Ah, spring, a season of flowers and litter

Today’s elders telling children how winters were far worse back in their day is perhaps truer than ever before. This winter, however, was an exception that proved that fact.  

Siberian scrill, hellebores and daffodils are welcome signs of spring in Holly’s backyard

Living in the north, I prefer a white winter. I find sensorial pleasure in the muffled silence, nighttime brightness and diamond-like sparkles of landscapes buried in several inches of snow. 

As for shoveling — the cause of many backaches and heart attacks — honestly enjoy the vigorous activity in a season when the weather too often coops everyone up inside their homes.  

This year, the snowfall was not only substantial, it didn’t melt much between storms. Driveways soon resembled canyons. The first major winter storm, over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, deposited 14 inches in my neighborhood. Shoveling it felt great, until it didn’t. 

Even with a couple of helpers, I shoveled the deep snow for the better part of two hours that holiday weekend. By evening, both my thumbs, which were diagnosed with arthritis a few years ago, throbbed.  

For the most part, arthritis only limits my chances of getting picked for a jar-opening team, which is to say I’m rarely inconvenienced by the calcifications located where my opposable digits connect to my hand.  

I wore hand braces, took ibuprofen and rubbed liniments into my thumbs for weeks after that first major storm. And yet a pulsing pain woke me most nights.  

I eventually relented to steroid injections. Also, as a preventative measure, I became the proud owner of a snowblower, which of course means we won’t get much snow next year. (Feel free to thank me.) 

Extremes elevate appreciation. Color is a welcome delight after the browns, grays and whites of a long, hardy winter. 

Last week, my backyard was suddenly awash with the saturated blue of Siberian squill. My 12-year-old son cried out, “Look at the flowers!” when first spying them after a week with his father. The early flowers fill my lawn but will be long gone before the mower makes its annual debut. 

Get inspired by the top 2022 design and decor trends, go on a tiny-home tour, and explore Bridgid Coulter’s mindful approach to sustainable design.

Meanwhile, across the city, some unsavory things also have sprouted up. 

In March, receding snow released troves of trash onto the streets, sidewalks and devil strips. Where spring flowers generate smiles, loads of litter seemingly confetti-bombed throughout Akron are a dreary counterpoint. 

Keep Akron Beautiful is doing its best to address the litter but, like so many things, the pandemic has interfered. In the years leading up to COVID, the nonprofit assigned hundreds of workers with court-ordered community service hours to pick up litter. In 2021, it had only 39 community service workers, down from 577 in 2019. 

On April 23, Keep Akron Beautiful is holding a cleanup event at Summit Lake (meet at the Summit Lake Community Center, 380 W. Crosier St.) from 9 a.m. until noon. But the helpers won’t be visiting my neighborhood, which is why I now carry a grocery bag on my evening strolls. I’d not get many steps if I grabbed all the litter I see, but a little each time adds up. 

Something else also sprung up in every Akron ward this spring: speed tables. Unlike speed bumps, speed tables are flatter and tapered. Apparently a 2020 pilot program found speed tables reduced speeds by 23%.  

Over the past few years, the city has implemented several traffic-calming measures. In many cases, lanes on busier roads have been reduced from four (two in each direction) to three — a lane in each direction with a turn lane in the middle. 

While some residents complain about the reduced lanes, it’s hard to argue with calmer, safer traffic flows.  

That said, I’m not a fan of the speed tables. Who sees speed tables and says, “Gee, what a lovely neighborhood”? Nobody.  

But more importantly, speed tables are not as effective as some would have us believe.  

Drivers zoom up to the elevated sections, slow down to go over them only to accelerate again on the other side, something I learned 20 years ago when I sat on a traffic-calming committee in Cleveland.  

I’ve been watching people drive on Akron’s streets with speed tables. Not only do I see the zoom-slow-zoom behavior, plenty of cars fly over the flattish impediments at 10, 15, or even 20 miles over the speed limit.  

Narrowing streets is one of the best ways to calm traffic on streets suffering speedsters. (Hence the reduced lanes on Copley Road, Exchange Street and Memorial Parkway.) 

For residential streets, allowing parking on both sides is a free and easy option. This naturally narrows any throughway, causing most drivers to proceed with caution. 

Another attractive way to narrow residential streets is to create pinch points by bumping out the devil strip at the same place on both sides of a street. And unlike speed tables, pinch points don’t have to be removed in the winter for snowplows. 

Let’s tidy up Akron and rethink those speed tables so the blossoms alone are what catches eyes. For isn’t spring, especially after a cold, snowy winter, just grand? 

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, April 17, 2022.


More inclusion, less ableism

Recently I saw a photo of yet another young woman with Down syndrome who has become a model, in this case for Victoria’s Secret.

“Do you think she’s had cosmetic surgery on her eyes?” I asked my friend who happens to be an eye doctor.

“I was wondering the same thing,” he said before asking, “What do you think of that?”

Down syndrome, the most common chromosomal disorder, is caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. It causes intellectual disabilities (from mild to significant) and a variety of physical features, including epicanthal folds, which is a prolongation of the upper eyelid fold.

I didn’t know the term “epicanthal fold” when I looked at my daughter moments after her birth and blurted out, “Her eyes looked kind of Downsy.”

Why would someone with DS undergo eyelid surgery if it was medically unnecessary? Perhaps because epicanthal folds, which vary from person to person, can make it easy to identify someone’s diagnosis of DS. 

The summer of 2018 my daughter, Lyra, was old enough to join her brother at the summer day camp in Michigan that he’d attended the previous two summers. Five minutes after I dropped them off on their first day, I received a call from the camp director.

Lyra with her brother (and best buddy) Leif.

“Lyra stepped in a puddle and needs a dry pair of socks. And, frankly, we’re just not set up for her,” she told me. 

“What do you mean you aren’t set up for Lyra?” I demanded more than asked, causing the woman on the other end of the line to sputter. 

To see my daughter’s features is to know she has Down syndrome. And ascribing outmoded or patently false notions about what it means to have DS is still far too common, especially among people my age or older. 

Lyra talks, reads, sings and plays like, well, other children. And she will happily outsmart anyone who mistakenly assumes she’s incapable of performing a task and let them do it for her.

There was a new camp director the second summer Lyra attended. She and the counselors have not only accepted Lyra, each is excited when assigned to Lyra’s group for any of the eight weeks of the program. Several email me throughout the year for Lyra updates and one wrote a paper on inclusion, with Lyra as an example, for a college course.

Like all bigotry, ableism, or the discrimination of people with disabilities, is learned. Probably the best way to unlearn bigotry is through regular interaction with people whose ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation/identity and/or abilities, are different than one’s own. Through conversation and interaction it becomes undeniably apparent that we are all “more alike than different,” which is the motto of the National Down Syndrome Congress.

Policies that embrace inclusion, in which people with disabilities are not sequestered, but included in typical classrooms, jobs and more, benefit everyone. Yes, Lyra’s DS effects her cognition, but that’s not a reason to have her in a room down the hall from her typical peers.

In inclusive settings my daughter’s abilities in everything from speech to somersaults improve. At the same time, her typical peers learn how to have a friend with a disability, how to be occasionally helpful without infantilizing. They also come to know my girl for the person she is and not the diagnosis she has.

This alone is reason enough to include people with disabilities in any setting. But beyond increasing compassion, and thereby reducing bigotry, typical kids who have a peer with DS in their classrooms have been shown to score higher on college entrance exams than students who do not have the advantage of having a classmate with DS.  

We recently enrolled Lyra in the aftercare program at the Shaw JCC. When the program’s director expressed concerns about meeting Lyra’s needs, I was reminded of Lyra’s first year at summer camp. 

But instead of resisting Lyra’s enrollment, the JCC has increased its aftercare staff by one and welcomed training from the Summit DD Board to ensure they are able to meet the needs of all the children in the program. 

And therein lies something about advocacy that is often overlooked: it can result in an improved situation not just for one child, but everyone involved with that child.

The answer to my friend’s question about what I think of people with DS undergoing cosmetic surgery is complicated. History is filled with marginalized people attempting to “pass” in order to avoid discrimination and even violence. 

When she’s an adult, my daughter may seek cosmetic surgery so as not to be unfairly assessed based upon misguided or even cruel assumptions. But I hope not because it’s a severe and frankly unfair solution to the societal problem of discrimination.

Meanwhile, I will continue working to make the world a place where my daughter and others with Down syndrome are seen not as their diagnosis but as the full humans and assets to their communities that they are.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, April 3, 2022.