|Tattered colorful toy wheel with statue of children behind it.|
When I think of a pinwheel (which, I admit, I rarely do) it's not so much a feeling of childhood innocence I get but, rather, the sweet simplicity and reliance on an outside force to move it - like a child. I think, because pinwheels are often used as a prop in storytelling to denote childhood innocence specifically when that innocence is going to be manipulated or completely mutilated, I have come to see them more as a warning about childhood innocence.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is also Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month as well as Autism Acceptance Month. [A list of awareness dates can be found HERE] In my life, these have played an important role and I find it simply neat that they choose to be together in April, when my mom also has a birthday. She too has played an important role in my life and is the reason child abuse prevention, sexual assault prevention, and autism acceptance are major players in my world.
My mom is an unusual mom. Not surprising, she is an unusual woman and they make unusual moms. She herself struggled with a not-so-typical brain back in the days when nobody was talking openly or thoughtfully about autism or synesthesia or schizophrenia or any of the other variety of diagnosis professionals have flirted with for mom. Also, she was a “strange” child at a time when smacking kids around was almost expected, and unusually harsh abuse was kept quiet. And sexual abuse? Well, as my grandma said when mom told her I had been sexually abused by my step dad, “These things don't have to end a marriage, I can pay for her to go to boarding school.” Sort of explains why grandma and grandpa stayed together till the day he died and mom lived away from home from the age of fifteen.
What on earth does my mom growing up in an abusive environment with an autistic brain have to do with pinwheels? I myself had no idea until just this moment.
Pinwheels for Prevention was started in 2008 by Prevent Child Abuse America. The idea is to shift our thinking and actions around child abuse prevention. Rather than publish and post pictures of abused children with copy that begs us to care, which we do, overwhelming us to the point of being unable to think of good ideas that might make change, Pinwheels for Prevention asks us to focus on our community and any actions we can take to prevent abuse before it happens.
This brings me back to my mom.
My mom cared so much about becoming a mom and doing it with fairness and love. I think it's in her soul, but growing up in a home that treated her and her siblings in abusive and unfair ways had her hiding in a cubbyhole making clear and specific plans to be better than that. My mom was able to bear two live children, me and my sister, and one son who didn't make it. Then for health reasons she had to have a hysterectomy at the young age of twenty-three. And that is when she began to adopt and otherwise open our home to others. Children from homes of abuse, children with disabilities and dysfunctions, children in need of fairness and love. Fairness and love that was not offered in their homes or in their communities. These people became our family.
My mom wasn't able to prevent the abuse that had happened before my adopted siblings and temporary friends stayed with us, but she was able to help everyone understand how these things happen, what to do to heal ourselves, and – importantly – how to break the cycle. For some of us (like me and my siblings) this is not new news, that there is a cycle of abuse and that we must take action to break it. For my mom, this was horrible wonderful news. Horrible, because she had to contend with the mistakes she herself had made before seeing the cycle, and wonderful because something could be done and she would do it.
Perhaps the hardest most wonderful time in our lives so far was during those years of hard lessons, introspection, walking away without knowing where to go, seeing my mom make it all up out of thin air, necessity, and creativity.
My mom was planting pinwheels for prevention. She was focusing on her vision where all children grow up surrounded by belief in them, raising the bar, fairness, love, and support. For my brothers who were on the autism spectrum, this was easy for my mom at home but impossible in the community. Schools, neighbors, grocery store shoppers, parents at the park; everyone in the world treated mom and my siblings like problems, dangers, or people to pity. This, my mom and so many other special needs parents have said, is the hardest part of raising children who are disabled or cognitively challenged. So my mom took us out into the world, often, but always carefully and cleverly. She knew that the world would not change if we hid away, and she knew we would not become independent happy people if we hid away, and so her pinwheels were us and the attitude she practiced. “We stretch people,” she likes to say, it helps her take the time to explain and be patient with others.
Mom's diligence and consistence with me and my siblings worked wonders. We have all grown in ways professionals and statistics argue against, and we are happy.
Around the globe my mom plants pinwheels. She works and speaks and writes and performs, always with a meaningful message and specific actions to be taken that include and care about everyone; but especially children. Especially children with extra or special needs.
Children are like pinwheels in a way. They are reliant on outside forces to spin them and unable to choose which outside forces and in which way. Unlike pinwheels, though, children are alive. They matter more. We have so much power with children; they need us to care about their reliance on us.
The pinwheel is a symbol. And I think it is a good one. Planting pinwheels can remind us of our role in the lives of children; whether we have our own or not.
We don't all have to be extreme like my mom to plant pinwheels, but we can all plant pinwheels. We can focus on a vision of the world where all children grow up surrounded by belief in them, raising the bar, fairness, love, and support. And we can make shifts with that in mind. We can consider our attitude in the grocery store when a parent is struggling with their child, reach out to an overwhelmed mom or dad we know and do something to help: make a meal, watch children for them while they nap, simply tell them we see them and point out something great you noticed they did. Notice great things they do. It is not hyperbole to say that these shifts can change the course of a life, can actually help an overwhelmed parent not become an abusive one. And where abuse exists and does happen, being a safe space rather than a closed off judgmental one can mean a child reaches out. These are pinwheels we can plant.
Also, we can plant pinwheels. Perhaps get together with a child in your life and make them out of materials you have at home. Get creative, plant pinwheels, create connections.
Or, adopt a bunch of kids and be amazing and teach the world to do the same like my mom does.
Whichever you prefer.