Young Guns

Posted on June 22, 2016

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As we walked through the furniture store Finley lagged behind. I slowed my gait and listened for her, wanting to allow her the feeling of being able to go at her own pace, while also staying close enough that I didn’t lose her.

 

Sean and I were discussing chair colors when I saw her leaning against the wall, her lower lip was trembling. I walked over to her.

 

“What’s up, babe?”

 

She shook her head and bit her lip. I knelt down, “You ok?”

 

She shook her head. “What is it?”

 

“I was standing in the store and there was a bunny or a squirrel with a gun in its hand pointed at me,” she started to cry. We walked over to the creature, which was indeed a taxidermy squirrel with a mini-shotgun in its claw. I whispered, “I think that’s kind of awful. I understand how you felt. That one isn’t going to hurt you, but I am glad it made you uncomfortable. Trust that instinct.”

 

We are vehemently anti-gun in our house. I respect the right of others to have guns, but playdate planning begins with, “Do you keep guns in your home?” I haven’t had anyone answer yes, but my plan if they do is to say that we’d be happy to host a playdate, but that our kids won’t be playing in a house with guns. It is a strong position, but it’s one on which I won’t budge.

 

We’ve talked with the girls about what to do if someone offers to show them a gun. Say a cheerful but firm, “No thanks” and what to do if someone goes to get a gun: Leave. We also went over what to do if someone shows them a gun, say “I can’t be around guns” and then leave. My mom’s cousin was shot dead in the back by her boyfriend. I was at a house party where my date’s “best friend” pinned him to the ground with his foot and held a shotgun to his head. When I can, I don’t want to leave room for doubt.

 

Guns are becoming a part of our day-to-day life that I cannot control. The political discussions online immediately spiral into name-calling, politicians seem bound by scripts that are immune to outside input, and people keep dying.

 

Ever since Newtown it has gotten harder and harder to know which news stories to talk to the girls about and which to let go by as “too much too soon.” More often than I would have imagined the girls come home having heard about something I didn’t talk to them about, from ISIS to the Zika virus. I have no problem with them hearing about the world we live in, the part that troubles me is when someone else frames the story for them; Donald Trump is a perfect example.

 

“People say he tells that truth,” they said, “And that Hillary is mouthy.”

 

“I saw a bumper sticker that said, ‘Trump that bitch’. How is it ok to swear for politics?”

 

Other times I ask if they have heard about police brutality or white supremacy and they look at me blankly, those headlines not even a ripple in the conversations at school.

 

We don’t have it figured out, but we do have issues that for our family are important. Lately we’ve talked a lot about women’s rights and gun control, and when it comes to gay rights we always talk with them. Three years ago we were preparing for their Nana’s wedding. The girls were brimming with excitement as they prepared to sing, “Marry Me” and plotted the colorful bracelets they would wear.

 

“You can be flower girls and you can wear fancy dresses,” we said laughing. “One more thing girls, we are all happy about this, but not everyone thinks it’s ok for two women to get married. If you ever have questions or if someone says something mean, you can talk to us.”

 

I felt funny telling the girls not everyone believed in marriage equality, but I didn’t want them to be caught off guard. I believe that a part of our responsibility in raising informed and compassionate human beings is to illuminate the full range of opinions on subjects. The wedding was a beautiful affair, full of joy and acceptance, but there was the tiniest tickle of a held breath. Being gay is not safe, acceptance, or even tolerance, isn’t promised, and there is still so much hate.

 

I explained to the girls what happened in Orlando. “The other night a lot of people went to a place to dance. It’s a place where gay people can go and dance with each other.”

 

“Girl gays or boy gays?” they asked.

 

I stammered, “I think mostly men, but women too.” They nodded, ready to hear more.

 

“A man went to this place and he killed 50 people. There are 53 more who are very badly hurt,” I said as I scanned their faces.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because the people were gay. He didn’t think they deserved to be alive.”

 

“He killed them for being gay?”

 

“Yes,” I said.

 

The girls were silent until Briar said, “Nana and Jeannie?”

 

Finley said, “Did he kill them?”

 

“No,” I said.

 

“Will they? Will somebody kill them for loving each other?” Finley asked.

 

“No. I don’t think so, but what I need you to know is that there are people who hate. I am sad, but I am happiest that we don’t hate in this family.”

 

Briar tilted her head, “How old was the man? The man who killed them?”

 

“29.”

 

“That is such a waste. I remember when I was like 4 and we were going to Deb’s house and you told me about the two men loving each other. I was confused, I was thinking ‘two men?” but now I am almost 12 and I know gay is ok. I mean he should know by 29 how to understand it. You can’t kill it. I mean, he killed them, but he didn’t kill gayness. You can’t kill love,” she explained.

 

I had nothing to add. I just nodded. After a few minutes I said, “I don’t know what you’ll hear at school tomorrow. You don’t have to talk to anyone and if you have any questions you can ask me. I do want you to know that there are good people too. Right now there are lines of people who don’t hate gay people and they are lining up to give blood.”

 

Finley said, “Why would they give blood?” Sean and I explained that when people lose blood they need it replaced.

 

“Will you give blood?” she asked me.

 

“I just might,” I said.

 

“Can I love all the gay people without giving blood?” Finley asked. We chuckled softly.

 

“You’re too young to give blood.”

 

“Not too young to love gay people and really, really not like people who kill.” She nodded her head and looked at us.

What do you say to that? She was right.

 

We try to define right and wrong without bias, but inevitably it is there; I hope that I err on the side of compassion. We strive to send our girls out into that world with the message that hate is not an answer, love is not a crime, disagreeing doesn’t mean killing, and that ultimately reason will triumph.

 

I didn’t know what to say to them when the US Senate failed to agree that exploring the way we regulate guns isn’t something they were willing to do.

 

“But why? We all have rules. What are they doing instead?” I had no answer.

 

Hours ago Democrats staged a sit-in on the House of Representatives floor demanding a vote on gun control. They were called “childish” by some for “halting the political process.” Representative John Lewis, one of the organizers, said, “By sitting down we are really standing up for the very best in American tradition.”

 

As I try to explain our world to the girls, I can’t help but think that demanding that our elected officials do everything in their power to ensure that Americans are as safe as they can be is the most important thing.

 

I believe the right to feel safe does not belong solely to people who feel safer with guns. There must be a middle ground.

 

I will continue to demand that families like mine have a voice in the gun debate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On These Days

Posted on June 7, 2016

I read yesterday that a remedy for hurt and worry is gratitude, which isn’t to say that a prayer of thanks and a walk in the woods can fix anything, but it can take the edge off for a time.

Yesterday’s post and the continued onslaught of rage and incredulity are wearing me down. I’m allowing myself to focus on these days, the moments of being utterly captivated by Finley’s infatuation with the wind through the window. Being reminded of the way the air carries scents and stories and just by closing our eyes we can be transported to another place and time.

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The moments in a marriage when in the face of overwhelming responsibility and the seeming futility and cursedness of a project, we melt. I can ask him to play air guitar with a massive dock joist and all the furrows and tension of 4 hours standing in the water, dropping bolts, getting splinters, and feeling fish nibble on us drops away to reveal those crinkly eyes and that smile. He played for me and I loved him more for it.

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The way sweat cleanses me, even as it makes every piece of sawdust stick to me. I find salvation in the burn of pushing my body and seeing these arms and legs that I lamented for so many years, flex and manage the weight of lumber, tools, and my children. I forgive myself for so much when I allow myself to remember all that I am capable of and the lengths my body and mind are willing to go.
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Feeling the world and all its promise wrap us up in hues of pink, ripples of, “It isn’t perfect, but there will be wonder.” I unclench my fists and unknot my heart, because it’s ok if we teeter or get slightly off course, the water is wide. My littlest saying solemnly that she can, my eldest saying tenderly that she isn’t sure she wants to; we help each other get from here to there.IMG_4993

My girls, tucked in corners with puffy pillows and airy sheets, shoulder-to-shoulder with their sisters, and Sean gently waiting for me. Content and patient, on these days, and even the others, when I slow long enough to hear beneath the static of the days.

I love you on the air, even during the darkest times.

Night

Peace to you on these days.

Between Brock and a Hard Place

Posted on June 5, 2016

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The other day I posted a photo of Briar and Finley on Instagram hugging it out, but what you didn’t see was the crumpled face of  Finley in tears of regret and the jutting chin of indignation and righteousness on Briar. Their emotions were justified, but absolutely counter to everything I want for my family. I did not give Fin a pass for being mean, I did not deny Briar her resentment. We all suffered through it and emerged on the other side.

 

One of the hardest things about parenting (I reserve the right to change my answer down the road because I know experiences change our views) is watching my kids suffer for the consequences of their actions. I do not believe that my job is to soften every edge, though I desperately wish gentle lives for my girls. I need them to know that when they do something wrong they will be held accountable, unfortunately I also have to tell them that people won’t always be held accountable—kind of leaves a gaping hole of, “Wait a minute, how come…?”

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My responsibility is to cultivate a self-awareness and code of ethics that will steer the girls to make the right decision when no one is watching, to own up to the times when they do not, and mostly, to acknowledge each day how the choices they make influence their happiness, well-being, and impact on the world. Because they are female I also have to include how their actions impact their safety. Women do not get to assume a base level of safety, for us there will always be exceptions and fine print.

I need to address what has happened at Stanford. Let me say that I don’t want to be the woman who harps on rape. I don’t seek to be the angry feminist or the ranty past-prime woman.

I want to be happy-go-lucky.
I want to be lighthearted with men and women.
I want to have a healthy appreciation of sex.
I want to enjoy entertainment.
I want to laugh at jokes.

And yet:

  • Men make jokes about “getting raped at the dealership.”
  • People use “rapey” as an adjective.
  • What did she wear?
  • Was she drunk?
  • Does she have a history of black outs?
  • Did she kiss him?
  • Does she have visible bruising?
  • Is there semen present inside of her?
  • Were there witnesses?
  • Did she report it immediately?

The question to the man rarely seems to be about what he did, what he wore, who he was with, or who witnessed any moment of consent.

The men say, “I can’t remember if she said yes, but she never said no.”

I am off track from the grooves worn in the path by:

  • “You don’t have enough evidence.”
  • “It would be a very hard case for you to win.”
  • “The fact that you know his penis was crooked is great.”
  • “It’s also compelling that you’d never met before.
  • It’s good you weren’t drunk. Do you usually drink?”
  • “You weren’t dressed promiscuously but, rape is hard to prove.”

I’ll go back to the facts of parenting and code of ethics. I am raising my daughters to know that I will call bullshit so fast on excuses that avoid responsibility they’ll get dizzy. They know it when they’ve screwed up; it’s something we have developed together over time, a mutual understanding. It isn’t so perfect that it keeps them from wrongdoing, but they do understand when they have made a mistake in judgement.

We practice “if this, then that,” but explaining why you can’t walk into a house that isn’t yours, you cannot use things that aren’t yours without asking, and you have to think about how what you do makes someone feel when it does not seem to apply to America, and in particular America’s justice system or higher education realm is tough. These are places where the enormous burden of not just proof, but of character, moral fiber, and documentable intentions and behavior seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of women.

Stanford. It’s a school where my grandfather worked, it is the stage for commencement address by Steve Jobs that Briar has been quoting, and it stands as one of the top schools in the nation. A while back a rape occurred, it was perpetrated by a student at Stanford, a standout swimmer they said.

The thing about rape is that it feels like it happened another lifetime ago and yet, certain stories, smells, and qualities of light can take me right back. I can feel the way the bench seat dug into my back as my knees banged against the glove box and his knees rested on my shoulders. I remember gagging, choking, crying.

It’s not pleasant, I know, and I am sorry. I am also sorry for Mr. Turner, father of Brock Turner, who was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Mr. Turner is pained by Brock’s loss of appetite and general listlessness over what was but “20 minutes of action.” He is respectfully distressed about what these 20 minutes will mean over the course of a lifetime to his son, “…incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock.” He goes on to talk about the lack of criminal history and the potential he had for life.

I might’ve said the same thing about myself after my rape. I struggled to eat too, but it wasn’t guilt, it was the gag reflex, a memory from the time, maybe less than 20 minutes, that my rapist forced himself on me. I was conscious, I was able to recount my story, I did not get to press charges. The brave woman at Stanford who has spoken up about what she’s going through wasn’t conscious for the rape, but like so many women, she has her eyes wide open and the public watching as she endures the second assault.

The deliberate, sober process of Judge Aaron Persky determining that her past (those twenty minutes of the attack, which actually have long lasting aftershocks, so a ‘respectful’ fuck you to Brock’s dad) are somehow less important than the future of the accused rapist.

The suggestion that the burden of registering as a sex offender and losing the swim team are punishment in and of themselves completely ignores what Brock’s actions created.

The photo being circulated is of the convicted rapist in a blazer and tie smiling at the camera. All that we know about the woman is from how she has been written about: having been loaded and then later having written a brave letter. Does she have to be well-spoken to be worthy of our trust? Does she have to check enough boxes to be at the level of this fair-faced, strawberry-haired athlete?

Is there a level of brutality that would have changed the judge’s mind?

Is there an age limit?

I wonder if there are any circumstances under which Brock’s dad would be able to look at him and say, “Well son, I still love you, but you did this and we’ve just got to see you through the consequences of it and then start again. I believe in you. I know you won’t do it again, but you did it, so you have to pay the price.”

I was at a work event one night and our sitter called to say that one of our girls had spit in her sister’s face at the dinner table.

“I had no idea what to do. I sent her to her room,” she said to me.

I was speechless but managed to sputter, “That sounds right. I’m sorry. I am in shock.”

We laughed about it later, but there was also incredulity and a bit of shame. How could that have happened? No, it isn’t rape, but it is something my kid did and we talked about it. I need her not to think spitting in faces is an option to conflict. Brock and other men need to know that penetration isn’t an option with a prone body.

Would Mr. Turner have penetrated a woman behind a dumpster?

I hope not, but honestly it feels like in this country he could do it and society would say, “Well, she shouldn’t have been there.”

Do better, America.

 

 

Deciding Not to Lie About My Past

Posted on May 31, 2016

WishesI made a promise to myself, and the girls prompted by the rapid approach of puberty. I vowed to be straightforward about whatever might come, not because I think talking about body changes or not fitting in are easy topics. I realize attempts to sanitize my past contradict my efforts to raise women who can speak for themselves and survive poor decisions. If I were to gloss over the parts of my life that I am ashamed of then there might come a moment when one of my girls would think they were fatally flawed, beyond what the teen years already have in store for them. Ashamed, that’s not even the right word, I just don’t think redacting things, whether they were of my own doing or not, can contribute to helping my girls.

 

I figured this out last year when my younger sister, Abigail, inadvertently spilled the beans. Finley is fascinated by the idea that I was a kid and a sister. When my sister and I are together she watches us with awe. We were going through old photos at my parent’s house. As we were laughing and grimacing, flinging pictures into discard and keep piles, Abigail said, “Ooh, look at Manda with a cigarette.” I gasped, Finley’s eyes got big. We were all smokers in my family, but I hadn’t ever felt ready to say that I had been one. The moment seemed to last forever.

 

Ab had every reason to believe I’d told the girls, what better way to drive home the don’t smoke message than to say that I did and that quitting was the best decision of my life. Only I hadn’t.

I have no plans to sit all three girls down at the table and tell them the story of my teenage and college years. Deciding not to lie means as it is age or situationally appropriate, I will answer honestly. They have asked me what to do about other kids in their schools being ready to do things that they aren’t – for instance, dating.

 

“None of you are going to be exactly like me or perfectly in step with your sisters. We go at the pace that we go. Anyone who tries to rush you or force you to do something that you don’t want to do isn’t a friend.”

 

Avery, said, “Is it ok if I change my mind?”

 

I answered without hesitation, “Yes. Here’s the thing: every day we get to make decisions, and so do other people. Sometimes people will make a decision about what they think about us, which we really can’t change. What someone thinks of you isn’t what or who you are. You are in charge of that.”

 

Already it’s transformed how I manage this time we’re in, with Briar 4 months away from 12, Ave 10, and Finley (unbelievably) 8. We’ve talked about eating disorders and the fact that I used to do things to hurt my body because I believed that I needed to be a thinner version of myself, that who/what/how I was wasn’t good enough. We’ve talked about how there may be years when their dearest friends will be a book, each other, and our dog. We’ve talked about marriage equality, alcohol and drugs, the idea of moderation and risk. We have not talked about rape yet, but I know that we will.

 

Looking back at the picture of myself with a cigarette in one hand did more than embarrass me; it opened my eyes. I can conjure up the veil of adultness I felt pausing to shake a Camel Light out of the box. Turning the dial on the radio to my favorite station and feeling flutters of excitement. I had what I believed was solid reasoning for doing what I did. These flashes of then give me compassion and insight to what my daughters are moving toward. I can be the parent while also acknowledging that I was not perfect. Am not perfect.

 

“I hope you won’t smoke, but yes, I did.” They watch me, “Quitting was hard.” Every once in a while Fin will murmur, “I’m glad you haven’t smoked since I’ve known you.” I always say, “Me too,” and try to stifle my shudder.

 

We talk about courage and the fact that having it does not mean that you don’t feel afraid. We talk about not always feeling happy, but not knowing why. They’ve asked me about giving up and I’ve felt a reflex to tell them to never give up, but that’s not fair. Everyone should have the option to give up, but they should also know about regret and its weight.

 

“You can always choose to give up, but maybe reserve the option to try again. Like I did with skiing. I hated it and swore I would never do it again.”

 

“Like which word did you swear? Was it the s one?” Avery asked.

 

I laughed. “No, I promised that I wouldn’t do it again.” She nodded. “Then your dad asked me to try it again. I wanted to say no, but I didn’t and now—“

 

“You love it!” they yelled.

 

It feels good to know that I don’t have to manage an ongoing editing process. The thing it doesn’t fix is the stories that I have that demonstrate life isn’t fair and we can make the best decisions and still not be safe. I’ll be honest about that too, because I don’t want to protect them from life, I want to prepare them to live.

 

 

 

 

Tides of Motherhood

Posted on May 6, 2016

“We need to get to bed early. All of us!” Sean said in a weary voice.

I nodded, my heart racing, that familiar sensation of feeling relieved and slightly attacked at once. I was genuinely excited because the reentry from spring break has not been easy. Emotions have been running high, allergies are raging, school and extracurricular pursuits are bleeding heavily into free time, and the dog is peeing everywhere. I felt like I had somehow failed. I tend to interpret, “We need to ______” as being, “You haven’t ________, so we need to_______.”

I tried to override my defensiveness and said, “I’ll get dinner done early, ignore the folding, and make sure the girls are mellow and read a bedtime story.”

He immediately said, “I’ll help” and I smiled.

Sean’s criticism tends to be about how hard I am on myself. You invent worries, is something he says a lot. I won’t deny that it’s hard to say this, but he’s right (reading this post helped me see that). It might not be that I invent worries, but I most definitely create urgency that is not really there.

After having dinner together we jumped on the trampoline for a while and then came inside for a story. Sean was playing piano as Finley clambered downstairs with the 5-book set from Inside Out.

“Ok, so guys, I’ll read all of these and then if we have time Mom will read Library Lion,” she looked at us with great self-satisfaction. We all chuckled and agreed. I stretched out, my legs in Avery’s lap and my head in Briar’s lap. As Finley read, Ave rubbed my legs absentmindedly and I stroked Briar’s face. Once Fin was done she looked at me, “Can I get in on the cuddle?”

Before long Finley was stretched along my torso and I was holding the book out so that we could all see it. Briar began playing with my hair and rubbing my face as I read. Sean played piano softly and the cats and dog cuddled at our feet. I can’t remember the last time I felt that relaxed.

“Mom, can I read?” Avery asked, followed quickly by Fin, “Me too?” I handed the book over and leaned back to look up at Briar.

We smiled at each other, her fingers still playing on my skin, one of her hands in mine. Her eyes scanned my face and she kept touching the space between my eyebrows.

“As we get older we get lines on our faces.” I said it almost as an apology.

Her face softened and she traced the lines on the edges of my eyes and then on my forehead. “I love them, they remind me of the the ocean and the way it presses into the sand and leaves a trail. It’s the memory of motion. It’s beautiful. You are beautiful.”

I lifted my face closer to hers, “You are too.” We giggled and said I love you at the same time. Her sisters piled on us too.

Guilt had tried to lure me in, but it never deserves to be in on the cuddle.

 

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