Armchair activism doesn’t stop rape.

By now, everyone has heard about the reprehensible sexual assault that took place at Stanford by Brock Turner, a 20 year old student athlete, who was convicted and sentenced to a mere six months in jail for his crime. This alone caused an outcry, and then his father, seemingly the most tone-deaf individual on the planet, wrote a letter defending his son, and lamenting the mental and emotional toll his ’20 minutes of action’ and their consequences have had on him. As someone who has experienced sexual assault, and as a human being in general, this story has made me ill. It’s made a lot of people ill-everyone has been talking in depth about it across social media, sharing their strong reactions to the heinous act, as well as the abdication of justice, with Turner being given such a short sentence. Good, I thought. People need to be talking about these things. And then I came across a blog post that I am assuming has gone viral, as many of my friends have reposted it. It’s titled “We With the Pitchforks”-you can read it here.

I share in the author’s frustration, as well as those who re-posted it. And a large part of me agrees with every single word written. But, there is something about the angry mob mentality that just seems counterproductive to me.I say this not out of defense for Turner…he doesn’t deserve defense. He’s dug his own grave, and this will follow him for the rest of his days, both personally and professionally, as it should. I say this out of a pure desire to want better for us, as a society. Armchair activism so easy, in the age of social media. It’s easy to share a blog post on social media, it’s easy to rant about it over a dinner party (and these are all things I’ve done, about a myriad of issues, myself). What’s not easy, though, is to change the culture of rape that we’ve so blindly allowed for far too long. This happens every single day, across the world. Fighting a hateful act with more hate is not the answer. Filling the world with the righteous courage necessary to act up against the institutions and systems that treat these crimes as permissible, is. And it’s not just about sexual assault-it’s about all forms of gendered inequities and violence.

My point is, by all means, share information…but share productive information. Share statistics on the prevalence of assault across the country. If you know someone who is willing to share their own story of assault, help them put it out into the world. Learn about rape crisis programs in your area, and support them, whether financially, or through interfacing with your legislators about the importance of these services. Stop teaching little girls and women that it is THEIR responsibility to avoid being raped, and start creating the expectation for boys and men NOT TO RAPE. Stop laughing at jokes about gender stereotypes, or sexual assault, or feminism. It’s not all in good fun. It creates an environment of acceptability, and of women being lesser than whole. If you’re a dad or uncle or any other man with a special child in your life, model how to respect and speak about and equitably interact with women. I promise you, they are ALL watching. Challenge your own beliefs and values (you too, women, because we all internalize it) on relationships and interactions between men and women, and how we view “roles.”

Let’s create a world where the Brock Turners fade into the ether, a bad dream, and where women can move freely without the threat of violation.

Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.

What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.

For my mom.

I lost my mom last week. Fifteen months of battling lung cancer that spread to her bones and kidneys, and it finally became too much for her. I knew on the very day of her diagnosis last year that this would take her, and the manner in which it would do so, and so I began to prepare. We all watched as she dealt with the side effects of her chemotherapy, losing a startling amount of weight, her hair, as well as her normally endless energy. We almost lost her last year after her first round of chemotherapy left her so weak with pneumonia that I still don’t know quite how she survived it. I often felt frustrated at the universe for giving my mom so many “sick days”, when I would see other women out shopping with their friends and daughters, clearly battling some sort of cancer, but healthy enough to enjoy life regularly. My mom didn’t get that. I remember telling her that, and her getting upset, having taken what I was trying to say the wrong way. She thought I was blaming her. I wasn’t, I was trying to communicate my sadness for what she was experiencing, but that was the nature of our relationship. Contentious, edgy, misunderstanding each other around every corner.

I never understood who she was, thought she had no interests or hobbies, wondered silently throughout my life why she didn’t “get a life”-go out with friends, cultivate interests, be her own person. In turn, she often felt that I was uptight, had self-absorbed interests and ideas, and I believe that she often thought that I believed I was smarter than her. In fact, she said as much to me, a few years back. During what I thought was a pleasant conversation, she suddenly erupted, “You think I’m stupid, that I’m not as smart as you are.” I remember confusion being replaced by shock, and my dad quietly suggesting to her, “That is your thing, not hers. She’s not implying that.” Our conversations were frequently a near-miss.

In all the horror of her illness and death, there was a beauty in learning about who she truly was. My mom DID have interests, joys and hobbies-her family and friends. She loved my dad with her whole heart, and never wanted to be a day without him. And each of us, even me-she worried endlessly about our happiness, even if it came out wrong sometimes. “Call or text me when you get there”, she say to me as I left town for work. I would roll my eyes, and say, “No, Mom..I’m a grown woman, I’m not going to do that.” I wish now I had just appeased her anxiety, and said, “OK, Mom”. Her passion and caring often erupted from her in a loud voice, and I would shut down, feeling “yelled at”. She was just trying to convey how much she felt what she was trying to communicate. In the last few months before her death, I spent many days caring for her, and while it broke my heart to have to remind her multiple times about why she was taking medication, or to wash her bald head with “that soap that smells so nice”, I feel so lucky that I had that time alone with her, for us to really connect for the first time, to talk about life and what her greatest joys were, what she would miss. She worried endlessly that she wouldn’t meet Dempsey, and it made me so happy on the day that she was able to rub his little head and kiss him. I feel at ease knowing that she died knowing how much I really did love her.

In the days after her death, there was an outpouring of stories from my mom’s friends, family, co-workers and students about her impact on them. The common thread in all of them was that she made them feel cared about, accepted, worth something. Despite all our differences, I always knew that my sense of social justice, of inclusion, of doing the right thing came directly from her, but I was humbled at the far-reaching impact this seemingly simple woman had on so many people throughout her entire life. I can only hope that I’ll have half the impact on others that she did, that I will raise Dempsey to be a man of strong moral character, with a heart of love to offer the world. Those were her gifts to the people that she loved, and even now, I can feel those things all around me.

To everyone that has shared their love and support with our family over the past year and a half, and particularly in the past week-thank you. You will never know the gratitude that we feel. Each of you has been a beautiful tribute to my mother, and her life.

It’s time to get angry.

Read this. Read this, and get mad. Rageful. Cry. And then act.

Because until we all start to recognize that this unspeakable violence against women is real (and happening everyday, everywhere in the world) then it will continue to happen-unless we do something about it. And if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Every single time.

Thanks to Lauren at I’m Better In Real Life for sharing this article.

Breaking up is hard to do. Unless you have facebook.

I read an article this weekend, and it honestly escapes me exactly where, about a workshop held for teenagers regarding healthy breakups. I thought this was a pretty novel concept, given that I had no idea how to handle my first breakup, at seventeen years old. I treated it as some sort of death, walking around in a haze, assured my life was over. Given, I know now that this is how most young people treat that first experience, having nothing to compare it to. But how nice it would’ve been to have peer-driven dialogue and objective facilitation on the topic. I would’ve loved to have known that it was normal for me to be reduced to snot and tears at the discovery of a left-behind t-shirt (tie dye, by the way-ew), or to feel like my stomach was going to explode at the inadvertent eye contact made in a high school hallway with the Dreaded Ex. But these feelings blindsided me. I had no idea what to expect. And let me tell you, it sucked.

However, the Dreaded Ex became less dreadful, and eventually, an acquaintance. And the stinging memory of it became sort of laughable, in that God, I was ridiculous sort of way. And, on life goes. But man, do kids now have so many more tools at their disposal, when it’s time to cut someone loose. Or, to simply torture said partner with, until they are driven to end the relationship. I would have never, EVER survived high school, if texting and facebook existed. I mean, how do kids focus on anything besides the intracacies of electronic high school relationship betrayal? One boy interviewed for the article said that when it’s time to dump a girl, he simply changes his facebook relationship status to “single”, leaving the young woman in question to discover this on her own (unless a meddling concerned third party discovers it first, during which time he/she will eagerly share the information). A number of the kids felt it was completely appropriate to end a relationship this way, or via text message. Are you kidding me? Look, I’m as non-confrontational as the next person (perhaps more so), but I feel like this is one of the times in life when you DESERVE to be uncomfortable. After all, you’re about to inflict emotional pain (and possible weight gain, depending on whether they decide to eat their feelings) on another person, so a few minutes of awkward, frank conversation is a fair trade, I’d say. People are owed that.

As I read along, I realized-kids don’t need a healthy breakups workshop, they need a healthy social skills workshop. And tech-savvy adults need a refresher course. Life is so embedded in electronics and technology that people are losing their ability to connect in real life with the people on the other side of the screen. And that extends way beyond childish breakup moves-these are practices that are becoming ingrained as normal and more or less universally acceptable. I myself am even guilty of it-I admit that I would much rather conduct a conversation via email, than telephone. It’s something I have to constantly be aware of, and move past. And don’t even get me started on the feelings I have when I misplace my iPhone. It’s shaming.

So, my thoughts are this: look away from the bright light (of a backlit screen) once in awhile. Make some eye contact, have a conversation. Read social subtleties, instead of trying to piece together someone’s tone via text. I think we’d be surprised to discover that our counterparts on this earth are (mostly )pretty amazing in real life. And kids-as hard as it is, take the time to tell your girlfriend or boyfriend that you’re making out with their best friend,face-to-face. It’ll make you feel like slightly less of a dirtball, and will provide you with the right amount of conscience-battering you deserve. Don’t make them wait to find out until they update their status feed.