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Boundaries vs Bullying

The school year is fast upon us and as such, it’s time to talk about a common school problem: bullying.

I’ve been an educator for 20 years and have seen bullying, but more often, I see not bullying being classified as bullying by upset parents. Let’s talk about what bullying is before we go into what it is not. According to StopBullying.gov:

 

Bullying Definition

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. 

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

 

Bullying is intentional and often repeated harm to a weaker child.

What is not bullying:

  1. Your child being annoyed by another child.
  2. Your child being pushed down in a game of tag that got too rough.
  3. And most of all, other children choosing not to play with your child.

#3 hurts. I’ve dealt with that one: My younger child looking up to older kids and desperately wanting to play with them, but the older kids not wanting to play with him/her. Watching my babes have hurt feelings ignites some mama bear instinct that wants to lash out at the kids for being “mean” to my baby. I hold that in because my logic does overcome and let me know that a child choosing not to play with my child is not mean; it’s just a boundary. Kids are allowed to have boundaries.

I want to be clear here that I am not talking about intentional exclusion with the goal to hurt your child. What I am addressing is children choosing not to spend time with your child or your child choosing to not spend time with someone. Healthy boundaries are not intentionally cruel. Intention absolutely matters when we are discussing bullying.

Bullying is intentionally cruel. Boundaries are not.

I am a child of generations of people pleasers and as such, boundaries are really hard. Saying no often makes others unhappy and people pleasers do not want to do that. Being labelled as “mean” is our worst fear. We say yes when we want to say no and for that, we suffer. Saying no is a really good thing and you must give your child permission to say no  and also give other children a right to say no to your child.

For you and your child, time is the most precious of resources. You are allowed to spend those resources as you choose. I am working on saying no, firmly and kindly. I want my children to be able to to do the same.

Boundaries are not bullying. Allow your child boundaries and allow yourself, my fellow over worked, over stressed, over “nice” mommas, to say no also so you can have to energy to love your babes how the deserved to be loved.

 

 

 

 

 

Lexapro

Over this summer, I moved. Moving stirs up all kinds of clutter and a dear friend who is organizationally blessed came to help me. She brought me selection of tubs with lids in all sizes. At first, I did not quite know how to deal with all of these organizational devices. I looked at my piles of stuff, piles that needed to be gone through, sorted, decluttered, and put in proper places. I had a habit of leaving things in my line of sight that needed to be dealt with to force myself not to ignore them; to tackle the problems head on. But these piles overwhelmed me and my kids needed the precious hours that I had to organize, so I pulled out a tub and I piled the clutter into one. I closed the lid and labeled it with the general genre of the crap. Then I did that again and again. Soon I had a very neat stack of closed tubs. My room looked organized. It was of course a sham because in those tubs, my mess of a life still existed, but for the time being, I could move past it towards the more pressing needs of my family and job.

I realized that I can wait to deal with the mess. I can hide it and bring it back out when I have the time to tackle it.

The summer passed and the school year started and it was a very rough start. There was a major upset in my class schedule that caused a week of sleepless nights trying to fix. When that week was done, I had a 2nd sleepless week with the stress of my mother-in-law coming to visit and then my brother being hospitalized. Two weeks of insomnia. I started to fear the nights, knowing that I would find no rest but only lay awake with my heart racing. My health was starting to fail. I was becoming a burden to my family, unable to function properly. I was making major mistakes at work. Hopelessness began to settle in that there was no way to find relief from the intensity of my anxiety.

I told a friend what was happening. She understood. She knew life gets really hard sometimes. She gave me a Xanax and I slept for the first time in weeks.

But the next night, without the Xanax, I didn’t sleep.

I went to my nurse practitioner and told her what was happening.

She told me all about anxiety and how it manifests itself in different people.

“You seem functional,” she said. “Some people come in here and just cry, but you are dressed for work with your makeup on and no one would know. You can hide it all day and push through but when the nights come, your body is still pushing through and can’t stop.”

Did I seem functional? I had heard that a few times when I was having a major anxiety episode. They last for days, weeks, even once for months, yet people had claimed to be surprised that I was unhealthy. How could they not see it? How many other people are walking around with this invisible illness?

She told me about the Xanax and how it wasn’t a long term solution. It functions like alcohol in your system and can be damaging.

Alcohol is the most common and most accepted anti anxiety med out there. Social anxiety? Have a drink. Stressed out about work? Happy hour. Men love their beer. Women love their chardonnays. Our society is fine with treating a serious mental health issue with alcohol but still not ok with admitting that we have a worldwide epidemic of mental illness.

Alcohol is fine. Suffering from depression and anxiety will label you as a crazy person though so drink up and hide the real issue.

And alcohol had been destroying my family for generations. It was why my brother was hospitalized, it had destroyed my childhood, and my parents’ childhoods. For generations, my people had been suffering from anxiety and using liquid Xanax to medicate.

All of this hit me while this nurse leaned in towards me in her chair and spoke with earnestness that there are ways to treat my anxiety that are safer than what I was doing.

She said my serotonin levels were off and she wanted to give me Lexapro to stabilize them. She said it was safe and non addictive.

Mood altering drugs scare me. Addiction runs in my family, but I had to trust her. She said it was safe and right now, I was unsafe. I was falling apart, unable to handle the adrenaline that constantly pumped through my body.

The anxiety had always been there, but when I had kids, it worsened. Everything was scary. I was hyper sensitive to my kids and very protective. If my husband yelled at them, I went into full mother bear mode and attacked him to turn him on me instead of them. I protected them even when I knew I was being irrational and even hurting them in the process by not allowing my husband to parent.

This past year, things get even worse. Everything was personal. Every criticism at work was a personal attack on the core of my being. I dissected benign comments from friends, working them over and over in my head for days on end. My empathy, which was once a gift, was in overdrive and I felt everything anyone around me felt. If a friend was going through a rough time, I felt her anguish and took it as my own and then took as my fault.

My friend Gabe is bipolar. I loved Gabe. He was a high school crush and the most sensitive of hearts. When he was manic, he was wild and without a care but when he went low, he told me he would watch the news and feel convinced that everything bad in the world was his fault. He knew it wasn’t rational, but that is what his brain was telling him.

I get what he felt now.

Feeling for others was once a good thing, but I had crossed over into too much feeling and was becoming a sick burden on those I loved.

Not being a burden is important. Humans should be useful when they can. My brain was stopping me from being useful. I couldn’t mother because I was exhausted from feeling. I couldn’t be a good friend because I felt every pain told to me and it hurt too much to listen. I couldn’t teach because….well….this one isn’t so easy.

Last year, I started school with the heaviest of hearts because my student Tyler took his own life. I loved Tyler. There is not enough alcohol or Xanax to numb to brokenness I feel when I think of Tyler. For him, I want to love my students and really feel for them, but because of Tyler, I am also terrified. My heart is raw and open. I am not ready to love another student like I loved him. Without something to numb the pain, my heart really will break and I can’t teach broken.

To be a mother, wife, and teacher, I needed to put some things in a tub for awhile.

I’ve been taking the Lexapro for a month now and it works. I feel less. The nervousness is less. I am not feeling constantly flooded by emotion. My life looks much better from the outside and I am a more functional parent, wife and teacher.

There are downsides though. My empathy, which has always been heightened, is numbed. Last night, my husband had to tell me that my son was upset because I had no idea. I went outside to find him in his tree fort, crying. The non drugged me would not have had to be told that my son was hurting.

And I wonder if I will miss those things that really matter. Will I be able to feel the pain of my students so that I can get them help when they are struggling? Or will I miss their pain and lose another one?

What is the risk of not feeling?

Gabe didn’t like to take his medication because it made him feel “not him.” But Gabe didn’t fit in our world when he wasn’t on his meds.

I was being too much “me” and too much of me is more than my world needs right now. I can’t fit.

Since I have to fit, I have to take the meds. Just for awhile.

But there will come a time when I will open the lid back up and pull out all these feelings and sort through them, declutter them and put them where they need to go.

Just not today.

 

 

 

We Need a Hero

When I was an awkward, shy, home-schooled child, I loved to read. Reading gave me a chance to feel people out without actually having to put myself out in the world. Through stories, I had the opportunity to experience dealing with people and to learn how I should act in different situations. I need heroes to emulate because like most human beings, I learn by mimicry.

From infants, most of us learn how to function in society by mimicking those around us, especially our heroes like mom and dad or big brother. As we grow, that doesn’t really change. At 40 years old, I am still looking to my heroes to figure out how to be.

Human beings are mimickers and we need heroes to mimic, so the best way to communicate with a whole society on how you want them to behave is through a story that says: “This is what we want you to be. Emulate this hero.”

I am teaching Greek mythology right now. The Greeks used their stories to communicate their societal values. In “The Iliad” by Homer, Achilles is given the choice as a youth to live a long and happy life and end up forgotten or die young as a glorious hero who would be remembered forever. He chose the latter and this story communicated to ancient Greek’s that a hero’s death was preferable to a safe and comfortable life. This served them well because they produced strong fighters who conquered many countries. Achilles gave Greek’s a hero to emulate that furthered the needs of his society.

Achilles did not need to be an actual historical figure to affect the course of history. His story mattered more than reality because in his story, he could be the perfect and strong hero that the Greek’s needed. Real humans are fallible and therefore poor choices as heroes.

For example, I may look to Martin Luther King Jr. as a hero, but when I learn that he was an adulterer, this tarnishes his story and makes me less likely to want to mimic him. Every real human is tarnished and therefore, a real human is a poor choice as a hero to lead a society.

Our religions are built around stories and these stories do not need to be real. Indeed, religious scholars have professed that the societies that created our major world religions were far more concerned with telling a good story than actual, historical fact.

They were smart. The story is what changes the world, not the reality.

Emulating a hero is ingrained in our DNA. Jesus understood this and told many stories as his way to communicate the principles he came to teach. He was more than a story teller though. He was THE story.  His life story  has been extremely powerful in affecting our current society because he is the perfect hero.

Jesus is without blemish, so he is a hero that we can emulate without fear that we will find a fault. A fault would make him an undesirable hero, and in order for him to be perfect, there has to be a supernatural element because no human being is without fault. He is the poor, farm boy who we find is really a prince and he rides off on his donkey to slay the devil and save his beloved. He is the ultimate hero of sacrificial love and sets a precedent for a whole society to imitate his example and lay down their lives for each other.

His story was and is good news to so many people. However, like anything that has the power to control a society, people have sought to taint the most beautiful of stories for their own gain. And misusing his story has caused many problems.

A society functions well under one common story and that is where religion has served us well, and this religion does not have to be Christianity. The common hero can be Mohammad, Buddha, or Krishna. It doesn’t matter all that much. But a common hero means the society is working together to promote the same values.

In the United States of America, we have moved past a common religion. As I evaluate the need for a common hero, I see how this may have weakened our society because we are left floundering, searching for someone to show us how to be. Currently, the people we see the most become our heroes. We emulate the people that have the most air time. Popularity has become the gauge for deciding what we should be.

We know the Kardashians. We know Donald Trump. We know Kanye. These people are in front of us more than others and so we see them as the goal. They have become our heroes because we have chosen popularity over what is best for our society.

In losing a common hero, we have adopted sub par replacements and our society will mimic these people. You are choosing now, with your clicks, who your children will become.

Please, choose more wisely.

Because here is the deal, if we do not choose a hero that we can all agree on, a tyrant will come in and choose it for us. History shows that the conquering army conquers with more than a sword; they conquer with a story. The Romans used Jesus’s story; the Moors used Mohammad’s. To conquer a society fully, you have to give them a story to agree on and you have to remove their old story. The story is where the power is. The story is enough to cause a revolution and give people the motivation to sacrifice even their lives for a something bigger. Even in our own country, we knew that when we took over our land from the Native Americans, we, white Christians,  had to destroy their stories and convert them to ours or we would not be able to stop them.  We were stronger in numbers and weapons but yet, we still knew that we needed to remove their gods and heroes to bring them to a state of submission.

Military power is not enough to conquer. You must change the story.

We are changing our own story with our clicks without a full understanding of what we are doing and our obsession with viral stars has caused a serious problem. We are destroying our own myth of being a strong and heroic country. The symptom of this rapid weakening is that that we choose popularity over nobility in our leadership.

In the past election, we were given the choice between two characters lacking in heroic qualities; before the votes were even cast, we lost a huge battle for the good of our society by not providing people who could even feign heroism to the masses who desperately need someone to mimic.

This conundrum let to the election of Donald Trump as president, and that will weaken our society more than you know. We did not need to choose an actual perfect person, as this is impossible due to the fallibility of humans,  but we did need to have someone who could pull off the appearance of heroism. We do not have that in Trump. Our story is weakened now and that is the beginning of the end of our society.

We can find common ground as a mixing pot of religions and cultures. We can decide together what we will mimic, but we must be conscious of our choices in order to choose our heroes and keep a stronger society with a better story from overtaking ours. With each click, with each article you share, consider that you are participating in your culture’s story and setting the plotline for your children. Going viral cannot be our culture’s ultimate goal.

We can and must do better.

So choose heroes in your daily life. Follow a faith. Read tales with morals to your kids. Seek out people that make the world a better place and then copy them. Mimicry is not a bad thing. We will all seek to mimic, but our free will gives us the choice on who we imitate.

Choose well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America: Land of the Broken

Today I cried for the first time since the election. My daughter came in and sung me “Lost Boy” by Ruth B; A sweet song about my favorite childhood story sung in the sweet innocent voice of my beautiful daughter. I want to run off to Neverland and away from this adult world and take my family with me. I get you J.M. Barrie! I don’t want to be a grown up.

When you grow up, you have to face the broken of the world and you realize that no one is going to protect you from it anymore. You are all of a sudden hit with the reality that the adults are no different then then kids; confused, scared, and wanting big poppa to come in and make it all better.

We all crave someone who can protect us because we are all scared.

We try to ignore our fear or mask it with addictions, but the world is terrifying and eventually the fear becomes so great that nothing can keep it down.

We are nothing more than children, scared and looking for someone to take care of us. Children who feel unsafe and neglected will seek out a strong personality to give them security. Children who don’t feel safe are vulnerable to predators.

In the wise words of Tina Fey in a letter to her daughter: “May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.”

The damage is what lures the predators. The feeling that no one  hears you and loves you. No one will protect you. That is the feeling that a predator seeks.

America is scared. America is feeling unheard. America is damaged.

Then along comes an admitted predator and he pretends to listen. He seems to care. He is loud and seems strong. He promises to protect her. He says he will keep her enemies away and make sure she has what she needs to thrive. He moves in closer, whispering comfort in her ear and his hand moves up her thigh and she ignores what she knows is so wrong because she so needs to feel safe and heard. He will take what he wants from her and leave her more broken than before.

I am so sorry America. I am devastated to realize how unheard you have been and how unsafe you feel. I am sorry that you felt he was the only option.

Today, I cry for my country, but I will get up and go love my children now and listen to them and then I will try to listen to my family and friends that voted for him. He is a symptom of a bigger problem and it’s time we all starting listening to each other so that we can find the root of our fear, pull it out and heal the wound.

Put your arms around each other today America. We are not enemies. We are a broken family that needs to heal and we can only do that by laying down our pride and anger and truly seeking to hear each other.

America: What have you done?

Last December, a man stepped in front of news cameras and broadcasted to the world that the United States of America should ban all Muslims from entering our country.

That statement was so completely shocking that I could not believe someone said that out loud where people can hear. Being raised in a small, sometimes racist/bigoted town, I had heard talk like that before, but no one would say that out loud in public. That talk was kept behind closed doors because even the bigots knew that was inappropriate talk outside of the bigot bubble.

For almost 20 years, I have been a teacher and I have strongly condemned bullies, racists, bigots and sexists. I have taught my students not to use this kind of language and to see their fellow humans as more than a label. I believed with all my heart that these kids who used this type of language were being raised on the fringe and that our country agreed to condemn bigotry, racism and sexism.

He said “ban Muslims” out loud, on camera, with the world watching.

“The country will condemn these words,” I thought. I felt so sure that our country held the values that I had been teaching.

Our country did not. Many people were emboldened to come out of the fringes and share this view that our country could and should discriminate against people based on their religion.

“Just temporarily,” many would say when I protested.

There is no temporary in bigotry. Once you judge an entire group as bad because of their faith, you don’t get to go back. The damage is done.

Soon, it became apparent that bigotry was not a fringe problem; our country was infested.

Then, racist comments became ok.

“Mexicans are rapists.”

Then sexist comments were fine.

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”
“I did try and fuck her. She was married.”
“Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

I feel like a naive child who’s parents had always told her that adultery was bad, only to find that they have been cheating on each other her whole life. The premises that I was so sure we valued as Americans are gone.

My naive innocence has been ripped away. I no longer see the United States of America as a champion for good in the world.

America, you elected him President. You elected an openly sexist, racist bigot President of the United States of America.

What do I do now?

When I go to teach, do I continue to stop the bullies and condemn that hateful remarks? Or do I give up and accept that our values as a country are not what I thought they were?

This morning, in the wake of heartbreak, I am trying to remember the voices of my heroes.

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Today, I will keep doing the right thing. It may not be in my power to stop what is happening in all of my country, but I know that teaching children not to judge who people groups by their skin color, religion or sex is right. I’ll keep doing that today…..and tomorrow…..and they day after that.

My fellow fighters for human rights, keep going. Don’t give up. Hope remains that if we keep doing good, good will result.

 

 

Sex Ed: Take Responsibility

I had my son within a year of being married. My husband was my first sexual partner and we waited to start having sex until after we got married. Good Christians and all. When I had my son, I remember feeling a panic that we couldn’t have sex for 6 weeks. I wasn’t worried because I wanted to have sex. Dear Lord. No. My body was ripped apart and needed to heal. I did NOT want to have sex. But somewhere, deeply ingrained, was the idea that if I did not have sex with my husband for an extended period of time, he would cheat on me. We had dated for almost two years without having sex. I knew that he could go 6 weeks without it and yet, the idea that my husband was incapable of controlling himself was placed somewhere where logic could not reach.

We’ve been married 10 years and my desire for sex has fluctuated in that time. When my desire is low and I have sought advice to help, the message I most often receive is that I just need to do it to keep my husband from temptation. This message is preached my friends, clergy, marriage books and even doctors. My husband’s desire to stray is my responsibility according to this well meaning but very damaging advice.

Do you know what will kill a woman’s sexual desire faster than anything?  The idea that her husband needs sex more than he needs her. Tell her that and believe me, sex is the last thing she will want.

I love my husband. I  want to care for him. We are in a partnership. However, I am not responsible for his actions. If he cheats because I am going through a time of low sex drive, that is on him. Not me.

My husband is not an animal, driven by instinct. He is a capable human with reasoning and self control.

So where does this idea start? This idea that women are responsible for a man’s sexual actions?

It starts as soon as you tell a young girl that she needs to cover her body or change her behavior so the boys in her class are not tempted.

Don’t do that.

Boys will be sexually attracted to girls and girls will be attracted to boys. That is a healthy, normal response, but she is not supposed to control his desire. He is. Our boys are capable of controlling themselves.

Telling them anything else is damaging to our boys as much as our girls.

Christians, I am looking at you; stop telling your girls that they need to cover up to protect their Christian “brothers” from temptation. You are feeding into the idea that she is responsible for his actions. A boy can refrain from grabbing a girl even if she is wearing a short skirt. To tell them otherwise is to rob our boys from becoming men who can take responsibility for themselves.

The behavior of a certain grown man in the media who is seeking  an office of great responsibility  is appalling, right? That behavior is deeply ingrained in our society and how we raise our children. If you are appalled by the idea that a man cannot help but grope a woman and then brag about it as much as I am, then join me in changing the way we raise our children. Teach your boys and girls that they are not the keeper of the others’ instinctual desire. Give them the tools they need to be reasonable human beings, not animals.

We can and must be better.

 

 

 

 

 

God is the Colors a Mantis Shrimp Can See

One of my dearest friends wrote this and I am so in love with it I had to share:

 

Let’s start with an extremely over-simplified biology refresher. Eyeballs contain special light catching cells called cones that respond to color. More types of cones means more visible wavel…

Source: God is the Colors a Mantis Shrimp Can See