Drinking Games as Coping Measures

So, drinking games are a super bad idea in reality, if done with alcohol, and probably literally no one should ever actually do that, because it can be actually dangerous.

THAT SAID… the concept of sussing out the tropes in advance and mentally taking a swig whenever a doozy comes up?

Is incredibly useful as a mental health technique, especially around issues of trauma and health, such as after a miscarriage, after a diagnosis, divorce, etc.

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On dealing with criticism and pattern arguments

Someone on Tumblr suggested that it was not ideal to answer criticism with “I’m a terrible person.” Someone else said, “But I say that because I feel that badly about myself.” Someone else suggested that was still manipulative and not a good thing to do.

Okay, life lesson time (or, “How to accept criticism like a rational adult and avoid pattern arguments when other people pull this nonsense.”)

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What helped with my depression?

CW: frank discussion of depression, with mentions of body dysphoria, mostly upbeat.

I was answering this question in a private message, and decided to flesh it out here in case it helps someone.

What helped with my depression, behind the cut.

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Understanding Gender: A Guide for Kids

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When a baby is born, the first thing everyone wants to know is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Even during pregnancy, parents often have an ultrasound scan, to look at a baby’s body and find out whether their baby has “boy parts” or “girl parts” before the child is born.

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Bullying prevention

 

 

Schools are responsible for setting the tone of the school and keeping kids safe at school, but in order to do so they often require a sea change in how they handle reports of mistreatment, as well as how they train the kids.

  • We need to train kids through programs like peer mediation, which teaches kids how to handle problems in fair ways through talking.
  • We need schoolwide, consistent programs like “The Three Bees” (Be safe, be responsible, be respectful).
  • We need to actively ask kids to be heroes, rather than villains. In larger schools this might mean setting up buddy programs where kids who are afraid can ask for help and get several older kids who volunteer to walk with them in “high risk” settings (between classes, after school).
  • Adults need to adopt a “believe the victim” mentality. This doesn’t mean coming down like a hammer on every accused, this means LISTENING to every child. Even the bullies. Because in many cases, bullies ARE victims, struggling for control anywhere they can find it.
  • Toxic school cultures like “Don’t be a tattle tale” and “Boys will be boys” need to stop. Kids need to be actively trained to treat people well. I don’t care how “innocent” children are, toddlers and preschoolers can be mercenary little bastards and while some are tenderhearted and empathetic from the get go, a lot of them really need to be actively trained not to hurt people to get what they want.
  • Consent culture MUST be taught.
  • Bodily autonomy MUST be taught.
  • A child who bullies needs to be trained, not suspended. They need to be isolated from the child who is bullied.
  • Children need to be taught to understand boundaries and be allowed to set boundaries and have their boundaries respected. This starts with things like saying “stop tickling me” and having the tickling stop. And maybe the idea that tickling without asking isn’t funny.
  • We need to communicate everywhere that “We don’t treat people like that. We don’t allow people to be treated like that. We don’t let our friends treat people like that.”
  • We need to teach adults to listen, to mediate, to problem solve, to look for underlying issues rather than just bad behavior.
  • We need to stop punishing victims for coming forward.

The difference between life and death, between learning and depression, between functioning and suicidal ideation is not who people are, it’s how they are treated. That means that the people around them can be heroes, or they can be villains. There are no innocent bystanders.

This is true whether we are talking about trans people, LGBTQA people, disabled people, or just kids who ‘read’ to others as being different for whatever reason.Even when bullying doesn’t involve fists, it can kill. It can make people feel trapped in their situation. And the opposite of bullying is not “stricter discipline” but “more connection.”

Teach kids to be heroes.

Rule Number One

We need to talk. I know we’ve probably not met and we’ve never said word one to each other online because I filter the hell out of my Facebook and you probably don’t go to Tumblr because it’s incomprehensible and I usually don’t get into it on those comment threads. But you need to hear this.

So, I adore your kids, okay? They’re amazing. They are bright sparks in a hard world. They’re looking around at a society that is far stranger than the one I grew up in, and let me tell you, Oregon in the 80’s and 90’s was pretty dang strange. And they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they fit.

These are kids who have loving hearts, who genuinely want to make the world a better place, and find their place in it. They want to make things better for poor people and children, and they want to help keep people safe and they genuinely want to do the right thing just as soon as they can figure out exactly what that is.

I need you to stop breaking them.

In my world, rule number one is “Mama loves you.” Not, “Mama loves you if you go to college and marry a nice person of the opposite sex and dress like people expect you to and get a job that is socially approved with sufficient status.”  Not, “Mama loves you if you go to the right church and wait until marriage to have sex.”

Just, “Mama loves you.”

Here are things that don’t matter when it comes to rule number one:

  • The clothes someone wears
  • Who they love
  • What pronouns they use
  • What sex acts they do, and with who
  • What church they go to or don’t
  • Whether or not they are gainfully employed
  • Whether or not they go to college at all or finish in four years
  • Whether they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth due to inny or outy bits
  • Tattoos
  • Piercings
  • Hair color
  • Who their friends are
  • Who they vote for
  • Mistakes they make and trouble they get into

Now, I get having hopes and dreams for your child. I’ve got three children and I’ve poured my life into them for 23 years. I get having expectations and wanting to provide them with a solid start in this difficult world. But there’s a right way to do that and a wrong way. It’s one thing to help your kids understand your values. But if the value at the top of the list isn’t “Mama loves you” (or parental/quasiparental tag of choice), I’m sorry, the moment your child realizes that they can’t meet your ideal for them, there’s an awfully good chance they’re either going to break, or you’re going to lose them, or both.

You need to understand that you cannot stop a child from being gay, or trans, or bi, or nonbinary. It’s not about “how you raised them”, it just is. And the more you make them feel “wrong”, the less they’re going to care about doing right. The less you love them, the less they will feel lovable, and the more likely they’re going to go looking for that love in harmful places. You can’t make them gay, but you can make them broken.

I am losing count of the number of teenagers I have had in my house or in my inbox or chat talking about how they can’t tell their parents who they are because they are afraid. Kids who did tell you who they are, and you kicked them out, because “not under your roof.” Kids who struggle for years to get back to a healthy place where they place enough value on their own bodies and souls that they don’t go out doing the exact risky and scary stuff you’re afraid of because it doesn’t matter, they aren’t worth it, you told them so.

I spend a lot of time telling them how worth it they are. And they are. These are beautiful souls who, given a chance, will pour their whole selves into helping someone, into making a difference. They have so much to offer, but you make it all harder by teaching them that they don’t.

I love your kids, but it hurts me when they hurt, and I need you to stop breaking them. Stop worrying so much about their immortal souls and worry a lot more about their hearts. Stop worrying about what the neighbors will think, and start worrying about whether your child will survive.

So… stop asking your kids when they’re going to give you grandchildren. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Stop asking them when they’re going to get married, because the last thing you want for them is for them to end up with a bad marriage for the sake of being married. Stop judging the work they’re doing, and the friends they have.

You can tell them it’s okay to stand up for themselves. And accept it if they stand up to you. Listen. Don’t get defensive.

You can tell them it’s okay for them to expect people to treat them well. And then you better treat them well.

You can tell them it’s important to try hard and do their best. But don’t tell them they have to be the best. Don’t make your love contingent on victory conditions. Some of the best people in this world never won anything.

You can say that you worry about risky behavior because you love them and you want them safe, but don’t you dare kick them out and make them even more unsafe.

Teach them that you value them, not that they are worthless.

You can even teach them about your religious beliefs, but don’t you dare put them in hell on earth just because someone told you they might go to hell someday. I’m fairly certain if Jesus exists, he judges people more harshly for cruelty to their children than he does for who they sleep with or whether they have tattoos, that was pretty clear in the bible I read. Jesus was all about embracing people society couldn’t stand. Try being more like that.

I love your kids. They’ve slept on my couch and they’ve lived in my house and they are always welcome here. But it would be a better world if they didn’t end up broken to begin with.

Rule number one. Please. I’m begging you. Make sure they know it. Tell them it doesn’t matter. Tell them you want to understand but you don’t need to understand in order to keep loving them. Tell them they deserve love, and happiness, and joy and all good things, and that you know that their path in life may not look like your path but you want to be a safe space for them to come home to. That you don’t have to agree about politics or religion or social issues or any of those things, that they’re still worthy of all that life can give them.

And if that little person you thought was a boy comes to you and says that she’s a girl, your response there is a life-and-death issue. Their future happiness and ability to survive adulthood depends on what you say to them. And if it’s anything other than, “I love you, let’s figure this out and find out what you need to make you happy,” you’re playing with fire, because the biggest difference in whether or not a trans kid survives (yes literally survives) their teen years and young adulthood is whether they get support and acceptance or not. Your attitude can literally kill them.

Rule number one.  Mama loves you.

Because while I will always keep my home open for them, I’d rather they not need me. I’d rather not have to build them back up and explain to them how you forgot the important thing.

Rule number one.

Writing advice

So I’ve been delving into the strange world of Tumblr. I said for years I didn’t understand it. Then I got into the Merlin fandom, started poking around, realized that no one understood Tumblr, and started using it a lot.

So this floated across my dashboard today:

http://jenroses.tumblr.com/post/142197757771/how-do-write-good

If Tumblr frightens you, the answer I wrote is here:

The question was, “how do write good,” (sic) and Maureen Johnson gave a succinct answer I felt could use some elaboration.

Write. Write more. Ask for constructive criticism. Cry. Get angry. Do what they say. See how it makes it better. Buy your editor/beta reader/tolerant friend flowers or chocolate or something and then write more.

Read. Read amazing writers, read amazing storytellers, note that sometimes the two things aren’t the same. When something you read makes you happy, think about why.

Then write more. Write nonfiction. Write short paragraphs. Write drabbles. Write poetry. Write short fanfiction. Or long. Or your own stories. Write what moves you. Explain things to people with your writing.

Read about writing. Read about language. Read about structure. Read about why things work, why they don’t. Understand the rules. Write until your editor only makes small changes in grammar (and sometimes they’re wrong and you know it but you always listen because if it caught their attention something about the flow is probably off.)

And ultimately? Break rules if there’s a good reason to. Don’t let other people’s ideas about writing get in the way of good storytelling. A few million words in, you’re going to know to your bones when you need to be scrupulously formal and when you need to throw that to the wind because that character over there? He says “Ain’t” a lot, and no one speaks in complete sentences all the time.

But throw all that out the window for a moment, because you can stick your face in a computer screen for decades and never live enough to have a damn thing worth writing about. Go out into the world. Experience love. Experience failure. Have crowning moments of awesome and be crushed by devastating tragedy. Feel the wind on your elbows and smell things that no one should ever have to smell. Think about how you would tell these things to someone else, about how you would help them experience what you’ve experienced.

When you know enough about writing and life to be able to put someone else in your shoes and have them feel the blisters? You’ll write good.

This isn’t about vaccination

Not really. It’s not about vaccination. Or welfare. Or religion. Or politics. It’s not about circumcision or abortion or gay marriage or Fox news or Florida or gun activists or Black people or White people or people who see the world differently or people who learn differently or any of the things that anyone, anywhere says are “ruining everything” or “causing all the problems”.

This, this, my friends, is about manners.

Here’s the thing about almost every SINGLE thing people rant about on the internet. At the heart of it, somewhere, someone’s story is there. It may not be a “beautiful” story. It may not be a “correct” story, but it’s their story. It’s personal. And when things are personal, people get hurt by the collective volume.

People have reasons for doing what they do, believing what they believe, knowing what they know, whether it is “correct” or not.

We walk a fine line, calling out the problems we see, between “shedding light on injustice” and blinding people.

It is too, too easy to forget that being right at all costs may have a higher cost than intended. And that insisting on “being right” may well guarantee that you will never, ever, EVER actually be able to persuade anyone who you feel is “wrong” of anything.

Don’t use the “Oh, but not YOU,” argument. That’s just insulting, just like saying, “No offense, but…” If you have to make that excuse, you should probably stop a minute and reconsider.

My eldest child’s school, shortly before we started there, had an issue with a child being bullied for having gay parents. The school had a long community discussion about an appropriate way to say, “This is not okay.”

They thought  about expanding the existing “No harassment based on race, religion or gender” to include “sexual orientation, disability” and a host of other things. Then someone very wise said, “Why are we doing it this way? How about we just say, “No harassment.” Because really, when, ever, is it okay to harass anyone?”

It eliminates the, “Well, but that doesn’t cover…. ” argument. Yes, I know we need to call attention to specific types of harassment because people just don’t think… but from a policy perspective, this takes the broad view, the, dare I say it, “constitutional” view, the “word it simply, broadly, and in a way that future understanding can expand the definition as needed.”

So when we started at this school, their policy just said, “No harassment.” Period. And I concur. Don’t treat people that way. Teach your kids not to treat people that way. That’s just good manners.

Now besides manners, this is also about effectiveness. About understanding. And about communication.

I grew up the daughter of a computer programmer and an attorney. To say that I was raised with the idea that logic and right and wrong are quantifiable and knowable is kind of an understatement. I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood wanting and needing to be right. The arguments I got into and my frustration at their illogic were epic. I was a lonely kid. And at the time, persuaded very few people.

The concept of active listening dropped into my life like a bombshell in my early 20’s.  I remember arguing a point of maternal fetal medicine with a nurse during my doula training, and her stopping me and saying, “The fact that you are still arguing with me means you are not listening to me.”

This is what most people miss. If you are shouting, you aren’t hearing… but if you are shouting, probably no one else is really listening to you either.

I feel strongly about a lot of topics. But mostly it boils down to manners, and understanding that people are people, and that we are all in this together and we need to start acting like it. And that doesn’t mean all thinking or being or doing the same things, it means understanding that we never, ever will and finding ways to live with each other in peace anyway.

So the next time, and every time, you are about to post or repost or share or retweet or otherwise propagate something in this incredibly diverse and divisive digital world (that is, after all, in the real world and mostly generated by real actual human beings and is about real actual stories that happen to people)… please, stop a moment. Look at it. Maybe it makes you laugh, or snort, or nod your head.

But is it doing so by putting someone down? By reducing them from real, mistake-making, struggling human beings to caricatures and straw men? If you share it, will it hurt someone you care about? Or someone they care about? Or someone you’ve never met at all but who is struggling that much harder because people find their lives funny or enraging?

If so, then please ask, “Will sharing this actually improve a situation that needs improving, or convince someone who was wavering, or improve the world?”

Or will it just get the choir nodding in the background and further plug your ears to the realities behind the situation at hand? Will it plug the ears of the people whose minds you most dearly want to change?

Maybe you don’t care. I want to think you probably do. But if your goal is merely to be “right” or to look right or to appear smarter or to align yourself with the people you respect… please, stop. Think. Go here and read for a while, it’s useful. Look at your face to the world. Stop harassing people, and start listening.

We are a rich tapestry of stories and lives and perspectives and reasons and backgrounds. The world is made more complete by the variety and complexity of us. More interesting. In the long run, it is humanity’s variety that creates our ability to persevere. Value the fact that everyone doesn’t think like you, or me, or that guy over there. We would learn nothing if everyone understood the world in the exact same way. And we are, none of us, perfect.

I get the urge to yell. I’m a mom and live in a family and it’s made up of human beings and fur beings and we’re all of us fallible, even me. But yelling creates silence, or it creates more yelling, or it creates hurt. There’s not really much middle ground here. And it’s not very useful in the long run at fixing, well, anything.

Stop yelling. Please.

Start understanding.

On finding out the gender

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Snipped  from a conversation about finding out the gender in utero.
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Today, my 3 year old son insisted on wearing a skirt all day. Amusingly, his black, heavy shoes are handmedowns from his 9 year old sister, who needed them for orthotic reasons (they were her shoes when she was 7 or 8. He’s 3.) The skirt he picked out at Costco for himself. The fish shirt is his FAVORITE. The jacket is supposedly “girls” from the tags.
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My 21 year old daughter is now using they/them pronouns, has hair almost as short as my son’s (was shorter), and rarely wears anything remotely feminine. I’m over the whole gender binary thing. When people say boy and girl, these words, they do not mean what people think they mean.
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I guess my point is that one might find out in utero what sort of bits and bobs a kid has, but it will give absolutely not one iota of information about the person they will become. Not a thing. Our abstract gender notions are so far off from the reality of who kids are, that it’s pretty meaningless, even if they are cisgendered in the long run, what it means to be “boy” and what it means to be “girl” are so wide and overlapping that I just don’t see the point. It’s like our abstract notions of what it means to be one race or another. The variations within any one race are greater than the differences between races, in almost every marker. The only things an ultrasound can really say (and even then it’s not infallible) is whether a child has a penis or a vagina. Heck, with transgender men giving birth, and transgender women banking sperm to use later, and lots of people not actually having kids at all, it doesn’t even tell you if they’ll someday be a mother or a father.
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I get the whole “loss of the idealized baby” grief. I had that in spades when my middle was diagnosed with a chromosome difference that completely blew out of the water all my expectations about parenting, pretty much from the moment she was born and every moment after. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be sad or glad or whatever. Feelings are feelings. They’re not wrong or right. If you’re sad, you’re sad. If you’re delighted, you’re delighted.
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But realistically, even if you know, and you “get what you want”… you don’t know, and won’t know and maybe even can’t know. I have a friend who transitioned at 46 years old. And know kids who are transitioning as young as five years old. All that little hamburger or hotdog on the ultrasound will tell someone is whether their kid has an innie or an outie, for the moment. It says nothing about what they will like, what they’ll want to play with, who they will be, who they will love, or how they’ll want to dress. It doesn’t tell you whether they’ll be energetic or quiet or bookish or athletic or good at math or amazing with colors or struggle endlessly or float through effortlessly or whether they’ll look good in pink or whether they’ll be delighted at spinning in a twirly skirt until they tumble to the ground.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about gender, about neurodiversity, about social expectations of children and cultural notions of what it means to be male, to be female. I’ve never felt like there was anything inherently wrong with having female bits (although I was thrilled to no longer have a uterus once I was done using it for babies), but I’ve never in my life been much good at “being a girly girl” as our society seems to define it. And as I see a lot of young people struggling with notions of gender, my feeling that the whole binary thing is just so much horse pocky gets stronger and stronger. There’s nothing wrong with my gender. There’s nothing wrong with my skirt-loving son or my short haired daughters. Society, on the other hand, is really fucked up.
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I put Shiny in pink sometimes, and she wears dresses sometimes, because they’re colorful, she looks good in pink, and the clothes are cute. Miles gets more pants and shirts… but often throws a skirt on top if he has his druthers. Handmedowns provide him with an endless supply of pink jammies and twirly skirts and dresses. He honestly dresses almost exactly the same as K did, 18 years ago, with almost an identical frequency of skirts, or pants, or sometimes both. Which just goes to show you exactly how much influence a twirly 3 year old’s penchant for circle skirts and tulle has on their identity as an adult. We just don’t know, and it just doesn’t matter all that much. Like I’m going to love them one iota less?
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My main struggles are editorial and habitual… I was raised a fairly strict grammarian, and singular they in reference to a known person just makes me twitchy. Not morally, not intellectually… grammatically. And I spent 21 years thinking of K as “she”, and it’s a brain plasticity failure that I haven’t made the leap easily.
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But that’s my problem, not my kid’s. I may stumble over pronouns, but I stumble not at all on loving them with my whole heart.
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Teaching consent

Someone recently posted for discussion an idea they’d heard (not agreed with) that “Guys are the gas and girls are the brakes”. This was an infuriating concept on pretty much every level, but got me to thinking about the messages we send kids and what we need to teach them. Because in my experience, a HUGE percentage of rapes are as much a result of poor training and lack of consideration as actual malice or active intent.

Messages like “Guys are the gas”, or “If she doesn’t say no, she means yes” actually train guys to rape. It is entirely possible for a sexual encounter to seem like “no big deal” from one side and “soul destroying devastation” from the other, and when that is the case, ultimately we have to point at training. I have, in my own personal experience, known men who raped without being aware until after the fact that it was rape. Who once informed of the issue, corrected their behavior and expectations. Those are training issues. And we can fix them.

There has been a lot of talk recently about a relatively new concept… “Yes means yes”. Training kids that the default is “respect boundaries until invited in” is essential, fundamental to changing the current paradigm. How does that look?

I’ve started with my son while he is still a toddler. He’s not even 3, is still breastfeeding, and I’m setting limits with him about grabbing and touching. He has to ask if he can nurse. If I say no, he doesn’t get to grab. I don’t put up with him casually grabbing my boobs anymore at all, or with him getting aggressive with me.

We have to start that young. We have to teach little kids that hurting people we like is never okay. Simply insisting on manners can go a long way toward teaching mutual respect. Teaching those manners often requires demonstrating them. My husband and I spend a couple weeks saying to each other, “May I please be excused?” at the dinner table, because that was what reminded my son to ask. Things he says, “Gimme” for are rarely gotten. When he says “Please, may I” he usually gets what he wants if it is reasonable.  I am often startled by how few children actually ask for things rather than demanding.

But most important, I think, is teaching simple self control. Delayed gratification. Teaching kids to think forward about consequences. It is not impossible. But the teaching never stops. I spend hours talking to the 21 year olds in my life about boundaries and limits and ways of handling the tricky situations they find themselves in.

In a lot of ways I’m very glad that I was born female, because I suspect that with the kind of training boys and girls got when I was a kid, I probably would have ended up raping someone without even understanding it as a young adult.

We teach kids a lot about “no means no”, but when you factor in the “freeze” response to “fight or flight”, the fact of the matter is that someone has to be able to communicate in order to say no, someone who is scared or drugged may not be able to do that. It has to be, it MUST be, “Yes means yes, No means no, Stop means stop, and silence is not consent.”

We have to teach kids to separate fantasy from reality. We see so many “sexy” scenes on television where an aggressive kiss with fighting back becomes willing participation…but in reality, we can’t risk that. The freeze response creates relaxation, and that relaxation could easily be confused for “lack of rejection”. It is possible to have fantasies of being overpowered, while absolutely never wanting that in real life, and we have to teach our kids about the difference. I can love reading science fiction and reading about space flight and not actually ever want to sit on the rocket ship, you know? I can adore stories about medieval cultures without ever wanting to live in a real one. I can enjoy watching a drama on television without ever wanting my life to be that dramatic.

http://www.lifecentre.uk.com/dealing_with_the_effects/the_freezing_response.html

is a good starting point for understanding why “No means no” is never enough.

No, really, do NOT fucking touch my children without permission

Several people have said, “Oh, but touching his clothed foot wouldn’t likely spread flu”. Or “You shouldn’t have swatted that man’s hand away.” Or “You could have been more polite about it.”

One person even suggested that not letting people touch my children in public might create problems for my children in being touched as adults.

You know what? I was raised to know that my body was my own, and that if someone I didn’t know tried to touch me without permission, I was absolutely within my rights to yell, “No!” and leave.

That I didn’t have to be polite about it.

It was a good lesson to learn. Would have been even better if it had included that if people I did know tried to touch me without permission, I was STILL within my rights to yell, “No” and leave, but regardless, it served me very well with strangers.

I can name at least three times in my life where that lesson got me out of a situation that could easily have turned into severe molestation or rape, ONLY having been touched once in a way I didn’t like.

On one occasion, a man reached out and grabbed me–my crotch–when I was nine, and I pulled away and yelled no and then ran. He sounded so surprised I wouldn’t just let him. Makes me wonder how many girls did.

Another occasion, a friend’s makeout buddy reached out WHILE MAKING OUT WITH HER and grabbed my breast while I was trying to sleep. I yelled, “No!” and threw my clothes on and left.

On a third occasion a boy ran his hand up my leg because I had the audacity to wear nylons, and I told him to stop and when he got snippy I got the teacher. Who was an ass but that’s another story. I made it stop.

My child learns about loving, healthy touch and boundaries by being touched in appropriate ways by people who love him and by having his boundaries respected.

So yes, when people violate my son’s personal space and mine (the guy’s hands were inches from my chest, he had to put his hand between me and the cart to grab Miles’ foot, and he was not holding it gently, I had to use some pressure to push his hand away) I will respond reflexively by telling them “No” and pushing them away, and then leaving.

I will NEVER apologize for that reflex.

And that, my friends, is why you should not touch strangers’ children without permission.

Because doing so, you’re violating boundaries.

That, and because you really do not want to trigger a defensive reaction in someone who may be a survivor.

It doesn’t even have to be about the germs. Bodily autonomy is plenty reason enough.

He’s lucky I didn’t slug him.

Riding the respite roller coaster

So I’ve been drowning a lot. And a local disability advocacy worker threw me a lifeline by suggesting Shiny be enrolled in a camp that does inclusion for special needs kids. I looked into it, they offered to do a scholarship for the first week, it looked like such a good idea that I paid out of pocket for a second week.

Shiny was excited. Great. It involved swimming and dancing and a lot of free play.

First day was fine, exhausting for me because I ended up doing a meat sort, but that was okay, I had 10 days of respite lined up, 9 hours a day.

The second day was wonderful up to a point… I ended up taking a long nap with Miles, getting things done. Hubby came home to a happy wife and a cooked meal and Shiny was tired but that’s okay.  The point at which it wasn’t wonderful was when her second week of camp (different camp) called and said Shiny would not be able to go because the camp was wide open and outdoors and there would be no way of keeping her safe in that environment. I was sad but wanted to enjoy the rest of the week.

Third day, I had an appointment in the morning that fractured our nap, the appointment was a dud anyway as we were going to have a plug installed near our fireplace and they couldn’t do it for under $800… But I was going to have a nap in the afternoon with Miles anyway and make a nice dinner… and then Camp called.

Shiny was refusing to wipe her own butt, and “their staff isn’t trained for that”. She was acting tired and didn’t want to participate, so I needed to come get her, she wouldn’t be allowed back.

That 10 days of respite.. had turned into 2 1/2. And was done.  Over.

I flipped my shit when I got off the phone. My mother went and got Shiny, and advocated for Shiny to return the next day for a shorter period of time. I called crisis services for the local county office of developmental disability services (DDS). There were a lot of phone calls and a lot of messages and I cried a lot.

Then I got a magical call back from the regional crisis intervention coordinator.

Shiny will qualify, possibly as soon as next week, for $1000 per month in respite funds.

In 3-6 months, because Shiny is currently “at risk” for losing her placement (i.e. if we can’t figure out lasting solutions that make it possible for us to care for her in the home without her damaging us, we will have to look at therapeutic foster care, I am THAT done), a new state program called the “K-plan” will kick in, and Shiny can be considered a family of one for purposes of applying for aid, such as SSI and Medicaid. Remember, we currently pay 1500 per month for insurance, which will drop almost by half January 1, but we have NEVER been able to have dental and vision coverage for Shiny, which has meant many thousands out of pocket.  We may also be able to get housekeeping help for the “extra” burdens that Shiny’s conditions create on the level of mess here. (Me taking time when I’m not keeping an eye on the living room often results in Shiny creating a poop disaster. Then I spend an hour or two cleaning up a poop disaster. So her effect on the house is twofold–without a break from her, nothing gets clean, ever, unless I do it after bed, and I don’t often have the energy to do it then because I’ve been dealing with her all day).

I got plenty of sleep and a break from Shiny over the weekend, two days in a row. By the end of the weekend, my co-host for the co-op saw me and was blown away by how much better I looked than the last 20 times she’d seen me. By Tuesday I looked in the mirror and said, “Oh, there you are!” to a person I hadn’t seen in years. I was starting to feel human. The level of devastation at having my two weeks turned into two days? I don’t have enough words to describe it.

But… with $1000 per month, Shiny can go to after-school care every day… at the special needs center where they presumably know how to wipe butts. No-school days will be covered. And there will be enough left over to allow some respite time on weekends as well, so hubby and I can actually spend some time together.

I am enraged at the shitty implementation of “inclusion” at the city program. But it got things going and helped grease the gears at DDS… normally there is a 3 month wait list, but they are expediting us. I could just about hear steam come out of the coordinator’s ears when I said that no one had referred us there, and I had learned of them by chance just this spring.

How very different her toddler years might have been.

Having just Miles around is a dream. He is so *easy*, and we get into a rhythm so nicely with each other.  I was so looking forward to having that…  And we will, it will just be a few weeks.

It’s like there’s still a rhinoceros sitting on my chest, but at least I know it will be leaving soon. And without us having to put Shiny into foster care.

It was something I hated contemplating, but I just didn’t know what else to do. She is abusive and violent and she will likely always be abusive and violent and my responsibility, and I don’t want my son to grow up bullied, and the fact that when she comes near I cringe and say “don’t hit me” is just sad. If she’s out of the house from the time she wakes up until dinnertime, we only have to deal with 2-3 hours per day and that I can do.  I can be the parent I want to be for her, if I”m not having to defend myself from her all the time. If I’m not pouring everything into just trying to minimize the amount of destruction she wreaks.

The morning of the day they sent her home, as I was getting her ready to go, she said, “Camping time. Oh boy. Can’t wait.”

I am still so angry with them.

My leather jacket

When I was 19, I lived in a mediocre part of southeast Portland. I was attending classes downtown and taking the bus home at night. I was young, pretty, and had a number of scary moments when strange men would follow me off the bus. I always went to the store and called home for a roommate to come walk with me when that happened, but it got old really fast.

I did four things. I bought a nerve gas keychain (like Mace). I started wearing combat boots. I took Tai Kwon Do classes from the most chauvinist jerk on the planet. (“You ladies can do this move while holding a baby or putting on lipstick!”). And I spent way too much money on a real, honest to god leather motorcycle jacket. It was heavy. And felt like armor.

Changing what I was wearing and carrying was huge… suddenly the problems just went away. I felt protected, I felt badass, and I felt like if anyone gave me any shit I would have zero trouble defending myself.

I did not leave my house without my biker jacket all winter. Then it warmed up, and I walked out the front door wearing birkenstocks and a t-shirt and jeans, leaving the armor at home.

I went all of a block and a half to the store. In that time two separate cars slowed down and the young men inside harassed me. I thought about it while I shopped, and before I left the store, I mentally “put on” that leather jacket, the combat boots. I wasn’t actually wearing them, but I was wearing the attitude I had when I had worn them before.

No one bothered me on the way home. So every time I left the house, I put on my jacket, mentally, whether I actually put it on or no.

And never had another problem being harassed or followed.

I tell this story to the young women I know… the story that the actual fabric of what you wear, the cut of your clothes is less important than the attitude you put on.

Men can be pretty shitty about vulnerable looking girls. That doesn’t mean we are responsible for their shitty behavior. Wearing a dress or a t-shirt or even a bikini is not “asking” for anything. But predators are looking for prey. And putting on my armor kept me from scanning as “prey”. And made it a hell of a lot less scary to leave the house.

In a similar vein… when I was 9 years old, my parents were moving us across the country. My dad needed to drive the car from Michigan to Oregon, and put out a classified ad to find someone to drive with him. We went to meet someone who answered that ad, and as we walked up the front path, I remember seeing this huge German Shepherd dog being held by the collar by a tall, thin woman. I didn’t like the look of the dog, so I stepped back, afraid.

He broke loose from his owner, and lunged at me, bounding down the steps, across the front yard and leaping toward my face. My mother’s fist hit the dog, knocking him to the ground, at the same moment as his tooth laid open a cut on my face. Had she not hit him, I would have been maimed.

You might think that I would have been afraid of dogs after that… And I will say that I’m not wild about German Shepherds to this day. But the real lesson I learned was not to be afraid of dogs…but that showing my fear was the worst thing I could do. I’ve never failed to stand my ground with a dog since.

Sometimes self defense is as much about knowing that you have a right and the ability to defend yourself as it is about any external factor.

That same summer (lousy, lousy summer), I was picking plums in the alley behind our rental house, when a man came into the alley. He saw me and started unzipping his pants. I was alarmed (9 years old, remember?) and started to walk back to my house, which meant I had to pass him to get out of the alley. He reached out and grabbed my crotch as I passed, and I jerked away from him. He said, “What, can’t I touch you?”

I yelled, “No!” and ran for my apartment.

This was training at work. Stranger danger was a big thing, and this kind of attack was exactly what I’d been trained by Girl Scouts and my Mama Bear mother to deal with. I said no. I ran. I didn’t show my fear to the dog. I didn’t let my fear paralyze me (and fear can, in fact, literally paralyze people).

There is a knack to reacting to crisis situations. To thinking on your feet. To hiding your fear and doing what needs to be done. To putting on your metaphorical leather jacket and going out to kick ass and take names. Even if it’s just a role you play in your head… role play is training for the real thing.

7 years ago my middle child choked on a taco chip. I did what needed to be done until that chip was off her trachea and she was pinking up and no longer limp and blue in my arms. I fell apart later, when it was safe.

Fear is only useful if it motivates you to find a way to be strong and take care of business. If it paralyzes you, you have to learn another way of doing, another way of being.

Put on your leather jacket. You’ve got this.