StoryCorps Interview with Katherlyn Geter

I am so excited to share this interview that my friend, Katherlyn, and I recorded as part of StoryCorps stop in Chattanooga. Moms for Social Justice asked us to get together and talk about our experience as moms raising kids who have disabilities. It was such an honor to spend some time with my friend and to bear witness to her story. This is unedited and unscripted, just us speaking straight from the heart. To help you follow along (since we don’t introduce ourselves), Mandy is the first voice you hear.

I also want to share some links to some disability rights activists, writers who have disabilities, and organizations working in the disability realm whose work I follow and particularly appreciate. I have learned so much from them (and so many others that I will inevitably leave out) and want to elevate their voices as people who have lived experience with disability. They are they voices that matter in this conversation, far more than mine.

PS- I hope to transcribe this interview soonish to make it more accessible.

Stop Wasting Your Energy on People Who Don't Give a Sh*t

In the process of becoming a foster parent, you are asked to identify what sort of children you are willing to accept into your home. You can specify age, gender, disability status, race, etc. After a few discussions, Dustin and I decided that we could be open to any child up to age 5 without significant disabilities. I was in graduate school pursuing a doctorate in sociology when we got certified. Having studied a number of social issues (including race), I felt like I was relatively aware of the unique challenges a child of color might encounter and we thought we had a very inclusive community of friends and family, so we checked all of the race boxes. But intellectual awareness and emotional awareness are two very different things and I was about to get a first hand lesson in people not living up to my expectations of who they are. When we brought home a black boy, we were confronted head on with racism. What startled me the most was not the experience of racism, but who it was coming from. People who we loved, people who were "good Christians”, and people who we trusted were engaging in incredibly problematic behavior.

My first instinct was to offer grace and to help them see their words and actions as racist. I loved these people, I shared years and years of memories with some of them, and I desperately wanted them to remain in our lives but I could not continue to tolerate their behavior. Too much was at stake. A few people were willing to do the work, to self reflect, and change. But several people weren’t and that left us with an incredibly difficult choice to make. We could either cut ties with them, setting some very hard boundaries about what we were going to allow in our lives….or continue to expose our son to people who were deeply committed to white supremacy culture. Ultimately we walked away from some people we loved who were also toxic, inflexible, and more committed to their racism than they were to remaining a part of our lives.

It’s okay to do and say problematic things, we all have room to grow. It is not okay to refuse to do any self-reflection or remain open to feedback from the people you claim to care about. I am done wasting my energy on people who do not give a shit. There are people who I know and love who are ready to come to the table and do the work to disengage from white supremacy culture and dismantle racism and other systems of oppression. My time is better spent investing in those relationships than mourning the people we’ve lost along the way, even the ones I loved dearly. I could spend all my time and energy on those people, begging them to get it, but ultimately they are responsible for their own growth. It is not my job to save people. It is not my responsibility to continually and repeatedly spend my emotions, energy, and time on people who have zero interest in changing and have little regard for what I want/need in a relationship. I do not have to demand less of people simply because I love them and I am scared of alienating them. I am done lowering my expectations, biting my tongue, or writing problematic behavior off because “that’s just who they are”. My time, energy, and emotions are the most precious commodities I have and I am done wasting them on people who are committed to upholding systems of oppression.

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Living on Purpose: Life as a Choose Your Own Adventure Story

As a child, some of my favorite books to read were from the Give Yourself Goosebumps choose your own adventure series written by R.L. Stein. Throughout each book, there were several opportunities for the reader to exert some agency. If you wanted your character to walk through a door, you’d turn to page 78. And if you wanted the character to turn and run, you’d turn to page 52. Depending on the series of choices you made, the story could be slightly or drastically different every time you read it. I loved those books and others like them because it drew me into the process, begged me to be an active participant rather than just a consumer. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the choose your own adventure concept would be a perfect metaphor for navigating life. We can either be passive consumers of our experiences or we can actively shape the story.

Every day we make hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny and massive decisions that shape our own story. Turn here, eat this, accept that job offer. Each one has the potential to lead us down a slightly different path. Here’s the catch….in life, we already know the end of our story. We all meet the same ending so the question becomes, what do we want to do along the journey? We cannot always control the outcome of our decisions, and much like the choose your own adventure books, sometimes life throws us an unexpected twist, but we can live with intention, with an idea of what we’d like to experience on the way, and we can control how we react to those unexpected twists.

Living with intention simply means doing big and small things on purpose, with purpose. Here are a few things I do to make sure my own adventure is lived with intention:

  • Every morning I try to meditate on a single word that I hope to carry into my day. Grace. Humility. Boldness. It’s amazing how thinking about that one simple concept for even just a few moments can shift how I interact with the world.

  • I am intensely curious about myself and carve out plenty of time for self reflection. If you don’t know what your hopes, fears, desires, motivations, pitfalls, hangups, etc are…how can you live with intention? You will spend your life in a reactionary state, motivated by things within you that you do not understand.

  • I have a vision for the legacy I want to leave. I periodically reflect on the statement “Because of me, my son will know __________________”. What am I teaching him about the world? What is most important for him to understand? What will he say about me when I am gone? Knowing how I want to fill in that blank gives me guidance on how I navigate relationships, how I spend my time/money/energy. It is a filter through which I can run every decision. How does this help build the legacy I hope to leave?

  • I know some areas where I want to have an impact, some social problems I want to draw attention to. I cannot do all of the things, so where can I be most effective? These questions have led me to my most exciting opportunities and have kept me from spending too much time and energy on perfectly fine things that would keep me from having the strongest impact possible in a few select areas. Your life is going to have an impact, but you get to decide whether that’s an intentional impact or a haphazard one.

  • Meditation. I can’t tell you how much meditation has changed my life and how much better my whole experience is when my meditation practice is healthy. Sitting still is hard. Quieting your mind is hard. There are so many lessons to be learned in that stillness that we carry into the chaos.

Are you living with intention, actively and purposefully shaping your own story?

Or are you just a consumer of it, turning the page to find out what comes next?

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