Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Personhood supporters love babies and women (just not at the same time)


The noble advocates for life want women to know that they are only trying to help. By lobbying to remove all exceptions for abortion, including life of the mother, they are sending us a message of love: they don’t want to control us; they just want to stop us from making a mistake.

Every year, many women are raped, get pregnant, have abortions and regret it. Well, maybe “many” is an overstatement. Rep. Stephen King doesn't know any women who publicly advertise their rape-conceived pregnancies, which means pregnancy from incest or statutory rape is statistically rare. Or maybe Todd Akin is right, and it doesn't happen at all since it isn't biologically possible for a victim of a legitimate rape to conceive.

I’m sorry, I misspoke. What I meant by “legitimate rape” is that women lie about being raped all the time, not that rape has to be physically traumatic to activate the latant uterine superpowers that prevent women from becoming pregnant, which is what I initially implied by explaining exactly what I meant and then changing my story without apologizing for the original remark. Whew, that was close. For a moment there, I was afraid I had said something offensive.

In defense of Akin’s misguided statements, Personhood supporters have misapplied a study on infertility as evidence that the female body can indeed prevent pregnancy. Even if it was out of context, it still doesn't change the misrepresented facts. If that isn't enough proof, consider the often quoted words of Theodor Geisel: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” And he should know. He was a famous doctor.

There are, indeed, women who have ended their rape-conceived pregnancies and regretted it. Ironically, many of them believe that other victims should not have the same choices they were afforded during their times of crisis. Since they couldn't be trusted to make the right decisions for their lives and their bodies under duress, they rationalize, clearly we can’t either.

Other victims of rape elect to carry their pregnancies to term and either put their babies up for adoption or raise them. Many of these women feel so strongly about their choices that they wish to eliminate all other options for future rape victims. As former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently said, lots of wonderful people are the result of rape. His thoughts on the consensually conceived pregnancies resulting in the births of serial killers, brutal dictators and the members of Nickelback, however, remain unclear.

Many religious fundamentalists believe that life begins at conception. For them, it is not an opinion but a faith-based fact that they believe with enough fervor to fuel another crusade. If you disagree, forget hell; you could go to jail. Personhood advocates loudly declare that abortion is murder and should be criminalized as such, regardless of the circumstances. They’d also like to remind you of God’s love and compassion and capacity for forgiveness. Just don’t expect any of that from those who believe they are following the teachings of the Bible when it comes to protecting the unborn.

Granted, Biblical definitions can be outdated. Back then, women were property and rapists were bound by law to marry their victims. No one is saying things should be like that again, at least not out loud. Now, we have rights. Personhood advocates believe that a newly formed zygote should have the same rights as a fully developed human being (until it becomes a girl who becomes a victim impregnated by a rapist, at which point she had more rights before she was born).

These days, the victim certainly doesn't have to marry her attacker, but in Mississippi and several other states, he is entitled to visitation and shared custody of the resulting child. This relationship ties the victim to her attacker for years to come. Personhood advocates want to compel women to give birth against our will based on their belief that our bodies essentially become the property of single-cell souls at the moment of fertilization. Now, that’s progress.

According to pro-lifers, we shouldn't view this as a women’s rights issue. That would be petty and selfish. Some even refer to abortion as a form of self-worship. Instead, perhaps we should think of ourselves as servers that are offline and pregnancy as a biological 404 Error: Autonomy temporarily not available. Rights not found. Try reloading in nine months.

Please don’t misunderstand. Personhood supporters value all life equally. They love women and believe women have rights just like the developing fetus. The fact that they believe those rights should temporarily disappear when women become pregnant doesn't mean they don’t love us at all; it just means they love the unborn more.
--
This column originally appeared on The Clarion-Ledger website on September 4, 2012. 
Copyright 2012. Natalie Winningham/Business Ink. All rights reserved. 

Small town women, big political change


There are no popularity contests in small towns. Everyone already knows you, your parents, where you live, and what church you attend—unless you don’t go at all, in which case you are probably on the prayer list.

Growing up, I sang in the Sunday choir with several classmates and regularly saw my teachers in the grocery store. My high school algebra instructor was a stern, no-nonsense woman who also happened to be my youth Bible study leader. Incidentally, it is nearly impossible for a Baptist preacher’s daughter in rural Mississippi to skip school. At least that’s what I hear.

Familiarity on this level within a community is not uncommon and can create an almost impenetrable wall of solidarity. Just ask anyone who’s not from there. Cultural and social norms rooted in a largely conservative ideology have been followed for decades without serious challenge. However, recent legislation authored by some of Mississippi’s most conservative lawmakers has been met with resistance within these same communities not from liberals infiltrating the fold but from God-fearing, church-going southern women.

This shift in perspective was evident last November in Mississippi’s startling rejection of the Personhood amendment, which sought to define life as beginning at fertilization. Originally publicized by supporters as a pro-life amendment that would effectively end abortion in the state, advocates predicted it would pass by a wide margin. But when the far-reaching consequences of the initiative were revealed, there was a groundswell of opposition from conservative women throughout the state.

As recently as this month, lawyers from both sides faced off in federal court over a new law that would close the only abortion clinic in this state. Conservative women who are personally pro-life and politically pro-choice understand that eliminating access to safe abortion will not eliminate abortion in an imperfect world but will instead cause desperate women to seek unsafe, potentially life-threatening solutions. For many, this harsh stance is incompatible with their pro-life values.

Atlee Breland is a Christian wife and mother from Jackson who founded ParentsAgainst Personhood, a political action committee aimed at defeating the amendment. In the weeks leading up to the November election, members of the PAC’s Facebook page often prefaced their concerns about the initiative by identifying themselves as conservative, pro-life, Christian women. It was important to these women for others to know that their personal values remained unchanged; they were drawing a line, not switching sides.

During the last legislative session, Personhood resurfaced as a bill along with legislation that would have required women seeking first trimester abortions to hear the fetus’ heart beat prior to treatment. This medically unnecessary procedure often requires the use of a painfully intrusive trans-vaginal ultrasound probe.

Many conservative women regarded this as yet another attempt to enforce morality by overreaching politicians. When both bills failed, a “heartbeat amendment” was added to an otherwise widely-favored bill in a last-minute attempt to bring it to a vote. Once again, women mobilized and the bill died in committee.
At the same time, controversy over access to contraceptives and Personhood initiatives in other states were making national headlines. Many became alarmed when religious institutions across the country not only sanctioned this expansion of the government’s role as morality police, they wanted to openly participate in it.

For this reason, conservative southern women are pushing back against pressure from their religious leaders. They refuse to conform not because they are rebelling against the church but because many of them are trying to protect it. These women recognize that the powerful ally the conservative church seeks in the government could easily become the monster that consumes it.

House Representative Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) is the author of the Personhood and heart beat bills as well as the driving force behind the last-ditch heartbeat amendment that failed during last session. He is also a practicing attorney and interim Baptist preacher at a church in a small town not far from where I live. 

Around here, Gipson is regarded as a hero fighting to reclaim our country’s Christian heritage. In May, he posted on his personal Facebook wall that he will not check his religious views at the door of the House of Representatives, so voters and constituents can expect similar legislation in the future.

Women in conservative small towns will be watching. Women who understand what is at stake. Women who are influential, resourceful and tenacious. Women who embody the phrase, “If mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Women like me.
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This column originally appeared on The Clarion-Ledger website on July 23, 2012. 
Copyright 2012. Natalie Winningham/Business Ink. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Punxsutawney Bill: HB 464 (updated)

It's that special time of year again, when two men dressed in outdated suits wake me from my bloggy slumber and force me into the bright sunshine. Unfortunately, I've seen the long shadow of Judge Joe Dale Walker on pending legislation, which means we'll have several more weeks of homeschool activism in Mississippi. Congratulations.

HB 464 is essentially a bill that spells out the qualifications and duties of school attendance officers. Section 1(4)(j) instructs school attendance officers to:
...collect and maintain information concerning each compulsory-school-age child who is being educated in a legitimate home instruction program, as defined in Section 37-13-91, which shall be provided only to the youth court judge or the chancellor of a court of competent jurisdiction for the purpose of exempting such children from the truancy laws of this state.
Sound familiar?

Representative Bob Evans authored the bill and serves House District 91 (Copiah, Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence and Simpson counties). His office is in Monticello. Judge Joe Dale Walker presides over Chancery Court District 13 (Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Simpson and Smith counties). His office is also in Monticello. I live in Simpson County, which is part of both districts. It's like the circle of life or something.

Recall that the MS Supreme Court vacated Judge Walker's court order forcing local school attendance officers to turn over information on all homeschoolers registered in District 13. This is clearly an end-around to get the names of homeschooled students, except it would affect all homeschoolers in the state of Mississippi, not just District 13. But, why go to so much trouble?

According to the bill, the purpose of collecting the information is "exempting such children from the truancy laws of this state." According to Miss. Code. Ann. 37-13-91, we are currently exempt.
(4)  An "unlawful absence" is an absence during a school day by a compulsory-school-age child, which absence is not due to a valid excuse for temporary nonattendance.  Days missed from school due to disciplinary suspension shall not be considered an "excused" absence under this section.  This subsection shall not apply to children enrolled in a nonpublic school. [emphasis added] 
What exactly is a nonpublic school?
(2)(i)  "Nonpublic school" means an institution for the teaching of children, consisting of a physical plant, whether owned or leased, including a home, instructional staff members and students, and which is in session each school year.  This definition shall include, but not be limited to, private, church, parochial and home instruction programs. [emphasis added]
HB 464 seeks to:
"...amend Section 37-13-91, Mississippi Code of 1972, to require the parent, guardian or custodian of a compulsory-school-age child to enroll the child in a public school or legitimate nonpublic school at the point the child is no longer receiving instruction in a legitimate home instruction program..."In other words, if HB 464 passes, homeschooling families would be exempt from truancy laws as long as we are engaged in what the youth court deems a legitimate home instruction program. Otherwise, the youth court judge can order a child to attend a public or private school for violating truancy laws.
Judge Walker has found a friend in Rep. Evans. This bill would create a legal basis for targeting and prosecuting "fake homeschoolers" by placing us all under the scrutiny of school attendance officers and youth court judges. There is no surefire way of determining who in the homeschooling community is doing what and how without creating standards, employing intrusive tactics and applying them universally to the whole. Is it worth putting us all through the wringer to catch a delinquent few? The answer is NO.

If you'd like to call Rep. Evans and ask him why he thinks homeschoolers are so suspicious that our information should be kept on file in youth court, his number at the capitol is 601-359-9393. He can be reached at his Monticello office at 601-587-0615. His email address is bevans@house.ms.gov.

Since Evans has no qualms over-reaching into our homes, you can "over-reach" him at home by calling 601-587-9313. I'm sure his family won't mind the intrusion.

UPDATE: HB 464 died in committee on March 6, 2012. Great news for homeschoolers in Mississippi!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Welcome, Readers of The New American

RRnR was picked up by The New American in its article, Mississippi Judge Goes Fishing for Home-schoolers by Michael Tennant.  Thank you, Michael, for including this blog in your wrap up of the situation in District 13.

The New American is a conservative bi-weekly magazine.  You can find out more about it here:
Our editorial point of view is guided by our support of the U.S. Constitution and the principles upon which our Constitution is based. Specifically, we want to restore and retain the values and vision that made America great — limited government under the Constitution, the freedoms our Constitution guarantees, and the personal responsibility a free people must exercise to stay free.   
It is published by American Opinion Publishing, a wholly owned subsidiary of The John Birch Society.
Hat tip: Alasandra 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thank you, World Net Daily

Welcome newcomers and World Net Daily readers.

I'd like to formally thank World Net Daily and news editor Bob Unruh for linking to RRnR in its most recent headlining post. Most especially, I'd like to thank Mr. Unruh for his liberal, accurate and judicious use of this writer's words (you even quoted my favorite parts). It was truly a pleasure working with you.

PS. As a token of my respect and sincere appreciation, I promise to never again call your publication "World Nut Daily," even when we disagree. Thank you once again.

Why I do not support HSLDA

I've been asked why I am do not support the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).  It's a long, long story, but I'll do my best to keep this as brief as possible.

As many of you are aware (including, by now, Judge Joe Dale Walker of District 13), the homeschooling community is very political. We know what's up. When the legislative session starts in Mississippi, I can think of several families off the top of my head who check the Bill Status web site for bills that would infringe upon our freedom to homeschool and then share that information far and wide. Many activist-moms also check for bills referencing vaccination, midwifery, animal cruelty, health care, disability, etc. So, knowing and protecting our rights is not just "a homeschool thing." It's a freedom thing.

HSLDA claims to help homeschoolers maintain their freedom to educate their children at home. I disagree. However, I didn't always. When I first began homeschooling, I almost joined HSLDA. Hey, it sounded like a great idea: protect my freedom for one low cost so that I can concentrate on educating my kids. But shortly after I started blogging in 2005, I began to see a different picture of HSLDA. One that:

  • Narrowly defined what homeschooling is and who should homeschool.  
  • Authored restrictive homeschool legislation in many states to reflect these views.  
  • Refused to work with and, in many cases, even worked against local non-HSLDA homeschool associations.

My first exposure to the "other side" of HSLDA was in June of 2005. It wasn't even a high-profile legislative battle with far-reaching implications. It was a local matter in Prince William County, VA that was being handled by a small coalition of local homeschoolers. Despite their efforts and the promise of a successful outcome, HSLDA interfered and--in a matter of days--nearly destroyed the progress that took these families over 18 months to achieve. Although the effort was salvaged, the local homeschoolers ended up having to compromise with HSLDA. You can read about it here:

June 20, 2005: With friends like these...
June 20, 2005: HSLDA on Prince William County, VA
June 22, 2005: Congratulations, PW County!
June 25, 2005: Whaddaya mean "WE"??

This is not an isolated incident. HSLDA has a history of running roughshod over local non-HSLDA homeschool associations. And, to add insult to injury, the organization also has a habit of claiming full credit for or exaggerating its roles in successful outcomes, further marginalizing (and demoralizing) local homeschool community. Here is an article documenting the organization's pattern of disregard.  Please read it.

I believe that local homeschoolers know better than anyone else just what we need to successfully homeschool in our home states. When HSLDA over-reaches and insists that it knows what we need better than we do, the consequences are long term.  And we have to live with them long after their attorneys have flown back home.

This is not an organization that embodies my view of homeschool freedom. And this is why I and others like me (including many Christian families who are former HSLDA members) see this organization as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

[Coming soon: HSLDA's involvement in Mississippi and the potential consequences.]

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Updated: District 13 judge demands info on all homeschoolers

[Scroll down for updates]

There's nothing like a little local homeschool controversy to bring a blogger out of hibernation.  But it is springtime, after all.  [yawn...stretch...coffee]

On Monday, April 4, I was made aware of a court order requested and signed by Chancery Court Judge Joe Dale Walker seeking to obtain the names and addresses of homeschooled children and their parents/guardians in District 13.  District 13 is comprised of Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Simpson and Smith counties.  I live in Simpson County.  After visiting and talking with several people at the courthouse, I learned that not only did he sign this order, he also contacted the Attorney General's office which sent a letter that threatened to arrest local School Attendance Officers (SAOs) if they did not comply with the order within ten days.

[Clarification: (April 11, 2011) Initial reports were that the threat of arrest came from the AGs office.  Although the AG's office did send a letter to the SAOs acknowledging Judge Walker's court order, the AG office's purpose was to advise the SAOs that the judge could find them in contempt of court if they refused to comply with the court order.]

Understandably, the SAOs are upset.  Homeschoolers are upset.  And I'm annoyed, because I was really hoping my "Hi, I'm back!" post would be more, I dunno, about me and not some vigilante judge who wants to shake down my friends.  Anywho...

It's real.  I have a copy of the court order and a copy of the letter the SAOs sent out to homeschooling families in the area informing them of the disclosure.  Here they are for your viewing pleasure:

Court Order signed March 23, 2011

SAO letter sent out on April 1, 2011

There is no mention of a specific court case to which this information pertains, nor is there a general reason given for requesting the information.  Essentially, Judge Walker is demanding the information simply because he wants the information.  But why?

According to courthouse conversations I had on Monday (I'm not sure if I should mention names here, so I won't), the general opinion is that Judge Walker may be attempting to determine which families are legitimately homeschooling and which are using the homeschool statute to circumvent compulsory attendance laws.  The ultimate goal seems to be prosecuting the parents of juveniles who show up in his youth court and who appear not to be receiving legitimate homeschool instruction as well as to flush out other "fake homeschoolers."

I also spoke with others who are officially affiliated with the court and, to the best of my recollection, they confirmed the following:

  • Judge Walker originally contacted the school attendance officers about a month ago and requested that they release the names and addresses of all homeschool students and their parents/guardians to the Youth Court Division of the Chancery Court.  They informed him that handing over that information would be unlawful.
  • Judge Walker contacted the Mississippi Department of Education to request the information.  He was informed by the Office of Educational Accountability that it would be unlawful to provide him with this information without a court order.
  • Judge Walker signed "the Court's own motion" demanding the release of the information on March 23, 2011 (filed March 24).
  • Local SAOs made a personal appeal to Judge Walker to reconsider and rescind the order.  He said no, cited his desire to prosecute truant youths and their parents who are misusing the homeschool laws to hide their under-age drop-outs and expressed his intent to proceed.
  • Local SAOs then received a letter from the Attorney General's office informing them that they'd be arrested they could be held in contempt of court if they defied the order.
  • Local SAOs sent out a letter informing homeschooling families in District 13 of the impending release of their names, their homeschooled children's names and their addresses.
  • Local SAOs were later instructed to remove the names of homeschoolers who are enrolled in any of the six unaccredited private schools (which are legally considered home schools and are casually referred to as cottage schools.) in the area, since those students are considered "legitimately homeschooled" by Judge Walker.
If this is true, perhaps Judge Walker either doesn't know or doesn't care that interviewing, profiling, visiting or otherwise needlessly interfering with homeschool families for the sole purpose of comparing them against an arbitrary, legally non-existent and unenforceable standard with the intent of potentially charging the "failing" parents with a crime is not legal.  

Clearly, the judge is not concerned only with the youths who appear in his court.  Otherwise, why would the court order seek to secure ALL of the names and addresses of homeschoolers in District 13?  By excluding the names of homeschooled students who are believed to be enrolled in cottage schools, he is specifically targeting families who homeschool their own children in their own homes and, one supposes, presuming that they deserve his scrutiny.  

More importantly, what specifically does he intend to do with this information?  That remains to be seen.  If I were a vigilante judge who got my hands on a database of homeschoolers' names and addresses, perhaps I would cross-reference it with past criminal records, DHS cases, driving records, credit histories, tax information, etc.  And if I thought I could get away with it, maybe I'd send someone to your home to interview you and hope that you don't know your legal rights.

I'm not saying that Judge Walker would do those things. But there are many possibilities and none of them are pleasant.  And I'm not saying that there are no "fake homeschoolers" out there.  But they are a small minority for which the lawful majority should not have to sacrifice or submit to unwarranted intrusion.  Prosecute the juveniles for the crimes they've been accused of and leave homeschooling out of it.

While I was at the courthouse Monday, I registered to vote.  Judge Joe Dale Walker's term ends in 2014.

UPDATES:
April 7, 2011: As expected, the Mississippi Supreme Court has issued a stay on all proceedings until Monday, April 18, 2011.  Now, Judge Walker has to explain why he wants the information and put some law behind his justification.  Some speculate that Judge Walker may simply drop his original court order.  If he does, that would be stellar.  If he doesn't, there are pro bono attorneys who are waiting in the wings to help protect the information belonging to those of us who are not affiliated with HSLDA or any other group.

April 8, 2011: Correction: The stay is in effect until the Supreme Court issues a decision in the case, which will likely be after the 18th. The Judge has to submit an answer by the 18th, though.-- Genna McLeod

April 10, 2011: An incredibly simple, boring, one-sided article on the situation was published by the Clarion Ledger today. Way to phone one in, Jimmie Gates.

Side note: Y'all, do yourselves a favor: do not read the asinine comments at the CL (but if you do, be warned: that loud slurping sound--kinda like the one kids make when trying to suck the last drop of soda through a straw--is the sound of uninformed people trying to entice you into a fruitless debate. Just walk away.).  Enjoy this beautiful weather instead.

April 11, 2011: SAOs in Simpson County acknowledged that they received a second letter from the AG's office acknowledging the stay and instructing them (in bold capital letters) not to release any information to Judge Walker.

April 18, 2011: The deadline for Judge Walker to provide an explanation for issuing the court order is tonight at midnight.  We won't actually find out what happened or what comes next until tomorrow, April 19.  But, as soon as we do, I will update it here and post the update on Facebook.

April 19, 2011: Judge Walker did not provide an explanation to the MS Supreme Court before the midnight deadline.  According to my brilliant and helpful sources, the MS Supreme Court will likely interpret this to mean that there was no reason for Judge Walker to request this info.  It is unclear at this time whether the Court will hear from both sides before making a decision.  Either way, it appears that things will go our way.

CORRECTION: New development.  I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say or know, so I will stick to the basics: we don't actually know if the judge provided an explanation, because that information is no longer available. But, we do know that the MS Supreme Court hasn't ruled. It may not be a big deal, and we think we know what is happening, but I'd rather not speculate here.

Instead, we are preparing in case it becomes necessary to make an additional filing on behalf of "the rest of us" (because if you are not an HSLDA member, you are not specifically covered by HSLDA's filing. Fortunately, you don't have to be an HSLDA member to protect your family. Read on.). If you are a homeschooler in District 13, not a member of HSLDA and are interested in protecting your family's information from Judge Walker, contact Genna McLeod at genevieve.esq@me.com. It will cost you nothing. This is a pro bono service provided by MGM Law Group.  Thank you, Genna and Mark!

April 25, 2011: Excellent news! The MS Supreme Court has vacated Judge Walker's court order.  He will not be receiving any information regarding homeschoolers in District 13 unless they are appearing in his court as a part of a case.

The end!
---
[Necessary disclaimer: Since we haven't done this in a while, I'd like to remind you all that the views expressed here are my opinions.  I am not an attorney or a non-attorney spokesperson.  I have never played one on TV.  I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  Nothing in this post, before and after this sentence--or on this entire blog for that matter--should be misconstrued as legal advice.  Because it's not.  Because I'm not an attorney.  If you need clarification or legal advice, consult an attorney (i.e. not me).]

[Begrudging acknowledgement: I am aware that H$LDA's lawyers are on this.  It warms the cockles of my heart to include them in the first real post I've put up here in two years. /snark]

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Spam Alot

There has been Alot of Spam on this blog since my last post.  (Image HT: Sue G.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Breaking the silence, Katie comes full circle

Some time ago, I mentioned that part of the reason we began homeschooling was because my older daughter, Katie, struggled with learning disabilities and social phobia. During her first year of kindergarten, she stopped speaking at school and didn't utter a word within the walls of a classroom for the four and a half years that followed. We soon learned that it's a coping mechanism called selective mutism, and as you can imagine, it makes learning in a classroom setting and forming meaningful friendships very difficult.

When we removed Katie from public school at the end of her third grade year, most of her teachers were supportive of our decision. After all, we had done everything we knew to do: we sought the help of various therapists and specialists; we attended parent-teacher conferences: we tracked her progress and updated her IEP; we spent countless hours reteaching and completing school work at home; and we kept enrolling her in school each fall with the hopes that this would be the year she'd start talking.

Her teachers made adaptations to her work and the classroom to accommodate her as best they could. One suggested that Katie learn sign language so they could communicate with one another non-verbally, but we were afraid it would become a crutch and actually cause her to withdraw from us (whom she spoke to regularly at home) rather than encourage her to interact at school. Another insisted that Katie was profoundly autistic and attempted to have her moved into a self-contained special education classroom, which we fought successfully. The school even set up an afternoon home-study program to encourage Katie to talk in a familiar setting (but that didn't work, either). When it became apparent that Katie wasn't making sufficient progress socially or academically, I knew it was time to try home education. That was seven years ago.

Last week, we visited my parents in the Mississippi Delta. My mother teaches at the school Katie last attended and had invited my mother-in-law to speak to her class about birds (My mother-in-law knows everything there is to know about bluebirds.). We brought Katie and Dagny along for the experience. After all, Dagny had never even been inside a classroom before (and, by the way, she reports that she doesn't care for it, either.). And, of course, since many of Katie's former teachers ask my mother about her often, I was anxious to see if Katie would be able to move past her old fears and finally talk to these people. After all, they'd worked with her for years but had never heard her voice.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I delivered my usual "mind your manners" speech to the girls. Since Katie still gets visibly awkward and uncomfortable in new situtaions, her list of reminders includes 1.) don't contort your face, 2.) look at the person who is talking to you, 3.) don't smack yourself in the forehead (as in "I coulda hadda V-8," which she does when she mentally freezes up or doesn't know how to respond to someone), and 4.) keep your hands in your pockets if you feel nervous. Despite her discomfort, she enjoys being around people (especially adults) and is willing to learn how to cope with--or at the very least mask--her anxiety. When I imagine how she feels inside during those quirky moments, I think she's awfully brave.

Speaking of quirky, I had a list of reminders for my mother as well. Those included 1.) don't pressure Katie to talk, 2) try not to make a big deal out of it if she does talk, 3.) if she's standing right there, don't talk about her like she's in another room...which my mom does a lot, 4.) resist the urge to rescue her by finishing her sentences or interpreting for her, and 5.) no matter how emotional this might become, absolutely, positively no crying.

As it turns out, all that worrying was for nothing. Katie seemed almost effortless. She hugged, spoke to, and even initiated conversation with all of her former teachers and assistants. The shocked (but pleased) comments didn't phase her at all, and looks on their faces were priceless. I could tell that she was genuinely happy to be there.

I, however, was a nervous wreck. I was so focused on her and what was happening that I kept forgetting to introduce Jack and Dagny (but, I did remember to keep my hands in my pockets, not make faces and allow others to finish their own sentences ...that's good, right?).

I'm not sure if she realizes the significance of that day or if it was more important to me that she go back to the place that used to paralyze her as a little girl and show them what a smart young lady she has become. There have been so many hurdles, but this was by far one of the biggest.

As we walked out of the building to the parking lot, I asked Kate if she enjoyed seeing her old school again. She thought about it for a moment and said, "It looks exactly the same on the outside, but the heart of it has changed." Considering how much she has changed, I thought that was a rather powerful statement. And at that moment, I realized just how far she had come.