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Sunday, May 28, 2017

The "Gaps" in Childhood

**This is not exactly great writing...just my heart. Thanks for reading!**

As I was browsing Facebook I saw some pictures posted by a family I know. Looking at their happy faces, it made me think of the children I serve that live in poverty. I know that may seem strange, but education is a passion for me.

My mind drifted to the thirty-million word gap the majority of children in poverty bring with them to kindergarten.

Here's a good place to start if you are interested:

 https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/TheEarlyCatastrophe.pdf

I then began to think of all the other gaps with children in poverty, and the reality is that these gaps add up and end up more of an ocean.

There is an experience gap. Many children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds never leave their county. Put those children next to the ones who have been to the Grand Canyon and Disney and museums and various other places. One child may have been to Europe last summer, and the other watched cartoons. I'm not even sure how you could quantify the differences in experience between the two. One has tried new foods, flown on a plane, experienced a different culture, visited landmarks and learned some history, and countless others. The other sat at home.

This adds up. By the time they enter public school, one child has lived a lifetime in experiences compared to another. When children are learning new words, think of the concepts one child would know over another. One has seen an airplane in the sky. The other flew in one. One has never heard of Van Goh. One has seen his paintings in person. One has never heard of a violin. One has been to the symphony. One has never heard of a toucan. The other has seen that and many more at the zoo. There is no comparison.

There is also an enrichment gap. Dance, sports, art, and music lessons are commonplace among wealthier children but are out of reach for many children in poverty. When parents struggle to keep food on the table and electricity in the house, dance lessons are not in the budget. Imagine not only the basic dance skills learned, but all that comes with it. Vocabulary is expanded by learning the names of the moves, new connections are formed in the brain by learning to move the body various ways, physicality is improved, teamwork and dedication are emphasized. The child experiences the thrill of performing for an audience. They are encouraged to keep trying to learn new dances and techniques. Self-confidence grows. Meanwhile, that child in poverty plays on an iPad all evening or watches TV.

I also think of the stress gap. By that I mean think of the stress a child in poverty faces compared to the wealthier child. If you grew up in wealth you knew dinner would always be there. You knew you had school supplies. You knew when August rolled around you would go school shopping. You knew if you had a fundraiser at school your parents would help you out. If there was an upcoming field trip, you knew your parents would send you the money.

Children in working class or poor families see those things as luxuries. This is a constant stress on a child. And there is no escape. In a family with more resources vacations are common. That is not the case in a struggling family. Vacations cost money, so there is never a break from the stress. 

There are so many instances of this. Children of wealth tend to eat healthier, play outside more, and get more regular medical care. They can afford the good shoes so their feet don't hurt. They can have salads and fruit when the other mom buys ramen because it's cheap. They have yards and safer playgrounds. Many kids in poverty live in places where it is unsafe to play outside. 

I know some kids in the world have it worse, and this isn't about them.

I don't know why this is on my mind so much, but it's been bothering me. If your children are blessed with these advantages they are already ahead of the curve. Please don't be quick to judge a child that isn't blessed with as much.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tales from a Restroom Stall...

You know, it's funny how God works. Sometimes he can take the simplest moment to drive home a point.

This is not very glamorous, but yesterday I went to the restroom as we all do. I glanced down to make sure there was toilet paper before doing the deed. This is something I have learned the hard way in the past.

All was going as planned until that moment of tragic realization... though there was toilet paper, four squares would never be enough. If you have ever experienced the horror you will understand.

To make matters worse, I did not bring my phone. I was on a school campus with a small staff. Without the ability to get up, I had a lot of time to think. I calculated the probability that someone would enter in a timely fashion, and it was a little discouraging to realize it might be an eternity before someone else entered and was able to assist.

The restroom at this school is off in a dark corner of isolation. Ordinarily, I appreciate the location as it offers privacy. I now see another side to that logic. I could yell and bang the wall, but it still might be a long time before someone would hear my call for help. I was stranded and without options.

I thought of those emergency wipes in my purse, bought for times such as this. I remember thinking they were going to come in handy one day. This would have been that day had I remembered to bring the purse.

After contemplating the universe for unknown hours... or maybe a minute... I reached out to God and said, " Lord, give me an idea here."

As I spoke to the heavens I glanced up in that direction. Lo and behold, there was a glorious roll of spare toilet paper sitting on the top of the stall.

While I had been sitting around focusing on my "crappy" situation I neglected to look up.

Epiphany.

How many times does this happen in our lives? We walk through the day with blinders on to the bigger picture. More specifically, we fail to see what God is already doing for us. There may be a solution right in front of us...or directly above...if we just take a second to look around.

Whatever you are going through may be difficult. You feel as though you are alone in a corner where nobody will hear your cry for help, but God knows. He sees you. He hears you. Look up. Look around. Take off the blinders.

And grab your purse with the wipes next time you head to the restroom...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

That Weird Kid



Everyone went to school with at least one weird kid. In third grade, the one that stands out for me was the girl who told everyone she was the princess of Saturn. Sadly, her planet was going through an intergalactic war, and she was sent to Earth for her safety. She missed her planet so much, but she was able to stay in touch with her people through the communicator hidden in her Holly Hobby lunchbox. Nobody else could see it though. It only worked for her. She put her jacket over her head after her ham and cheese to enter the zone. 



The rest of the class loved the stories about Saturnia, her capitol city.  They longed to go with her to visit so they could see the beautiful rings and witness multiple moons. Her stories of the rocky horizon views were breathtaking. The palace sounded like such a magical place, and the advanced technology they used in their spacecrafts was mind-boggling. Her teenage brother was busy fighting the aggressors from Neptune. He loved his little sister, but he worried about her constantly. After their father had been killed in a bombing at the palace, her brother sent her away. They were now orphans, and he was determined to protect her at any cost. But she was homesick, and she spent much of her time in communication with her world. 



The other children laughed at first, but she was so adamant about this being her reality that they soon began to believe it…or at least they pretended well. She was so different from her classmates that it almost made more sense for her to be alien than human. Looking back, I think she had such a vivid imagination she almost believed it herself. People develop funny ways of coping when they don’t fit in well.
            



I no longer believe I’m the princess of Saturn, but I still exist on the fringes. Maybe I was dropped on my head as an infant. Maybe I’m a freak of nature. Or maybe I’m just wired a little bit different. In any case, I spent much of my elementary years with my head in a lunchbox…or a book…or writing stories when I should have been doing math.

A few years ago, I met my soul mate. One of the things I love most about my husband is that he accepts me for me. He told me once he didn't love me "in spite of" my weirdness but "because of " it. Wow. 

It just recently dawned on me that God sees us the same way. He doesn't say, "Heather is really strange, but I can use her in this anyway...I mean, hey, I AM God. I can even make something of THAT mess."  No. I think he uses me BECAUSE of my weirdness. It's more like, "I can use Heather BECAUSE of her differences." After all, he made me. He knows me inside and out. He knows the good. He knows the bad. And he loves me.

How awesome is that? I still don't always claim to know what he's thinking...in fact, most of the time I have no clue. But I do know he made me for a purpose. 

What if my nerdy interest in sci-fi is the only reason someone becomes friends with me, and that leads them to Christ? What if my creativity led to a gift for someone who was about to give up hope? What if my imagination inspired someone else? What if NONE of it ever makes sense?  That's ok. God knows more than me anyway. So I choose to embrace my madness. Live long and prosper!