Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: The Fosters 5x06 "Welcome to the Jungler"

[Image is: The word CARE with other synomyms for it within each of the letters.]

Stef: Did you know that dropping out of school is illegal?  
Lena: California is a compulsory education state.  You have to go to school until you’re 18.
Jesus: What?  So you’re gonna arrest me?
Stef: If I have to.
Tonia:  Oh, perfect.  I’m so glad we’re starting off this episode with yet another threat of institutionalization. <– Sarcasm
Tara: Completely jarring.  Completely unrealistic.  Completely unnecessary.
Jesus: [Looking to Lena] Mama.  Seriously?
Lena: The only way you can drop out is if you pass a proficiency test.
Jesus:  Okay, fine.  Then I’ll just do that.  
Lena: Okay.  Then, you can take the test at school tomorrow.
Jesus: Great.  Can I go now? [Jesus leaves at Moms’ nod]
Tonia: This whole conversation is so strained, and Moms have Jesus practically backed up against the kitchen counter.  
Tara: So, we’re going from no school for months to a high-stakes proficiency test?  This is unfair even without factoring in the brain injury.
Lena:  Thank you.
Stef: Yeah.  I will be your bad cop any day, woman.  What if he passes the test?
Lena: He won’t.  He’s having problems with memory and comprehension.  The test is gonna show that and we can use it to make our case in getting him an educational aide.
Tonia:  Wow. Okay.  So according to some old college papers I found from an intro to SPED class where we learned about TBI, to be considered school-ready, Jesus would have to be able to attend to an academic task for 10-15 minutes.  This proficiency test?  3.5 hours long.  (With no accommodations, because Jesus has not even been evaluated yet.)
Basically, Moms are both abusing their power positions (Lena in education, and Stef in law enforcement) to manipulate Jesus into doing what they want him to do.
(Also, for reference?  We have seen Lena alter Jude’s proficiency test to get into Anchor Beach.  Knowing how far she was willing to go for Jude, when she had only just met him, it’s that much more painful knowing that Lena is willing to send Jesus into this test with no accommodations and zero time to study.)
She is trying to sabotage him here, and it sucks. 
Tara: They went right for the sabotage here, instead of having another conversation with Jesus.  They don’t want to deal with his feelings, they simply want him compliant. :( 
Also, just because Dr. Bayfield the orthopedic surgeon has a friend whose son has a 1:1 aide, this does not mean that Jesus definitely needs one.  At this point, he has not even been assessed yet.  Let the professionals decide this.
And it is all kinds of exploitative to use Jesus’s (at this point perceived) deficits against him to get the outcome you desire.  Moms want to intentionally overwhelm, overload and fatigue Jesus’s injured brain to strengthen their case for an aide. 
1) Jesus has not been in school for months.
2) He is given no time to study.
3) According to old-school SPED handout:
Regular classroom placement
- for students whose cognitive, physical and behavioral limitations have resolved, regular classroom placement can be an emotional support and represents a significant level of recovery.
-CAUTION: A return to regular classroom without any level of support should be done with caution and is not recommended as an initial placement.
^Essentially, this is what Moms are doing.
4) The goal of going back to school after a brain injury is initially less about proving knowledge and more about learning strategies and coping skills.  Academic success is not the point - not right away.
 Stef: A few days ago, you didn’t think he was ready to go back to school.
Lena: Well, a couple days ago, I hadn’t threatened to send him away.  I don’t think being trapped in the house is doing him or us any good.  
Stef: He can still refuse to go, you know?
Lena: Well if he DOES, I think you SHOULD arrest him!  I’m serious!  It’s time for a little tough love around here!
Tonia:  I’d settle for regular love around here, Lena.  Because instead of sitting down with Jesus again for another conversation and really hearing him out, you’re jumping to manipulation and threats of arrest???  
Also, this is a moment where having nondisabled writers on the show really comes through.  Why?  Because we know, based on what Lena says here that she is thinking about her previous threat to institutionalize Jesus, but we don’t see Jesus talking about or thinking through how Lena’s threat impacted him.  We get really obvious insight into Lena and her thought process as the parent, but almost none from Jesus, who the threat was directed at.
This is not something someone just gets over in a day.  Jesus will carry this with him for the rest of his life.  And I think it’s irresponsible (especially if you are going to include such egregious ableism as repeated mentions of shock treatment as a legitimate option and threatening your son with institutionalization for having a TBI) to not overtly convey the harm such words inflict on the people they are used against.
Tara: To continue with Tonia’s conversation about how we do not see how Lena’s words impact Jesus… I would argue that we are seeing the impact, to some extent.  What stood out to me in this episode was Jesus Being Good.  We saw no strong emotion from him at all, which is notable on this show.  To me, this could be misinformed writing - but it also could be a tried-and-true coping strategy of a person used to impermanence.  Making a conscious choice to be unaffected.  
Can we also talk about the fact that Lena seems to be ready for Jesus to go back to school because she is fed up with him?  :/
And regarding the whole arrest thing?   Jesus is more vulnerable interacting with law enforcement with intersecting identities as both an ethnic minority and disabled person.  Disabled people make up a third to half of all people killed by police.  The fact that Moms would so cavalierly discuss this seems super out-of-character.
Jesus: And now they won’t even let me see Emma!  Which is like, total bull!  Because besides this with you, and her, I have no life!  You know, I think what makes them so mad is that I’m not going back to school.  But I have a plan!  Why don’t we turn this into a business?  You know, making tree houses!
Tonia:  I’m glad Jesus has someone he can talk to about how he’s really feeling. With all the other kids at school and Moms at work, it’s easy to see why Jesus is feeling so isolated.  And with all this time to mull over what Moms said, it’s no wonder he’s coming up with alternate plans.
Also, Moms are so mad that Jesus isn’t going back to school, but, reminder that when Jesus was ready to talk about it, they kept ignoring him and putting it off.  They didn’t even bring it up with his doctor, which was their reason for putting off a discussion in the first place.
Gabe: Uh, I mean, shouldn’t you just finish high school?
Jesus: No, I can get my GED just like you did.
Gabe: Yeah, in prison.  Look, I wouldn’t do anything like I did.  I mean, I made a ton of mistakes when I was your age.  I think your moms are just trying to protect you, you know?
Tonia:  I actually really find myself relating with Gabe here.  I’ve been in that position where you care about a kid but you don’t want to say the wrong thing for fear of not being allowed in the kid’s life anymore.  That being said, Gabe, abuse does not equal protection.
Jesus: Do you think you made a mistake with Ana?  You know, like, not trying to be with her?
Gabe: Yeah.  Yeah, all the time.
Jesus: Do you ever think about about getting back together?
Gabe: [scoffs] She’s with Mike.
Jesus: Yeah, but they’re not, like, married.
Gabe: Here’s the thing.  Choices you make today can stay with you your whole life.  And as far as Ana goes do I wish it had been different?  Yeah, I do.  She was my first love.  Maybe the only one I’ll ever have.  But it’s too late.  And you don’t wanna end up carrying around all that regret.  Trust me.
Tonia:  The first person Jesus talked about in this conversation was Emma.  She is really on his mind here (and why wouldn’t she be, as one of the only consistent people in his life?)  Things undoubtedly feel really shaky with Moms right now and they have felt really shaky with Emma until recently.  Jesus is just trying to figure out what to do to keep the people around him there.  And not to leave, like they all seem to want to.
Jesus:  Ah, hey!
Ana: [covers her engagement ring]  Hi!
Jesus: What’s up?
Ana: Is, um, Mariana here?
Jesus: Oh.  Uh, actually no.  She’s…not home yet.  
Ana: [disappointed] Oh.  Okay.
Tonia:  It always strikes me as strange that Ana shows zero interest in talking to Jesus one-on-one.  (Same goes for Gabe and Mariana.)  It’s like, they will if they have to, but only if they have to.)  I can’t help but feel for Jesus here, especially as Ana doesn’t clarify she wants to talk to them both together, so it just comes off as her not wanting to talk to Jesus.  
It’s also more than a bit irksome that Ana has joined the ranks of people who are clearly uncomortable around Jesus.
Tara: To be fair, Jesus hasn’t been willing or able to build the kind of relationship Ana and Mariana have.  And some relationships are just awkward - not all bio parent/child reunions are perfect.
Jesus: Uh, can I ask you a question…about…Gabe?
Ana: Sure.
Jesus: Do you still, like, have feelings for him?
Ana: What do you mean?
Jesus: Well, I know you’re with Mike.  And he’s a great guy.  But IF you still think about Gabe.  Well, I mean, he…still thinks about you.
Ana: Uh…  How do you know that?
Jesus: He…told me.  He said that you were the only woman that he’s ever loved.
Tonia:  I’d imagine that every adopted kid plays the “what ifs” through in their heads.  And given that Jesus currently has “no life” other than helping Gabe and trying not to step a toe out of line so Moms won’t send him away or arrest him, it makes sense that he would gravitate toward playing matchmaker for Gabe and Ana.  He knows what it’s like not to be told the whole truth, too, so of course he wants the people around him to have all the information they need on a subject.  And I’d hazard to guess that, for Jesus, love is the most important subject there is.
[Mariana walks in from school, sees Ana]
Mariana: Oh!  What are you doing here?
Ana: I just was in the neighborhood and I thought I’d come by to say hi.
Mariana: [touched] Oh.  Well, hi.
Ana: Hi.
Tonia: Keep holding onto that engagement ring for all it’s worth, Ana.  A little awkward for the kids to see it now that Jesus has confessed Gabe’s undying love for you, isn’t it?
Also, it still touches Mariana (and Jesus) to have Ana stop by even if it is to just say hi.  Because it means they’re thought of.  And being thought of means they’re valued.  And that’s always going to matter to these two.
Jesus:  Hey.  Can I borrow your phone so I can text Emma?
Mariana: No!  I’m already in enough trouble because of you!
Tonia:  The implication here seems to be that Moms are checking Jesus’s phone to be sure he has no contact with Emma.  (As the last we saw him, after Lena yelled at him, he still had his phone.)
Also, Mariana’s “I’m already in enough trouble because of you” sounds a lot like “I’m already in enough trouble because you’re disabled.”  Because if Jesus had found out about the party pre-TBI and invited himself along, they’d both be in trouble, but Mariana wouldn’t be putting the blame back on him for having a seizure.
Tara: So, Mariana still has her phone after their night out?  But Jesus doesn’t have his or is on restriction?  
Mariana: Hey.  What do you think about Scariana Adams Fostgore?
Jesus: For what?
Mariana: My derby name.  
Jesus: Come on. Moms are not gonna let you do roller derby.  Not after what happened to me.  
Tonia:  Jesus speaks the truth.  I mean, we all remember Lena hyperly quizzing Tess and Dean about why they allowed Logan to play football with its high concussion risk.  Chances are very good that they are not going to sign off on Mariana being on the roller derby team.
[Brandon walks in]
Brandon: Hey, uh, so did you guys hear about Ana and my dad getting engaged?
[Jesus and Mariana make eye contact and stand in sync with each other]
Mariana: What?  Seriously? That’s so cool!  I mean…you’re cool with that, right?
Brandon:  Yeah, I-I-I guess.
Jesus: I wonder why Ana didn’t tell us?  She was here earlier. So, are you sure?
Brandon: It’s what AJ told me.  Oh hang on. [Brandon answers his phone, leaves the room.]
Tonia:  Once adopted siblings, soon to be step-siblings too?  Let’s play How Many Ways Can Three Siblings Be Related?
Tara: Yeah, this is odd.
Jesus: I wonder if Ana didn’t tell us because of what I told her?
Mariana: What did you say?
Jesus: That Gabe still loves her.
Mariana: He does?
Jesus: Yeah.  That’s what he said to me.  It’d be kinda cool if they got back together, right? 
Mariana: Not for Mike.
Jesus: Well, yeah, I know.  But I mean, they were each other’s first loves.
Mariana: Okay.  That doesn’t mean that they should be together now.  People rarely ever marry their first loves.
Tonia:  Mariana, your tone is really close to patronizing here.  Please stop.
Tara: It feels weird that Mariana is siding with Mike here.
Jesus: Some do.  As long as they don’t screw it up.
Mariana: Yeah, well, I want to have LOTS of loves before I get married.
Jesus: I don’t.
Tonia:  I kind of love how the traditional way this might play out is flipped.  Mariana wants to have lots of first loves and Jesus only wants one.  I can’t say I’d feel any differently if everything was changed - including me - and I had no control over any of it.  Especially since Jesus’s own relationship with his Moms is shaky enough that even they have threatened to send him away now that he has a TBI…
Jesus: Hey.
Emma: Hey.
Jesus: Look, I’m really sorry about last night.
Tonia:  So, I’m a bit slow on the pickup, but it took me until now (actually recapping) to connect that Jesus is on this train of thought with Emma and talking about “unless they screw it up” because he was afraid he had screwed it up by telling her he really didn’t want to see her anyway.  
Also, we do get the specific time reference here: Jesus’s fight with Emma happened last night.  That means Lena threatened to institutionalize him last night.  :(
Emma: Me, too.  I really want to be supportive…of everything.
Tonia:  This line had me waiting for “but I can’t.”  The “but I can’t never came and the “everything” seems to refer to Jesus’s TBI which is now, officially too much for everyone :(
Tara: Yes, look at her word choice here.  She wants to be supportive, but she’s not supportive currently.
Jesus [flirting]: You mean that?
Emma [smiling]: Yes.
[They kiss]
Emma [still smiling]: Do your moms know that you’re here? [whispers] Did you sneak out?
Tonia:  A few blessed seconds of cuteness and fun.  I’ll take it wherever it comes at this point.
Tara: I love these moments.
Jesus [laughs] No, I had to take a proficiency test.  So that I can legally drop out.  
Emma [clears her throat and looks away]: How’d…you do?
Jesus: Uh, good, I think.  
Tonia:  And just like that, the support’s gone. Did Emma think Jesus was apologizing because he came around to her way of thinking?  Is that why she said she wanted to be supportive?  Right about now it sounds like the conditional way everyone else is ‘supporting’ Jesus, which is heartbreaking.
Tara: This test is written as no big deal, but it is a huge deal.  182 questions (reading, writing and math) plus a writing task.  In 3.5 hours.  Unless you want to split up the reading and writing sections, and sit for another 3.5 hours.  We don’t know if Jesus chose to do this, but regardless, he seems to have a bounty of extra energy post-test.
Cognition takes work after a brain injury.  Attending to a task takes work.  Filtering can be almost impossible.  
I can tell you that for my first few weeks back at school (almost 2 months post-injury), I took one class.  An elective.  Choir.  Something completely non-academic.  And after that one 80-minute class period, I would be completely spent.  Exhausted.  Taking 4-hour-long naps.  
So, although Jesus looks none the worse for wear, the actual, real-life implications for taking a test like this the way he did are serious.  Asking him to take the test at this point was nothing less than abusive.  And doing so would have almost certainly hindered his recovery.
Jesus:  Um, but anyway.  I have something for you.  [Jesus takes out a small box.  Offers it to Emma.]
Emma: [laughs nervously and opens the box to find a wooden ring inside]
Jesus: I know it’s not fancy.  But I made it with Gabe.  
Emma [forces a smile] It’s beautiful.
Jesus [smiles genuinely]:  I wanted to give it to you as a promise ring.  You know, until I can get you something…nicer.  Emma, I don’t want to have any regrets in my life.  And I know that you…  You’re the one.  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.
Emma [is not smiling.  Keeps looking down and away.]
Tonia:  This is like, so devastating.  Because I’ve so been here.  So desperate to keep friends that I gave them things I put my whole heart into. 
It just sucks in this case even more so because the scene plays that Jesus (previously pretty dialed into people’s cues, even in earlier episodes this season) seems to be missing all of them here.  So the scene plays out and you are automatically led to feel sorry for Jesus.  In that he “just doesn’t get” that Emma isn’t on the same page with him.
When the reality is?  He likely can’t even face that possibility, because he needs this to work.  He just can’t face one more rejection.  So he’s pushing forward, and hoping that if Emma hears all of what he has to say, she’ll come around.
Tara:  He wants the certainty that at least one person loves him unconditionally.  That at least one person won’t leave.
Emma: Jesus, we’re only 16. 
Jesus: Well yeah, I’m not saying that we’ll get, like, married right now.
Emma: I’m gonna go to college.  Maybe far away.
Jesus: That’s fine.  I’ll go wherever you’re going.  I can do construction, literally, anywhere.
Emma: So much can change.
Jesus: Not if we don’t let it.
Emma: I want change.  I wanna grow and learn and–
Jesus: Well, good.  ‘Cause we could do all that together!
Emma [hesitantly]: Not if you drop out of school.  Education is extremely important to me.  And I [sighs] can’t really see myself marrying someone who’s willfully throwing that away. [Puts the ring box back in Jesus’s hand.]
Tonia:  Ugh, this is just painful.  Emma, break up with him already!  Not that I want you to, but it’s obvious you want to break up.  Don’t string him along.  Also what did Jesus say when you gave him the box back?  That’s a convenient place to end the scene, so you have the last word.
Tara: While I respect Emma’s values, I don’t agree with her saying that Jesus passing a proficiency test is the equivalent of throwing away his education.
Jesus:  Hey.  So, I’m not gonna drop out of school.
Lena: Hard test?
Jesus: Nah.  I mean…  Well, kinda, I guess.  But no, I ran into Emma, and she won’t marry me if I don’t finish school.  So, I’ll get assessed.  Get a babysitter.  Whatever it takes.
Tonia:  So, a lot of times, I look at things from a writer’s perspective.  From a storytelling perspective.  First of all, we have the writer’s lack of a disabled presence anywhere in that writer’s room.  Because seriously how many more times are we going to be subjected to Lena thinking that Jesus is just dumb as a box of rocks when really, he hasn’t even been assessed yet and went into that 3.5 hour test with zero prep and zero accommodations.
And secondly?  This just strikes me as lazy writing.  Not only have they managed to make the conflict between Moms and Jesus (a huge deal) a nonissue, this also, effectively, lets Moms off the hook for any of their gross behavior, (educational neglect, manipulation, and threatening Jesus.)
It has not escaped me either that the writers have skirted immediately addressing how Jesus feels about Lena’s threat of institutionalization from last episode, or the fact that she is still actively pursuing shock therapy for him.  That is just beyond irresponsible.  
Don’t allow yourself to forget that these things are happening.
Tara: The lack of a disabled voice in the writer’s room is glaring when Jesus’s response to a 3.5 hour test is that it was “kinda” hard.
And yes, totally agree with Tonia - so much of this episode is about what was not said, seen or addressed.
Brandon: Has Ana told you guys about her and my dad yet?
Mariana: No.  I hope Jesus didn’t confuse her.  
Brandon: What do you mean?
Mariana: I guess Gabe told him that he still has feelings for Ana.  And then he told Ana.  I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.  She loves your dad and she obviously said yes.  You know Jesus.  Ever since his TBI, he’s confused.
Brandon: Yeah.
Tonia:  Seriously, can we stop with the continued implication that Jesus doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Even if it is to reassure Brandon, there are other ways to do it that are not claiming Jesus misunderstood something he clearly understood perfectly.  And Brandon agreed with her!  Come on, siblings!  Knock it off.
Tara: ^Dismissive ableism.  Presuming incompetence.  These dangerous notions that dehumanize the disabled make abuse, neglect and institutionalization okay.  None of this is okay.  
Do not let the media be your only source of disability education.  Read and watch content made by disabled people.  We exist as more than plot devices or inspiration p*rn.  We are just as human as you are.  See us.

Review: Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School by Melissa and Eva Shang

So, it's a rare occasion when I get the opportunity to post a positive review on media here.  But believe me when  I say that Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School is a book you definitely want to check out, especially if you have a kid who uses a wheelchair.  (Or, if you use a wheelchair yourself.  Or if you love a good story.  Basically, everybody could benefit from reading this.)

[Image is: several old books lined up on a shelf]
Mia Lee is brand new 6th grade student at the start of this book.  She has a best friend from elementary school, and she is pretty excited and intimidated by all of what sixth grade will bring.

This book is a rare find, in that, its protagonist is disabled and its written by an author with a disability - a middle school girl with Charcot Marie-Tooth disease, a form of Muscular Dystrophy (Melissa Shang) and her older sister Eva.  That authenticity carries through the entire story.  Because while we don't forget that Mia is in a wheelchair, the story does not center around it.  She's not a hero or an inspiration.  Accessibility issues are not nonissues here, as we are with Mia when she goes to a friend's house and navigates stairs.  She does not face ableism that is dropped or unacknowledged by the author.

Mia is a normal kid.  She stands up to bullies, and she also makes bad choices, too, like taking her aide's keys and seriously considering breaking into a locker.  She has a hobby that she likes a lot - making stop-motion videos.  She has friend problems.  She has crushes.  She has a mom that is sometimes overprotective, and with whom she clashes at times culturally.  (Mom speaks Chinese and Mia understands it well but does not speak it well.  Mom loves Chinese food, Mia doesn't.)  We always know how the ableism Mia faces makes her feel, and because of that, the reader never ever gets the sense that it's okay to treat someone the way Mia is treated at times.

This is a very real portrayal of being a middle schooler with a disability.  But it's also funny and light  She has a great relationship with her older sister, too, which was nice to see.

Seriously if you have a 9-12 year old in your life (but especially one with a disability) check out this book with them!  It's not expensive, and I'll even link you, so you know exactly where to find it:

Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School

Monday, August 14, 2017

Parenting Kids with Disabilities: What Ableism Looks Like

Previously on Parenting Kids with Disabilities: Introduction / Accepting Your Child's Diagnosis / Helping Your Kids Accept Their Diagnosis / Accepting a Subsequent Diagnosis / Presuming Competence / Surgery / Adaptive Equipment / Public Interaction / Adapting / What You Can't See (Invisible Aspects of CP) 

Dear Parents,


It's an -ism lesser known
Less understood
Because it's less discussed.
So let's do it.
Let's talk about it.
This ableism -
What is it -

Ableism is

Your kids
With disabilities
Face it every day.

It looks like
Someone mocking
Your child for how
Their disability
Makes them look
Or move
Or speak.

It looks like
Someone dismissing
Your child's word
Because their disability
Means society
Does not take them seriously.

It looks like a pastor
Taking away your child's mobility aids
And insisting
They walk without them.
It's when that pastor
Prays for healing -
For your child to be delivered
Of something that actually shapes
Your child
Into being who they are.

It looks like
A high school kid taking something
Away from your kid
Without consent
And leaving
Because they know
Your kid can't go after them
To get it back.

It's the aide in middle school who
Makes your child feel alienated.
Who reports back to you if
They do something the aide
Does not approve of.
It's making your kid feel
Like there is a double-standard
In place.
One for the other kids,
And one for them,
Because they're disabled.

It's the teacher in elementary school
Who denies your child ribbons on
Track and Field Day,
Because events need to be
Because your child
Has a disability.
They offer stickers instead.
Your child feels slapped.

It's when a therapist mocks
Your child's walk.

It's when your child's "no"
Is disregarded.

It's when your child is called
Lazy.  Uncaring.  Inattentive.
When the reality is
Their disability is

It's when your child's adaptive equipment is
"Too heavy."

It's when your child's negative
(But completely valid)
Are written off as a symptom
And not treated as legitimate.

It's when your child is regarded
As a list of symptoms.
As broken.  As damaged.
As flawed.
As less valuable.
As less than whole.

It's when your child is blamed
For an inability to control their bodies.
When their actions are viewed as
Misbehavior.  As intentionally
When, in fact, they are trying
So hard, always,
To stay in control.

It's when a stranger asks "What's wrong with him?"
Or, "Did you know before you had him?"
Or says, "She's too pretty to be in a wheelchair,"
Right in front of your child.
Or pushes that wheelchair
(With your child in it.
Without asking.)
Without regard for the fear they are striking
In your child at that moment.

It's when media constantly paints your child
As a burden.
And being disabled
As the worst fate ever.

[Image is: Me, holding a copy of the book Me Before You, not smiling]

It is loud
Like your child being called
The R-word.
Like your child being hurt
For what they can't help.

It's quiet
Like your child being ignored
When they try to engage
Other kids
And even, sometimes,
Grown ups.

It's when your child
Can't prove they know something
So, it's assumed they don't.
It's when this assumption
"They don't understand,"
Is used as permission
To overshare and disrespect.

It's when your child
Is not believed
When they need to be


Celebrate your child
For the way adaptive equipment helps them
For their unique way of moving
For finding a way to communicate that works for them.

Take your child
With a disability

Know that supporting your child
And respecting your child
Are not the same thing.

Make sure your child
Experiences both
From you.

Because your child's words are
They are
They should be protected
And know
That they are enough
And whole.

Believe in them
And believe

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Wonder by RJ Palacio

This book centers around 10-year-old main character, August Pullman, who was born with "something similar to Treacher Collins Syndrome" according to the author.  Auggie has been homeschooled since Kindergarten, and has done well.  He's smart and sweet, if a bit sheltered.


The first 20% of this book (I read on Kindle, so all I had to go by were percentages) was fantastic.  This was all from Auggie's perspective and it felt authentic. His perspective felt so true to life for me (as that kid who was different growing up.)  The stares and reactions he endured felt real.  I loved his closeness with his parents.  I loved his parents as characters, especially his mom, who felt especially real to me.  And did I mention?  Auggie has the sweetest old dog.  I pictured her like this:

[Image is: an old and super cute golden retriever in a wheat field.]
Auggie does okay in school but is super isolated and sad.  Kids tease him and no one will touch him.  Toward the end of 20%, August goes to school around Halloween, dressed differently than he planned to be - as something called The Bleeding Scream - covered from head to toe.  His friend (one of two that he has made thus far) does not recognize Auggie because he's not in the Star Wars costume he planned to wear.

Because of this, Auggie is just feet away when Jack says: "If I looked like Auggie, I'd kill myself," and laughs, with a bunch of kids who bully Auggie.

And at this point?  The POV switches and we get 5 other perspectives for the next 60% of the book. 


We hear from Auggie's sister who talks about how hard it is on her to have Auggie for a brother.  (The author also somehow misspells trach "trache" and says this was in Auggie's don't go there...)  Auggie's sister and her friends used to dress him up when they were young.  Auggie loved it.  The girls all thought Auggie looked like E.T...  (I know kids can be cruel but come on.  He's a child, not an alien.)

Auggie's sis has started at a new high school and no one knows about him there.  When she auditions for the school play and gets the part of understudy for the lead, she deliberately does not tell her parents about the show because they will bring Auggie.  When they do find out, Dad offers to come and Mom says she will stay home with Auggie.

Via throws a fit that both her parents will not come to her play.  Auggie asks: "Can I come?" and Via insists: "No!  You won't like it!" 

Auggie, by now, has caught on that his family is not telling him something and demands to know what they're lying to him about.  He screams:  "Tell me!  I'm not r*t*r*d*d!"  (The author has justified her choice to include this word because "That's how kids talk.")  I had heard her quote before I read the book and I assumed one of the other characters said it, not the main character with Not Treacher Collins Syndrome.)  A kid with his background would likely know - more so than the average kid - how much that word hurts.  I found it hard to believe he would use it, and offensive that the author felt the need to include it.  Especially in a children's book.

Auggie runs to his room, crying, and waits for his mom to come and follow up with him, which she does, usually.  He waits a half hour.  And then Via comes to his room and tells him he has to come quick, because their dog, Daisy is really sick and has to go to the vet.  Their parents don't think Daisy will live.  Auggie and Via have to say goodbye.

The whole fight becomes a nonissue as the kids hug and cry and say it was silly to fight.


We heard from Justin, Via's boyfriend, who really did not do much except function as a plot device.  I have a sneaking suspicion he was only included because he had Tourette's Syndrome.

We heard from Summer - one of Auggie's few friends at school - how she sat with him at lunch the first day "because she felt bad for him."

We heard from Jack, who was singled out by the principal as a "nice kid" to show Auggie around, before school started.  We learn Jack balked at this initially, because when his mom told him about Auggie, Jack knew who he was.  Because Jack, his little brother and their nanny had seen Auggie out eating ice cream the previous year.  He panicked.  His little brother made a rude comment.  And the nanny gathered them up to walk away as fast as she could and then reprimanded them all - herself included - for how horribly they reacted.  Jack and his little brother rudely describe Auggie's face and Jack agrees to help him only because he feels guilty.

And we hear from Miranda, Via's former best friend, who has the lead in the high school play, but fakes sick when she realizes Auggie's in the audience, so that Via can have the lead.  She has known Auggie since he was little, and even gave him an astronaut helmet which he wore every time he went out in public for two years.  But Miranda sacrificing her part for Via (when they are not even friends anymore) just felt pitying to me.


Auggie gets hearing aids and is self conscious about wearing them.  (I did like this aspect!)  But his sister thinks that with a face like his, hearing aids should be the least of his problems... :(

Eventually, Jack punches a kid for calling Auggie a freak, and Jack and Auggie are somehow friends again???  (Even though if a friend said they'd rather die than be like me, that'd pretty much be the end of the friendship, even if we  were only ten.)

Punched Kid's mom makes a big stink.  She emails the principal and tells him that she thinks the "pressure" and the "burden" of being friends with the "special needs boy" is too much  and the "regular kids" should not have to deal with it.  She also demands to know how Auggie even got into "their school" since it is not "inclusive."

The principal writes back, but so misses the point of everything when he insists to Punched Kid's mom that "Auggie does not have special needs.  He is not handicapped or disabled in any way."  (Except that if you're born with a condition that means you were trached and have had multiple surgeries, that affects your hearing and your ability to eat?  That counts as a disability and the principal is not helping by erasing Auggie's.  He does very little to address Punched Kid's mom's ableism.  (Even the kids at school know that she photo shopped Auggie out of he class picture for herself and some of the other moms...)

Meanwhile, things haven't changed a whole lot on the school front for Auggie.  He is still pretty isolated and kids put mean notes in his locker calling him an orc.


Then it's time for the class trip to the nature reserve.  Auggie has a lot of fun for the first two days.  On the third night, Jack has to go pee, and there is somehow a line (in the boys' bathroom???) so Jack and Auggie go to the woods (off limits) to pee.

Some 7th graders from another school find them and start being horrible to Auggie about his face.  They won't let Jack or Auggie leave.  Shove him down where he gets hurt and starts bleeding.  His sweatshirt is nearly torn in half.  Some other 5th graders (former bullies) hear the commotion and somehow decide to step in and protect Auggie and Jack.  They all manage to get away.  They are hiding out in a cornfield when Auggie realizes he doesn't have his hearing aids.

The kids try to search in the dark but it is no use.  Auggie starts crying (sobbing) he is so hurt, so scared.  And because of his mom's warning that he shouldn't swim with his hearing aids on because they cost a lot of money.  He is sure he will be in trouble.

They never find his hearing aids.

Not until days later when they are discovered.  One of the 7th graders from another school that beat up Auggie broke his hearing aids and kept them in his locker.)  The principal asks if Auggie wants to press charges.  Auggie says no, because the bully "will never learn," and he is "getting new hearing aids anyway."  The principal urges him to talk to his parents, but this is never followed up on.

All the kids in school have heard the rumor of the big 5th graders coming to Auggie's aid. Suddenly, Auggie is like the 5th grade mascot. The child everybody says hi to now that he has been so hurt, and is so vulnerable without hearing aids when they previously made it their mission to avoid touching him for fear of catching The Plague.  When they called him a freak and ignored him.  It makes little if any sense to me why elementary aged kids - and former bullies at that - would step to fight even bigger kids when a kid they didn't care about was in danger.

Honestly, this aspect was the most upsetting: how brutally Auggie was assaulted and how that somehow made him desirable to other kids.  

And it felt like a huge miss (and likely an oversight due to being a nondisabled author) that this issue Auggie's adaptive equipment being stolen and broken was never properly addressed.  It's alluded to that Auggie feels out of sorts without his hearing aids, but he is mostly okay because he is "getting new ones."  

But getting new adaptive equipment is not as easy as going to the store and getting a thing you need.  The process takes months, likely especially for Auggie, because his hearing aids needed to be custom-fitted for his ears.  There is no mention of any actual punishment for the kid who did this to Auggie.  So he walks around for the last few days of 5th grade hearing the ocean in his ears.


On his way to 5th grade graduation, Auggie's dad casually tells him that he threw Auggie's astronaut helmet out.  Auggie is stunned and angry.  He wore this out in public for two years straight.  It made him feel safe.  Protected from people's stares.

His dad is clearly not expecting Auggie to be so upset and reasons that "I just missed seeing your face."

Again, it's obvious Dad was not trying to be malicious here, but this is where a conversation, or a series of conversations would have been appropriate.  

Think about it.  If somebody took something that you used every day, that you loved and relied on to keep you safe in the world?  And they threw it away?  That would be a huge violation.  Auggie gets over this pretty quickly, though,  (More quickly than I know I would) and simply asks his dad to "please not throw anything else of mine away without asking me first."

But Dad already has done that.

So who's to say he'll do anything differently in the future?

Again, this feels like a miss due to the author being nondisabled.  Because a parent doing something like this did not strike me as "no big deal."  It struck me as a pretty big one.  Not something that a kid would just get over in a minute.


Once at graduation, there is an award ceremony.  And while some kids earn gold, silver and bronze medals for academics or sports, Auggie inexplicably earns the last award of the day.

What's it for?

Well, no one really knows.

It might be for "being courageous".  It might be for "being a good friend."  It might be for "being of good character."  But it was clear (to Auggie and to me) that this was one of those awards that's given out to the poor, tragic disabled kid, who must have a really hard life.

I hated these types of awards.  Most disabled kids and adults I know hate them, too.  But Auggie says, "If they want to give me an award for being me, that's fine!"  And, "It's like the people you see sometimes and you can't imagine what it's like to be them.  Whether it's somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can't talk.  Only I know I'm that person to other people.  Maybe to every single person in this whole auditorium."

It's clear that Auggie's perspective is being written by someone who is not like him.  Because he is being framed as the "other" here.  The "outsider".  And very rarely if ever do children readily accept getting overt attention for something like a disability.  Because the attention they're used to getting for it?  Is not positive.  Plus, being disabled is not an achievement.  

Auggie did not work toward a goal over time and he did not see his hard work pay off in any way that would have merited this particular award.  (I could see him earning an academic award, but instead the author made the choice that he earn the Inspirational Award.)

To finish?  The boy who has always been uncomfortable in crowds and having his picture taken, goes up proudly and smiles, taking the award he knows he did nothing to earn.  He poses for tons of pictures for his new "friends" who love him as a mascot.  As someone to pity.  But don't really know him at all.


The moral of the story is simple: When you can choose to be anything, choose to be kind.

There is nothing inherently wrong with kindness.  Except that when you have a disability, the line between kindness and pity blurs severely.  People see someone with a craniofacial condition, or another visible disability and their inclination is that we need them to be overly nice to us because our life is just so hard.

So, instead I challenge you:  Choose dignity.  Choose respect.  Choose to get to know the person in front of you before making a snap judgment about how much they suffer.

Because uninformed disability attitudes harm us more than our disabilities ever will.

Review: The Fosters 5x05 "Telling"

I have been reviewing The Fosters since its premiere in June, 2013.  In February of this year, Tara joined me, sharing her thoughts on scenes involving Jesus, because like him, she also survived a brain injury at age 16. Last month, Tara and I started reviewing the show again, as it came back to start its fifth season.  Since Jesus's brain injury, we have noticed a disturbing amount of ableism being perpetuated each week.
"Telling", which aired on Tuesday of this week, surpassed any previous level of ableism by leaps and bounds.  But unlike conversations about such media as "Me Before You" and "Everything, Everything" we struggle to find anyone else who is discussing the harmful depiction of brain injury survivors on The Fosters.  Which is why Tara and I agreed after finishing this review last night, that we would share it here.
Because media is important.  Media teaches people how to treat those they might have limited contact with.  Please take some time to read, and let's talk about this:  
Image is: What came up when I typed the word 'foster' into an image search.  It is the word LOVE with other synonymous and positive words within each of its letters]

Stef: Speaking of hostile, you’re the one that practically bit [the neighbor’s] head off when she brought up that Educational Plan thingy for Jesus.  How is he today, anyway?
Tonia:  I’m glad you are still thinking about the Educational Plan thingy, Stef.  That’s something.
Lena: Oh, he’s hardly gotten out of bed.  I think these new meds are wiping him out.  I think he’s a little depressed.
Tonia:  Also glad to see that Jesus did get new meds.  My gut says he needs time to adjust to them.  Tara?  Your take?
Tara: There are a lot of things at play here.  I think Lena’s assessment is accurate.
Stef: I’m sure he is!  Stuck in this house all day…which is why we’re sure as hell not gonna let him drop out of school. 
Tonia:  It’s good to see that Stef is sympathetic to what Jesus is going through, but the entire school re-entry conversation was really poorly handled.
Tara:  Yes, where is the follow-up conversation?  I would love to see it.
Lena:  There’s no point in pushing back on that until we know he is well enough to GO back.   And I really think that messing with his meds is gonna do more harm than good…
Tonia:  So….Moms didn’t talk to Jesus’s doctor about him being able to go back to school?  But, Stef and Lena told him in 5x03 that they needed to talk to his doctor before they would know for sure if he could go back.  So, what’s the excuse now?  They cannot keep him in the house indefinitely, until he magically transforms back into “their sweet boy” who they seem to think is missing…
And “messing with his meds” was necessary.  The anti-seizure medication Jesus was taking before was making him depressed and suicidal because of one of its (fabricated) side-effects.  He needed to change his medication.  If the doctor didn’t think it was necessary, he would not have done it.
Tara: ^Preach
Stef: The doctor said it’s gonna take some time–
Lena: He also said they know very little about the brain.  I’ve been looking into homeopathic remedies and talking to some other moms online.  One of them put her son on a gluten free diet to help with inflammation.
Tonia:  You know who should be present for these conversations?  Jesus.  And I doubt very much that a kid who loves food as much as he does is gonna be on board with a gluten free diet…
Tara:  Right, and as [another disabled fan] has said, when you factor in how heavily restricted Jesus already is?  How little control he currently has over anything in his life?  Restricting his diet would be especially cruel.
Stef: Do you really think it’s that easy, Lena?
Lena: Well, I think it’s worth a try!  And I also found this neurologist in Los Angeles who’s doing clinical trials with electrical current to help stimulate the brain.
Stef: You mean like SHOCK TREATMENT?!  No.
Lena: No!  It’s like a low-targeted current.  
Stef: Still.  It sounds scary, Lena.  No.
Lena: Could you just not say no to everything?  We need to advocate for our son here.  We can’t just take Dr. Danville’s word for everything.
Tonia:  There aren’t words to describe how disturbed this exchange, in particular, made me.  Because it’s clear to me that Lena is not coping.  She is not able to accept Jesus as the person he is, brain injury included.  It’s this mindset - this complete lack of acceptance - that is causing her to look at shock treatment as a possible option.  She even rationalizes it to Stef by saying it’s a ‘low-targeted current.’  
This is not a treatment or a cure, nor should it ever be framed as such.  This is a parent discussing frankly on TV, the possibility of torturing her child.
If this were Jude, and Lena suggested shock therapy for him on a network show, geared toward teens and young adults?  There would be outrage (and rightly so.)  Because being gay is not something that requires a cure.  It’s not something that justifies pitching torture as a possible solution.  Because being gay is a part of Jude’s identity.  Because the thing that Jude needs the most is love.  He needs acceptance.  He needs connection to his community.  He needs to be educated.  And he is.  He has all of those things.
It is the same for Jesus.  His brain injury is not something that needs to be cured.
And he needs all of those things.  
But he doesn’t have them right now.  Any of them.
No amount of torturing a minor with shock therapy is going to reverse brain damage.  But it will do more damage to his brain.  And it will do untold amounts of psychological damage to him if Jesus ever finds out his mom is seriously thinking about getting him into a clinical trial for shock therapy.
How about, instead of talking to the other moms, Lena talks to other brain injury survivors?  To learn what helped them?  Or maybe, what they wish they’d had?  
I can guarantee you, as somebody who lives with a disability myself, the most helpful thing I can receive from people around me is love.  It’s acceptance. It’s connection to my community and it’s education about any and everything. Love and acceptance for all of me.  Not in spite of my Cerebral Palsy.  With it, because it is a significant part of what makes me who I am.  If disability is framed as part of a child’s identity, it will help the child accept themselves, and it will show the parents (and the audience) that disability is not The Worst Thing Ever.  It is not bad or scary.  It may take some time to adjust to.  Needing time is okay.
Looking into torturous “cures”?  Not okay.
 I’ve never been more glad to hear Stef say no, repeatedly, to something, before.  But honestly, this conversation is so damaging.  It should have never happened in this episode.
I hope Stef never stops saying no to this.  Jesus needs a parent who will truly advocate for him.  Lena is advocating for herself right now, and that is just plain dangerous.  Especially when it involves a plan that will explicitly do harm to her child.
Tara: I’m curious as to what this clinical trial will “stimulate the brain” to do?  Seems like a throwaway term to entice despairing parents.  
It feels as though Lena is grasping at straws here.  She is desperate to heal Jesus, looking for a cure.  I wish instead she would focus on her son as a whole person.
Jesus:  So, Brandon and I are good.  I just wish I could’ve been there for you.  And that’s not me saying what I think you wanna hear.  That’s the truth.  I promise. 
Emma: Thank you.  I miss you at school.  Do you know when you’re coming back?  
Jesus:  I’m not.  I’m gonna get my GED and I’m gonna start working construction with Gabe.  
Emma:  You’re dropping out of school?
Tonia:  I was encouraged to see that Jesus was actually out of bed and talking to Emma.  
Lena:  He’s barely gotten out of bed all day!
Dr. Danville: Let’s try increasing the dosage.
Lena:  How will giving him MORE medication DECREASE his side effects?
Tonia:  I feel like a phone call is jumping the gun here?  Especially as what we have seen of Jesus so far was him not in bed, asleep, but up talking to Emma.  He seems quiet and low energy, but not dangerously depressed at this point by any means…  
When your recovering from a brain injury, you need a lot of sleep. (Ask Tara.)
I get the feeling that a phone call like this (with Dr. Danville giving advice that doesn’t seem sound) is only meant to make Lena’s shock treatment clinical trial feel like a valid option.  When it, in fact, never was, and never will be.
Tara: We see Lena trying to advocate for Jesus’s needs here.  She is completely within her rights to come to the doctor with new or worsening side effects.  This is what she should have been doing last season when she learned of Jesus’s other “side effects.”
She is clearly frustrated by the wait-and-see approach of med adjustment, and seems to need a “quick fix” of sorts.
Mariana:  We should get going if we wanna make that movie!
Jesus: Oh.  Can I go?
Mariana: No!  I mean, you’re not allowed, right?
Jesus: Yeah, but it’s just a movie.
Mariana: It’s a chick-flick!  You don’t like chick-flicks!
Jesus: I don’t really care.  I just gotta get out of this house.  [To Moms]  Come on.  I’ll be sitting down the WHOLE time.  Please.
Lena: Okay.
Tonia:  Having a brain injury or disability doesn’t mean you are required to stay at home indefinitely.  At this point, I’m hard pressed to remember anywhere he’s gone post-injury other than to school for a meeting, and an event, and to the doctor, at least twice.
Tara: Presuming he can’t go to a movie because he has a brain injury? This is maddening. (So is using your brother’s TBI as an excuse so that he will not be your third wheel.)
Mariana:  You CAN’T come with us, Jesus!
Jesus: Yes, I can.  Moms JUST said!
Mariana:  Okay.  Look.  We’re not going to a movie.  We’re going to a party.
Jesus:  Killer!  Even better!
Mariana: You can’t go to a party, Jesus!
Jesus: Okay.  Well, then, neither can you.  Or I’ll tell.
Tonia:  There is something called Dignity of Risk.  It means to respect a disabled person’s autonomy in making choices for themselves.  Jesus deserves the dignity of risk here.  His brain injury does not take away his right to self-determination, and to do something that could be risky if he wants to.  He is still a teenager.  And teenagers go to parties.  Teenagers with disabilities go to parties.
Tara: YES. There is a difference between going to a party and going to a brawl. Let him choose this.
Jesus:  This is SICK!
Mariana:  Hey.  You.  No dancing.  No drinking.  Just find a place to sit.  And watch.
Jesus: [shakes his head no]
Tonia:  I understand telling your twin don’t drink, but to tell him not to dance at a party?  The implication here seems to be that dancing will bring on a seizure.  But Tara, you were on anti-seizure meds for a year and no one told you not to dance, right?  (Not that you ever had the extra energy to do such a thing, LOL.)  Please share your thoughts.  I’m so curious…
Tara: I was on anti-seizure meds for a year. No one ever cautioned me not to dance. My parents drove me to a graduation party after a day in the ER five months post-injury.  I was encouraged toward activity (as tolerated), not away from it, as a means of promoting healing and social interaction.
And Mariana, your brother remains the same age as you. Kindly stop talking down to him. Thanks.
Tess:  You’re in touch with the birth parents!
Stef: Yep!  Every single one of them!  It’s fine, they just come with a lot of baggage…
Lena: They can also be quite helpful at times.  Gabe is building a treehouse with Jesus for a school project.
Tess: Oh!  Jesus is back in school?
Lena: Not yet…
Tonia:  Are we still telling that lie, Lena?  The treehouse isn’t even for Jesus’s school project, because the new principal decided after meeting Jesus one time that he wouldn’t be a senior next year.  And he approved the project for Mariana.  Jesus and Gabe are working on Mariana’s school project.  No school in sight for Jesus, because getting a GED is apparently not a valid option either…
And it irks me that Gabe and Ana “come with baggage” but Robert is actively sought after when Callie becomes “too much” to handle…
Poppy:  Do you wanna dance?
Mariana:  No!  He doesn’t!  He can’t.
Jesus:  Yeah, no, I got a concussion a little while ago, so I gotta take it easy.  But I’ll watch YOU dance!
Poppy: [smiles]  Why DON’T you?
Tonia:  There’s that pesky dancing again.  Can’t let the brain-injured kid do that. <– Sarcasm  
But I did love how Jesus handled that, sharing only what he was comfortable with.  He even made it sound like watching Poppy dance was something he got to do, so she was not insulted, and he was empowered.
Tara: To be clear, Mariana, Jesus can dance.  I know you’re scared, but stop micromanaging him.
Callie: So, you came with Logan?
Mariana:  …And Jesus…
Mariana: He made me!  Don’t worry.  He’s not gonna dance, all right?
Callie:  You sure about that?  
[Callie and Mariana spot Jesus dancing with Poppy.]
Mariana: I’m gonna kill him.
Tonia:  Okay but why is it such a shock that Jesus is at a party?  Because he is disabled?  (Also, the way they keep saying ‘brought Jesus’ makes him sound like a pet…)
Tara: Yes, Callie. I’m shocked to see Jesus out in public too.  But he only has a brain injury - he is not dead. ;)  He is still plenty able to attend parties and even (gasp) dance.
For the record? None of the triggers of neuroinflammation listed in this article include dancing.  Many articles I’ve read actually encourage dance to promote healing after a TBI.
I would see dancing in this context to be more of a concern if Jesus’s balance continued to be affected, but as he has made a near-miraculous physical recovery, I do not think this level of panic is warranted.
Callie [to Mariana]:  I can’t believe you brought him!
Jesus [to Callie]:  What are YOU doing here?
Mariana:  Jesus!  You can’t SCRAMBLE your BRAIN like that!
Tonia:  Mariana needs to stop perpetuating this nonsense that dancing is going to scramble Jesus’s brain…  Dancing is not nearly as dangerous as…oh, I don’t know…shock therapy…
Tara: Seriously.
Callie [to Mariana]: What are you doing?
Jesus: I think she’s trying to stop you from seeing that [video of Mariana practicing with the roller derby team]
Callie: Did you know about this?
Jesus: No.
Tonia:  Two blessed seconds where Jesus is treated like a human being by a family member.  Hallelujah.  (I’ll take anything at this point.  Really.)
Tess:  So, I feel like I overstepped.  When you had us over.  About Jesus’s situation.  And I want to apologize.
Lena: There’s really no need.  
Tess:  If there’s anything I can do…
Lena: No.  But I appreciate that.  Honestly, I don’t know WHAT to do.  His doctor doesn’t.  He’s not very reassuring.  He’s got Jesus on all these meds.  What do YOU think about a gluten free diet to help reduce inflammation?
Tess: Well I think it’s a great idea.  I’m a big believer in a more holistic approach to healing.
Lena: I’ve been trying to get him in to see this specialist in LA.  Dr. Rundle.  He doesn’t have any openings for a year.  
Tess: DALE Rundle?
Lena: Yeah.
Tess: He and I went to John’s Hopkins together.  I can totally put in a call.
Tess: Mm-hmm.  Absolutely.  What are friends for, right?
Lena: Thank you!
Tonia:  So, in this edition of What World Am I In Right Now?  
Tess is apologizing for ‘overstepping’ (which is apparently what it’s called when you suggest a 16 year old, months post brain injury, bored at home, and expressing an interest in going back to school should go back to school.
Lena is seeking medical advice for her son who has a brain injury from an orthopedic surgeon.
Lena is talking at length with their new neighbor about possible treatment options for Jesus.  And who is completely out of the loop about this?  The person it directly concerns: Jesus.  At 16, he is definitely old enough to weigh in on these conversations (like does he even want to go gluten free?)
And just a reminder?  That ‘specialist’ Lena is talking about in LA?  Dr. Rundle?  Is the same one running the freaking shock therapy clinical trial!  Lena is not only disregarding Stef’s no (twice) on this, but she’s bringing it up to the well-to-do neighbor, who likely has no idea (God I hope she doesn’t…) that Dr. Rundle wants to shock Jesus’s brain.  
This episode (and in particular, this aspect of this episode) made me feel nauseous.  Disabled people are still subjected to shock therapy today.  It is not as old-timey as you might think.  This is reality for us.  
This episode made me afraid of things I did not even know to fear.  I never imagined this would be discussed (not once, but twice) on screen, rationalized, and encouraged as a valid ‘treatment option.’
(And the idea that dancing is what is being pushed as the dangerous thing here, and Mariana’s being painted as the bad girl for ‘bringing Jesus’ to a party while Lena is at home legitimately talking about ways to make the year-long wait to go faster so she can go get her son’s brain shocked is just ludicrous to me.)
Tara: Again, for the people in the back: ECT (or the low targeted current that Lena speaks of) is the same treatment that is used in conversion therapy for gay people.  It is to be used as a last-resort method, as ECT can result in permanent memory loss.
Mariana:  Where the hell is Logan?  Should I call him?
Jesus: No, Mariana…relax.  We…parked…really… [Jesus stops talking.  He’s having what appears to be an absence seizure.]
Mariana: Jesus?  One-Mississippi.  Two-Mississippi.  Three-Mississippi.  Four-Mississippi.  Five-Mississippi.  Six–
Jesus: …Why…are you…counting?
Mariana: Moms told me to time your seizures!
 Jesus:  …What?  …Where are we?
Mariana: Um…  Okay.  We just left a party that you blackmailed your way into.  We need to get you home!  Moms are gonna freak!
Tonia:  Mariana handled this really well.  She recognized the seizure.  She timed the seizure, just like she knew she needed to.  And she answered Jesus’s questions afterward in a straight forward, honest manner.
I’ve read a review with the title: “Did Mariana Put Jesus in Danger?” and I’ve read a comment about how watching Mariana count during Jesus’s seizure made them think of “how much pressure is on the siblings” because of Jesus’s TBI.
When, honestly, did she do everything right tonight?  No.  But when it counted, she came through.  She did everything that any twin would do to keep their twin safe. So I hate to see her blamed for this.  
And counting during your twin’s medical emergency is basic human stuff.  No, it’s not fun seeing your twin having any kind of crisis, but when your sibling has a disability, you learn on the fly how to adapt for them.  Counting out loud is a small thing.
Tara: I have witnessed a seizure, and they are scary to watch.  Nice job here, Mariana.
Jesus: No.  No!  We cannot…tell them!  They’re never gonna let me out of the…house again!
Mariana: Well, maybe they shouldn’t, Jesus!  With how stupid you’ve been acting tonight!  These are serious things!
Jesus: I’ll tell them about roller derby!
Mariana: Go ahead!  I was gonna tell them about it anyways!
Jesus: Okay!  Well, then, I’ll tell them that you brought me to a…party and let me dance!
Tonia:  Again we have the rationalizing keeping Jesus in the house indefinitely and dancing framed as the culprit.  Does no one remember that he just switched anti seizure meds?  And that he is (presumably) back on ADHD meds as well?  It seems much more plausible that the med adjustment is the cause of the seizure than the dancing.  And not saying so, and perpetuating that Jesus shouldn’t be allowed out ever is just irresponsible.
Tara: Let’s also look at Mariana’s use of the word “stupid” here.  What I saw was Jesus dancing and enjoying himself.  Not drinking.  Not endangering himself or others.  To call his actions stupid is to diminish him in this moment.  To insinuate a lack of intelligence.  It is words like this that hurt the most when you have a brain injury. 
And to say that, because he had a seizure that Mariana presumes happened due to Jesus’s lack of common sense, he should not be allowed out of the house? Let’s just back the overreaction bus up, and calm down.  To be clear, Mariana has every right to be frightened here. But making her brother even more of an invalid is not the answer.
They’re both clearly in survival mode right now, blackmailing each other left and right. :(
Callie: Mariana, you took Jesus to a party and put him in danger because you were so desperate to get a date with Logan.  At least when I lie, it’s to try and help someone!
Tonia:  Also, by piling all the blame for ‘taking Jesus’ to a party on Mariana, it takes away the fact that Jesus made his own decision.  Both Jesus and Mariana are very good at manipulating in order to get their way.  It’s a survival skill both have learned well.  
Jesus wanted to get out of the house.  When he found out Mariana was going to a party, he found a way to come, too.   He did that.  He’s not an infant or a pet. 
Tara: And she did not put him in any danger!
Mariana: Jesus had a seizure last night.
Tonia:  You know I would be the first one to talk about medical privacy issues being breached but this is something Moms needed to know, for Jesus’s safety, and I’m glad Mariana knew that.
Tara: Yes, Mama needed to know this.
Lena:  What the hell were you thinking?  Going to a party?  Trying to hide a seizure from me again?  
Jesus: What are you gonna do?  Are you gonna ground me?  It’s not like I can go anywhere anyway.  
Lena:  Do you know how hard I’m working?  Calling doctors.  Reading up on treatments.  Trying to help YOU get better?  And then YOU go and try to pull something like THIS? So, no, you can’t leave the house.  And no one’s coming over, either.  Including Emma!
Tonia:  Wow…a guilt trip and complete social isolation all in one fell swoop.  
And “something like this” is Jesus going to a party and choosing not to tell Lena about a seizure.  If Lena wants to ground him (and Mariana) for going to a party at a warehouse without her knowledge?  Go for it.  Especially as Mariana lied about where they’d really be.
But to make Jesus’s lecture all about how hard his injury is on Lena and the revoking of Jesus’s single visitor (especially as he is not in school yet) feels like it definitely crosses the line into emotional abuse.
Tara: I don’t know what he was thinking, Lena.  Perhaps that he has been under lock and key for months with not even the social interaction that school provides?  Perhaps that sometimes kids go to parties - even kids with head injuries?
Maybe if you treated him like a human being and not a pile of symptoms to be managed, he would not be so reluctant to tell you about his seizures.
Also, this might come as a shock to you, Lena - but Jesus’s TBI and seizures?  They are not all about you.  And there’s the whole “Getting Better” notion again - how about getting him some counseling? For him and you and Stef to start?  Because you all really need to start communicating again.  
Going to a party is not some slap in the face - it is not some wildly unnecessary risk - it is normal teenage behavior.  
And yeah, restricting Jesus’s only visitor?  So not cool.  Coercive control, anyone?
Jesus:  What?   No!  That is…not fair!
Lena: There are going to be consequences for the behaviors you CAN CONTROL, Jesus!  And lying is one of them!
Tonia:  I love how lying has gone from being dishonest to “a behavior” now that Jesus as a brain injury… <– Sarcasm
Tara: ^Truth
Jesus [grabs his phone off the desk and brings his arm back, ready to throw it, but doesn’t]
Lena:  You throw that–!
Jesus: AND WHAT?
Lena: There are inpatient programs!  Hospitals with intensive behavioral therapy!  YOU continue to act out like this, and that’s exactly where you’re going!
Tonia:  This was the second aspect of the show that made my jaw drop.  Threatening Jesus with institutionalization is so devastating. 
Disabled people have a long history of abuse and institutionalization.  
When we were born, it was still commonplace to institutionalize your disabled babies and children.  The only reason we have the life we do is that our family went against the grain at the time and made the decision to raise us at home.  They wanted us.  They valued us.  So, today, we live on our own (together).  We help each other.  We adapt for each other.  And after watching this?  When we were deeply upset and it had been hours since this scene aired?  We made a promise that we would never institutionalize each other.
Also, Jesus’s biggest fear (we see it in 4x12) is being abandoned.  He and Mariana spent their early years neglected and abandoned by their birth mother.  Lena knows this.  To threaten an adopted child that he will be sent away (and without his twin no less) is just plain wrong.  She has a Ph-D in something child-related.  She and Stef have had to take classes to be foster parents.  They’ve learned about how all these kids come from trauma.  How they will use lying to get what they need or when they feel backed into a corner.  That is not to say, don’t ever punish an adopted kid from a traumatic background for lying, but threatening to institutionalize him if he doesn’t act the way his parents want him to act?  That crosses the line.
People can and do send their kids places when a situation calls for it.  We know that.  But to threaten to send your kid away for having a brain injury?  A kid who’s been neglected and abandoned?  Who was in foster care for years and didn’t have a stable home til he was 8?  He’s only known stability for as many years as he has known instability.  I just can’t wrap my mind around how someone like Lena, with her background, could say this to a child with Jesus’s background?
Tara: Okay, and I have seen many fans state that Jesus is going to throw his phone at Lena.  Having rewatched it, I can confirm this is not the case.  His entire body was facing toward his bed, not Lena.  And when he made to throw the phone, it was toward the bed as well.  (We see him do just this later after hanging up with Emma.)
Who hasn’t thrown their phone on their bed when they’re angry?  (I’ll wait.)
I will not allow the show to frame this as grounds for institutionalization.
Jesus:  So, my mom, like freaked out!  And now you can’t come over AT ALL!  I mean, it’s bullshit!
Emma:  Why?  What happened?
Jesus: I literally just went to a party with Mariana.
Emma: Well…I can understand why they’re upset.  You could’ve gotten hurt.  
Tonia:  OMG Emma!  Again, I say, he is not an infant!  If he wants to take the risk of going to the party and getting grounded, he should be allowed to do that.  Respect him that much at least, please!
Jesus: Can you, like, JUST be on my side?
Emma: No!  Not when you’re going to parties and dropping out of school!  Why are you DOING these stupid things?!
Jesus: You know what?  Maybe it’s a good thing that you can’t come over ‘cause I don’t really wanna see you anyway.
Tonia:  He’s going to parties because he’s a teenager and that’s a thing teenagers do.  He did it all the time pre-TBI and Emma didn’t call him stupid for it then.
And he wants to drop out because it seems like the only option he has to having every single aspect of his life controlled.  He’s trying to take control back with this one thing.  Also Moms took zero action toward actually re-enrolling him and show no inclination to even talk to him about it now.  
What else should he do?
Tara: Why is going to a party stupid?  When you go to a party to dance, Emma, is that stupid? 
Did you even once have a conversation with Jesus to ask him why he is dropping out?  Or did you just assume that his decisions have no merit?  
Listen to yourself and challenge these ableist concepts.
Lena:  If you wanna save all the kids in the world, fine!  But we have a kid here, at home, who’s sick!  And he needs saving, too!  And I feel like I’m the only one who cares!
Stef: I care, too.
Lena: Then why do I feel like I’m in this all by myself?!  You told me when you took this job that you were not going to disappear!  [cries]
Stef [hugs Lena]:  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m here.  I’m here.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.
Tonia:  Honestly, the only way Jesus needs saving is from you right now, Lena.  
His brain injury does not make him broken, damaged or “sick.”  He does not need to be fixed.  He needs to be heard.  He needs to be respected.  And accepted.  And loved.  For all of who he is right in this moment, right now.
Also, it hurts my heart that Lena gets hugged and comforted and apologized to repeatedly and assured that she is not alone more than once because while this is happening, Jesus is alone, thinking that one wrong move is gonna get him sent away.
Tara: The use of the word “sick” gives us insight again on Lena’s mindset.  Because when someone is sick, it is for a period of time.  And then, they get well.  Also, contrary to popular belief, TBI and mental illness are not one and the same.
Also, her use of the word “saving” - she is trying with everything in her to keep him safe.  (Misguided though her attempts may be.)  But in doing so, she is causing him harm. :(
Lena [to Jesus]: You know how much we love you, right?
Tonia:  The way Jesus just looks at Lena and Stef.  Sits up and waits for them to speak.  The expression on his face is wary.  He’s afraid.  And then, Lena sits down next to him on the bed and Stef follows suit.  But all we hear is Lena’s question.  We don’t Jesus’s answer.  We don’t even see his face when Moms join him because at this point the scene is being shot from behind.  It’s brutally short and the way it ends feels almost cheap, given the horrendous abuse that was discussed during this hour.  Given that the last interaction Lena and Jesus had on this day ended with her threatening to institutionalize her son if he did not stop ‘acting out.’
Lena, we guarantee you, as disabled adoptees ourselves, Jesus does not know you love him.  Not after how you threatened him, guilt tripped him and pursued a legitimate torture method to cure him (even after Stef said no twice!  Even got a doctor on board without fully informing her why you wanted Jesus on his waiting list in the first place.)
Watching this episode made us seriously question if this was a show we could keep safely watching.  The ableism in this hour was nothing short of terrifying and we do not use that word lightly.  It scares us, as disabled women.  As women who live with different extents and presentations of brain damage and brain injury.  It made us know for sure that The Fosters is no longer a safe place for Jesus.  Or for us.  It was the first time we actually warned fellow disabled fans about the content in advance.
Tara: This scene was the equivalent of a Bandaid covering a bullethole.