Seeing Each Other Through a Mother’s Eyes

This post was developed in collaboration with P&G as part of their Love Over Bias campaign.

Unexpected. Overwhelming. Distressing.

It felt like everything changed when the words of our daughter’s severe diagnosis were uttered.

As my husband Evan and I began to learn about all of the facets of her rare and life-threatening skin disorder, the whisperings of certain phrases seemed to accompany each sentence of her prognosis: Can’t. Might Not. Won’t Be Able To. Will Never.

Instead of imagining a world of possibilities like you tend to do when your child is born, it felt like a list of limitations began to grow.

But in the early months of Brenna’s life, as we adjusted to our newfound sense of normalcy in caring for her skin and health, we realized we had a choice: we could allow the perceived can’ts to hold us back…or we could push the limits.

When I was younger, I had the privilege of meeting a man named Roger Crawford. Roger was born with only two fingers on one hand and a thumb on the other hand.  One of his feet has three toes, and the other leg was so underdeveloped, it was amputated below his knee.

From the beginning of his life, Roger’s parents pushed him toward excellence. Instead of growing up accepting that his future would likely not include sports because of his limb abnormalities, he trained and challenged himself to pursue his dreams of playing tennis.

Roger ended up becoming the first person with a physical challenge affecting two or more limbs to play NCAA Division 1 athletics. Eventually, he was inducted into the Division 1 Hall of Fame and Sports Illustrated recognized him as “one of the most accomplished physically challenged athletes in the world.”

At a young age, Roger learned that although he probably wasn’t going to be the fastest or the most powerful, he would win the point if he could hit the ball over the net just one more time than his opponent.

When Brenna was a couple years old, I asked Roger – who is now an internationally known speaker and author – about growing up with these kinds of obvious limitations. And he said the greatest gift he received was from his parents, who gave him the opportunity to try, regardless if he failed or succeeded.

“It’s so important,” he told me, “to allow our children to fulfill their potential, to allow them to amaze us with their abilities. We really don’t know what they can accomplish until we give them those opportunities to excel.”

Roger helped me to recognize the redefined beauty found in doing things beyond what is comfortable and refusing to conform to society’s standards of what is expected.

Today, Evan and I strive to push back against our tendency to allow our fears or concerns to hold our daughter back. While it can be difficult and often uncomfortable, we have noticed that it has become easier every day to ask of ourselves instead “How might Brenna be able to accomplish that? What can she learn by trying?”

Giving our daughter the opportunity to try has shown us that limitations are often more perception than reality.

Despite our worry of skin infection, Brenna has been swimming and boating, has gone to countless museums and libraries. Despite fear of overheating due to inability to sweat, she has sat under the hot sun at Major League baseball games with all kinds of cooling products. She loves gymnastics and playing at the park. She has traveled to 13 different states – adding three more this summer! -and Washington DC.

She has grown into a joyous 6-year-old who jumps at the chance to try new things.

Incredible things begin to happen when we encourage our kids to live in love and joy and potential, not fear. To try new things. When we allow our kids to amaze us.

Perhaps recognizing the immense potential all around us comes not from what we’re looking at, but rather, what we choose to see.

Just imagine what the world could be if we all saw each other through a mom’s eyes.

Imagine a world where we could see the potential in everyone – beyond the labels, the biases, the unknown, the preconceptions and misconceptions. If we gave others the chance to amaze us with the open heart of a mother.

During this year’s winter Olympics, P&G is celebrating a mom’s role in giving her child the support and tools to overcome challenges and achieve greatness. They released this amazing video that I’m honored to share because it’s filled with so much love and inspiration.

A mom is an advocate, a protector, a champion of her child. Let us celebrate each other with the love of a mother, to cheer each other on as we see beyond our differences and support our commonality, to push toward the highest potential over any perceived limitations.

When Stickers Build Libraries: Helping to School the World

Wendy, the oldest of six children growing up in Guatemala, became the first of her siblings to finish 6th grade and had plans to continue her education. But she was devastated when her parents told her they could no longer afford to send her to school.

At just 12 years old, Wendy got a job in a nearby city at a tortilla store, where she slept in a small bed in the kitchen. She worked from 5:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night, making tortillas. Her compensation? Less than three dollars a day.

It was a grueling schedule for a child, and Wendy longed to rejoin her family and go to school again.

Then Wendy found out that she would receive a scholarship from the global nonprofit School the World, ensuring that she could continue her education and sit at her desk with her fellow classmates again. “I was so very happy,” she exclaimed with a huge smile. “I left as soon as possible from the city because it was so hard being away from my parents.”

Education is such a heartbeat of mine, particularly for girls in developing countries who often don’t get the chance to stay in school. When families are desperately impoverished, it is usually the daughters who are taken out of school so that they can help mothers take care of the family and the home, or work to earn money.

Last year, I began to work with this incredible organization called School the World. School the World partners with communities in Honduras and Guatemala to build schools in rural communities, help train local teachers and provide libraries for these children – many of whom are usually the first in their families to learn to read and write!

What makes School the World unique is that it is not simply a “give-and-receive” relationship between nonprofit and poor community. Instead, its model is based on collaboration, empowerment and sustainability.

Communities and local governments agree to contribute land and help fund some of the costs toward building a school and paying a teacher. Families sign pledges to keep their children in school, provide support for them at home and attend parent education programs. (Many of the parents cannot even sign their own names on these pledges, so they use ink to “sign” their thumbprints.)

School the World offers several ways that we can join in to support global education – not only for us as adults, but also ways in which our kids can get involved … such as sponsoring library books in these schools!

School the World gave our family little stickers so that we could fill them out with our names and a message…

And then the stickers were sent to Guatemala and placed in the books that we sponsored for $5 each! 

How incredible is the gift of literacy, of education? Education brings opportunity instead of oppression, potential instead of poverty. It is a given for us in the United States…but a truly monumental opportunity for these children who are ambitious and excited to learn.

These smiles turn my heart to mush every time I look at these pictures. Their excitement radiates out of their bright eyes.

And in our house, Connor and Brenna were so excited to see how their stickers traveled to Guatemala and showed up in new books for the kids there!! What a beautiful reminder for our family that we are provided endless opportunities in our country, and through our love and actions, we can help to give others the opportunity for education… the kind of opportunity that can change the trajectory of their lives, their family’s lives and the entire communities.

Through a simple sticker, we can send a message to our recipients: “we believe in you, we care about you, and you will do big things with your life as you pursue your education.”

This would be such a great project for a classroom, church group, MOPS gathering, or any other group. Brenna is going to ask her friends at her birthday party to support this initiative and fill out a sticker!

Just imagine how we can be difference makers in these Central America communities and easily get our own kids involved.
Sticker templates can be downloaded here or you can just email School the World to get involved.

And Wendy? She no longer works 16-hour days for pennies an hour.

When she graduates, Wendy wants to be a teacher. She loves teaching what she has learned, helping her siblings with their homework and seeing the joy when children learn something new. Education and literacy mean that she will have the chance to build a career and earn an income to lift her family out of extreme poverty.

Even in just a year, she is filled with hope and excitement for her future: “My life is so very different now.”

Want to learn more? Check out School the World and its empowering initiatives to bring quality and accessible education to rural, impoverished communities.