Not all money is good money. It may be that you will run into situations where because someone is paying you your rate that they expect you to use your name to co-sign certain shady dealings. Fire clients that have no integrity. If they have none, they don’t care about yours. And no money is worth losing your integrity.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Machado Ciruolo.
Diana Machado Ciruolo is a mother of two neurospicy kids, a DEI educator and a social justice advocate. Her experiences growing up on the outside as a foster kid with neurodiversity have given her a unique understanding of humanness that informs her practice and her life. Di’s passion is freeing other humans from the guilt and self-harm that can come from trauma and loss and she has a love/hate relationship with public speaking.
Di loves her made-family, Fleetwood Mac, trotty dogs, and standing in the ocean with her wellies year ‘round. Di tries each day to embody the Dolly Parton quote: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose”. Di is married to her partner, Jay, and they enjoy a coastal grandmother lifestyle.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was raised in the Massachusetts foster care system after being removed from my family for abuse and neglect when I was a toddler. After that, my middle brother and I were placed in “homes” that went from bad to worse, and we continued to fall below the interest of an unbelievable amount of callous adults. This experience taught me a lot about what it was to be small in this world; especially as someone with neurodiversity, which gave me an even more literal ‘translation’ of society.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
That is such a good question! When I was younger, and still to this day, my method of escapism from the life I was living was reading. So when people ask how I survived the horrors and neglect of my childhood, I always say “reading”. I especially loved fantasy series’ and sci-fi. I remember once when I was around seven it was Grandparents’ Day at my foster school. Since I was in foster care, my grandparents weren’t allowed to know where I was and they didn’t come. I was the only one alone while classmates read to their loving grandparents. I sat in a corner reading my (then) favorite book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. An older gentleman saw me sitting alone and asked me if I wanted to read my book to him, I said yes. For that brief moment in time I was just like the other kids. A newspaper photographer caught the moment, and how happy I was to have someone, and it made the news. When they asked him who he was, he said he was my grandfather. I’ve never stopped being grateful to that man who took a few minutes from his life to let a child know they were seen.
One of the first books that inspired me to “take action” in my own life, was ‘Ender’s Game’ which I read when I was 11.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I make mistakes ALL the time! I have no ego attached to mistakes, and I think failure is a good thing. That being said, one of the biggest mistakes I made writing (or in life) was thinking that other people knew better than I did about what it was I had to do, what I had to be, or what I had to say. Honestly, I think a lot of us make that mistake. I think a lot of us raised without any sort of loving validation think we need to prove ourselves to people we assume matter more than us- and that leads us to an entire theme park of mistakes one can make.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
Great question. My aim is to give a voice to the voiceless; the children who are placed into The System and just never thought of again. I think the narratives we tell ourselves as a society about these children are entirely self-serving and leave them alone to fend for themselves in the darkness where they are often victims to predators. This has been going on for my entire life, and yet the narratives around The System and foster care in general have not changed. The System has not improved, if anything it’s become even more overburdened. My goal is to rehumanize this conversation so instead of seeing statistics and budgets; we see actual children who are just as worthy of love and support.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
A lot of people assume when they hear my background that I was just a kid who went to an underfunded school, and slipped through the cracks.
In fact, the opposite is true. When I was a freshman in high school, my foster mother beat me so brutally it left marks all over me. When I went to school the next day, an older friend noticed the bruises and asked what happened. I made up a story to get her to stop asking, but she didn’t believe me. Not seeing the harm in telling another kid, I told her what had happened to me. She reported it to her favorite teacher. Then the teacher reported it to the school. Because nice people trust The System to do the job we believe It does.
The school reported it to their on campus therapist who called my foster mother in for a chat. I was pulled out of class, and brought into a therapy session with my abusive and narcissistic foster mother. My foster mother told Mrs. Therapist that I had sustained so much abuse as a child that I didn’t know the difference between what was happening then and what was happening now. Mrs. Therapist believed the entire thing without question. Even though I still was covered in bruises that my foster mother explained as being “sports related”. Mrs. Therapist then sent me home for a long weekend with my foster mother who then had plenty of time to show me just how angry I had made her by reporting. This is why kids don’t report at school. It’s also often why battered spouses don’t report. Usually, we’ve tried.
I have often wondered if Mrs. Therapist ever put anyone else in danger for their lives by being entirely undertrained and unaware of what she was dealing with. Because she was a professional, and if she wasn’t trained, she should not have been in that position.
And that is true of many abusers, especially child abusers. They become extremely adept at manipulating others, and working The System. Narcissists actually get a high from having their lies believed by someone in power so they become extremely practiced.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
I’d started this book so many times in my mind, often as a kind of therapy, never with any intention of really releasing it to the wider world, just as a way to externalize the pain from carrying it. What changed my mind was becoming a mother. Once I met my children, and especially my daughter, who is basically tiny-me, I realized I had to write it. One of the narratives about foster kids is that we must play a role in our own tragic circumstances to have ended up where we are. Having a tiny me running around and realizing what she would and would not be capable of really refocused the story. If she didn’t have the capacity or even agency to have committed any offense that the abusers in my life had been blaming me for, then I as a child did not either. And abusers always blame their victims. This filled me with enough rage on behalf of my child-self to overpower my fear at writing it.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
This is probably the thing that has been the most impactful from the feedback I’ve gotten from my early readers. People will read it, and then tell me it was like I was living in their homes with them. While I always thought that my story made me so different from other people that they wouldn’t be able to relate; the opposite was true. It was so relatable that people are refocusing their own traumas and abuse stories without fear or guilt. Because I stood up first. Because I said “this happened to me” first. And I think that’s been the most rewarding part of this entire experience. That we all went through traumas, but if we look at them without fear, we can heal. We can get better. Both on our own and as a community.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I think of the book as a seed I plant in people’s lives. Once they read it, it changes their lens. It changes what opportunities for growth they are presented with. While I can’t say “this is the takeaway”, I can say “read it, and see what changes for you”.
I also hope when people read it, they realize they have potentially been accepting abuse on behalf of others in many different ways over their lives. And The Foster Care System is just one of those ways. Foster Care is underfunded. It is under-regulated. It varies from state to state, as do the laws governing The System. There are private agencies involved that don’t work well with government agencies. There are government contracts and contractors involved and The System is full of abuses. This all makes it the perfect playground for abusers who like to hurt children. The System is entirely overwhelmed and yet, it’s a revolving door of more and more child victims entering The System at the worst moment of their young lives. I don’t have all the answers, but we can’t solve anything if we refuse to look at and acknowledge we have a problem.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe that the best leaders are the ones who lead by example. The leaders who don’t seek power and validation through their role. The leaders who don’t surround themselves with those who only agree with them. A real leader doesn’t confuse submission for honesty or loyalty. A real leader doesn’t need to hurt those they lead to feel bigger. As the adage goes ‘the only people right for leadership are those who wouldn’t seek it’.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Whatever is meant for you will come to you. You can’t miss it. You don’t need to accept every opportunity and burn yourself out in the process because you’re scared you’ll miss what you are meant for. Only you know what is right for you. If it feels wrong for you; it is.
2. Be your own advocate. No one is going to do this for you.
3. Never give up your voice. Not to anyone. There will be times in your life where you will be asked to accept less than your whole self deserves, probably many times, under the guise that you have to give up who you are to be happy. Don’t fall for that. The right opportunities will come. You don’t have to sacrifice to make everyone around you happy. Abusers require that, and we aren’t trying to be abused.
4. Rejection is protection. There have been MANY times in my life that I haven’t been the right fit for something. Many things. But as time passed, I realized I was aiming small. I was desperate for things that would’ve kept me trapped in something that wasn’t right for me. Don’t play small.
5. Not all money is good money. It may be that you will run into situations where because someone is paying you your rate that they expect you to use your name to co-sign certain shady dealings. Fire clients that have no integrity. If they have none, they don’t care about yours. And no money is worth losing your integrity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Find out who you are, and then do it on purpose” -Dolly Parton
When I was growing up I was told over and over by my narcissistic foster mother that I needed to be who everyone wanted me to be to be accepted as a person worthy of love and respect. I tried that. A lot. It turns out the opposite is true. You teach people how to treat you. What you will accept is what teaches people how to treat you. Abusers LOVE people with no boundaries so they will complain and fight about anyone who has them. Of course they will. Let people self-reject. Being who you are will attract your community. Being the real you is what brings the celebrators into your life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
LeVar Burton. Easy answer. I think of LeVar Burton as my TV dad. He taught my entire generation to not just take his word for it. Some of us used reading to survive and I was one of those kids.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Facebook Group “Indomitable Insiders”:
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Di Ciruolo Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.