Inclusion Matters: A Story About Wood Chips

I got a message from my daughter’s teacher the other day and it brought me to tears. First, a little background: as I write this we are only a few week into a new school year and my daughter’s teacher and I have found ourselves communicating often during these first few weeks of the school year because my daughter has Down syndrome, she is fully included in her general education 5thgrade class, and it is the first time in her teacher’s 18 years of teaching to have a student with Down syndrome in her class. Another important piece of information to note is my daughter attends our local neighborhood public school. It is a non-inclusive school, meaning the original placement my daughter was offered was a separate special education classroom. We have decided this placement is not an option for her, for many reasons, (but that’s a discussion for another time) all that to say: having my daughter fully included in a general education 5th grade classroom is a steep learning curve for everyone involved. 

When I picked up my phone and saw I had a message from my daughter’s teacher my stomach dropped, just a bit. This happens every time the school’s number flashes on my caller ID or an email shows up in my inbox from a school personal or a message pops up on my phone from a teacher. My stomach drops because when the systems in play, in this case the public school, are not set up for a child with Down syndrome to be successful there are lots of unsuccessful moments, (which my husband and I have learned to call “opportunities for learning and growth”)! There have been dozens of times over the years when I have received an email, phone call, or message letting me know how my daughter is misbehaving or acting inappropriately or not fitting in, or needs to be picked up because it’s just not working out. You could say over the past eight years of my daughter’s educational career I’ve developed a form of PTSD triggered by some form of communication from the school.

Back to the message. When I picked up my phone and began to read, the sick feeling in my stomach was replaced with tears of gratitude and relief. Here is what her teacher wrote: 

“Today after recess [Macyn] was very happy and I asked her what she had played. She told me she played with several girls in class on the swings. The girls then told me that Macyn had struggled to reach the swing and they couldn’t get her on it, so they piled up the woodchips and created a ‘step’ for her to use to get on the swing. She loved it and had a great time.” 


Friends! Do you see what happened here? Macyn’s peers modified the playground so their friend could have access to it. This is amazing! They didn’t learn this from a classroom or a lesson. I guarantee you they have never gone to a class about modification and inclusive practices. They are 5th graders. I’m sure they have never thought about what makes a playground inclusive or not. They are 5th graders. But they know a thing or two about feeling left out or needing to know they belong, because, well, they are 5th graders. What happened is they saw a person who is in their class, who they have been building a relationship with, in need of some assistance. And then they got creative and solved a problem so their friend and classmate could get on the swings. They had an opportunity to embrace the essence of what it means to be human and in doing so made a way for the goodness of our collective humanity to shine

This is what inclusion is about! 

Inclusion is about so much more than Macyn having access and opportunities. It is about her peers and teachers and every other person at the school having access to her which creates one of a kind opportunities for empathy, compassion, leadership, creativity, understanding, teamwork, generosity, kindness…basically every quality we pray our children, and ourselves, will possess. Yes, it is critical to Macyn’s growth, development and well-being for her to have full access to her school and be seen as a citizen of her school. But equally as important, or arguably even more so, it is critical for the wellbeing of humanity for the other students and people in the school to have access to Macyn. 

The truth is, we are a world divided. A society drawing lines in the sand when we should be building steps with the woodchips. But how can we when the very people who offer us the opportunity to do so are systemically slotted and separated? The thing I find so profound about this simple playground story is it has little to do with woodchips and everything to do with what they represent: a core need in all of us to have a sense of belonging. And a testament to how life is better when we live it together. 




A Word on Pro-Life

Anti-abortion is not the same as pro-life


This past weekend I was sitting in a large conference room listening to leaders talk about some recent hot topics happening in our nation when a man sharing about his space in the political sphere said the following:


“I am pro-life, but I’m also all about prison reform and so people are confused on where I stand politically.”


I wrote down what he said so I could think about it some more, because it felt confusing, at least to me. But then again, so do most of the “pro-life” messages being sharing these days. Let me expand:


As the mother of two children with Down syndrome, and as a fierce and dedicated advocate and voice in the Down syndrome community, hundreds of people bring to my attention anything happening in the news or any inspiring videos or posts that relate to Down syndrome. As of late, there has been some legislation around abortion when it comes to an in-utero diagnosis. Some “pro-life” folks have been working hard to pass laws which make sure women cannot chose to terminate a pregnancy because of an in-utero Down syndrome diagnosis. 


Look, I am very much pro-life in the sense that I am anti-abortion. And when a person with Down syndrome is not given the opportunity for life merely because of their diagnosis, it especially grieves my soul, not to mention it causes immense harm to humanity as a whole. Along with being anti-abortion I am pro-life in every sense of the word which, in these circumstances, means I am pro-Down syndrome from conception to grave. Yet I find the “pro-life” people who are throwing around viral videos of adult advocates who have Down syndrome as a way to push their own political agenda, or who narrowly focus on pursing laws which protect the unborn with a Down syndrome diagnosis, less about being pro-life and more about being anti-abortion. Here’s why, pro-life goes beyond the womb and if we care about people with Down syndrome while they are in the womb then we have to care about them once they are out of the womb. If we call ourselves pro-life then we need to make sure we are doing all we can so that those who are born with Down syndrome have access to all the spaces that people without Down syndrome have access to. 

Pro-life means working on laws that will require schools to change their practices so people with Down syndrome are given the supports necessary to have access to the same spaces that people without Down syndrome have access to. It means working with our communities and law makers towards fair wages for people with Down syndrome in the work place. It means doing what it takes to create an inclusive and accessible environment in our churches.  It makes me wonder why so many “pro-life” people see the importance of making sure a child with Down syndrome is born but do little, if anything, to make sure that same child is given an equitable amount of space in this world once they enter it.

We cannot say we are “pro-life” and only care for the unborn. If we are pro-life then we must care equally for the born. And as a person deeply connected to the Down syndrome community, I do not see an equal amount of energy or attention put towards making sure people with Down syndrome are given the same human rights as people without Down syndrome. 

Pro-life means we care for the unborn and we care for the born.

Which brings me back to the statement the man made about feeling he was contradicting himself when he said he was both “pro-life” and pro-prison reform. This felt confusing to me because in my world view, pro-prison reform is pro-life.

If we are going to call ourselves pro-life then we don’t get to pick and choose which lives, we are for and which lives we are going to ignore. Pro-life is pro-life which means we should be as upset about the way our prisons are run as we are about a law which allows women to terminate their pregnancy after 24 weeks. 

If we are pro-life, then we need to take action to help the millions of refugees who are fleeing for their lives and unable to find safety within our country because they are not allowed in. And we need to be caring about the lives of those at our boarders more than we care about a wall to keep them out. Pro-life is seeing the lives of our educators and our students as more important than our right to own a gun. Prioritizing our own sense of security and safety is a step away from being holistically pro-life.


People before politics,

Life before nation,

Loving on, caring for and protecting both the born and the unborn, 

This my friends is holistic pro-life.


When you think about being “pro-life” and the only connection you make is with abortion, then I would challenge you to stop calling yourself pro-life and instead say you are anti-abortion. For when we care about, stand up for and speak up for both the unborn andthe born, only then can we truly call ourselves Pro-Life. 

It's The Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us and the Avis house could not be more excited. We are Christmas junkies! Who’s with us?! 


Does anyone else remember a time, not too long ago, when we did not even begin to think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving? Radio stations and stores waited until then to play music and retailers would hold off on Christmas merchandise until Black Friday at least. Now all things Christmas start so much earlier. And I’m not even mad about it. I say, bring on the holiday cheer as early as possible!


One reason I love starting the season earlier is because every year I feel as though I scramble to get all the fun, festive things checked off my holiday bucket list. When we start earlier it gives me that many more days to squeeze all the holiday festivities and traditions in.


One thing I love to do during the holiday season is bake cookies. But you want to know one thing that always feels stressful and rushed? You guessed it: baking cooking. 

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Here’s the thing, the kids always want to be involved, and I want them to be…I really do. But it’s so much better in theory. The truth is, when I’m signed up to bring two dozen cookies to my son’s class and another two dozen to a Christmas party, enlisting the kids to help turns into whole bowls of flour dumped on the floor and sticky fingers going from their mouth to the batter contaminating the whole thing making our cookie time together counterproductive. There is a time for baking with the children, and I am looking forward to that, but if I want to make four dozen beautiful cookies void of my children’s germs, then I prefer to do it alone.  


This year, I made a brilliant plan and did a whole morning of baking AFTER I sent the kids to school. It was glorious! I turned on Christmas music along with the oven and got to work. 


I recently got a few bags of CRUNCH Dark Jingles and I’m obsessed. These candies are basically a Crunch bar shaped like a bell…dark chocolate and crisped rice dreams coming true. They are delicious, and I keep a candy dish around the house because their colorful foils are so festive! So the other day I was eating one of these festive Crunch bell-shaped dark chocolates and thought, “These would be perfect in a cookie!” And that is exactly what I did. I literally put one of these in a snowball cookie and our lives are now complete!

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Here is the recipe I used:


Here’s what you need:

·      1 11/2 cups  butter, softened

·      33/44cup  powdered sugar

·      11/2 teaspoon  salt

·      1 tablespoon  vanilla extract

·      3 cups  flour

·      24 CRUNCH Dark Jingle bells, unwrapped

·      11/4 cup  powdered sugar, for rolling

Here’s What you do:

1.     Heat oven to 375*F.

2.     Cream together the butter, 3/4 cup of the powdered sugar, and the salt until fluffy; blend in the vanilla.

3.     Gradually beat in the flour, blending just until combined.

4.     Shape dough into 1 1/4" balls.

5.     Wrap the dough around one whole bell

6.     place 1" apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

7.     Bake 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are set and bottoms are lightly browned.

8.     Sift the 1/4 cup powdered sugar over the hot cookies; cool on baking sheets 10 minutes.

9.     Carefully transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely.

10.  Dust with additional powdered sugar, if desired. Store in airtight containers.

You will make these, and you will thank me. They are so bomb diggity and your friends and guests will bite into them and be very impressed. You’re welcome.

But this is not all that happened this morning when I kicked the kids out of the kitchen. I thought, “these bell-shaped candies are so adorable they should not be hidden inside a cookie.” So, I made a second batch of baked goodness in the form of a peanut-butter blondie with CRUNCH Dark Jingle Bells…whoa! So delicious. You basically just take any recipe you have for a blondie and you stick an adorable Crunch Dark Jingle Bell on the top before you bake. Easy peasy. 

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And that’s not all that happened this very productive, childless morning. Not it is not! 

As the cookies were baking, I decided to get a head start on some stocking stuffers. Every year for Christmas my husband and I are very strict about how we divide our time with our families: we do every other year with every other family. Last Christmas was with his family and this Christmas is with my family. We never travel on Christmas day and we don’t spilt our time either. But we do make a special time to celebrate with which ever family we are not spending Christmas with. So this year my husband’s family will be joning us for an early Christmas celebration. All this to say, the kids get two stocking (lucky!). So I got their stockings stuffed and ready to go for when we celebrate early with my in-laws. 


I saw these Big Chewy NERDS Reindeer at Target and had to grab them. I got one for myself as well, remembering this candy from my childhood, and loving how they are moving from a small sized candy to a chewy candy. (side note, this product was a finalist in the Most Innovative New Product Award in the Seasonal category at the 2018 Sweets & Snacks Expo! You can visit learn more)

As you can see, these adorable Nerds Reindeer are made to hang perfectly on the outside of the kids’ stockings, making them the perfect stocking stuffer. 


Now, the kids are about ready to come home from school and I am feeling oh so accomplished and loving this head start I have on my holiday bucket list.