The Words She Keeps

I was in eighth grade when I overheard a group of boys discussing their female classmates in the library. I sat frozen in a cubby desk hidden from their view. I attempted to finish a make-up vocabulary test, but my focus disappeared as I listened to their words.

“The new girl is cute, but a little chubby. Sometimes she is pretty, but other days, I don’t know.”

I felt the young man’s words cut through my skin and consume my thoughts. I looked down at my thighs and noticed their roundness. I put my hand on my stomach, soft to the touch. My other hand embraced a lock of my hair, reminding me again that it was a mistake to try a new haircut.

I was the new girl, and apparently ugly and fat.

I don’t remember much of my eighth-grade year, yet I’ve kept those words with me. I hear them when I look into the mirror and don’t like what I see. I think about them when my skinny jeans don’t zip up or when my hair is a mess. Every time my face breaks out or  I slip my legs into a bathing suit, I am in eighth grade again.

Those words shouldn’t define me, shouldn’t have the effect they had. I grew up in a house with parents who showered me with love and positive affection about my looks and abilities. I married a man who is devoted and loving. I have friends who encourage and support. I am successful and happy with the person I became, the one I am still becoming.

Yet, those words often come back to haunt me. These are the words I keep in the desk drawer of my mind, the ones that startle me when they reappear. The ones I often shove into the back but can never throw out.

And now that I have girls of my own approaching eighth grade, I wonder what words will they choose to keep, what innocuous statements will stain their souls?

Although I like to think I can relate to my daughters, the world they live in is much different than the one I knew.

The pressure on young people today is tremendous. From looks and grades to social media presence and athletics, the burden to be the best weighs heavy on our most impressionable minds. This also creates a culture of envy and unconfident youth who do not know how to step away from the stories they create in their minds of their peers’ perfect lives. Individuality is admonished and childhood ends sooner.

The result is a generation of teenage girls searching for ways to cope. Eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, self-harming, body dysmorphia, depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are just some of the ways young girls deal with these external pressures.

So, I wonder, when my daughter looks in the mirror, will she hear my voice saying she is beautiful on the inside and out, or will she choose to purge her last meal? When a young girl ostracizes her on social media, will her father’s words ring in her ears, reminding her of her strength, or will she choose to cut her skin to deal with the pain? When a boy pressures her to move forward too quickly, will she remember her worth or succumb to peer pressure?

What words will she choose to keep?

Words are powerful. They can motivate groups and cripple young minds.

But words can be vague and open to misinterpretation. Eighth grade me didn’t realize this. Forty-something me wants to change it for my girls.

No longer do I compliment my daughters with generalities. I want them to possess mantras — words to live by and provide comfort in times of stress and confusion.

When we feel bad about our appearance, we say, ““I am enough, exactly as I am at this moment. Remember who you are.”

When someone treats us poorly, we say, “What others say is a reflection of them, not me.”

When we are troubled and don’t know what to do, we say, “Kindness is the best form of communication. Love always wins.”

And when the world brings us down, we say, “It will be okay, because I am loved.”

I am not naive enough to think that simple phrases will protect my girls from the evils of the world, but saying these mantras with them, believing these words, and trying to live it, is a powerful exercise.

It’s the way I start shredding the notes from my past and writing new ones for my daughters.

And living through eighth grade once is enough for anyone.

What Brock Turner’s Release Means to Parents

Brock Turner gets released from jail Friday, September 2, 2016, after serving three months in Santa Clara County jail.

For those of you not familiar, Mr. Turner, a scholar athlete and Olympic swimming hopeful, was convicted in March of three felony counts: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person. He attacked a woman identified as drunk behind a garbage bin on the Stamford University campus in January 2015.

He completed half of the paltry six-month jail term Judge Aaron Persky imposed upon him. Prosecutors asked for six years.

Most people accused of rape are never found guilty — the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates 97 out of 100 perpetrators of sexual assault avoid punishment. Turner’s crime, however, had witnesses. There was no doubt.

One summer. Three months. 2,160 hours. Not even a full swim season.

Movies released when he entered county jail — instead of the prison time he should have received — may still be playing in theaters.

Don’t get me wrong; I know Brock’s life will never be the same. He is now the poster child for what is wrong with our Justice system when it comes to rape. He is the shining example of how people in authority do not take sexual abuse seriously.  His life is forever changed.

And perhaps I could find compassion for Mr. Turner if he or his family had any empathy for his victim, instead of attributing his “mistake” to two individuals who consumed too much alcohol.

But one thing universally common to rapists is that they don’t think about what their victim goes through. To commit a crime that heinous, it often involves a tremendous amount of dehumanizing.

Victims, however, often do not have the luxury of detachment. Rape is a devastatingly intimate crime that women take with them for the rest of their lives. While some victims are severely injured, become pregnant or contract a disease, for most it is the emotional weight of the crime that breaks them.

Raped women often deal with nightmares, panic attacks, waves of self-doubt, and an overwhelming sense of distrust. They often cannot work because of the fear of another attack. The constant shame inhibits relationships.

Some victims say they are never the same again. It is a lifetime prison sentence.

Why should this matter to you? If you are the parent of girls, you should know that the chance a woman between the age of 12 to 28 getting sexually assaulted is one in three.

I have three daughters.  Those are odds I can’t live with.

We keep telling our girls that they can do anything and be anything, but the cold reality is they can’t. Women are constantly in sexual danger, and it limits our potential. Until we change the conversation from who gets raped to who commits rapes, the “Rape Culture” in our society lives on.

Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York who has received international recognition for his work on men and masculinity, calls it a matter of carrots and sticks. “I think the stick is we need very strong laws with uncompromising enforcement all the way through the legal system so that we make it clear as culture that we won’t stand for this. As a culture we can say the way we try to say around murder for example, or auto theft for example, ‘this is beyond the pale, you cannot do this. We will come down so hard on you, you won’t want to do this.’ O.K. that’s the stick. What’s the carrot? If we as men make it very clear to the women in our lives that we don’t support men’s violence against women, that we are actively opposed to it, that we are willing to confront other men who we see doing aggressive things, then our relationships with women will actually improve.”

All the weight does not lay with our legal system, however, or as society as a whole. There is a burden we carry as parents as well.

Before sentencing, Brock Turner’s father issued a statement detailing the impact this event has on his son, which included how he could no long enjoy a good steak nor follow his dreams to become an Olympic swimmer. He insinuated that the prosecutor’s recommendation for prison time was unfair, suggesting that county jail with probation (instead of the usual mandatory sentencing of several years in lock-up) is a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” He felt that Brock has suffered —will suffer — enough for his role in this situation. He also promised his son’s time would be better spent educating other college students on the misuse of alcohol.

His statement forgot one small detail: Brock Turner is not the victim.

Brock’s life changed the moment he decided to pursue a woman so intoxicated she could not speak or even stand on her own. That mistake — that crime — cost him his Olympic hopes.

The fact that the most central figures in his life — his good friends, his parents, and a California Supreme Court Judge — minimized  his role in this event will cost Brock Turner something much more: any chance of learning that his actions have measured consequences.

More importantly, allowing him out of jail after only three months gives every other young man on campuses across the country an out for rape. Intoxication is a mistake and sexual assault just an ugly consequence of poor judgment.

As a parent, I can’t imagine the heartbreak for the Turners. It must be devastating to watch your golden child’s life destroyed because of what may have been his first drunken binge at a frat party.

This pales in comparison, however, to finding out your daughter was violated in rubbish by a young man that didn’t even know her name. Living with the fact that the convicted perpetrator has no remorse about the crime, and in fact, won’t even admit to it, must be unbearable.

But knowing he walked out of the county jail after three months — one-quarter of a year — well, that is enough to destroy a victim and their family forever.

I do not know the type of parents Brock Turner has or how they chose to raise him. I can only hope that as the California penal system releases him back out into society that his parents will begin to hold him accountable for his actions.

He made an incredible mistake and will pay for it for the rest of his life. But it is a parent’s job to help him understand what he did was wrong — not make it easier for him. He committed a violent crime and needs help. If the Turner’s do not understand this, they need help too.

To date, no one from the Turner family publicly apologized to the victim. Perhaps this is the result of legal counsel, but I can only hope Brock’s parents will help their son see his wrongdoings and give some semblance of closure to his victim. The justice system sure didn’t.

And I am scared. I am scared that one day my girls will drink too much at a party, experiment with drugs, or trust the wrong person, and the direction of their life will forever change in that one second because someone like Brock wasn’t held accountable; because another man felt raping a young woman wasn’t that big of a deal.

Brock Turner gets out of jail after serving 90 days in a county jail after being convicted on three felony accounts by a group of his peers.

His victim will pay for his actions for the rest of her life.

We all must live with that.

From the victim’s letter to her assailant at sentencing:

“As a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”

I Want You In My Village, But Not Too Much

The other day, my tween daughters came home from the park because an older woman informed them they shouldn’t be there unsupervised.

“Did you tell her you could practically see our house from the park?” I asked. “Were you roughhousing by the little kids? I told you to watch out for the little kids!”

“Mom, it was only one other family and us. We were on the bars, and no one was even near. The woman said if our mom wasn’t here to supervise then we shouldn’t be there, so we left,” my youngest daughter told me.

I had mixed emotions about the interaction. I wanted to believe this woman — whoever she is — had good intentions. Perhaps she was worried about abductions or that they could get hurt. Maybe she just didn’t think it was safe.

But, I trusted my kids to behave responsibly and as far as I know there are no signs that parents need to be present to supervise their children, especially since the park is adjacent to my neighborhood and roughly two football fields from my home.

On one hand, if my daughter fell and hurt herself, I would hope this woman would step in to help, lending her phone or waiting with her until I could get there. I would even be okay if she felt the need to reprimand them if they were behaving badly or doing something dangerous.

On the other hand, however, I don’t think I want her — or any other person — to parent my kids, informing them of where they can or can’t be based on their perspectives.

Basically, I want you to be a part of my village — but not too much.

It’s a confusing world we live in nowadays. If you are too hands-on with your kids — or anyone else’s — then you’re a helicopter mom; if you let your son or daughter roam without monitoring them, you’re a free-range parent, reckless and negligent.

There is no middle ground.

Make sure your kids get outside to play, but not unless it’s in your fenced-in backyard, so no one calls the police on you for letting them run near the street unsupervised.

See a kid who is dangling over the railing at a zoo? Don’t say anything because you don’t want to interfere and be “one of those parents.”

I like to think I’m a middle-of-the-road mom. I’m hyper-vigilant about some things — like cell phones and social media — because I have first-hand experience in the perils these can have on a family.

I’m a little lax in other areas, like when my kids tied their old ride-on toys to the back of their bicycles with jump ropes and took turns zipping around our cul-de-sac. I mean, they had helmets on…

But what’s right for my kids, terrifies other parents and vice versa.

So, here we are at an impasse. To village or not to village, that is the question.

I want the village in my kids’ lives. In fact, I need the village, and not just for car pools. I wish for female role models who work outside the home to interact with my girls on a regular basis, so they can know their potential is limitless; I want my kids to play with families where the dad stays home so they can see there are no pre-determined roles; I hope if my kids are doing something bad, someone will stand up to them to course correct if I’m not there; and I need people to be brave enough to tell me if my daughters get themselves in a dangerous situation.

And if I desire all these things, then I have to be open enough to accept the village, even those in it who I don’t agree with about everything. Even those whose perspectives are different. Even those who send my kids home from the park when I’m trying to make dinner.

Because the point of the village isn’t for it to be homogenous. It isn’t so kids can interact only with adults that are exactly like their own parents.

The point of the village is to help parents raise good kids. Sometimes that involves grandparents watching children while mom goes to work, sometimes that means a neighborhood babysitting co-op, and sometimes it even is a random stranger questioning your judgment.

Because while most of the time these villagers are well-intentioned, there are other times it gives me an opportunity to have a frank discussion with my girls, like respecting their elders while also stating they have permission — from their mother — to play at the park.

It seems like we are in a time where we want to reject the village. If anyone questions our parenting, it is reeked in judgment. If someone chooses to raise their kids in a different, more progressive way, it is resented. If someone makes a mistake, they are cast-aside with a scarlet letter emblazoned on their social media profile forever.

But, I feel like we need to come together in the village more now than ever. As parents, we need to recognize we all want the same things for our kids — for them to be safe, happy and grow up to have families of their own to screw up the way they deem fit.

This means that sometimes I have to accept your helicopter parenting, and sometimes you have to accept the risks I let my kids take. And when we think it’s important, we need to speak up and respect that, too.

Because we’re in the same village, whether we like each other or not.

Guest Post: Raising Kids, Raising Survivors

It’s been a tough few months for parents. The world is a scary place, and the judgment parents receive for making a mistake is even scarier.

I have been taking a close look at my daughters lately, and a few incidents with one of them made me start thinking that I am worried how she would survive if something bad -something awful – happened to er. Could she get past it?

In today’s world, you need to be more than just strong. You need to be a survivor. And that’s they type of kid I want to raise.

I am up on the site Her View From Home with a new post about changing the way I look at raising my daughters. I know we are all trying to regain some control in this crazy world, and here’s one way I’m getting mine back.

Because as Lena Horne once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

Raising Kids, Raising Survivors

My 11-year-old daughter walks through the door and crumbles in front of me.

Through waves of tears, she explains she misread the directions on a test and completed an entire section wrong. She received the common-core equivalent of an “F”, and she is devastated.

“Honey, calm down,” I state matter-of-factly, trying to console her. “You have done so well on all your other tests, and your teacher wrote right here that you can fix the problems to jump up to the next grade. It’s not that big of a deal.”

She slows her crying, but her mood doesn’t improve for several hours. This is not the first time I am a bystander in her emotional breakdown. It happens regularly. She loses it when her dad tries to give her advice on soccer or when I tell her to remake her bed. She breaks down when she loses at a board game or when frustrated with a project.

On one hand, it is hard to criticize her. She is a model student and a gifted athlete. She is kind-hearted and helpful, at least when her competitive streak and desire to be perfect doesn’t get the best of her.

But when I watch her in the moments she emotionally disintegrates, when I watch her transition from a strong, confident girl to a blubbering, uncontrollable mess, I worry.

It’s not that I think she will always be this way. I know she will grow out of some of it. And it’s not that I fret that she is immature or overly dramatic. She is a tween right now in the throes of hormones, so I understand the dynamic.

But I do worry about her mental toughness, her ability to make rational decisions in times of trial and tribulation, and in today’s world, you need to be more than just strong. You need to be a survivor.

To finish reading, click here.

 

 

 

 

The Truth is, You Will

The box of orange Tic Tacs landed at my feet with a splat.

As I bent down to pick them up, I met eyes that were the same color as the sky on a perfect summer beach day. I smiled and cheerily said, “Here you go,” and attempted to deliver the candy to a chubby little hand.

“No!” she screamed, wrapping her arm around her chest and turning her face away from me. “No, no, no!”

I quickly took a few steps back, returning to my place behind my red shopping cart as to not upset this little girl any further. Hell hath no fury like a ticked-off two year-old.

“I’m so sorry,” the young woman standing in front of me in line said. She grabbed the little girl by the arm while simultaneously trying to keep the pacifier in the mouth of a very tiny baby in its infant carrier. As the toddler continued to scream “no” in a variety of octaves, the wallet the woman was holding underneath her arm turned upside down, scattering credit cards and receipts across the floor like chicken feed.

“Abigail, please stop screaming,” she begged as she dropped to her knees just as the infant started wailing.

We locked eyes as I handed her an American Express and Starbucks gift card that landed underneath the candy display. “Really, it’s okay. We’ve all been there,” I relished the opportunity to act as the senior statesman, an upperclassman of Parenting University.

She sighed and offered me a half-smile. As she handed over her credit card to the teenager at the register, she hurriedly explained: “I’m not used to two yet. My daughter is waking up from her nap when she hears the baby cry, and then our whole day is messed up. She normally isn’t like this.”

“No judgment here,” I quickly responded. “Just the fact that you are out and about is impressive. It will get easier.” I wanted to offer encouragement and support, which I knew she needed in that difficult moment. Despite the screaming, her children were beautiful, and the little girl reminded me of my own daughter at that age—a mix of sweet and sour poured into an angel’s body.

“I hope so,” she replied, sounding close to tears as both children continued to squawk. “It just doesn’t feel like it will. I think I’m just exhausted.”

And that’s when I blew it. I broke a cardinal rule of the sisterhood of moms. I said the unthinkable to a new mother going through the worst of it.

Without even thinking, I blurted out: “One day you will miss all this.”

That’s when she looked at me, tired and exasperated, and with a pursed-lip obligatory smile yanked on her little girl’s hand and walked away.

“Wait,” I wanted to yell. “There’s more that I need to tell you!”

But she was gone. I was left holding a box of Tic Tacs, with a side of guilt the size of the Grand Canyon.

I think about that mom all the time. What could I have said to her in that moment? How could I have better explained the emotions that were surging through my head?

I wanted to tell her that even though she is feeling exhausted and alone, I am so jealous of her.

I am jealous of how each night she looks deep into her infant’s eyes and knows that she is the center of his universe. I would do anything to feel my baby’s little hand wrapped around my index finger just one more time, holding so tightly that you feel it in your heart. I am jealous she gets to experience those exquisite moments of the toddler years, where each day comes with a new first. I am green with envy that she gets to snap photos of her daughter wearing her father’s work boots while buck naked. I’m jealous she gets to be the recipient of pretend tea from of a pink piece of plastic, that she gets to feel a tiny hand on her shoulder in an attempt to make mommy feel better.

I want the last thing I smell to be the head of a freshly bathed baby, the most magnificent scent in all the world. I want to go back to the days where one kiss from me could make any boo-boo feel better. I want to see their faces the first time they eat cake, or meet Santa, or take those first few wobbly steps like a giraffe coming out of its mother’s womb.

I wish I could still carry my kids upstairs after falling asleep in my arms. I wish I could still buy frilly tutus and tiaras and magic wands that make dinosaurs dance. I wish I could read Goodnight Moon every evening and watch Baby Einstein every morning. I wish dirty little hands would tug on my sheets at dawn with little voices asking if they could get in bed with Mommy, all of us knowing that sleep was not an option.

I’m sorry, young mom. I blew it. I am just so jealous of what you are about to experience that I forgot how hard it was, too. What you saw were your two children disturbing the peace. What I saw were beautiful memories hanging on to a red shopping cart.

When I see you again, and I know I will, I won’t make it all about me.

I’ll say: “I remember days like these, but I would do it all over again for just one touch, just one smell, just one moment of what you have. No one tells you that these little creatures grow up into big people. People that grow taller than you, read the same books, and steal your shoes. They learn to take care of themselves, and sometimes even take care of you. They smell, and not always in a good way, and getting a hug is sometimes only the result of a compromise for returning their iPhone.

And one day, when you least expect it, you will be standing in line behind a very tired mom, and you’ll say something dumb, even though you know better. You’ll say something dumb because you realize that the sun has set on that part of your life, the part when your kids are little and needy and exhausting. You will be just a little bit jealous of that mom because you’ll see your past self in her, and you’ll realize there is no turning back.”

I won’t say you’ll miss these times one day.

But the truth is, you will.

This essay was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs.