October 10, 2018

Signs of a Bigger Problem

You know what really gets me? Trying to explain to our kids why some people break the rules. It goes against everything we teach them. Yes, I know they are just signs and the jury is out regarding their effectiveness. Clearly though, those abusing the rules think they need to place their signs in illegal places to win, and are willing to do so.

I reached out to Amy Chen, Mike Dunn, and Angie Simpson on Twitter and by email (twice) asking them to commit to removing these signs. It seemed like a reasonable request. Ms. Chen and Mr. Dunn have not responded. Ms. Simpson informed me during a conversation that she did not have time due to work and family. This is something I can personally relate to, especially in these many months of campaigning. Yet as candidates and, if elected, as board members, we will have a great deal of responsibilities and choosing not to follow certain rules because they hinder personal goals shouldn’t enter the equation.

Additionally, we aren’t talking about the occasional sign inadvertently misplaced by a well-meaning supporter. That happens in every campaign and it’s understandable. No - we are talking about the clearly organized and coordinated effort to place signs illegally in the areas most visible to the public - parks, the sides of busy streets, the entrances to popular shopping destinations, etc. Have you noticed that the numbers drastically increase on Saturday mornings when the city office is closed and unable to address reports?

I hear from many supporters frustrated at the blatant violation of sign regulations and who think we should just put our signs out there too at this point. I get it. Trust me - I really, really get it. This is how politics gets dirty. Rules are broken and values are ignored in the name of winning. The problem for me is that it’s just not who I am at my core. This isn’t leading by example. This isn’t the person that will credibly teach my kids about respecting the rules.

And let’s be clear, this issue is bigger than just sign regulations. Setting aside that some candidates have also struggled with candidate forum requirements and ballot designations, the blatant disregard for our community norms goes to a much more troublesome and disappointing issue. The willingness to intentionally and repeatedly break clear sign regulations in our city is indicative of the type of board members these individuals will be. Board policies and by-laws, state laws (Brown Act anyone?)…these rules will not be followed when they do not work to the advantage of these individuals. It’s a sense of entitlement and “above the rules” thinking that bothers me deeply and that we try extremely hard to teach our kids is wrong and unjust. So no, I won’t be placing my signs illegally and I will continue to set a good example for our kids. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I will make a good board member - you may disagree with me on certain topics but integrity and honesty happen to be really important to me. And, yes, I know there will be a handful of individuals who post negative comments in response to that statement. I knew that going into this. I’m also very secure in the person that I am and I act accordingly.

Your personal support of my candidacy and vision for our school district and our community is extremely meaningful and important. If you would like to help me get on the board, let’s show that this can be done the right way. Here’s how you can help with signs: Get out there and ask those in high traffic areas (homes and businesses) if they are willing to display a sign for a candidate who wants to restore our community’s trust in our board and lead by example. If you have kids, bring them with you when you ask and show them how it’s done! Let’s get these true representations of support out there for our community to see.

April 30, 2018

National Autism Awareness Month

As Ed and I sat on the couch filling out one of the bazillion forms for Johnny’s assessment, we looked over at each other. Without saying a word, we knew the results from the pattern of our answers.

Call it mother’s intuition, but I had known since Johnny was a toddler. He didn’t exhibit all the typical signs of autism spectrum disorder - heck, at that time, I didn’t even know there was something called “autism spectrum disorder”. He wasn’t lining up toys, he was very social, and he loved to cuddle. When I asked one of his pediatrician’s about my concerns, he looked at me like I was a crazy mom. We heard from many - “he’s just a boy” or “he’ll grow out of it”. I questioned myself and my abilities as a mother as a result, yet still…I knew.

I knew in the moments we had to race home before the fireworks started because he would scream in utter pain, in the moments when I would sit and watch a movie with him in a quiet room during holiday family gatherings that overstimulated him, in the horrible moments when he couldn’t have dental work done because of his intense anxiety, in the moments where I had to buy 7 pairs of the exact same pants because they were the only kind he could stand having on his skin, and in the moments when I noticed he got along better with younger kids…I knew.

As he entered elementary school, there were more signs. That’s what happens with “high-functioning” kids - the differences among peers become more pronounced as they get older. Among other things, he began what we now know is called stimming, which is often used as a way to calm oneself. Turns out that everyone stims - ever bitten your nails or tapped your pencil repeatedly on a table? Those on the spectrum just have more pronounced versions of this type of behavior. Our Johnny boy scratched his face/flapped his hands, made animal/baby noises…or super cool sound effect noises.

The biggest thing I have learned is that if you’ve met one kid on the spectrum, you’ve met one kid on the spectrum. No two kids on the spectrum are alike, which is why they now classify many things (such as Aspergers) as “autism spectrum disorder”.

“High-functioning” is honestly an odd place to be. Johnny isn’t in special education classes as he does not yet need academic assistance in that sense, but he definitely has to work harder in certain areas of general ed and he has specific social and emotional needs. We learned that people often have overlapping diagnoses - for Johnny, it includes ASD, ADHD, and anxiety. His anxiety causes him to have to work much harder and prepare much longer than most kiddos at things he loves and wants to do, but frankly can’t get to a place where he can do it. As a result, Ed and I have cried (like ugly cried) at what are seemingly little moments in life…the first time Johnny stood on stage with the rest of his class in a school performance, when he decided to give the rock wall a chance at his school’s fall festival and climbed up all of about four feet, and when he put his head in the water of our pool after intense work with his amazing instructor.

When we received the official diagnosis, we decided it was not something we would try to hide. We didn’t ever want it to be seen as something negative, because we firmly believe that it’s simply a part of who Johnny is as a person. This was the best decision we could have made. Those who do not have experience with someone on the spectrum cannot be expected to get it. By being open, we are able to educate others who can then understand him and other kids with struggles/needs better…and also see past some of the things that appear different to all of his amazingness.

Speaking of which - Johnny is the MOST imaginative person I have ever met in my entire life. He is able to create worlds that the minds of others simply aren’t capable of creating. He is kind and loving - he truly cares about other people, even if he doesn’t always express it. He cracks us up on a regular basis with his amazing sense of humor and his now infamous dance moves. He gets really excited about little things, which in turn makes us remember to stop and enjoy the little things in life. And he tries really, really hard to accomplish things he wants to do.

He has also changed us as parents and people. As a type A personality who likes to have order and control in my life, I have had to learn to be much more understanding, flexible, and to pick my battles. It has unquestionably made me a better person and I am thankful that Johnny has changed me in these ways. Ed and I were suddenly dealing with things that parents aren’t just equipped to handle and we had to learn the best ways to support each other because we quickly realized that we deal with struggles as parents in much different ways and that in the midst of caring for your child, other relationships often fall by the wayside. And our amazing daughter Abbie is growing up to be someone who is able to see things in people that others do not see, is able to explain differences in her brother to others who comment/ask questions, and defends and stands up for those seen as “different”.

It is often not apparent to others that Johnny has special challenges, so we have had to quickly get over feeling the stares and judgment of those who think he’s just acting out or lacking in parental guidance. That judgment in moments when he struggles with his emotions or when it appears we are forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do…that was admittedly REALLY hard at first, but I rarely pay any mind to it now because I know that those who judge simply don’t have a basis for understanding. But if I can ask one thing in honor of autism awareness month, it’s this - take a moment to learn about the kids around you and talk to your own kids. I can tell when parents have done so. Johnny has friends at school that get him. They know his little quirks (he still likes to give his buddies bear hugs and regularly talks a mile a minute at a high volume) and they also know his amazing strengths (he often invents the games he and his friends play and can make his buddies crack up). Still, there are many kids that do not understand him and I will be super straight with you…that is extremely difficult. It’s the hardest part as a parent - it’s what keeps us up at night. As parents, we all want to know our children are included and accepted. So, talk with your kids- read them books about kids that have differences, point out that diversity is a positive thing, explain that people’s brains work differently and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, teach kindness, and most importantly - set an example by your own actions and words. I promise you - your life will be positively affected by these amazing kids, too.

February 19, 2018

“Be bold, be respectful, be a leader”

I recently had the opportunity to attend a program with the Ventura County Women’s Political Council. It was an appreciated dose of inspiration. During the program, I had the privilege of listening to the Honorable Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California (the first Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice).

Much of what she spoke about was relevant to issues that our community is facing at this time. She talked about how our strength is in our diversity and that we should surround ourselves with diverse points of view, while remaining respectful to one another. I strongly believe in this viewpoint and see this approach to political discourse as more important now than ever. We live in a varied and dynamic society and must learn to live together and communicate on issues of concern without the anger and resentment that has recently become the hallmark of both our national and local politics. Opposing views and respect should not be mutually exclusive concepts. It is important that we learn to listen to and talk with one another without contempt, and keep in mind that, despite our differences, we are all in this together and should all have an opportunity to be heard.

Her parting words have lingered with me and I am going to let them guide me during my campaign - “be bold, be respectful, be a leader”.

A chance to say thank you

As an added bonus to the morning, I had the much-appreciated opportunity to personally thank current State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. I interned for Senator Jackson when she was a California State Assemblymember in the Capitol while I was in college. Very early on, I observed that she thought about issues in a way many other representatives did not. She was able to identify gaps and anticipated unintended consequences with proposed legislation, and she asked thoughtful and probing questions.

Senator Jackson made a point of speaking one-on-one with her interns, something I was surprised to learn that other representatives did not do. During our discussions, she explained that her legal education taught her to think in this way. I wanted to learn these unique critical thinking skills and use those to benefit and advocate for others; My experience in her office solidified my decision to attend law school.

In each of our lives, there are moments and people that have a lasting impact on us. After so many years, it was great to thank her in person for being one of these people and providing me with this experience. It also reminds me what a big impact we can have on the lives of young people, when we treat them as worthy of our time and recognize what they have to offer to the world.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Jenny Fitzgerald at the Ventura County Women's Political Council

Paid for by Jenny Fitzgerald for CVUSD School Board 2018