I know that by being here now, in this rarefied, difficult, elitist, beautiful world, I have made my mark on history and ballet. I will forever fight, performing like it’s my last show. And I will love every minute of it.” – Misty Copeland

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We live in a world that has me scared to death about raising a daughter. She’s the easy part. The world, on the other hand, makes me want to grab her hand and go running for some underground bunker. I start thinking about all the things that shouldn’t be, but are, and feel sick. This week I read an article in Rolling Stones magazine.  Be warned… it’s a horrifyingly graphic account of a young woman’s rape on a college campus about one hour from my house. The same campus I just visited a couple years ago to watch my brother receive his diploma. It really wouldn’t matter where the college was, but this is very close to home for me. It’s the same campus where earlier this fall another young woman went missing. Her body was found a couple months later later.

The thing is, sexual abuse and sexism in general isn’t just a UVA issue. It isn’t just a college issue either. The objectification of women is a national issue that permeates just about every inch of our culture. It’s a global issue because we live in a world where in some countries women are still convicted of adultery and sentenced to death when they are raped. We live in a world where websites like this exist (pay close attention to #4), and where articles like this get written. We live in a world where an anchorman can wear the exact same suit to work every day for a year and no one notices, but his female co-anchor is criticized for her wardrobe choices regularly. We also live in a world where Kim Kardashian (wife and mother, mind you) willingly takes of all her clothes for a photo shoot, and has her bare body displayed for all to see on the internet and the cover of a magazine. We live in a world where a beautiful young woman walks fully clothed around New York City for a full day and her male friend films her being the subject of constant cat calls, objectifying remarks, and something scarily close to stalking by a strange man. If you read the comments below the video you’ll see that a lot of people still think this is okay.

These women are someone’s daughters. Someone once sang them lullabies and rocked them to sleep. Someone once pushed them in a swing and laughed with them. They were once wide-eyed, tender, curious little lights. And then one day someone saw them as something else… as an object rather than a soul to be honored and protected and the course of their story changed forever.

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This continues to be the world we must raise our daughters in, and I hate it. So I wonder how to change it. I wonder how to make this a safer and better place for my daughter, and I feel helpless.  I have to start somewhere and that somewhere is my home. So what does that look like, even now as she’s just two years old?

  • We tell her she’s strong and smart and beautiful – inside and out.
  • We listen to her when she talks and never dismiss her as “silly.”
  • She has control over her own body. Her no means no. At two years old. If we want to go in for a kiss or snuggles and she pushes us away and says, “no kiss.” WE LISTEN. She needs to learn the confidence to express herself now. She needs to know that no one is allowed to touch her without her permission. And one day if, God forbid, someone touches her without her permission she will know without a doubt that it wasn’t her fault. She will understand that her human rights have been violated. 
  • I watch how I, as her mother, talk about myself. I catch myself before complaining about  my appearance or start listing off the things I wish were different about myself. I’m learning to love who God made me to be fully.
  • I grow daily in the confidence that my infertility has nothing to do with my womanhood and I embrace all the things that God made me to be. That little girl watches me closely and learns from me. A frightening and honoring prospect.
  • We’re working on practicing kindness, compassion, love, and respect all the time to all people.
  • We don’t for one second entertain the thought that she is disadvantaged or “less than” because of her physical differences. She’s awesome because she’s awesome. And it doesn’t “make up for” her differences. She’s awesome because she’s awesome, and it’s because of and including her differences. 
  • As she gets older and can understand more, we will start talking about identity and who she is in Christ. We will talk about the truth of who she is so she can recognize the lies when they come. We will teach her what it means to love her body and respect herself. I want her to know that what other people say or think in no way defines who she is. 
  • Her Daddy will take her on dates and treat her with respect and honor so that she knows what to expect from a date when she is old enough to begin having them.
  • We will read books and watch movies about incredible women from all walks of life. We will teach her the amazingness that is Misty Copeland and women like  Jane Austen, Sally Ride, Amelia Earhart, Mia Hamm, and Rosa Parks. We’ll tell her about brave little Ruby Bridges and the courage of Harriet Tubman. We’ll get to watch the grace and stature of Audrey Hepburn and know that she was just as gracious off the screen as she was on. I’ll be able to share with her the passion and love of women like Katie Davis and Mandie Joy.  I’ll have the honor of introducing her to friends of mine who are changing the world with their passion, grit, and brilliance.
  • We will support her in whatever role she chooses to pursue – whether it’s dancing or biology, art or foreign affairs, baking or aviation, soccer or medicine, CEO or stay at home mom. Because all have worth not because of what she does but because of who she is

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So, as much as I want to keep her safe by my side and in our home forever, I know that I can’t do that. Because I know her value, worth, beauty, and awesomeness, I know that I have to send her out into the world someday. Because she has so much to offer (and teach) the world just by being who she is. And I pray that for the short 18 years that we get her we will have taught her enough for her to go out in confidence and be the six million different kinds of amazing that she is. And her light will shine so bright that it will make other peoples lights shine brighter. And that’s how we brighten this dark world. We start with ourselves, our children, and the people in our home. It is an absolute privilege to raise such a precious and wonderful little girl. The hardest part is knowing that the world might not receive her for who she is. The best part is that she is sweet and mighty. She’s just the type of person who can change the world… even just a corner of it.

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* One of my favorite websites for stories and resources to raise my smart, confident, sweet, and courageous girl is A Mighty Girl.

 

  • Patricia - Thought-provoking and beautifully written, Lauren. Praying that moms like you overpower the generations of moms who don’t uplift and celebrate those talents and gifts that God instilled in each and every little girl.

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“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”  Fred Rogers

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Last year a friend asked me if it was hard and how I manage and if I ever just want to lose it. “It” being this whole raising a child with autism thing. Of course it’s hard and of course there are evenings I collapse on the couch or cry in the bathroom. But isn’t that true for all mothers? How do I manage? Again, about the same as all other moms I guess. I drink coffee every morning and hide chocolate in the sock drawer. But then she asked another question…

What’s the hardest part?” And I didn’t even have to think about it. Other people. When you’re dealing with an invisible special need, strangers don’t know about it. As much as I want to sometimes, we don’t pin a sign to Mareto’s shirt explaining his autism. So other people, particularly strangers, give us a lot of attention in the form of staring, dirty looks, snide under-the-breath comments, and just overall judgment. I can feel it in the store when Mareto’s getting upset and I have to hide in an empty isle to calm him down. Or when he can’t sit at a table in a restaurant. Or when he blurts out, “watch out for diesel ten!” when someone says hello.

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But even the people who aren’t strangers can be hard. It’s not intentional, but unless they’ve had a lot of experience with autism, most people are largely uninformed. I get it, because up until two years ago so were we! So when Mareto licks the wall, or laughs at inappropriate times, or sniffs random items it can be awkward. The look of shock can sting and I remember again that this isn’t everyone’s normal.

These are all my issues, though. Because Mareto is unaware of these reactions and most of the time they aren’t even directed at him. They’re directed at me. One evening John looked at me and said, “I feel like people are thinking two things when we’re out as a family: your kid is bad and you’re bad parents.” That’s how it feels sometimes. It feels like people think we’re lazy or I’m not doing my job well and if I just tried harder he would behave differently. I felt so guilty when I realized that one of the reasons I was so excited about Arsema being potty trained was that people might now see that we actually are capable of potty training and it isn’t laziness that’s keeping Mareto in diapers.

But do you know what’s even worse and making me realize that people judging me in the isles of Target is a cake walk? When you take your kids to the playground and they’re having a blast. Your little boy notices a group of older children and runs to play near them. He bends down to pick up a piece of bark and his shirt rides up exposing the top of his diaper above his pants. And all the little kids start laughing and pointing and saying, “Look! That boy is wearing a diaper!!!”  Or when the three year old looks at you over ginger bread houses and asks why your precious, funny, and brilliant little boy is so dumb. Or when you realize that he’s being physically bullied because he hasn’t learned the skill of tattling yet. These are the things that make me sick to my stomach. That moment you realize people are going to stop sneering at you and start sneering at your child hurts deep down in a way that takes the breath out of your lungs.

Now that Mareto is growing older the differences are more apparent. They can’t be waved away or explained as typical toddler behavior. It’s a little more noticeable when a child the size of a six year old isn’t potty trained. It’s a little harder to protect him from the bullies of the world. And that is now the hardest thing about autism –  my inability to shield him forever from judgement, ridicule, and mean children & adults.

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And the thing that makes it even more mind boggling is that he is the sweetest boy you could ever hope to meet. He cares deeply about other people. He “rescues” his sister from nap time. He comforts crying children. He loves animals. He is friendly and kind and has fun interests. Yes, he has some hurdles in life that other people don’t have. But he also has a lot of awesomeness that other people don’t have. It comes to him naturally. 

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So are the endless sleepless nights rough? Yes. Changing a 50 lb boy’s diaper isn’t my favorite. Getting congress to actually accomplish something would be easier than getting my son move beyond his three foods. But those things don’t matter much. Those would be the hard parts if we lived in a world where I knew my son was unquestioningly accepted, and not just accepted but celebrated for who he is. If we lived in a world where people didn’t pass judgment so easily and were quick to love all people regardless and because of their differences and taught their children to do the same… then the hardest parts of autism would be much different. But we don’t live in that world. And as much as I want to keep him close, by my side and never leaving the safety of our home, I know that I can’t. He has far too much to offer (and teach) the world for me to do that. He has a joy and innocence and compassion and love and a curiosity that is infectious. The world needs him and more people like him. 

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  • Amy - As you know my response to those nasty looks and stuff from adult is “@#&* ‘em”. When it’s other kids I just cheerily move away with him. Except that one lady at the mall play area who scolded him for going up the little slide instead of down…yes that lady got told.ReplyCancel

  • Megan - You rock, Lauren. Thanks for writing this. I LOVED meeting both of your kids. Mareto is awesome (my boys are still talking about how fun it was playing with him) and you are doing fabulously.ReplyCancel

    • Lauren - Thank you so much Megan! That means a lot. We had so much fun visiting with you! I hope we get to do it again soon! <3ReplyCancel

  • Mary Evelyn Smith - Oh friend– we are completely in sync today. This is beautifully said and true for so many families like ours. It’s hard to take the looks of pity I see directed at me but as Simeon gets older I see that they are far more often directed at him. I know other kids will begin to notice his diapers someday and it won’t be easy. When he had his trach, a little girl said he was “creepy” and it just broke my heart. Other people are the hardest part but like you said, as much as we want to shield our kids, these hard things are exactly why they need to be out in the world. They have so much to offer. (Love that Fred Rogers quote, by the way. The man did so much good for kids like ours.)ReplyCancel

    • Lauren - Fred Rogers is my hero! We love him!! Arsema is all about the Mr. Roger’s show and Mareto has learned soooo much from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. I basically just think that man was all kinds of amazing. I wish Sim and Mareto could get together and play!! They’d have a blast together!! <3ReplyCancel

  • sheena nekson - Love this…..and I know exactly how u feel….everything u said is things I have said before when ppl give us looks for both our boys…it breaks my heart when adults are giving the rude looks and saying stuff!ReplyCancel

    • Lauren - I’m so sorry you’ve experienced this too, Sheena. Your boys have a wonderful mom!!ReplyCancel

  • Dave - God bless little Mareto! Thank you for sharing, Lauren. You’re a beautiful person, and so is your little boy.ReplyCancel

    • Lauren - Thank you Dave, that means a lot to me! We looked through some pictures yesterday and he was very excited when he saw the one with you guys riding the motercycle! :) ReplyCancel

  • Anne Marie Ezzo - Thank you Lauren for sharing so openly and providing us a reminder, that we don’t know the whole story of someone else’s life and to not be so quick to rush to a judgement by what we may see in a ‘snapshot’ re: a child’s behavior, no matter the age. May the Lord continue to provide His strength and grace and how wonderful that Mareto has you for his Mamma.ReplyCancel

    • Lauren - Thank you so much! Yes, all children and all parents need grace, whether or not they have a special need. Thank you for your encouragement! :) ReplyCancel