Monday, August 25, 2014

Meet the Teacher BUT NO ASKING HER QUESTIONS! (What?)

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a Meet the Teacher. Our school does this every year. It's a great way for the teacher, kids and parents to meet, connect, and be ready for the start of school.

The teacher gets our (parent) contact information, puts a face to a name, and is able to set up best contact method for the school year.

Kids get to see who is in their class, see the classroom, figure out where it is.

Parents get to shake hands, connect, etc.

It builds comfort all around, connects people who need to be connected, and is a great thing to do. I'm sorry to hear it's not common everywhere. It makes me more grateful for it, though.

I wanted to get to know our teacher, who is brand new to the school, so I crowdsourced my Facebook community for ideas of great questions to ask when I met the teacher, just to get a little sense of who she is.

I was stunned by how many people thought I did not have the right to or should not talk to the teacher, ask her any questions, or get to know her.

Confessing: I was a little taken aback, truth be told. Why were people so discouraging about this?

The purpose of the event is to Meet the Teacher. The teacher is new. The teacher EXPECTED parent questions and came with information and prepared to talk to parents and answer questions. She said so herself.

Custom may vary at other school meet the teachers. In our school, it seems quite common for parents to come in, greet the teacher, chat, and get to know one another. That's beneficial for both teacher and parent, in my opinion. I'm sure we learned a helpful amount in our short chat.

For example, I learned she likes technology and had a great app for communicating with parents, and she learned I thought that was fantastic. We chatted about kid birthdays. I learned she has some good teaching experience behind her and has a good approach to individual learning. She learned I am happy to help support classroom things as needed. She learned we are teaching the kids budgeting at home, which means my daughter will understand the sticker economy the class uses.

I was one of the first parents there so we chatted a few extra minutes than I'd thought to be able to, which was very nice. Other parents trailed in and got their few minutes too. My daughter and the other kids explored the classroom, identified where they'd be sitting, figured out where bags went, got information from the teacher, who now also had faces to their names (though she'll get that nearly every day, but this was a casual circumstance).

It was a very positive experience all around, I thought, though I know it is stressful for teachers to do all the setup and prep for it. I did say how much I appreciated that and gave a store gift card to help with any supplies she needed.

Hopefully, it has come through how very beneficial and positive the meet the teacher with actual talking to the teacher is. It's not a parent-teacher in depth conversation, of course. Just a chat for a couple of minutes to get to know you a bit.

As a parent, I am my child's greatest ally and advocate. I have the right to talk to the teacher and get to know her. She and I will be working together this coming year to educate my child. 

But when I asked my Facebook friends for ideas of questions to ask, aside from a few exceptions, I got the strong sense that people thought I had no place, no right, to ask anything of the teacher. Teachers are so importuned, the message came across, that parents need to leave them be. Parents should not talk to teachers at meet the teacher, came the message.

That sentiment troubles me greatly.

Teachers have a wonderful job but, unfortunately, sometimes it is stressful and in terrible conditions. I can relate. I have had jobs like that too! Answering to dreadful bureaucracy, lacking resources and budget, dealing with coworkers or clients who are never satisfied or never have a good thing to say, worrying about job security and benefits, and on and on.

Unlike for most challenged workers, people are aware that teachers have this situation. That provides an opportunity for mindful courtesy.

Does that courtesy make them untouchable? It seems so for some people. The message was loud and clear: don't bother the teacher, don't trouble the teacher--asking questions and getting to know the teacher does both.

I admit that if I had approached the teacher to get to know her and she seemed unapproachable or annoyed to chat, I'd have formed a very negative impression. I'd have grave concerns about our ability to communicate as parent and teacher working for the best for my child. And yet, I got the impression, from some teachers who commented, that they would not have welcomed a parent who approached to get to know them and ask a few questions.

At our event, I was nowhere near the only parent to ask questions. There were all sorts of questions! When are bathroom breaks? What's the switch schedule and lunch? Do you need any supplies? Where were you before? When are you due? And some more in depth ones, such as the one I asked: How do you motivate kids to do what they need to do in class?

Believe it or not, all of the questions were Good To Know. At our school, mostly parents want to back up the teacher and understanding things can help with that. Some parents simply introduced themselves. That has been me many years too.

So if you are one who thinks a parent asking questions and getting to know the teacher at meet the teacher day is all wrong, defend your reason why. I'd like to understand your perspective on this. Or try to.

Other points of view are welcome to: do you think it's a good thing to do at meet the teacher? Have you met a teacher, asked a few questions, had a short chat?

Don't make it about being selfish. It's not selfish to spend a couple of minutes connecting with your child's teacher at Meet the Teacher.

Don't make it about being discourteous to other parents. The event is a full hour and every parent who wanted to had the chance to speak with the teacher. Nobody "hogged" the teacher. Everyone took a couple of minutes to chat as they wanted.

Don't make it about "it's for the kids, not for you." That's junk science. Parents are invited to meet the teacher to meet the teacher too. Kids get the chance to say hi, but mainly they want to run with friends and see the classroom. If you stay the full hour, there is ample time to chat with the teacher for a few minutes and explore the classroom with your child.

Be clear: I use the word chat on purpose. That's to make it clear it is a short, light, conversation. It's to differentiate it from an in depth conversation like you might have at a one on one conference.

Be clear: when I say a few minutes, I do mean a few minutes. I mean 3ish more or less.

So why do you think people were so inclined (in the majority) to discourage me from talking to the teacher and asking her a couple of questions at meet the teacher?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I saw the Magna Carta and then the country imploded

One Friday a few weeks ago after a meeting in town, I dragged my kids to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The real Magna Carta was on display in a special exhibit and I thought we absolutely had to go. How often do you get to see a document that is, at least in part, the foundation of the democracy in which you live. Or be near something that survived so much: strong desire for oppression, wars, and time.
Image via
Sure, it didn't all work out at the time, but the idea took root and finally, about 500 years later, some other men in a not-quite-yet country wrote another document demanding protection of their rights and property against a tyrannical king. This time, a Pope couldn't quash it and neither could a king. It is still the foundation for the United States today.

From is this crucial point:
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land."
Lately, I've had a feeling we are a little less concerned with the law of the land as it pertains to due process and more married to the idea of hastily constructed personal or media kangaroo court and vigilante "justice."

I looked at that document and thought about those nearly ancient barons. Sort of middle class, they were being bled dry (figuratively and literally) by the King. They just wanted some rights, some liberties. A little comfort. The idea that they weren't subject to the arbitrary whims of those in power, such as the King. I suspect they were tired and just wanted to be able to sleep peacefully at night.

They didn't want to worry about walking down the street and getting piked by a king's man because the king took umbrage to something they did or didn't do. They may also have been tired of having no sovereignty that seemed to pair logically with their status as freemen. These barons, radical as they might have been, no longer wanted what they had to be fair game for seizure on a King's whim.

King John signed it, and died the next year (1216) so who knows where the whole thing would have gone but truth is, most of it was revoked and other parts were amended plus sections were added. But that one original clause, later named Clause 29, stuck:
29. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
The Magna Carta, this long history, the barons, and because of my recent trip to Philadelphia, the founders of the US were heavily on my mind this month when another black teen was shot dead by a police officer in Missouri.

What happened from there told me we have utterly forgotten due process. Too many of us have subscribed to the concept of immediate lethal force, forgetting rights, forgetting there are alternatives to solving a situation without execution.

The news is full of tragic stories of terrified people leaping to lethal, excessive force first and suffering for it later: a police officer who mistakenly shot his daughter, a grandmother who mistakenly shot her young grandson, and so on. All believing that due to a noise they heard, they were at risk of their lives so had to kill. Ruled, harmed, by too much fear.

What happened from there also told me we have also forgotten the First Amendment: "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

We do have a grievance: people--statistically particularly black men and youths--are being deprived of life without due process of law.

There are a lot of details people are miring themselves in, about the right to bear arms, the right to protect yourself using lethal force, and how people who get shot probably deserved it.

The real conversation is the right to not walk down the street worried you will be deprived of life without due process of those sworn to uphold the law. It's important to know that as freemen and women we will not be condemned but by lawful judgment of our peers. Like the barons of old, we need to be able to walk down the street without fear of being piked by the king's men aka shot by police.

I say we because I do think it applies to us all. I say we because I stand with my fellow mothers who are forced to teach their children how to walk, talk and act in the presence of police because, without due process, they are outlawed because they are black. I stand with the fathers who send their teen sons out with added worry beyond the usual parental concern about youth out and about. I stand with my people--because we are all people together--who walk on the same streets but a different path because of skin color.

It's not okay. It's that simple.

I support the very understandable grievance and desire to air it to our government, whose representatives are too often acting outside of due process outlawing, exiling and depriving of life.

Leaders through time have stood consistently for justice, for rights and liberties of people. It was not easy for the barons in 1215 nor was it easy for the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. Both the Magna Carta and the Constitution have been fiercely debated ever since their inception. The Magna Carta was reconfirmed somewhere between 32-45 times.

It's okay that we need to have the discussion, the reconfirmation, but we NEED to have it and it needs to be now.

This is the basis of our civilization and our culture.

Before one tin soldier is all that is left to ride away.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

If I had to be stuck in a snow globe with a bunch of would be these people and at SeaWorld

Disclosure statement: SeaWorld did not commission this post nor did they compensate me for it. However, I did receive free admission to the park.

If I am honest, I do not actually look that forward to December. Oh I try, but I am usually dragged under by endeavoring to make this the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. People can say simplify and say no, which is good advice, but even with a lot of simplification and no-ing, this is still a month that gets to feeling like a 300 pound ape on your chest by oh say December 16.

One thing I have grown to look forward to, though, this time of year, is our family's annual trek to SeaWorld San Antonio. It's cool, the park is decked out to the holiday nines, and there are loads of special events. Before that, though, I get to camp out in the park with some people I really, really like. And this is a story best told in pictures...of all the things we did...

We started with a Polar Plunge. I know, everyone says blah blah blah Polar Plunge in Texas ha ha. It was 28 degrees, people. That's cold, and in the water? Really, really cold! But my friends Kami, Stacy and Alba did it for Special Olympics! So did the SeaWorld Communications team, which includes our intrepid friends Brian, Mason, Jeff and Steve...who went as very cold Richard Simmons.

Afterwards we toured the super cool decorations, which are organized into theme areas. I particularly liked the Have Yourself a Very Texas Christmas, which included a boot tree! We went to see our buddies the seals (Yoga Seal, my personal favorite -- a Harbor Seal, for the record -- was doing Zen meditation.

Here's the ALL TRUE part though you won't believe it: then we went backstage and met the sea lions, who we went on stage with (somewhere, someone has a photo and someday I will have proof. I stood on the stage with a sea lion.). On our way to the stage, we got to see the otters who can make me laugh just by sitting there. I snapped one of the sweet mates and YES I sang Muskrat Love. (If you don't know that song...LMGTFY.)

My favorite otters, the best posing seal, penguins (of course!) and a cactus wreath.

Next big adventure was Snow World. They took a huge space and made it a snowy winter wonderland, complete with sledding hill. In case you wondered, of course I slid down!

Right outside of Snow World was the most amazing snow globe that you could go inside. This is not photoshopped or a trick! We are really inside that snow globe. It's was hilarious and so fun, plus what a great photo.

Then I took a selfie in the snowglobe and oh my gosh it did not suck! So I included it here! Look! A decent photo of me!

Yeah we stole up on another stage and took photos because...STAGE and LIGHTS and CANDY CANES! My buddies who are so fun! 

 Dinner with Santa was a blast! The food was a lot of delicious favorites for the holiday season. Elves danced around, visiting each table. Santa and Mrs. Claus dropped in too, and Santa read The Night Before Christmas to the kids. It was all retro, total flashback to the 1960s, including all the decorations outside. I really do think we had that Santa when I was a little girl, in a smaller window sized form!

 Last but not least, we got to see the newborn baby girl whale! It was magical, a miracle. Watching mother and new baby swim around, learning about their routine of swim and nurse. I snapped about a million photos and half a dozen movies but I'll spare you and only include a few.

 Finally, the campout in the dorms with the traditional pillow fight! At least this time, Mason had an ally in Fred.

As usual, it was so much fun I had to promise to bring my family back during the holidays!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How we teach boys and girls about kissing is all wrong

When my daughter was in kindergarten, a boy friend kissed her. To my mind, both kids were equally a part of the kiss because it was mutual--they were playing Marriage, and had just pretended a wedding. To me, it was play. Nobody grabbed anyone or coerced anyone and nobody felt threatened or worried or bad. They even had a discussion about it in advance and decided cheek would do even if grownups did lips.

But others felt differently. The boy's mom was horrified, or maybe terrified? She imposed a severe consequence on him and had the school do the same. She apologized to me and made the boy apologize to my daughter.

One thing I know: this lady is a fantastic mom with wonderful kids.

One thing I understand: we do have a rape culture and I deeply appreciate boy moms who work hard to teach boys about respect and consideration of girls.

One thing I believe: we have to do something to improve how our boys and girls interact. That means effort with both boys and girls. Preferably in some positive and constructive way.

One thing that perplexes me to this day: why, all facts considered, in my specific case, everyone perceived my daughter as "the victim" and the boy as "the perpetrator." Odds are, my girl chose the game. Either way, she agreed to the kiss. I didn't want the boy punished -- I thought either neither kid or both kids. So everyone compromised and went with a reminder to both children about "okay touches and not okay touches" and how no kissing in class was a rule. That still sort of broke my heart.

One thing I think: I'm not sure that how this situation was handled or how other situations similar to it (as in the news story I'm posting below) do any good at all. The outcome of my case is my daughter never again played Marriage and decided it was not okay to be friends with boys, even though she enjoys boys as friends. I just can't help but wonder if we worsened the problem we were trying to solve.

So now we teach boys that ANY touching of a girl is a criminal act, so how do parents get across okay and not okay in the face of this? Because there is a distinction of okay and not okay. But we're losing it, I think, and I believe that's worsening the problem.

What do you think?

News story: Boy, 6, suspended from school for kissing girl on cheek and hand

Monday, March 18, 2013

What you really need to tell teens about sexual assault

The Steubenville Ohio rape case highlighted a huge ugly disturbing gap in our society about rape. Internet outrage erupted about the "drunk girl" and "getting what was deserved." There was a lot of nasty commentary about all the things women and girls need to do to not get raped (as if rape and rapists are completely fair and only go after the deserving). People commented in typical "blame the victim" ways, shamefully and appallingly. It made me fear for humanity.

Maybe, possibly, worst of all, major news network CNN reported the case from a distressingly sympathetic view for...the convicted rapists. Reporters Poppy Harlow and Candy Crowley evinced grief about the convicted rapists' lost bright futures.

As the brilliant Gawker piece by Mallory Ortberg said:
People who commit acts of sexual violence (rape, for example) and are convicted in a court of law are required to register with the national sex offender public registry, so that future employers and neighbors might do things like check said registry.
For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are. 
Yes, yes that's very smart: if you do not want to tank your bright, promising future, do not commit illegal acts, especially ones that are sexual assaults on young girls. Also, do not further assault her by videotaping, photographing and distributing that material online because that's breaking another law. Or two. Then, do not threaten and harass her in person and via texts, because that's breaking another law.

If you do feel compelled to sexually assault an unconscious teen girl, do not tell yourself it's okay because she's "drunk" or "asking for it." Instead, call a trusted voice of reason and say "hey I am feeling that psychopathic urge to harm another human being again...remind me why it's wrong."

Rape is pretty simple: it's when you force a sexual act (and these boys learned how very broad that phrase "sexual act" is during their trial) on an unwilling person. There is no reason or excuse for rape. Therefore, it is not incumbent on the victim not to be be raped. It is incumbent on other humans not to rape, under any condition or situation. It is further incumbent on other humans to contact police if a felony such as rape is being committed.

But let's also not forget it is incumbent on humans to be good friends to one another and good stewards of humanity. I'm sure none of us want to have any of our kids learn that through a tragedy like this.

So to that end, here's a list of things I thought of that parents should talk to kids about to prevent sexual assault (hint: it's not a job for parents of daughters to teach their girls how not to be raped, and there will be no tip about modest dress in this list) AND things men and women should discuss to clear up any gray areas.

In no particular order -- with the understanding that no, it's not 100% complete (comment additions welcome) and none of it is easy but neither is going to prison and having a record, and, worse, harming another human being on purpose:
  1. If you see someone doing something bad or harmful, speak up or go get someone who will.
  2. If your friends want you to join in something bad, such as a sexual assault, simply say, "No way, jackass, I don't want to end up like those Steubenville dudes and also, way uncool." Try to convince them to stop and if they won't, go get help (you can call 911 to report a felony, such as rape, in progress).
  3. If your friends try to pressure you into doing something bad for you, they aren't friends. They are what is called bad influences. Say adios and find a new group.
  4. If your friends do bad things to other people, they aren't good kids. They are bad kids. Say adios and find a new group.
  5. Be a good friend. Don't abandon or desert friends in need, or during or after a harmful situation. If you're afraid, that's understandable. Find a trusted adult who can help you. And hey, adults, a lot of kids don't have good support in their lives. Be that person if you can be.
  6. If you are there, you are a part of it. Let's look at the legal consequences of accessory.
  7. If you intend to try to have sex with a person, be open about that, "I'm really attracted to you and would like to make love tonight." If you aren't mature enough to have that open and honest conversation -- which would include contraception and disease prevention and total and utter respect of the other person's answer, even if it is no -- then you are not mature enough for sex. Even if you are 50 years old. Oh, does it ruin the romance for you? Well huh. It seems to be pretty widely regarded as romantic and sexy for someone to want you and be attracted to you, and to be confident enough to say so? *fans self*
  8. Number 7 doesn't mean you get to hoot and holler and say, "I wanna sex you up" to anyone you find attractive. That's not okay. Number 7 means talking with someone you've gotten to know, are becoming involved with, and have a mutual attraction. It's not okay to make someone feel unsafe by yelling out to them in public what you'd like to do to their body -- a lot of people find that a threat, actually, and abusive.
  9. If you prefer a charm and seduction scenario, see #7. Avoid gray areas. Make sure, before there is a Moment, that everyone is crystal clear about Yes and okay with proceeding. It's not rape, but I know way too many women who had Unwelcome Sex because they felt pressured or past a point of being able to say no. Make sure your partner is definitely willing and open the door for a change of mind or heart. That's being a good lover. 100% true.
  10. Never, even threaten or manipulate a person into having sex with you. That makes you a bad person and barely a step above rapist. Don't tell a person you'll break up or your needs are more important or whatever pressure you try to exert to force someone into sex. If a relationship isn't working, end it with dignity and respect. Do not try to harm another person's psyche. That is abuse.
  11. If you harm another person, they didn't ruin your life, you did. You harmed that person. Take responsibility.
  12. If you are a teen and get in over your head, get to a trusted person, preferably an adult, and get help. Parents, you should have a teen safe word/get out of jail free card. I am a true believer in natural and logical consequences, but there are times when rewarding good judgment ("I'm in over my head and need help") is more important.
  13. Get in there and get to know your kids' a grown-up and parent, not as a buddy. I'm amazed what teens are willing to talk to interested adults about on life topics.
  14. Tell your kids if they do something wrong, it's on them. Hopefully you've told them this since day 1, but be consistent on it. Don't make excuses. I mean it: Do Not Make Excuses. Hold kids accountable and keep firm on that line. Trust me, I know how tough this is. Even when I think a situation is unfair, I use it as a learning tool: life is unfair, it's up to you to respond well.
  15. Watch how you talk. If you denigrate or dehumanize any group of people, your kids will too. And if they act on it, they'll probably break the law. If they do, they were the bad person who did the bad thing. Nobody ever does anything that asks another person to harm them. Let's be crystal clear: if you harm another person, that is because of a problem in YOU, not because of the other person.
  16. You never have an excuse for using your technology to harass another person, either by taking bad photos, sending harassing messages, bullying, etc. or perpetuating it by passing it along. If you do this, you -- by which I mean YOU -- are the problem.
  17. The measure of you as a person has nothing to do with how much sex you do or do not have. Sex does not make you a good person, a cool person, a stud, a slut, a bad person, a grown-up, or anything at all other than a person who is or is not having sex. People will always be curious about the sex you are or are not having. Mainly because as humans we need to connect with others and weigh ourselves against a norm. It's nobody's actual business, though, except yours. If you share your sexual information without your partner's consent, you have breached trust and done a bad thing. In general, best to respect privacy and not kiss and tell.
  18. Rape is not sex. It is assault, and it is about a dysfunctional psyche and power over another person. People who rape are messed up individuals doing a messed up thing. Anyone who lauds it is also a messed up individual doing a messed up thing. Don't be a hot mess.
  19. Make sure kids understand the following about any kind of sexual act:
  • no means no
  • drunk means no
  • unconscious means no
  • even if you are a minor, if you create pornography you are breaking the law and can be jailed
  • it doesn't matter how a woman is dressed, it doesn't permit rape
  • it doesn't matter what date number it is, your date does not owe you sex
  • another person never owes you sex
  • you never owe another person sex
  • adults may not ask kids for sex
  • sex between adults and kids is actually illegal and called rape
  • even if a person invites you back home, it doesn't mean you get sex
  • nobody ever asks for "it" ("it" being sexually assaulted or harassed)
  • it's not up to a person to be "invulnerable" to protect from assault
  • it's up to you NOT to assault another person

It's hard enough to talk to teens about sex. I'm with you on the challenges. I'm still with you on talking to teens about the harder stuff like sexual assault, but truth: ignorance is not bliss; it's complicit. Forewarned is forearmed and if you prepare your teens, they do not have to figure it out in the complicated and pressure-laden moment. They can pull out their pre-prepared decision and statement  as well as action.

No guarantees but I'd rather feel as if I did all I could or should whatever comes.

Some more resources:

I wasn't really able to quickly or easily find great resources about how to teach your teens to not be a part of sexual assault. I found a lot targeting women taking "steps" to "prevent rape." If you do have any good resources, please share in comments.

Rape Needs No Redefinition by Ilina Ewen: "There is no rape continuum that defines one type of rape as worse than another. To fathom that there is a kind of rape that is more forcible than another is ludicrous at best, callous at worst. Rape is, by definition, forcible. Macmillain dictionary defines rape as "the crime of forcing someone to have sex by using violence." Rape is a forcible assault and violation that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power.  Rape is a raw, crude act of violence that leaves its victims wretching and writhing with a lifetime of pain."

Talk to a Teen to Prevent Sexual Violence -- Tips from Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

Resisting Peer Pressure -- a site aimed at teens but useful for parents (how to talk about these things and what to talk about), chock full of great resources and information.

Sexual Abuse and Harassment -- a site full of facts and resources, information about law and how it affects you and your actions as a teen, definitions and explanations of terms kids hear such as sexual assault and consent, and more.

Talking about the tough stuff with our kids -- a great personal story and advice from Colleen Pence: "I was once a 17-year-old drunk girl, saved twice by the grace of God (and dear friends) from would-be, teenage (possibly first-time) rapists who, under any other circumstances, were considered to be “good” boys. They were friends of mine."

Your Body is Never the Problem -- a fantastic article suggested by Heidi Massey that brilliantly discusses why modest dress doesn't solve the problem because how women dress is not the problem.

A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape -- suggested by Kate Woodman, this letter rocks it and shows how brilliantly so many mothers of sons are raising their boys.

Lesson From Steubenville Rape Trial: How Jock Culture Morphs Into Rape Culture - Forbes -- suggested by Amanda Quraishi, a really good exploration of how rape culture forms opportunity and overcomes moral lessons.

Steubenville, Candy Crowley And The Social License To Operate: An Open Letter -- suggested by Bob Le Drew, this article is more of a resource than the title suggests. It really is full of perspective and talking points.

Boys & Rape -- suggested by Becky Gjendem, this article tells parents you have to set the right model for kids, because an example is worth a million words.

Fathers Must Teach Their Sons That Rape is Unacceptable -- last but not at all least is this great essay from my friend Fred Goodall, which demonstrates why I think he is such a fantastic guy, and really nails the importance of how fathers must teach sons that women are people, not sexual objects.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Place to be Uncertain

In my kitchen cabinet, over the hyperbolically named coffee counter, is a mug. It's a cartoon, with cartoon font, and it says, "I'm 40, I ought to have more money by now."

It was given to my husband by his sister, his younger sister, a number of years ago. It was supposed to be a joke, funny.

But the only actually funny thing about 40 and beyond is that saying is sort of an ironic mantra. By now, you're supposed to have a lot more of everything: money, patience, perspective, wisdom, answers. Certainty.

I walk through each day feeling very I don't know-ish and everyone really looks to me to be quite certain. I answer calls each day to provide something. I want to turn to everyone and ask what I should do, what I should be, is this where I am supposed to be, is this it? Instead each time I turn to ask, instead someone asks me and I realize I am past the asking, as far as phase is concerned.

So as much as I feel very much in the thrall of a second adolescence, instead of being on the receiving end, I am on the giving end of life.

A very fast-paced life. I want a pause button to hit. I want to be able to say let's take a breath here. I want to be able to take a big risk and fail.

But the thing about after 40 is it's really a space that wants solid ground beneath it. It wants a clear path, with way points. I'm ages past being on my own journey, now I'm a conductor responsible for the well-being of those on my track.

I spend each day making a million little decisions, being decisive, figuring out things, being certain. It's a myth, really.

I'll tell you the truth -- I watch you and you look pretty certain. You seem to have it figured out. I think you know what you're doing. I bet you don't read the "what you ought to do by now" news articles and mugs and feel like you've let down some major principle of this time of life. You probably hear morality tales about the "what not to do" and feel relieved.

Not me.

The only thing I am certain of is that I'm uncertain.

I've been on a marathon run and I am winded. I want to stop here, take a breath. I want to figure out if I want to keep running, why am I running, do I want to go where I was headed? I want to be uncertain. I want to get some water, maybe a banana, and think on it. I'd like to walk a while.

I'm tangled up in time, though, and if I stop it will drag me. So there it is: fear and uncertainty. Fatal flaws at 40 and up.

It makes people uncomfortable, these things. I know it does. So I will tuck it into a pocket somewhere and carry on, making decisions. Just in case you are looking at me, though, do not figure I know what I am doing. I'm fairly uncertain and this is who, what, when, where and how I need to be just now.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sexting + Sex + Slut Shaming = Looming Catastrophe

Last night, my 11 year old daughter and I were running errands and caught this story on NPR, "Online 'Shaming' A New Level Of Cyberbullying For Girls." We listened silently  My own internal horror and anger grew with each passing second of the story.

This part made the bile raise past the back of my throat:

"That's not fair that a guy can actually hide his phone, have sex with you and record you, and then show it to his friends," one girl says.
When I was talking to the girl this happened to, she said she didn't know she was being recorded. "I kind of had a feeling that something was wrong, but I didn't want to believe it," she says.
At school, she was hoping that it wouldn't be too big of a deal, but even the principal knew about the video. He brought her to his office and called her mom.
"I couldn't even look at my mother because I felt hurt and I also felt that I disrespected her," she says. "I didn't want kids in the school to look at my mother and be like, 'Wow, she raised nothing.' "

Nothing. She is feeling something. And it is that she is nothing.

The printed version doesn't include the unrepentant guy who did this to a girl. It made him cool. He got a lot of attention. And that was worth it, okay for him, even though it involved destroying a girl and an arrest.

My husband and I are trying to raise empowered, confident daughters. We've been open about bodies and their function. We've increased our talks recently about puberty and being a teen, including developing sexuality.

We do not want to raise girls who are afraid of their bodies or their sexuality. We do not want to portray boys -- your boys, your sons -- as predators.

But as a woman, as a mom of a girl...I am sorry, but a huge part of my gut, heart and soul thinks maybe I really need to. Because someone's sons, a lot of someone's sons, are predators.

Asking young girls to take sexy photos, or secretly taking sexy photos or videos, and sharing those widely is predatory. It is a thousand times worse than locker room talk, though the feeling in the moment is probably the same. But it is a thousand times worse because Rizzo graduated from high school and moved on with her life, whereas a young girl today may walk into an office and find some enterprising male coworker has dug up that photo of her and hung it in the break room.

Believe me, I've worked with guys like that.

They are someone's sons.

I found myself wondering how many moms have tried to set a good example of a woman to respect for their sons. I wondered how many moms told their sons to respect girls. I wondered how many got more specific than that.

How many moms of boys specifically looked at their sons and said, "All girls deserve respect. You do not have a right to a girl or her body just because you desire it. You may have a crush on a girl and she may not like you back. That does not make her a bitch. You do not get to take revenge on her. A girl may have had sex with someone. That does not make her a slut or available to anyone else for sex. You may not ask a girl for a sexy photo. You may not secretly photograph or record a girl in a private situation. If a girl does take and share a sexy photo, you may not share it. She does not deserve it. Not at all. If you disrespect a girl, that makes you an ass. It does not make the girl stupid. It makes you an ass. If your friends disrespect a girl and you laugh and make him feel cool, that makes you an ass too. If you hear people slut shaming a girl, you not only do not join in, you call it out as seriously uncool."

These are hard conversations to have. We get focused on teaching our kids about themselves. We get focused on teaching them how to have confidence and good esteem...of themselves. We tell them to respect others, but do we really explain, specifically, what that means? Especially in romantic situations?

When they are little, we teach them to be kind and share and be nice. We teach them to get along.

When they are teens, this may come back to bite them, and us, in a bad way.

They want space, especially socially, and we want to respect that. It gets busy. They need us less.

GET IN THERE ANYWAY. This story is why.

And then the story ended and after a moment of silence my daughter said, "Those girls are so stupid, why did they do that?"

And I died inside because as a society, as parents, we have FAILED.

Despite trying so hard to help build perspective, she and I and our society still blame the women.

I was hyper aware of it because I had been sitting there furious with boys and boy culture that enables bad behavior like this.

"The girls are stupid? Oh no, the boys are wrong. W. R.O.N.G wrong," I said to her, forcefully. Then I elaborated.

By the time I finished, she understood that she (girls) need to make good choices and sexy photos are not good choices (and are illegal) but the fault lies with the perpetrator: the boy who breached trust, respect and courtesy and the law by sharing a private photo or stealing and sharing a private moment.

I took the opportunity to once again emphasize that sex is okay but it is very, very personal and should be with someone you truly love and are deeply involved with, that you've built trust with, in a time in your life when you can make good judgment calls and deal with potential long-term results.

I am not trying to raise a Good Girl. I am trying to raise a confident, respectful, self-respecting, and SAFE girl. Sadly, part of her safety involves keeping her safe from boys who are predators.

You may be trying to raise a good son...but are you raising a gentleman?

Are you raising a boy who not only won't be a predator but who also will not be a part of the culture that rewards predators who abuse and shame girls?

Are you doing it out loud?

These are real questions because stories like these terrify me, and there are too many of them. I lived through one myself -- a toxic sexual harassment in the workplace one -- and it killed my career and nearly destroyed me. It was easier to pay off the woman and get rid of her (me) than change the culture and deal with the predatory man.

Just like it is easier to keep blaming girls and telling them to be safe than to expect better of boys and change our culture.

This is the world my daughter and I live in with your sons:

“Margaret Atwood, the Canadian novelist, once asked a group of women at a university why they felt threatened by men. The women said they were afraid of being beaten, raped, or killed by men. She then asked a group of men why they felt threatened by women. They said they were afraid women would laugh at them.”
― Molly Ivins, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?

What are you doing about it?

More to read:
The Dangers of Teen Sexting
Where There's 'Sexting,' There May Be Sex
Online 'Shaming' A New Level Of Cyberbullying For Girls