Well, goodness. I don't really know where to begin because it's been a whirlwind week, and there are so many things I'd love to share.
This is the third year I've participated in Everybody Plays with Infantino and Step 2, and the experience is now part of me. I learn something new and am changed a little more each year. My cousin Joann came to San Diego with me to help with Dash, and after attending the shoot on the second day, she said, "I guess you really have to be here to understand just how meaningful this is."
For those of you who are new here, Everybody Plays is a marketing campaign created by a mama within the Infantino company and carried out by a number of incredible individuals. Infantino and Step 2 have committed to recognizing that every child is unique and special, and they celebrate that fact in their marketing which includes photos of children of all abilities. Simply put, Everybody Plays. I've been honored to photograph this 2-day event every year since it began and, in doing so, have met some extraordinary families.
If you were part of the shoot this year, I want to tell you how special it was meeting you and your children--all of you. We had a tight schedule and lots of babies to attend to, but I remember your hugs and your stories and your children. I saw the pride in your eyes, I felt how much you love them. I watched you soothe them and kiss them and work hard to make sure your babies were comfortable and aware of your presence. Some of you worked so hard, and I realize that's a 24-hour job for you. But you don't ever quit, do you? You don't ever quit working hard and singing to them and holding them and hoping for them and fighting to change the world for them. I felt your dedication, I witnessed your love. That goes for all of you, whether you were a part of this event or not. Whether your child has a disability or not. We're all working hard for our kids, and we need each other--our kids need each other.
And speaking of those kids? They were amazing. It's crazy how much preparation goes into an event like this--months of scheduling, permits, wardrobe, equipment, toy hauling, set-up, etc. But then the kids come in, and it's obvious to anyone present that they become the focus simply because they naturally steer our attention to what matters most. Like smiling. And making people happy.
On the last night after the shoot, a few of us gathered to wrap things up and say goodbye before we left the next morning. We sat at a picnic table under twinkly lights and surrounded by happy chaos--kids running everywhere, huddles of conversation, stories from the week enthusiastically retold. I sat at one corner of our table, smiling, trying my best to eavesdrop on as many conversations as I could pick up. It was like air traffic control for happy thoughts.
I asked a few moms what this event meant to them. Jennifer, whose little Joaquin and Sophia participated in Everybody Plays, hesitated for just a moment. "I think it's a perfect example of everything we fight for as parents," she answered. "We just want our kid to be a kid. Everybody Plays is such a perfect way of explaining it. It's so simple. They're all perfect. They all belong together."
"What was your favorite moment?" I asked Beth, Coco's mom.
"Tonight," she quickly replied and smiled. "That last shoot. When Coco wrapped her arms around every other kid..."
"That's what this is. Everybody plays. And you know what's funny? Coco in that shoot is really the only one who looks different. And here she is, pulling everyone together. I don't want the people who see these images to say, 'Look at that little girl with Down syndrome.' I want them to breeze by and look the same way at her that they'd look at any little girl."
I should add that Coco finished her last round of chemotherapy earlier this year, and after this baby's tough year fighting leukemia, her smile was worth every bit of work that went into last week.
Read another mom's account of last week here.
Of course there is extra significance behind this event for families who face challenges with their child's abilities being recognized. But every child has special needs, and this campaign is just as important for any family as it is for ours. When marketing embraces and celebrates the fact that people are different and that's beautiful, our children will believe it.
This team right here?
They have huge hearts. They worked really hard last week, most of them sacrificing time with their families to make Everybody Plays a success. They love kids, and they believe in the heart of this project. As a team member, that makes me proud. As a mom, that makes me grateful.
I wish I could show you every photo right now. There are still so many I need to go through, and many of them feature products that are still in development, so I can't share.
A few (all photos taken in San Diego's gorgeous Balboa Park):
And a quick wrap-up video of last week:
Everybody plays from ETST on Vimeo.
Please join me in supporting these companies (and others like it!)--let them know you love what they are doing! Help us spread the message of Everybody Plays--for all of our children.
I didn't have time to update the blog while I was gone, so a few things from last week:
*The Be Your Tee Campaign ends tonight (Monday). You can buy t-shirts for a few more hours. We originally set a goal of selling 626 shirts that would raise $5,000 for the NDSS. You helped us surpass that. Ready? We sold over 1,900 shirts--that's $15,000 raised for the National Down Syndrome Society. Nice way to kick off Down Syndrome Awareness Month, eh?
Also, I put together a list of my favorite dolls for little girls (and boys!) over at BabyZone: 12 Adorable Baby Dolls for Imaginative Play.
And sharing about the importance of telling our children the stories of our past over at All Parenting: The stories of our past.
Whew. Okay. Tomorrow is October. Hope the pumpkin spice gods have some good things in store for all of us.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Well, goodness. I don't really know where to begin because it's been a whirlwind week, and there are so many things I'd love to share.
Monday, September 23, 2013
I'm in the clouds right now, somewhere over the Rockies (Hello Colorado!!!). This whole blogging from the skies thing is so 2013, and I'm feeling very modern.
Friday, September 20, 2013
So whenever I touch on faith and my past church conflicts on the blog, I get a lot of e-mails—most of them really kind—from readers who are interested and/or concerned.
Some sound like: “What the hell happened in your faith past?”
Some sound like: “Honey, run to Jesus and stop pushing him away. You’re going to lose your chance.”
And most sound like: “My faith brings me so much peace in my life. I am praying for you. I’m so sorry your past has presented issues with God. I hope you figure it out. God loves you so much. Just the way you are.” These ones feel like a hug.
I will write more about my faith past. I am writing a lot about it off line. I realized after Bloom, many have conflicting faith pasts.
It is hard to write about because it involves people. People I love. People who read this blog. People who loved me and offered me a lot of good and support as well as their version of faith. But I was told a lot of things about God that I don’t think are true anymore, and not only do I think they’re not true, I think they are very damaging. I realize I have to fight tendencies that make me want to view myself and the rest of the world in a skewed way, due to ten years of input and reactive behavior to that input. And all the people who were involved in teaching me this—I still love them. We are human, we make mistakes.
Last night's moon. Feel's fitting to include.
The basis of what I believed for a very long time, along with a lot of weird stuff that went along with it, was that God commanded and demanded us to be PERFECT, no exceptions. “Examine yourself” was a phrase frequently thrown around, and I’m not talking a shower breast exam. If there was sin, sinful feelings, sin-like thoughts, anything that resembled sin (“even if you don’t sin but you’re thinking about sin,” we were told), you were going to hell. So, in order to please God, we were basically trained to become professional Sinbusters, constantly examining our thoughts and everything we did to make sure we weren’t sinning. It was exhausting. There was lots of repenting, might I add. For years, it was a completely normal thing for me to walk into the house, call “Is anybody home?” and if someone didn’t answer within twenty seconds, I was immediately paralyzed with fear that the rapture came and I didn’t go. Beginning around nine years old. I had countless nightmares that I was left after the rapture or that I died in a car accident and went to hell. Because of that one little feeling of resentment or jealousy or unkindness I felt.
A lady once stood up in our church and repented to the entire congregation, kids included, for her sin. You want to know what her sin was? Going to a garage sale, seeing a jar of buttons for a dollar and buying them. Why, do you ask that’s a sin? Because she saw another lady eyeing them and she bought them anyway. I guess it was unkind not to offer them to the other lady who wanted them. Not only unkind but SIN. Sin that sends you to hell. And when people heard this, they shook their heads and said “Amen” and applauded her for her stellar sin detection skills—a Class 1 Sinbuster (okay, we didn’t really call them that). And I remember even at twelve years old, listening to this story and thinking WHAT. THE. HELL. But then I repented later for thinking “What the Hell” because I didn’t want to go to hell. When hell was described in sermons where children were present, nothing was held back. “Gnashing of teeth” was a common phrase because somewhere in the Bible it says that about the people who burn there. And we were told that it’s so hot and miserable and tortuous that people BEG God to forgive them, but NEVER. They were already warned, it’s over. It was important that we knew that time never ends in hell. As a kid, I’d ask things like “even longer than 100 years?” and be answered with things like “100 times 100. Time NEVER ends in hell.” Imagine going there all over a jar of frickin' buttons. In all fairness, we knew that heaven never ended either. This was supposed to be a really exciting fact, but A: the hell thing kind of took over, and B: heaven was described as endless sitting around listening to Jesus teach and singing for hours, and—well, that sounds kind of boring, even now.
This is one among hundreds of stories like it. Ten years of repenting, waking up with sweaty palms and a racing heart from rapture nightmares. I was never good enough for God, and I knew it. I couldn’t shut off sinful thoughts and while I smiled and told all the church people when they asked (and they did) that I was Tony-the-Tiger Grrreeeeeaaat with God, I knew inside that I was doomed for hell.
When we were feeling the energy to extend beyond our own heart examinations, we took it upon ourselves to do it for others too—telling people when they were in sin. Separating from them. Cutting off anyone who “called themself a Christian” but lived otherwise according to our superhuman standards. We cut my cousins out of my life. My grandparents. I didn’t see my dad for four years because he was gay, gay was wrong and 1 Corinthians says, “put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” It also says you couldn’t eat with these people. So we didn't. One time, when we were still seeing my dad, we went to a restaurant and sat at a different table—just me and my siblings—while my dad sat alone in a booth behind us. I was nine.
All the things that could send you to hell—I realize now that they are the things that make us human. Imagine. Going to hell for being human. So you had to be something better than human, a perfect subspecies. I carry remnants of these feelings today. As if we don’t have enough guilt to deal with in motherhood and trying to do it all. It’s okay to be human, I say to myself a lot. It’s okay to be human. If you need to know this, I’m your girl.
I get hung up on wanting to know the answers to things I might never know, but I’m okay. Me and God? We’re good, we're getting there, and sometimes, many times, we are beyond good--a peaceful, settling, oh-so-loving "so this is what it's supposed to feel like." As far as Jesus and the Bible and all that other stuff—well, I don’t know. Telling me to run to Jesus is like telling a beaten dog he should come out and trust people. I heard a song the other day that said “Get out of the box and come into the clear,” and I think that’s a good description for where I am. I don’t ever want to be in a box when it comes to anything in my life. There’s a giant clearing around it, and it’s full of daisies and sunflowers and grass as far as you can see. There are so many more experiences to learn and grow in the clearing than I could ever find in the claustrophobia trap of the box. I think God is in the clearing. And I know he wants me to run around and find him in the many places he exists. It's a challenge.
Our old church has pretty much dissipated. I don’t see “church” now. I see humans. Humans who make mistakes and get confused sometimes. I may not have always felt that God loved me, but I did feel love from people. And I always felt loved and accepted by my parents.
I realize that my church past is a unique situation, and I’m so glad there are churches around the world that do so much good. Can you imagine a world without church? We’d lose a lot of comfort, a lot of good and a lot of love for people who need it. I’m so glad there are churches.
The thing about God that I hang on to the most? It’s being loved simply for existing. I think that’s a pretty powerful thing.
As for the rest, I’m going to take this broken glass and glue the shards together to make some amazing stained glass windows. I’m going to build a cathedral. Actually, I think I’ll just shoot for a little hillside chapel. With lots of love. And a nice mix of dandelions and daisies on the hill. So much better than a cathedral.
The regular blog will resume next week. It was ETST Deep Week. Kind of like Shark Week but with less blood.
Oh, and HAPPY FRIDAY! (confetti, confetti, confetti!!!)
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Before I move on to the "posty" part of this post, a couple matters of business. First of all, thanks to you, the Be Your Tee campaign met its 2-week goal in just 24 hours. You all swept up 626 shirts in less than a day! What does that mean? It means the $5 per shirt donation to the NDSS increases now. Shirts are still on sale throughout the end of next week, so please continue to share. We're nearing 1,000 shirts sold. This is awesome. You are awesome.
To answer a few questions:
* If you have questions about sizing, a Youth Small is a 6-8, a Youth Medium is 10-12 and a Youth Large is 14-16. In the photos, Lainey is wearing a Youth Small. Nella was wearing a onesie, but I think the 2T tee fits her better. Please direct any specific t-shirt and ordering questions to the NDSS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* I am told that international shipping is available for shirts. See Teespring site for details.
* All shirts will be shipped once the campaign ends (September 30). The NDSS receives at least $5 per shirt (given to them by Teespring when the campaign is over), and the rest of the $15 goes to Teespring to cover the cost of supplies, production and shipping.
*Many of you asked about shirts in larger sizes. As far as teen and adult shirts, I plan to work with the NDSS again with new kids' designs as well as stuff for teens and adults. So patience, grasshoppers.
Proceeding with business, if you're interested, I'm over at All Parenting this week with How to Create a Book-Loving Home and at BabyZone with Please Don't Tell my Son to Man Up!
Okay. Moving on. After Dash woke up in the middle of the night last night, I couldn't go back to sleep. So I wrote today's post at 4 in the morning and then crawled back to bed when I finished. I woke up the second time this morning feeling motivated, grateful and at peace. Plus, it's Book Fair day at Lainey's school today, and who doesn't love Book Fair? They sell sparkly pencils at the check-out.
The posty part of today's post:
Dear Uncomfortable Feelings
Sometimes, when things are fine and good and there’s no good reason to explain it, I find myself stuck in my head, and when I’m up there instead of out here, it’s not pretty. I’ve felt that way a little bit the past few days, and while we have all these names for it—I’m in the cave, on a funk, Debby Downin’, emotionally jagging—it can only be described as a mudslide of thoughts. What started as “I can’t believe I did that, what was I thinking?" suddenly snowballs into a nice brew of self-loathing poison. I didn’t e-mail her back. I’m so irresponsible. I should be a better school mom. I can’t believe I haven’t cleaned my bathroom in two weeks. God, how long is it going to take me to finish this? I can’t write. I’m messy. I think too much. I care too much. I don't know what I believe about God. I'm too loud. Why can’t I be more like her? And if I’m not careful, it can end with a deafening, paralyzing I SUCK. And the worst part of it is that I’ve read enough self-awareness books to know that “I SUCK” isn’t a good place to be, and sometimes I'm silly enough to think I’m bigger than that—that I should be beyond “I suck” days—so then I feel doubly horrible for feeling horrible in the first place if that makes any sense. In equation talk, this is like Horrible2 x Horrible2 = All sorts of Horrible x Pi. Actually, I just wanted to say Pi because it makes me feel math-y, something I’ve never been—and oh yeah, I wish I was more mathy. See. More horrible.
I have certain proven remedies for specific feelings of mine. For example, if I miss my family and I’m feeling uninspired? Remedy: Watch You’ve Got Mail and bake cookies with Heidi. If I’m feeling overwhelmed with projects and don’t know where to begin? Remedy: Make a prioritized list and cross things off one by one with a fat red marker. If my house is messy and I can’t find my mojo to clean it? Remedy: Watch five minutes of a Hoarders episode, and I’m not only feeling pretty good about my house, but I’m gloving up to scrub my floors.
“I suck” is a tough one though. You can’t just say to yourself “shut up, you do not” because the latter voice tends to be more David compared to the Goliath of “I suck.” There are slingshots and stones though, and I find one of them in my bathtub books—a collection of books I keep stacked next to my tub. There’s Pema Chodron and Mary Oliver, Brene Brown and Chopra, The Alchemist, The Power of Now and only recently a dusty twenty-year-old Bible—a book I’m trying to reestablish a relationship with after some previous fall-outs, so we’re starting on the basis that it’s full of beautiful poetry. Yesterday though, I pulled Pema and attempted an old Bible trick we used to pull when we wanted God to speak to us. We forced him to by opening our Bible and randomly pointing to a verse with our eyes closed, convincing ourselves that God was leading us to the exact words we needed to hear—like the game we used to play where we’d spin a globe and drag our finger along it until it stopped—and that’s where we’d live when we grew up.
“Speak to me, God,” I’d say. And then I’d open my eyes and read the great words of God meant just for me. And 99.9% of the time, it would be cryptic and unrelated, like “The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.” And then I’d be all, “Um, okay God. That makes perfect sense.” (note to self: try to aim at least for the New Testament with this one because Leviticus might leave you confused)
The cool thing about Pema is that when you randomly open to any page and point to a sentence, there’s a good chance it will actually be exactly what you need to hear (no offense, Bible). So I tried it yesterday, and you’re never going to believe where my finger landed. Page 58: “We have an unfortunate tendency to emphasize our failures.” She goes on to say that when we “lose it,” we should ask ourselves what it is in us that sees that we lost it. “Isn’t it our own wisdom, our own insight, our own natural intelligence?” And when we recognize that, we should celebrate that very fact as proof that we SO don’t suck. Hooray! Put your yellow shoes on, buy a balloon, kick up a dance and feel awesome for self-awareness, for the “Start here” space in the game of Being Better. For being HUMAN.
Heidi and I often bond over funny self-deprecating stories, and we’ve been known to clink beer bottles over tales of “I blew it, how funny is that?” But we’ve been talking about the danger of too much “I blew it, I suck, how funny is that?” and making sure it’s balanced with “How am I going to move towards being better?” Among healthy banter the other night—with a balanced mix of “I blew it,” “I nailed it,” and “I’m working on it”—I brought up a quote from Lainey’s school counselor who, just a couple of weeks ago at a volunteer orientation meeting, reminded parents of what the school aims to teach the kids—that you are only in control of yourself. Your kids, your husband, your friends, the world around you—you can affect them, but you cannot control them. But you can control yourself. So I’m going to take that one thing I can actually control, and I’m running with it. Balls to the walls. What can I do right now to feel better, to be productive, to take charge? I can do the next right thing. And then after that, the next right thing again. One by one. That’s doable. I most certainly don’t have to figure out everything right now, and feeling a little insecure or unsure is not necessarily something that has to be fixed right now. The next right thing might be doing something nice for someone (a great way to get out of your head!) or going for a walk or coloring with your kids or cleaning one room or making the decision not to tell that gossip or maybe opening up a Pema book to play the “point to the wisdom I need” game.
And since I wrote this, I already feel so much better. Sometimes for me, writing is hugging my feelings. Write it, say it, scream it, kick it, sing it, dance it, release it, kiss it goodbye and thank those feelings, however uncomfortable they may be, for bringing you insight.
And because I’m trying to be better about thank-you notes (but not feeling like I suck for writing them, stamping them and finding them on my dresser two months after I intended to send them), I’ll start with a little thank you to my feelings. If it works for Jimmy Fallon, it will work for me.
Dear Uncomfortable Feelings of Insecurity and Ickiness,
I just wanted to send you a quick thank you note for stopping by this week. I guess I have to commend you for your consistency because your occasional arrival patterns have proven you to be a reliable emotion. I noticed your steel-toe boots. Even though you used them to kick me around this week (and honestly, you need to see somebody about why you feel the need to do that), they were still nice boots. I’m looking into upgrading my own boots so I can more efficiently kick you back (I kid, I kid). You know, to be honest, I used to hate you. But I think my hate was really more that I didn’t understand you. Don’t get me wrong—you’re completely unpleasant to be around, and when I’m with you I’m usually only thinking about how long it is before you leave. But every feeling has value, and if I really think about it, you have helped me grow and know myself more. I’ve learned a lot about you too—what feeds you, what quiets you, what stories from the past have made you who you are—and learning more about you makes your occasional presence more bearable. Jumping too quickly to shoo you out the door when you arrive isn’t the kindest reaction now, is it? Sorry about that. Maybe we can work out a relationship—with boundaries, of course—where we help each other more. I had a teacher once who made every student stand up and say something nice about every other student in the classroom, and it was really hard to do for some of the students who weren’t very nice. But I think the teacher knew that the exercise was most important for those kids and for the students who were challenged to find the good in them. It changed our perspective. So, if I had to do that about you I’d say that you’re really good at helping me be vulnerable. And you are a good motivator. Maybe you could be a motivational speaker someday. Or one of those boxing coaches who screams at people that their punch is weak.
Anyway, I’m blubbering. I guess just…thank you for helping me grow.
I like pictures and ending with happy little things.
So happy little thing #1: Dash is working on his downward dog:
And happy little thing #2: Dude, look at his long legs:
Peaceful, happy, loving day to you and you and you. Adieu.
Monday, September 16, 2013
It's gray and hazy outside, and I'm running through a list of Monday mantras to reignite this week's enthusiasm. It helps that there's a boy lying on the bed next to me, fake coughing to get my attention, and when I give it to him, he kicks and smiles and his eyes squint into happy half moons. We're enjoying a cozy work day.
I'm working to get ahead and get ready for our trip next week to San Diego (Everybody Plays!), so I'll share more later. But I'm really excited to help launch the Be Your Tee campaign today, a 2-week fundraising effort for the NDSS.
The mission of this campaign is to offer positive message tees for every kid. Regardless of our special needs, all parents share the desire to see their child soar.
I designed this tee for the Be Your Tee campaign, and at least $5 of every shirt sale goes to the NDSS whose mission is to promote the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome (Teespring pays NDSS directly after campaign is completed).
The "Teach Me to Soar" shirt is available in onesies, toddler and youth sizes and offered in a variety of colors.
Your child can rock this shirt with jeans, shorts, layered over long sleeve shirts for fall and winter, and it's only $15.
Our entire clan sported theirs in style the other night.
It's a twofer--your kid looks cool AND tells the world, "Have confidence in me."
The onesies are off the hook.
And it looks good with stripes...for the WIN.
These shirts are available for a limited two weeks. Share any Be Your Tee love (including photos of your kids in the shirts when you receive them!) on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #BeYourTee and tag @ndss @teespring and myself (@KelleHampton on Twitter, @etst on Instagram).
Helping EVERY child Soar...a perfect Monday mantra.
Hope the start of your week is grand!
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
We're welcoming back Tea Collection this month with some comfy favorites as well as an introduction to cozy fall style for colder months. Their current designs are inspired by the art and architecture of urban China and, as always, that inspiration is translated into little clothes that wear well, feel good and look colorful and hip.
I picked out some current favorites for boys and girls. I don't know if it's the Michigan in me or what, but I love fall and winter clothing--the layers, the sweaters, the boots, the scarves. Tea Collection offers it all.
From L to R: Marled Stripe Sweater, Skinny Stretch Cords, Umi Hectorr Boots, Shanghai Scribble Graphic Tee, Slim Twill Plaid Pant, Timberland Asphalt Trail Boots, Lucky Fish Romper, Four Square Gown
For the Little Ladies:
From L to R: Colorblock Sweater Dress, Pointelle Leggings, Le Big Sequince Scarf, Kickers Gecko Boots, Art District Floral Dress, Le Big Sparkle Knee Highs, Toke Mary Janes, Jianzhi Floral Romper, Cozy Chic Sweater
Welcome back, Tea!