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Teaching Kids Not To Assault

I turned off NPR today on the way to taking the kids to school because the topic was sexual assault and I didn’t want to explain it to my kids, but of course, as soon as I turned the station, my 8 year old daughter asked what sexual assault is. I told her that it had to do with touching people in their private areas without permission. That was about as far as I was ready to go into that conversation, but the idea of permission is one that we have been exploring extensively in our house.

Permission, consent and that no means no are reoccurring lessons in our home.

This past Sunday, my 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter were playing in the back yard with neighbors and my daughter ran in followed by the girls to tell me that her brother had just bit her. Bit her!!! What the?!!! How are we dealing with biting at 8 and 10? So my husband and I reacted as appropriately as we thought we could in the moment and punished my son. Can there be an excuse for biting? Did we even need his side of the story?

Well…turns out we did because this issue blew up into a huge discussion on assault.

They were playing a hostage type game. He was holding her hostage which meant physically restraining her. She told him to stop and he didn’t.

That was the first lesson. When someone says stop, the game is over. Yay! We did our job as parents and taught: “No means no.” We had a clear boundary. Easy peasy. Parenting win.

Yet no…not yet.

We explained this to both of them. He thought she was just saying that as part of the game because of course a hostage would say that. I told him it didn’t matter. We are just going to, from here on out, end a game if someone says stop. However, my daughter was unhappy with this. She had not wanted the game to stop. Her objections were part of the game. Her no did not mean no.  And then, in her play protest to being held hostage, she bit him.

SHE BIT HIM! Ughhh…..

So he bit her back and that put us in this situation where I had treated him as the aggressor and her as the innocent victim, but she was not innocent.

She had said stop and didn’t mean it. He knew she didn’t mean it. Then she assaulted him and he retaliated.

Can you see a black and white lesson here? I didn’t so this one was really hard. There was no clear villain and victim. What lesson could I possibly pull from this? I’ve been processing this for days, along with listening to media reports, and I have admittedly felt overwhelmed with the responsibility of getting this lesson right. We are experiencing a cultural shift and with that, I need to make sure my parenting prepares my children for the brave new world where assault is taken seriously.

I am very grateful for the conversations that are happening now on assault and sexual impropriety. These conversations have helped me frame events that happened in my past and given validity to the victimized feelings I had.

All of this, processing my own past, parenting my kids and the daily onslaught of media coverage of sexual assaults has forced me to define what I want to teach my kids about assault and consent. While they are both too young to understand sexual assault, they are not too young to understand that hurting others is wrong and how to avoid causing distress. Sexual assault is about power. My kids can definitely understand not abusing their power and since they are Spider Man fans they also know that:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

I will tell them that my son is older and stronger than his sister. Therefore, he holds more responsibility in the altercations. He cannot abuse his power. If he is confused on her consent to the game, he must err on the side of her safety.

I will tell them how a parent, coach and teacher holds power and should not abuse that power.

I will tell them that a boss holds power and should not use that power to cause pain or humiliation to his or her employees.

I will tell them about the power of inebriation and how a drunk person has given up his or her power. The sober person is now responsible for the drunk person and cannot abuse that power. I will also advise them NOT to give up their strength and wit to the beer bong.

I will teach both of my children that they are strong and gifted and that they must use their power to help and not to hurt.

In the end, all of the parenting lessons I learn are lessons I need for me. I hold a huge amount of power over my children and the absolute best way I can teach them to honor and care for others is to model that behavior.

I have a lot of work to do.

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It’s All Going to Be Ok

In my last post, I shared about quitting my job of 9 years. That move was terrifying for me. So terrifying that I put off doing it for years. I stayed at a job that was destroying me for YEARS because of fear.

Here is what I want you to know: It all turned out ok.

It’s been 4 months. I have a new job that pays less and stresses me less. I am healthier. My kids are healthier. My marriage is healthier. I make less money but my husband is making more, so it all balanced out.

I was terrified of a monster and when I stepped out of my closet to face it, it was just a shadow that dissipated when the light came on.

I really thought I was holding everything up and that if I stopped, our little world would fall apart. Then I stopped and it kept turning just fine.

Strangely, quitting seems so small now; like a silly decision I could have made years ago with ease. The light is flipped on and there is no monster.

If you are facing a big and scary decision, I encourage you to make it. Flip on that light and see the monster for what it is.

It’s all going to be ok.

 

 

 

The Message: Letting My Husband Lead

I got the phone message on a Friday in late May. “We know what you did” was the message that I heard, even if those aren’t words that were used. My body went numb, unable to process. I immediately called back, trying explain, but was sent to voice mail. I texted. No response.

The numbness gave way to my heart starting to race and thoughts of doom. I was going to get fired. Or at least my job would be serious hell from here on out.

My sin: I had applied for another job and my boss knew.

I was on my way to surf with my husband and kids when I get the message. I tried to breath through the heart racing and push down the tears that threatened to rise up. After 9 years at my job, I knew how disloyalty was treated. I had taken every precaution when feeling out other jobs to keep my search secret. I did not tell even my closest friends at work. I checked the boxes on the application that my current employer could not be contacted, yet still they knew.

Nausea began to wash over me while sitting on my surf board. The water usually calms me but now I just wanted out. Out of the water. Out of my own skin.

My heart would not stop racing. The thoughts that I would lose my job and put my family in financial ruin went on through the night. At midnight, I caved and took anti anxiety medication. This school year was the first year that I had needed to seek medication. I had two major anxiety attacks. The first one was triggered by start of the school year stress and lasted two weeks. Two weeks without more than a few hours a sleep a night. My family was suffering. I was unable to parent. My husband was shouldered with his full time job, caring for the house and kids and trying desperately to help me. A friend gave me a Xanax and for the first time in weeks, I slept. Xanax is a heavy medication and one not to be used lightly, but it worked. It turned off the racing thoughts and I slept. I slept so heavy that for most of the next day I was unfunctional, but at least I slept. I vowed not to use it except for in an emergency. I ended up needing it again in January for another work crisis and now, in May, at a time when I should be wrapping up the school year and prepping for a relaxing summer, I needed medication again.

The next morning, my husband found me crying on the closet floor.

“They are going to punish me,” I said. “They know that applied for another job and they will make my life hell.”

His eyes widened, in a look of almost shock at the ridiculousness of my statement. What kind of place punishes an employee for looking at other options? But then, he narrowed his gaze in an acceptance that yes, they would make my life hell. And his. And our kids.

He has called my job an abusive relationship for years. Emotional decisions are a norm at my workplace and many of them had caused me problems; hurting me, my students or others that I care about. I would cry and panic at these, but then, the admin would be so nice to me that I would stay. My husband had been begging me to look for other work for years; to stop the abusive cycle that was permeating our lives.

Now, he was done. He pulled me off the closet floor, pulled me in close and said with resolve, “You are done. You have to quit.”

He swore to work more hours and do what needed to be done to make ends meet, but he made the decision there that this was over.

I could not have loved him more in that moment.

I quit that Monday.

 

40 Years Old: Life Lessons

I have been on this Earth for more than 40 years now, and I keep thinking I should be wiser. I think I have some profound thought or that I have figured out some deep meaning to this life, only to realize that tons of smart people before me have already had that same thought and written it down in words so much more beautiful than I.

I spoke of putting problems away in bins in a previous post. Now that I am healthier, I have started unpacking these mental bins, and as I do, I put them into two piles: My Problems and Not My Problems. Then I have chosen to basically toss the Not My Problems contents in the trash, for I have limited energy and the My Problems bin is much too full to even think about the Not My Problems bin.

But the way I just worded that is not nearly as beautiful as the words that I saw hanging on my grandma’s wall this summer when I went to see her. Words that have been on her wall since I was a little girl and words that I have seen countless times in my life:

 

Such prettier words for My Problems and Not My Problems. I get the poem now. As I age, I don’t seem to get new profound thoughts to give to the world, but I recognize wisdom a bit more often.

There are three things that I have learned though that I will share with you.

  1. I am not as special as I once thought. This relates to the problem above of seeing that my profound thoughts have already been imparted to society, over and over again. I am experiencing a unique life. No one has had the exact experiences that I am having right now, but that doesn’t make me special or better or smarter. I am part of humanity. Just one part. That might of bummed me out as a younger human with ideas that I was special and could save the world, but now, I find that comforting. We are all in this together and thankfully, others have gone through similar experiences and have some wisdom to give me because I really need it. I am not the savior of the world. I am the one who needs saving.
  2. I am crazy and so are you. I’ve been pretty open on here about my mental health struggles, so I am accepting of my own crazy. I know that I am nuts. You are too. You don’t think you are? You are. Sorry. Human beings seem to all have some sort of neurosis that they are trying to work out. I accept now that I am nuts and then when I recognize the crazy in my fellow humans, it makes it easier to accept and forgive them. You know that line in the Bible where Jesus says, “Forgive them for they know not what they do”? He got it. He saw our collective crazy and knew that it is is not our fault. Loving people is easier when you see that they are mostly just mentally ill people doing the best they can.
  3. We need magic. The world is far too great and terrible to handle. The beauty is too much. The agonizing pain is too much. We need magic to help us cope. Without magic, the world is far too heavy. I do believe in magic. I need to know that there is a greater power than I taking care of this world or I will lose the shreds of sanity that I have. While I know that using magic as a synonym for faith is controversial, I am going to do just that. My faith is my magic. Through my faith in Jesus Christ, I get to let Him take charge of the universe and experience overwhelming pain and beauty with the safety net that I need. Amazing events have happened to me. Events that I cannot explain with empirical measurements. Time and time again, I am convinced that out world is a magical and wonderful place. A place of heroes and villains. A place that can only be explained with otherworldly characters. Humans have had stories forever to help cope with the awesome and terrible powers that they feel pulling on their lives. I desperately needed the story of Christ as if the story had been part of me forever, so when I read about Him, when I met Him, it felt like going somewhere very safe and beautiful for me. If I am going to be a weak, barely sane human, like I know that I am, I need to cling to this person, this God, who’s whole message is sacrificial love. He is my magic and my Savior.

 

To sum up, what I have learned in 40 years is that I am a delusional ego maniac that believes the voices in her head.

 

 

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!