In the summer of 2018, I signed on to be a plaintiff in the NYSER school funding litigation representing families and students in the Syracuse City School District. The case involves pressing New York state to equitably fund public education and stop disadvantaging poor urban and rural school districts. In my participation in the case, I provided my children’s educational records to the state and almost had my emails subpoenaed. I gave testimony for six hours at the local state attorney general’s office.
I expected that my youngest child, now in fifth grade, would be in college before the case was resolved. As I engaged in this long-haul act of advocacy for public education, I was assured that the Syracuse City School District’s leadership was supportive of the families putting themselves under the scrutiny of the state attorney general’s office for the sake of our students. I have since learned that the promised support never materialized.
As I waited for the wheels of justice to grind, slow as molasses in January as expected, I became increasingly dismayed by reports about the district from the team of lawyers representing plaintiffs. Syracuse City School District leadership seemed increasingly reticent in participating in the case, unwilling to respond to requests for meetings and information to support plaintiff claims that the district needed better financial resources to meet its responsibilities to Syracuse’s students. This reluctance culminated in testimony during the summer and fall of 2020. Several district staff claimed that additional resources would not make a difference in the quality of education that the district provided to Syracuse’s students.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the testimony that was contrary to families’ experience in the district. Again and again, district staff claimed not to know if more funding and more resources would allow them to provide a sound basic education to Syracuse’s students. My honest first thought was that it was their jobs to know exactly that. I don’t understand why district leadership chose a course of action that led to Syracuse’s plaintiffs withdrawing from the case. The district has yet to respond to inquiries from myself and others invested in winning education funding for Syracuse’s students equitably.
The result of the testimony given by district staff is that I am no longer a plaintiff in the NYSER case. I continue to advocate for Syracuse’s students and families. I continue to advocate for appropriate funding of education here in Syracuse despite the district’s sabotage of that effort. I encourage you to read Syracuse City School District staff’s testimony below and ask them why they don’t know how funding affects the quality of education they offer to Syracuse students.
I've updated my portfolio with some of the paintings and drawings I created in 2019. It was a year of discovering new things. You can purchase prints and other merchandise at my Society6 store.
Here's my latest article in the September issue of Family Times magazine.
Transforming Tragedies: An effort to build resilience to trauma in school
Everyone experiences distressing events in their lives. You’ve probably heard about trauma, the emotional response to these events. Our emotional reactions to these events can have long term effects on the way we think, make decisions and relate to others. Developing resilience—our ability to cope with stress—makes responding to adversity easier.
Ever been helped by someone so intent on helping you that they can't see that they're actually trampling you? Some days this feels like the story of my life. Between well meaning friends and family and dysfunctional institutional structures I often feel that my life must be like the running of the bulls in Spain. Some days I'm the bull, other days I'm a runner. In either case I'm never quite sure what the crowd of on lookers is excited about. Are they cheering for my escape or my capture? Are they looking to see if I gore someone or get gored myself? I don't know.
So where am I going with this? Should you dear reader find yourself in a place to help someone who is essentially in their own bull run make that person's experiences the center of the help you offer. Like the runner staying just a few steps ahead of a frightened bull, and the frightened bull trying to get away from the crowd, people needing help have little or no use for lectures. A well executed extraction plan and a clear path forward? Bring it.
Warrior mom is a fashionable feel-good way to refer to mothers caring for their autistic children. I've earned the warrior mom title from others for my efforts on behalf of my children. Being labeled a warrior mom has always felt strange. What I do as a mother is not above and beyond the call of motherhood. To me, it's parenting 101, make sure the kids get what they need to thrive.
Being a warrior suggests two things to me. The first is that there is something or someone to defend. I can appreciate the recognition that as a mother, a big part of my purpose is to protect my children when needed and correct unjust treatment against them. The second is that there's an enemy to fight on behalf of my children. Again, I can appreciate the recognition that there are valid threats to my children that must be actively opposed.
I'm a big fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. The stories are chockful of epic battles between good and evil, where ordinary people become warriors and fight to save the day. Think of those Pevensie kids running around Narnia and taking to the battlefield for the showdown with the White Witch. Spoiler alert, not everyone in the story recognized who the real enemy was at the start.
When people use the term warrior mom, I often get the sense that they aren't clear about who the enemy is or what must be protected. I've seen parents of autistic children present themselves as being in an epic battle to fight off the autism in their children. It reminds me of the misguided allies of the White Witch in Narnia who feared the coming of summer. Autism doesn't need to be portrayed as an enemy, and it's not something anyone needs to fight against. Perceiving it as such changes what people choose to protect and defend in their children's lives.
So who, or what, do I perceive as my target when I'm doing things that earn me the warrior mom title? I'm always clear that my advocacy is about changing systems and attitudes that make life unnecessarily difficult for my autistic children and the rest of my family. Unbending and punitive policies and practices? Yup, I defend my children against those. Misinformation and factual errors? Definitely fighting back against that. Inadequate services and supports? Those are the bane of my existence, like the mythical Hydra monster of Greek legend. Autism? Not so much.
Treating autism as an enemy makes about as much sense as treating nearsightedness as an enemy. I'm nearsighted and rather than fight against the shape of my eye that makes things blurry, I adapt. My glasses and contact lenses bring images into focus so that I can see where I'm going and what I'm doing. There's no angst involved. I accept that the shape of my eye means blurry vision unaided.
Autism is not the enemy. Just like other traits that I have no control over, I talk about it, and I adapt to it. I've taught my children to do the same. The last thing I want is for them to believe that such an intimate part of them is an enemy.
The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My family has loved this book to pieces. It has been the inspiration of deep dives into history, science, art, and many backyard adventures. There are things to love about this book and there are things to not love as much. Treat them as opportunities to open up a conversation about what matters. The title alone is a great starting point for a thoughtful discussion about stereotypes about girls and boys.
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In the months following my sister Sanchia's death the song Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells made me bawl. Of course I stopped to listen to it every time I heard it. I sat in driveways and parking lots to catch the last strains before getting out of the car. It's in my playlists, which is how I ended up writing this post. The song was one of Sanchia's favorites. As I listened to the song memories floated to the surface.
Following my sister's sudden death I was in my valley, walking in the shadow of death, wondering how long it would take for the pain and sorrow of the loss to become familiar friends. Each day I found new places in my life that Sanchia used to fill. The shock of stumbling into each new empty space was a fresh new wound to my tender heart How long, oh Lord?
It has been eighteen months of getting used to finding the empty places where Sanchia used to be. No more late night "Talk me down!" sessions when everyday injustice and indifference to suffering of others grate on our collective nerves. Y'all might want to behave by the way, she's not around to talk me down when I decide the world needs to change and it needs to change yesterday. Also pretty sure a couple of internal filters broke the day I realized I wouldn't hear her laugh ever again.
I'm starting to find new strength in places once weakened by grief. Old hurts are beginning to heal. In the place of open wounds healthy flesh is beginning to grow. They are still tender, some raw to the touch. I discovered this as I tried to hold back the tears that came while I wrote this. I'm learning to let the tears fall in remembrance of a beloved sister and out of respect for experience.
These tender healing wounds will one day be supple scars, the beauty marks of a survivor. Climbing in and out of these valleys, and up and down the hills, has kept my emotional muscles flexible. Sometimes I freeze. Sometimes I stumble. Sometimes I fall. Sometimes I wipe out so bad, I'm not sure I have the strength to get back up again.
"Life sucks. Bad stuff happens. Time to put your big girl panties on." I've found a place where sis managed to stay with me. She said those words to me so many times. I've already gotten back up so many times. How long, oh Lord?
One. More. Time.
I only need to get back up one time more than the times l fall. There's treasure in the hills and valleys. It's the truth of who I am, what I'm capable of, and what happens when I get back up.
I take a general what happens if I do this approach to life. It keeps things interesting.