go through periods of intense grief and even anger about her special needs. Spending time with other people’s kids can trigger it. After a morning babysitting my dear friend’s toddler, I spend the afternoon sobbing. This three-year-old has social skills that are more advanced than my eight-year-old. We travel to Texas to visit cousins and breathe through frustration as my daughter’s anxiety and hypervigilance exhaust everyone in the house. We go to IEP meeting after meeting and are overwhelmed by how many professionals are engaged each week in supporting my kiddo’s learning. After weeks of her violent PTSD fits, we refocus on caring for ourselves so that my daughter’s needs don’t take over our entire lives.

More like this: Even though My Wife & I Get Away, Our Daughter Makes Us Pay

But here she is, asking for the truth. So, I share with her what gets me through my moments of fear and grief and doubt and anger. I share with her the truth about her resilience.

“I’m telling you the truth. Are you listening? Do you remember how you were born very tiny and that you came out early? One thing that happens when babies are born early is that their brains don’t get enough time to develop. This is not the baby’s fault! This is nobody’s fault. It happens to many babies who are born early. It means your brain has worked extra hard to develop and grow ever since you were born. And guess what? Your brain is doing very well. Very very well. That’s because you have a powerful quality in you. You are FIERCE. That means you are somebody who doesn’t give up. Even as a teeny little baby, you were so fierce that you fought to live. You fought to grow. And now, you are fighting to learn math. It is harder for you. You are right about that. But working hard and not giving up are wonderful qualities to have. You also have mama’s who love you and teachers to help when things feel hard. You are not alone.”

I hadn’t researched what to say. I hadn’t prepared for this question. I just opened my heart up and felt around for what she needed to hear. Of course what really happened is that I said the words I needed to hear.

I think healing the dissonance between our fantasy of parenting and the truth of it will be a long road for my wife and I. But moments to ignite our empathy and focus on our daughter’s amazing gifts help. They help a lot.

More Like This: Dear Kids At School

I’m different and that’s awesome

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