The Day a Sea Lion Wanted to Play: Autism Acceptance in Unexpected Places

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We all want to feel happy, connected, and accepted. Sometimes that is found in ways we least expect.

One late winter day my family visited the zoo in Washington, D.C. It was early and we had the underwater viewing area at the sea lion exhibit all to ourselves. My youngest son had on a jacket with contrasting colors and we noticed it seemed to catch the attention of one particularly curious sea lion. I starting recording as the two darted back and forth on opposite sides of the glass, and she followed his every move. When my son realized what was going on he joyfully cried out, “She likes me!”

My son is *Autistic, and social interaction as well as playing with other children is sometimes hard and complicated. Some research has shown that children with Autism and other disabilities are actually  2-3 times more likely to be bullied by their peers. They also often find it easier to relate to animals and can connect with them more easily than with people.

My son was thrilled to find a playmate that day and to feel free to be himself. It came so easily. All the sea lion wanted was to play, and nothing else mattered; not social rules, not appearance. Just fun.

We learned later that the sea lion was named Sophie, and she was famous for interacting with her visitors. She accepted all potential playmates equally, but I would wager that few were as enthusiastic as my youngest son. As their game of follow-the-leader continued, he exclaimed, “THIS IS THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!”
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When Public Figures Mess Up

In the past few days and weeks several public figures have had damaging personal information come to light. I’m talking about several different situations, not just Ashley Madison revelations. Some of these transgressions are seemingly worse than others, and some actually hurt people. I don’t make light of that. However, the media is always thrilled to have these juicy stories. Details of people’s private lives and personal failings are then trotted out to the world for their entertainment value. Commenters proceed to swarm all over the Internet and some are positively gleeful, saying, “This is great!” or “Haha, BUSTED!” There are cries of “Hypocrite!” Many are brutal, saying all kinds of cruel, crude, profane statements, even wishing them physical harm. When these fallen public figures happen to be Christians the screaming gets worse, and all Christians are painted with the same brush. People rally to stand in self-righteous judgement, seemingly forgetting their own flaws.

I understand that some of these individuals are experiencing a backlash because of their own previous statements. They have stood in harsh judgement of others and hurt people with their words. The irony is not lost on me. I hope maybe they learn something when they reflect upon the reality that they, too, are flawed. That being said, I still couldn’t believe some of the things that have been said online to those individuals. Reading the comments on a well-known You-Tuber’s page made me physically ill and brought tears to my eyes (but to be fair so did the news of what he is alleged to have done).

What I keep thinking over and over again in my mind is this: All humans are flawed, all humans make mistakes. At times some of us even do horrible things. Ultimately ALL humans on some level are hypocrites. Each one of us has a gap between what we say we believe/the person we want to be versus the way we actually live. And we all must ultimately face the consequences for our own mistakes or hypocrisy. But do those consequences warrant being subjected to public cruelty? (Click here to see a conversation about this subject on my Facebook page.)

Why is it that we take such joy in seeing other people fail? Why does it make us feel so much better about ourselves? And how is it that the simple disconnect of a screen between us and another person allows us to intentionally inflict hurt upon a fellow human being? Is it because we think they are so deserving of the Scarlet A, or the stoning? It seems we have not evolved very far from colonial days when a rule breaker would be placed in the courtyard stocks so that others could throw rotten fruit at them, instead of simply allowing someone to face judgement in the court system.

I make lots of mistakes too. There are things in my past that I regret. I have also stood in judgment and been harsh to others. But I want to do better in my own life and in the way I treat people.

I hope I never rejoice in the downfall of another human being. I may be relieved that they are no longer continuing down the wrong path, and I might nod understandingly at the fact that they are bearing the consequences for their own poor choices. I will probably even be relieved that they are brought to justice. But I do not wish to rejoice in it, or participate in lynch-mob mentality. I won’t use it as an opportunity to further tear someone apart by kicking a man when he’s down, so to speak. There are better ways to stand up for what is right. There are better ways to achieve justice.

The media and harsh commenters and vilifiers seem to forget that there’s often collateral damage… family members, spouses, and innocent children. Your words wound them as well.

Remember folks, we’re all in this together. Let’s be kind.

(This post was edited to add the following: “I understand that some of these individuals are experiencing a backlash because of their own previous statements. They have stood in harsh judgement of others and hurt people with their words. The irony is not lost on me. I hope maybe they learn something when they reflect upon the reality that they, too, are flawed.”)

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Bill’s Message to Reba McEntire (He is her NUMBER ONE FAN!)

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Remember our awesome friend Bill? He does so much to brighten the lives of so many that I thought it would be nice if we did something for HIM. As I mentioned before, Bill is a HUGE fan of Reba McEntire. His birthday is May 13 and what he wants more than anything is simply for Reba to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Bill recorded this video for Reba to tell her how much he loves her and that he is her “NUMBER ONE FAN!” (He also has strong words of warning for anyone who would mess with “my girl Reba.”)  We posted his message here in the hopes that Reba might see it. Please share it if you want to help spread the word, & thank you for watching his video!

Also, please share any birthday greetings you have for Bill in the comments. It would mean the world to him. More than anything I wish my wonderful friend a birthday FULL of joy.

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When Pretty Dresses Lead to Ugly Actions: The Lilly for Target debacle

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Four months ago it was announced that Lilly Pulitzer would be releasing a product line at Target, and the Internets went wild over the news. Apparently flowered sundresses are a Big Deal.

Today at 8am when Target stores opened it was the PEOPLE that went wild. They displayed selfishness and savagery in horrifying fashion.

Word quickly spread on the Internet again, but this time it wasn’t positive. Tales were told of pushing, shoving, hoarding and cursing. Headlines said things like, “Shoppers stampede for Lilly Pulitzer at Target.” Typical comments on Twitter were:

@abigailnoelleee: If you bought items just to resell online for your own personal profit I basically hate you.

@KnoxvillePains: I sincerely believe there should have been a police presence at the #LillyforTarget opening day. I have seen terrible things.

@tomandlorenzo: .@TargetStyle needs to stop humiliating its costumers and plan these collaborations a little better.  

My kind friend Eleonora Link just happened to be there shopping for other items and was appalled at what she witnessed. She wrote about it on Facebook this morning and I share with her permission:

“I have never seen such rude, obnoxious, selfish people. Seriously… what have we become when we accept this behavior of grabbing, and I mean GRABBING, grabbing cute pink/green sundresses!? I felt so sorry for a mother and daughter I witnessed in the middle of this who missed out. The girl appeared about 9 and was almost in tears early into the sale and already disappointed she did not get anything. She commented to her Mom how rude a lady was who tore a garment right of the girl’s hand with no apologies… just sick!”

Eleonora continued, “What are we teaching our kids about appropriate behavior when we witness ADULTS behave so greedy and show such selfish, rude, outrageous behavior!!!”

It’s a SUNDRESS, people.

The individuals that my friend saw act so selfishly had loaded their carts FULL of items, and then bragged how they had collected 5-10 different sizes and intended to sell them all on eBay. While I admit that is selfish, they have the right just like any of us to purchase those items and even to try and make money. But just because they have the right doesn’t make it right! What makes me most upset is HOW they got those items into their cart… pushing, cursing, and even snatching an item out of the hands of a 9-year-old girl. COME ON! And then gloating over their “accomplishment” and how much money they are going to make.

A totally separate issue is how Target failed to enforce appropriate crowd control measures. Tales are being told of employees enforcing a “one item per style per customer” with some shoppers, but not with others who were allowed to literally clear the entire contents of racks and shelves. There should have been clear boundaries set in place and announced before the sale began, and then enforced both in the aisle and checkout line. Target seemed completely unprepared for this. Maybe they just underestimated people’s greed and selfishness.

This type of behavior is nothing new. Greed is a theme that plays out across the centuries. Yet it never ceases to amaze and sadden me when people place the value of things and personal gain above the value of their fellow human beings.

SHAME on you, human people. For SHAME. Today I am embarrassed to be one of you.

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Embrace What Makes You Unique: Why we need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore

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From Seriously Not Boring: “Embrace What Makes You Unique~ Why we need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore” by Jennifer Roberts Bittner 

Embrace what makes you unique! I have long held tight to that sentiment. That is the heart of this website’s title, “Seriously Not Boring.” I LOVE people who are “different.” People who offer diverse and interesting experiences, personalities, and skills. People who live passionately, love deeply, and create freely. Who see things in this world that the rest of us miss. Who refuse to conform to the rigid standards imposed upon them by the expectations of society. People who realize that beauty and strength can be found in the midst of struggle and loss. People whose different abilities give them a unique perspective of the world around them. It makes the world such an interesting place!

I think that was why I liked Draven Rodriguez SO much, although I never told him. His glorious creation for his High School yearbook was inspiring. To me it was the epitome of “Be Yourself, Be Different.” For those of you who don’t know the story, he posed with his cat on a laser background in an effort to create an UNFORGETTABLE yearbook photo. He succeeded, and the internet went wild. Sadly, not everyone was kind. Some mocked his photo and wrote rude, cruel things about him. Others praised Draven and his bravery. The school ultimately declined to allow the photo in the student section, but the Principal offered a compromise. She and her chihuahua held a special photo shoot with Draven and his cat to help raise awareness for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the image was featured on her page.

I thought his whole experience was incredible, and was inspired by Draven’s tenacity and creativity. His picture not only created a stir, it also made a difference. Draven was also involved in anti-bullying campaigns. What we know of him shows an interesting, caring young man. He seemed like someone I would have liked to meet, someone I would have been friends with in high school. I was proud of him and didn’t even know him. I saw it as a victory for our people: the different ones. Draven knew that he had become an internet meme, but I wonder if he knew how many people, like me, he had truly inspired with his picture.

Months later the world learned the sad news that Draven had died of suicide. And I wept. A LOT. Several times. I wept for a boy I never knew but felt like I knew. I wept for the world because we had lost yet another unique, sensitive soul. And I wept with Draven for the pain that he faced. I wept for myself for the times that I felt alone and different. And I wept for my son, who has Asperger’s, for the moments he feels the same way. I wept out of fear that he will face the same cruelty as Draven, simply because he is different. My son is proud of his unique brain, as am I, but insensitive, intolerant treatment by others can turn pride into shame.

Aside from being mocked on the internet I don’t know what specific struggles Draven faced. I don’t know if his troubles came from without or from within. But I do know that the world is not always kind to those who are different. I also know that quite often those who are the most creative can feel the most conflicted inside. Whatever his struggles, I grieve for what he suffered, and I grieve for our loss. The world is less interesting without him in it. Please let me be clear: I do not celebrate how he died, but I celebrate how he lived prior to that.

After I learned of his death I spent the rest of the weekend with my heart hurting, thinking about all the children who feel mocked and isolated. Thinking about how cruel the world can be. Thinking about all those people who are afraid to show their true inner sleeves for fear of how others would react.

And THEN… Graham Moore. Oh my heavens what amazing timing. Just a day after we learned of the suicide of a boy who was “different”, this man stands on a stage to accept an ACADEMY AWARD and tells the world just what it needed to hear: “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here,” he said. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.” And I started crying again. Oh Draven, his words were for you!

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