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.

Today’s visit

Today, the President of the United States flew into the city I call home, and then took a helicopter to the place I’m from. One of the places. I often say I spent my childhood in Michigan and grew up in Roseburg, as the line between them fell exactly at the halfway point between birth and adulthood.

I saw pictures people posted from the roadsides in Roseburg. It was a beautiful day. I remember days like that, growing up. The sky covered with painted clouds, the ground green, plenty of sun, but not blinding. Days like that, the clouds form a roof full of skylights, high over the mountains and hills that press in close and largely untamed against the lived-in places in the valleys.

Roseburg is resplendent with natural beauty, some of the cleanest air I’ve ever breathed and I remember riding horses over wet earth and breathing deep and having no idea whatsoever how blessed I was.

I think a lot about what President Obama might have thought, looking at that place I’m from. People lined the streets to show support for families grieving an unthinkable loss, to protect them from any who might come and make hay of their tragedy. School spirit was huge in Roseburg, even I learned enough about football to sit in the stands and recognize a good play when I saw it. Community looms large and presses close like the mountains.

But I remember when we first moved to Roseburg, asking my father where all the black people were. And learning about the hate that had colored the state’s formative years. They’ll welcome you with open arms if you are Christian enough. They’ll welcome you with open arms if you’re white enough. Well, I was kind of too white and not white enough all at the same time. “Did your people kill Jesus?” someone asked, assuming that my Jewish father and my Jewish last name must indicate that I was also Jewish, even though I knew my whole life that Judaism passed through the mother and I never claimed more than a fondness for lox and bagels and learning.

And I wonder if the president saw those Nobama signs, the signs saying “Go back to Kenya!” and then looked up to the verdant mountains, the clean, brilliant air, the painted clouds, the strong community spirit, and then thought about the streets of Chicago where guns claim lives daily, the streets of Iraq, refugees and war zones and children drowning and starving and dying and I wonder if he wondered at the smallness of that place I’m from. You can see so clearly in that crystal air, but the mountains press so close and you can’t see very far. A double handful of people dead and the loudest ones left behind still clinging so tight to the guns that killed them… killed them with the hands of someone who could not see past the tip of his own rage and self-pity, no matter how clear the air.

I watched as the drama and trauma unfolded last week and my heart ached for the place I’d come from. I wanted to go down there, show support. be part of it again for a little while. Health issues prevented this week… but by the time they were resolved, I remembered so clearly why I’d left the clean air and the painted skies and the happy trees. Roseburg is a good place to be from, I think. Some of the best people I’ve ever known have been from there. Some still live there.

“Go home” some of the signs said. “Go away.” It didn’t surprise me at all… I left at 18 and rarely ever looked back. There’s a reason I call Eugene home, and while the air isn’t as clear, it’s a lot easier to see here.  I’m home. I’m away. And I’ll hold those who stayed in my heart, but I think I’ll do it from over here.

Why having the EDS diagnosis matters

Why does diagnosis matter?

When I was 4 years old, I got a flu that made it hurt to walk. And a couple months later it hurt to walk again and my mother told me I was making it up for the attention.

When I was 7 years old, I failed English because of instead of copying a sentence over and putting correction in the new sentence, I just put the punctuation in where it belonged on the typed sentence because writing hurt my hands. I flat out refused to do busywork because a) it was boring and unnecessary and b) it hurt.

When I was 8, my handwriting was still terrible, and handwriting hurt, so when we took a trip across country, camping, for a month, every day my mother made me practice my handwriting for half an hour or more a day. It kind of fixated my hatred of handwriting and the quality of it at about a third grade level. She was trying to help. If we’d known that the problem was underlying hand instability, maybe we could have done something to make it easier. Diagnosis matters. My son will never, ever have people accusing him of laziness

I could never run fast. I was always the slowest one. They’d tell me to run faster, and I’d twist my ankle and have to stop, and they’d say I did it to get out of running. I was labeled “lazy” and “clumsy”. I learned to fear running. This despite the fact that I loved climbing trees and swimming and was quite good at both of those things. If they’d wrapped my ankles and knees and had someone teach me how to run correctly, maybe my ankles would not have gotten so bad.

I took ballet from kindergarten through the sixth grade. My wobbly joints made it hard to do things steadily. And my mother wouldn’t let me go en pointe because i couldn’t hold my stomach flat. In retrospect, I got off easy, though I was angry about it at the time. I look at the damage dancers experience (and hypermobility is a selection criteria for top dancers) and I shudder.

We had yoga classes sometimes in school. I was “very good” at yoga. I will never do yoga again. In our family, “But have you tried yoga?” is a catchphrase we use to label assvice from clueless people about how to deal with chronic pain issues. I’m a goddamned pretzel, I don’t need more flexibility in my life.

My skin was extraordinarily sensitive from a very young age. I could not tolerate anything close to the front of my throat, it made me gag. I woudln’t let my mother zip up my coats all the way, starting from age 3, because they “glecked my neck”. Tags in clothes. Scratchy seams. Elastics. Lace. Pilly poly/cotton. Acrylic. I would have physical shuddering reactions to touching most of those things. Underwear HAD to have covered elastics. We learned to cut the edges from tags that had been melted to stop fraying. “I don’t like that, it’s itchy” probably drove Mom up the wall but she stopped trying to force me to wear things after a while. I was given a clothing budget and allowed to shop for my own clothes at a surprisingly young age because she was so over it. Don’t blame her a bit. Knowing how sensitive skin can be maddening, my kids lead a relatively cushy life in that respect.

Sudafed knocked me out and made me sleep. Scared my dad to death because I was sleeping so hard I didn’t answer the phone when he called to check on me one sick day. He came flying home from work to make sure I wasn’t dead. It’s not supposed to make people sleepy. On the other hand, drugs like Demerol and such that are supposed to make people forget about pain absolutely never worked. They would lie to me and tell me I wouldn’t remember and I totally would. I had an appendectomy at 14 and my mother had to push her way into the recovery room and snap at me to stop pulling off my dressings because I was so combative coming out from under general and had so much breakthrough pain that I was clawing the bandages off.

I never understood solarcaine, because it stopped working for me as soon as it dried. Dentists put unbelievable amounts of novocaine in and it would still wear off before they were done. They blamed it on my red hair, long after my hair went brown. They’re not wrong, but EDS also explains it. We won’t talk about how badly the epidural failed with my last baby.

After one sprain, I discovered that things felt better if I wrapped both ankles. Several people said I was attention seeking, so I stopped. I joined swim team so as never to have to deal with the track again. Still had to run during the presidential whatsis. And twisted my ankle.

In high school, it took so much effort to keep my hand stable enough to write that I could not take notes. I couldn’t listen, write and learn at the same time. Could not. People were pissed off that I would learn material without notes. I had to. Notes were too hard. I got docked in some classes for not taking them. I graduated with a 3.87. Probably would have been closer to a 3.92 if I’d been able to take notes. When I took a college class in my 30’s with a laptop, I was able to type the lecture verbatim while learning and listening. It’s hard to write if you have to fight your fingers bending backwards all the damned time. Essay tests were the actual worst. I started typing my papers on a computer before most people had access to home computers.

My handwriting is still awful. But now I use a special pen that doesn’t hurt so much, ask to type the responses to long forms, and flat out refuse to write long things and ask for someone to write for me if I can’t type out the responses.

I got pregnant when I was 20. The nausea and stretch marks were insane. My pelvic floor and belly would never be the same. My breasts headed south. People talked about “bouncing back” from having a baby”, I just found a new normal, one in which I had giant breasts and stretch marks over 90% of my body. I almost passed out a number of times… pregnancy makes you more stretchy, and while I don’t always have POTS, I surely did when I was pregnant. Ended up having unnecessary tests done because we were worried it was another embolism. Nope. Just my flaky body being flaky again.

I developed a series of food allergies. So did my kid. The list of things I’m allergic to is exhausting, and i often forget things until they’re in front of me.

At 23, the world wide web happened and a few years after that I met someone online with severe EDS. Some of it rang bells but I’d never knowingly dislocated things, so I shrugged it off because my skin wasn’t stretchy “enough” and my joints didn’t dislocate. I wasn’t as bad off as her so that couldn’t be it.

My hair started falling out in my mid twenties and I put on a lot of weight. It would take another 8 years to get a hashimotos diagnosis. People said “diet and exercise.” Every time I exercised, 2 weeks in I would get sick or twist my ankle. I tried yoga.

By the time I was 32, I did manage to get close to my pre-baby weight and kept it off until another pregnancy. And a miscarriage and another pregnancy after that happened and my thyroid failed and I put on 80 pounds in about 5 years. The pregnancy was particularly damaging to my pelvis as my child had craniosynostosis and macrocephaly and I pushed her out vaginally and destroyed my pelvic stability. I didn’t sleep for 2 months after she was born, struggling with feeding issues. She was 4 1/2-5 months old before walking didn’t hurt.

Parenting a special needs child and caretaking a mother in law with dementia crashed my adrenals when I went on thyroid meds. My thyroid was only diagnosed because it was one of the things they tested for when I said, “I keep falling” after it took six months to recover from a sprain only for me to fall again.

It was a very difficult time. I was diagnosed with IBS and fibro and sleep apnea and sleep timing disorder and had another pulmonary embolism (I have a clotting disorder as the cherry on top). I went from doing 14 hours a day of hard labor remodeling our house to barely able to function. And yet people sighed heavily when I said I needed help, because I must be exaggerating. Or because they’d been helping so much they were exhausted.

I was put into physical therapy to help me get back some function. That was helpful. I had another baby. That wasn’t. By that point, I figured out that pregnancy was destructive and I had my uterus out when he was 11 1/2 months old. While they did it, they repaired the cystocele and rectocele and open tear that was left from my first baby. The repairs failed within a year. I won’t have them redone.

Someone asked, “Have you considered your problem might be psychological?”

I didn’t speak to him again for a long time. We will never be as good friends as we used to be.

More falls, more pain, more PT, another embolism. I kept thinking, “How can it be possible for one person to have this many diagnoses?”

I began to wonder if maybe I was a hypochondriac. Then I started reading about EDS, and the lightbulb went off. And suddenly it all made sense, and I stopped feeling so crazy and started feeling really angry at the people who pushed me and bullied me and didn’t listen and made me feel like asking for help was a failure and that I didn’t deserve help.

I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. I would be less disabled now if I’d had more support then. I’d have done better in school from an earlier age. I probably wouldn’t have crashed and burned in college so hard. Maybe other things would have been harder or worse knowing, but not knowing did actually create problems. I don’t actually blame people for not knowing, they just didn’t know. They couldn’t know. But part of me wishes I could go back in time and say, “Knock it off. This is why.”

Here’s the thing. I get hurt when I push myself. I pushed myself hard for many years.   At heart, who I am, is someone who wants to help people. I want to fix things. I want to make things better. I want to learn. I want to do. I want to live.

I hate bedrest. I intensely dislike going to the doctor. It takes an enormous amount for me to go through the process of making an appointment, and going to the ER is literally the last thing I want to except for dying. So I don’t go unless I’m scared to death. I don’t scare easy.

I put up with things for YEARS rather than ask for help with them because I hate asking for help. I hate being needy. I hate not being the person who can make it better. I don’t like saying no.

When I can, I do. Sometimes I do even when I shouldn’t. And the price is high. One day of overdoing can cost me a week of function. One injury or illness can cost me months of muscle mass. If I seem wary, it’s because of experience, not timidity.

So what do I deserve? I deserve what we all deserve. We deserve doctors who listen and are curious enough to figure out underlying causes. We deserve to be treated with respect and have our conditions treated and pain relieved. We deserve a good quality of life. We deserve supports to make the most out of what we have.

We don’t deserve to be labeled “Drug seekers.”
We don’t deserve to be labeled “Hypochondriacs.”
We’re not lazy.
We’re not attention seeking.
We’re probably a hell of a lot more tired of the laundry list of diagnoses than anyone else in our lives.
And it is reasonable for us to want to understand our bodies and why they do the things they do.

A diagnosis, while stressful, can remove huge stressors, especially that internal voice that says, “Am I crazy? Am I making it up? Are they right about me?”

It can be the difference between finding the right help and being more damaged when we “try yoga.”

Pondering identity: Race, class and gender

It is, if not amusing, certainly bemusing to me that the older I get, the less clarity I have about my identity. When I was 20, I attended, very briefly, Evergreen State College. And the one class I enrolled in was titled, “Race, Class and Gender in Comparative Perspective.” The subject matter was a comparison between modern-day India and the antebellum South in the the United States. I didn’t get very far in the class because I got knocked up, and got my own personal sojourn through the roles of “young, single welfare mother” and “college dropout.” At the time I identified as bisexual, female, white, ethnically Jewish, polyamorous, democrat, feminist, and liberal. I never quite figured out the class thing because I had professional parents, who didn’t have much money while I was growing up, and I spend a couple years on welfare… so I had a middle class upbringing with working class resources. I dropped out of college mostly because I didn’t want to waste my money while I wasn’t able to focus. I didn’t go back yet because life is complicated. 22 years and I still say “yet”.

I’m still a liberal, feminist democrat. And I’m still incredibly pale, and I still like lox. I’m still the child of a white, Anglo Saxon protestant mom whose family roots go back to the Mayflower and a Jewish dad whose parents’ families fled Russia and Poland in the early 1920s, long before Hitler had power in the area. Because lots of  people were assholes to the Jews back then.

In high school, during my junior year, I wrote a research paper about the history of Judaism. People have been kicking the Jews around for a hell of a long time. There was a lot of material. On the one hand, I felt it very personally, that these people like me had been so abused for so long. And on the other hand, Judaism doesn’t claim me, nor do I claim it as more than a cultural factor, because my mother is not Jewish. I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter with rare forays that felt like tourism to seders and Hanukkah parties.

Recently someone said to me, “How do you dance the hora?”

I looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “And why do you think I know?” I asked.

“Well, your last name….”

Clearly someone who does not understand assimilation. (Side note: I actually have danced the Hora, many times, but I wouldn’t be able to right now and I only “know how” when I’m in a big circle of people dancing the hora because it’s that kind of dance.) It greatly reminded me of college, when a girl from Texas turned to a roommate and drawled, “You’re from California, what’s IN tofu?”

My roommate responded much as I did. She put on her best valley girl accent and said, “Like, I don’t know.”

But people have treated me different for “being Jewish”, no matter how little I look it or the fact that I don’t practice Judaism and never really have. I’m a freckled redhead with green eyes and pale skin, and really all I get from that side of the family is a lot of curl in my hair, full lips and a really flat butt. And my last name. It’s the name that makes people jump to conclusions, like, “Your people killed Jesus,” and “Do you sacrifice babies?” In contrast, assuming I know the Hora is pretty mild.

Growing up I went from being the weird white kid at the mostly black school (the school, now, is 97% black, in the middle of Detroit) to being the weird Jewish kid in a relentlessly white, sorta rural town in southern Oregon.

When people started saying, “White people don’t get it” I always felt kind of weird because growing up with my best friends being Black, and hearing the kids at school talk about their fears, and then ending up being identified without my taking the identity with a people who have been systematically oppressed for millennia, who have been the victims of genocide and segregation, who have been vilified, caricatured, rejected, and feared… it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t kind of a lot of commonalities. And yet… do we ever really understand where other people are coming from? If someone asks me if I’m Jewish, I can say “no”, honestly,  and they shrug and move on. Most of the assumptions, even the negative ones, that people make about Jews tend to be fear of financial or political power (accurate or not) rather than assumption of inadequacy or violence, unless we’re talking sports. It’s a different thing.  Just different.

So I’m sort of batting around thoughts about cultural appropriation. Intellectually I understand the concerns, but I also come from an incredibly mixed background of religion, ethnicity and place, and grew up with people talking about the melting pot as a good thing. I grew up liking moccasins and Baja hoodies and matzo balls, was baptized in the Episcopalian church and ultimately ended up as a lapsed Unitarian Universalist. And if you ever wanted a religion based on cultural appropriation…
As a teenager my go-to-sleep music was this:

Which is a Punjabi Buddhist mantra (I think) set to Celtic harp music.

Even baby carriers, everything comes from somewhere. Some of them come from multiple places. I like talking about where they come from but mostly I just want people to be comfortable wearing their babies, so sometimes the fact that things like the ergo are really Westernized adaptations of a number of Asian baby carriers gets lost in the shuffle, but hey, there were similar things in Sweden and Africa and yeah, it becomes challenging to know how much to worry about the cultural appropriation side of things.

We’re well off now. Secure, not “wealthy”, almost “comfortable”. On paper we look relatively wealthy, but mostly it’s because we’re planning for my husband to retire early. Like just over a year from now. So it’s got to last a while. But very, very far from where I was when I was 22, on welfare. Or worse, before welfare, when I had literally zero dollars and got by on foodstamps. Still have to think about money but surprises only upset us, they don’t break us anymore. And I grew up not able to afford college. I grew up in working class neighborhoods. But I grew up with parents who were white collar professionals. I had more in common with the upper class kids except the inconvenience of not being able to buy trendy shit. My parents gave me lessons and adventures and put a priority on my education and they were married and still are.

I talk about privilege a lot, and I’m working through most of this stuff with much the same filter. I don’t have a crystallized, formalized opinion yet.

Last night I was watching Honest Trailers, and was laughing my ass off. What they had to say about Skyrim and Harry Potter were hilarious. And then we got to the Avengers, and it was awesome, right up to the point where they said, “This movie will make your inner 8 year old stand up and squeal, unless you’re dead, or a girl.”

And my god. I just shut it down. Closed the window and stopped watching, though there was plenty more in the rabbit hole. If they’d said pretty much any other label in place of “girl” it would have been immediately obviously offensive and I don’t think they’d have said it. But “like a girl” and “girls don’t like these things” and “fake geek girl” have been too prevalent lately to let this one go.

In elementary school, I won the competition to be on the Olympics of the Mind robot building team for our school district-wide TAG class. Won it. And when the team assembled, the boys put their heads together and told me and the other girl who’d made the team, “You guys can do the costumes. We’re building the robot.”

Their robot sucked and failed to work.

In the same class, we were learning to program computers. And when it was my turn, every time the teacher would give me the same program I’d already done, and then turn to the boys and help them do more complicated things. Not because I lacked aptitude but because clearly teaching me wasn’t worth the effort because I couldn’t possibly be interested in that. I was an adult before I taught myself to code at all. There was just no support for it.

In high school, despite having some of the highest scores in the math program, I was not invited to be on the math team. It was like I was invisible.

I grew up hearing Free to Be You and Me tell me that the only significant difference between Mommies and Daddies is the biological act of parenting. I grew up with a dad who taught me to cook and a mom who went to school and had a law office. With a dad who did much of the outside work and a mom who sewed. With a dad who wasn’t afraid to cry and a mom who wasn’t going to back down from a fight for justice. And it wasn’t until college that I learned this was kinda weird.  And it wasn’t until the past few years that I really understood how deep gender discrimination goes. That having a female name makes it harder to get published. Or hired for many jobs. Or any of a number of other biases that in retrospect should have been obvious and I thought were just me. I was “bossy” and “bitchy” and “pushy”.  I talked out of turn and raised my hand too much. I was fired from a job supposedly for breaking the rules (I didn’t) because one of the bosses didn’t like how her husband was looking at me. Once, an insurance company refused to pay what a totaled stolen and recovered vehicle was worth until my father came on the line and threatened to pull his accounts. I was 24.

And I never fit. Have literally never worn high heels. Too tall. My hands don’t fit in women’s gloves. They don’t make most women’s shoes in my size. Hardly anything is made to fit me. I’m thankful to walmart for actually acknowledging the existence of large women, as it means that I can at least wear colorful sweats and t-shirts without shopping from big and tall men’s stores (which I do anyway.)

I feel like when society defines what it means to be a woman most of it isn’t me. But I don’t feel like I’m not a woman. Except I don’t want people judging me on those terms, so I’m pretty likely to use a gender neutral pseudonym when I publish. I hate that it comes down to that. And  my eldest kid is nonbinary. In their words, “I don’t mind being a sister and a daughter, but don’t call me a girl like that’s all I am.” I get that completely.

I don’t have a uterus anymore. And now that Miles is on the very tail end of weaning, I probably will stop having breasts in the next few years. I’m letting go of the things that ever made me connect to the idea of “womanhood” as separate from “personhood”.

I don’t have any answers, but I’m reading articles right now about whether or not Jewish people are white, and sort of laughing exasperated inside because my god, I’ve never felt completely white or completely Jewish or really completely anything because are things ever that simple? I’m not NOT those things, but they aren’t all I am either.

When I look in the mirror and think about identity, mostly I think, “I’m me.”

Not entirely straight, not entirely bi, functionally monogamous but I’ve been polyamorous in the past, not sure I could deal with it now, so does it matter? I don’t know. Not Jewish, not not-Jewish, and the Jewish identity matters more than being “white” as an identity because the tribulations of my great grandparents are much closer than the struggles of my 8-times grandfathers and grandmothers. Woman, female, not feminine, not masculine either, hell, even on the Meyers-Briggs my answers hover in the indeterminate middle. Mostly I’m not binary, and don’t like dichotomies. And injustice makes me angry and sad. And I want people to be safe, secure, happy and loved.

I don’t think there’s a box I fit in. Or maybe that is the box. That I don’t fit.

Maybe that’s what it’s about. Sitting with the uncertainty and accepting that as reality.

Idle speculation

So, some chain of facebook/surfing an article popped up about how metabolism, not upright stance and pelvis size limits the length of gestation in humans. That our infants are gestated longer but come out seeming more immature compared to other primates.

So it occurred to me, if our babies are born more dependent and less “developed” despite gestating longer than other primates, what if that’s because there’s an actual advantage to a baby coming out not programmed to do much more than latch on, eat, and make people fall madly in love with it?

Other primates don’t change climates very often, as far as I know. They don’t have to adapt quickly to different biomes or environments, right? So it is to their advantage to come out as adapted as possible to the environment that they are going to live in. And other mammals don’t tend to move as much either. Birds tend to return to the same nesting grounds damn near forever, even if they migrate around the world.

But we go everywhere. And our saving grace, the thing that makes us thrive, is our adaptability. So we gestate long, mostly dreaming, are born with an incredible number of neurons connected, and we start to prune them to adapt to our environments as soon as we are born. It wouldn’t be helpful if we were born more advanced, doing more things… who needs to be running after a toddler moments after giving birth? Better have them small and portable. Some of them will spend a lot of time in a container, some of them will spend a lot of time in arms or in carrier, but they’ll be more adaptable forever if each child adapts to the environment of the parents, and the species survives because it survives everywhere.

And babies adapt to their environments starting in utero, we know that. The food the mother eats, how much of it she gets, the soundscape she moves through, the way her body moves, period… we know that uterine environment matters and it matters for generations, but each generation can have a profound shift to the next generation simply by doing things differently.

If we were more hard wired, gestated longer, gestated shorter, had more mature or less mature young, it wouldn’t all work nearly so well, as demonstrated by the fact that it doesn’t.

When a child doesn’t lose those infantile reflexes, it usually means there is some kind of malfunction in the brain. Might be a little one, might be huge, but it means something isn’t working as it should.

Premature babies, if they manage to avoid the pitfalls of subpar system functioning due to prematurity, tend to catch up to their actual ages over time, vs. their gestational ages. There are both disadvantages and advantages to a child to come out and experience the world early, so long as that world is not one which causes pruning in inopportune ways. (Kangaroo care’s successes tend to support that supposition…)

It is humanity’s flexibility and variety that helps it survive, no? Uniformity would have doomed us eons ago. Or maybe it did, and we changed because of it.

On accepting help

We get a lot of messages in our culture about bootstraps and “making it on our own” and “being independent”.

“I never accepted handouts from anyone!”

I don’t see that as necessarily laudable. Here’s the thing. While striving to do the best you can is a good idea, the fact of the matter is that no one, not anyone, anywhere, gets to where they need or want to be without at least some support along the way. Whether it is simply being allowed in the door, or getting a job, or having enough resources to get an education or even accepting a tax credit…

I’ve been poor and I know a lot of poor families. And one of the biggest lessons of the co-op has been how much people want to help. Our produce co-op started with 30 families ordering. Our last big donation effort helped 30 families, something like six of them at the last minute. Every single week we send out multiple gifted produce boxes. I don’t want to call them charity, because while they are definitely given to people in need, they are not given in a way that isolates and separates people in need.

With our holiday boxes, often the very people getting a box will also be making something to put in them. Someone like me with more money than energy might buy a bunch of pumpkin for someone with more energy than money to make into pies for people who have neither the time nor the infrastructure to do so. One dinner was entirely cooked because the family was in a hotel.

It’s May, why am I talking about this now?

I’ve been thinking about privilege a lot, about helping and charity. I’ve also been playing a hell of a lot of Skyrim. For those who don’t know, Skyrim is a single-player video game where you basically go into a fantasy world and have adventures and work your way up from a prisoner in chains to someone who can pretty much slay anything that walks, flies or breathes, and a whole lot of things that don’t. Dragons? No problem. Like many such games, the concept of “leveling up” is there, you do things, you get experience. You do more things, you get more experience. You get enough skill points and boom, you are healthier or have more stamina or more magic to use.

Skyrim is also a game that allows people to change the game world, quite literally, with things called mods. Mods can do as little as adding an apple to a counter in an inn, to changing the entire experience of the game. Because I have old eyes and an atypical monitor-to-eye distance, I modded my game to make certain hard to see resources glow so that I notice them more easily. I also loaded a funny hideout that is basically like a medieval TARDIS. It has doors to all the possible “regular” houses available to the player within the game. And a trap door to the outside. It is huge, and it means you can basically walk across the continent by going into your basement and turning a corner.

But while that’s cool and useful for getting one places quicker than would otherwise be possible… the relevant part is that this hideout has within it a cavern. And in that cavern are a bunch of traps which can actually kill you at early levels… and about 100,000 gold. In game terms, that’s ten levels worth of college education. There’s also a pile of ingots, which can be used to make things, and the act of making things helps one level. I can get out of the initial starting condition of the game and immediately teleport to the front door of my hideout, walk into it, and the next time I see sky I’m level ten and my archery has gone from 20 to 70. This is huge in terms of boosting my ability to kill things… and killing things is part of how one gathers the resources to make things, and making things is part of how one makes money. Oh, and lest I forget, the hideout is filled with staff who basically only exist to train me. Private tutors.

It is almost exactly like having a rich but judgmental parent who pays for your college and gets you a car and then invests in your startup while introducing you to influential people. Playing without it, one may see one’s first dragon at level 3 or 4. One may get one’s ass kicked numerous times and survive only because the guards are better shots. Playing with it, dragons never have to be difficult unless you actually mod them to be more difficult, and you don’t fight your first dragon until you decide to, maybe around level 40 or so.

It’s a dandy model for privilege, the difference between having to beg, borrow and steal and join the thieves guild, and simply walking through the game at your own pace for the adventure of it. And that’s in a world that even without the mod, is LITERALLY designed around your character.

So what does that have to do with charity?

Like my character, I’ve played it both ways. Welfare, Medicaid, Section 8, WIC, basically the works, struggling to get by as a poor working mom, and then this year when for the first time we didn’t qualify for a child tax credit. Not EIC, the other one. Because we made too much money. (I wish it felt like it was that much money, apparently as your income goes up, so do the expenses, but scary big expensive things aren’t life destroying anymore, so that is an improvement.) So when I hear about someone struggling, I KNOW. I do. Either I’ve been right where they are, or I had enough family and community that it wasn’t quite that bad… and regardless, I want to make it not so bad for them.

I know I’m not alone in that. I give what I give to help others… but I also do it because it makes me happy to help. I get a real, tangible benefit from putting people in touch with what they need. Struggling with chronic pain, there’s a whole lot I want to be doing that I can’t, but by god if I know who can help and can put them in touch with someone who needs help, that makes me happy. It makes me feel useful. And I especially love doing that within the context of our local community.

We have a natural drive to want to fix things. I know I’m not the only one because hey, co-op… 30 boxes and all I did was make a Costco run… Someone says they couldn’t afford groceries when they got to the check out stand and I ACHE to have been there behind them because I could have helped. I can’t carry my own damn groceries to the car, but my god, if I could ease that burden for a young family…

On a non-monetary scale, I feel much the same about teenagers I hear about who have been alienated (thrown out) from their homes of origin because of who they are. I hear about a transgender teen being kicked out and I want to scoop them up and tell them that it is going to be okay. Gay kid kicked out for being gay? Honey, there is NOTHING wrong with you. NO THING. It isn’t your fault. Teenager kicked out for getting pregnant? If I could add a “bubble” of a new bedroom to my house for kids to stay in when they needed a place to land that accepted them for who they were, my house would be very oddly shaped indeed.

Being able to put someone in touch with resources, or get them quality food that isn’t just society’s leftovers, or just say to them, “You are not the problem. Society is fucked up, but YOU are not what is messing it up and don’t you believe anyone who ever tells you otherwise.” Those things are the things that feed my soul. They’re what remind me why I’m still here.

Most people aren’t “The Dragonborn.” Most people don’t have a rich uncle or wealthy parents footing the bill for whatever they decide they want to be. Most people fumble through until they find their way, bumble around bumping into things until things either go too wrong to fix or fall into place in a way that meets current needs and then they find a new normal.

Hell, the first three or four runthroughs I did on Skyrim? Things got so buggy and screwed up due to innate flaws in the game that I just quit the game and started a new one. The one I’m still playing? I installed user-made patches that basically FIX THE UNIVERSE so that it doesn’t crash. I *rewrote the world* in order to succeed and succeed quickly without inconvenient programming errors bogging me down.

It doesn’t work that way in life. We have to patch it on the fly. In Skyrim, sometimes it’s not player error, it’s that the underlying game is so buggy. Sometimes it’s that the computer just isn’t compatible. In life, that’s true too. I view racism and bias as an operating system failure. The deep inequities in American culture? Hardware flaws.

And as long as society pretends they aren’t there, they’re never gonna get fixed. We can’t shut down the game and rewrite the code and start over, so we have to figure out how to make our changes while everything is still moving. We have to figure out how to “wake up” the people who are operating under erroneous programming. How to fix the system that so often fails everyone in the guise of “helping”.

Things are changing. I actually have a lot of hope because a lot of things that were swept under the rug for most of my life are now BEING TALKED ABOUT. We are having a conversation about the operating system. About the hardware. About the code. And it can’t get fixed unless we look at it.

Meanwhile, back in our little corner of the world, if you get stuck and need a hand, and someone like me offers you one… know that it’s because a) we’ve been there, b) we know the operating system is buggy and c) it’s a small thing we can do to help fix the code. Reduce a little of your stress. Might not be your rich uncle, but at least you can feed your kids something good and know that it’s because we care.

I was having a bad day a while back, and a friend knew about it, and she also knew that I absolute love her homemade ketchup… and she sent a jar of it home with my produce box from the co-op. That jar of ketchup? Unasked for? A gift? I joked that it was the “ketchup of love” (and now we know why tomatoes are ‘love apples’)… but in truth every time I got it out of the fridge and used it I smiled and knew someone wanted my day to be a little better, a little brighter, and that actually made it all better. WEEKS of joy, from ketchup. And that friend is now thinking about starting a ketchup business. As well she should.

It’s not charity. Making sure that families feel supported and plugging the holes in the safety net benefits EVERYONE. I have local family and people who live with me and near me who help me out on nearly a daily basis, when I need it. And they know I’d do everything I can for them, too. The more people who feel that sense of security, the better off we are. The less violent the world is. The less broken the code. Sometimes life is so hard that you don’t know how you are going to take the next breath or get through the next hour. Knowing there’s someone near who’s got your back? It makes the breath that much easier to take. If someone puts out a hand to catch you, it’s okay to take it, and steady yourself with their help.

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.

How not to lose food in a power outage

The power goes out! What do you do?

1: DO NOT OPEN THE REFRIGERATOR OR FREEZER. Not for anything until you have some ice.

2. Why did the power go out? If it’s due to cold temps outside… not to worry! Take all your freezer food and put it outside. Get organized, put it in a cooler or tote inside, and then put it outside all at once so you are not leaving your door open and letting your precious heat out any more than necessary. It will be fine out there until the temps hit 33 degrees, at which point you will either have power or you will find another solution.  While you’re putting your food outside, get some snow, pack it tight in plastic containers, baggies, anything watertight. Put the snow in the fridge. You can now get food out of the fridge until the snow melts…at which point you need to put more snow in.

3. If the power outage is NOT due to cold weather, you have a couple hours before things become urgent. Talk to the power company. The freezer and fridge should be fine for a few hours as long as it is not super duper hot–they are well insulated, just LEAVE THEM CLOSED. If the estimate is “you’ll be repaired in an hour”, just wait it out. If the estimate is, “We don’t know, it could be days”… you need to take prompt action. If you have substantial freezer stores, buy or rent a generator if you can in the long run, but in the short run, you need ICE. Buy ice or even dry ice as soon as you possibly can. A chest freezer well packed can stay safe for up to two days without added cold stores, but can stay cold indefinitely if you keep tossing dry ice into it every day or so. A fridge is good for about 4 hours with no power and no ice if you do not open it.

It is almost always going to be cheaper to keep the food cold than to buy all new food. Even if you end up spending $100-150 on a “multi day cooler” and packing that full of your fridge goods and some ice, it will still be cheaper than replacing every single thing in there. If you have the storage space and are prone to power outages, consider getting a large “igloo” cooler.

Frozen foods can be refrozen as long as they still have some ice crystals and are below 40 degrees.

So what if your freezer does defrost and the food is “safe” but not icy?

Keep it cold, cook it as quickly as you can, and freeze the cooked food.

Also, ASK FOR HELP. If you are having issues keeping your food cold and can’t drive to get supplies, if the roads are passable for a skilled driver, ask your friends if there is someone who can help you save your food.

Here’s what the g’ummint says about it:

http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/poweroutage.html

 

 

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.

Don’t touch my children in the grocery store

It’s happened several times now, the latest was this afternoon. I was in Trader Joe’s, and a man came up and started commenting about the fact that Miles was in his jammies. I said, as I often do, “Wouldn’t it be great to be two and be able to get away with wearing footie jammies everywhere?”

He laughed, and then reached out and grabbed one of Miles’ feet. My hand came down and batted his hand away, and I snapped, “Do not touch my child.”

He looked shocked, and said, huffily, “Lots of people like me being around their children.”

“I don’t mind people talking to my children,” I said. “I don’t allow strangers to touch them in the grocery store.”

He then said to Miles, “When you’re 18 you’ll be on your own.”

It was only after I walked away from him that I realized that this exact same man has approached us before and tried to put his hands on Miles and I blocked him then, too. It’s the fourth or fifth time something like that has happened in Trader Joe’s. Close spaces? Friendly atmosphere? Beats me. The others have been middle aged women.

Now, this guy was scruffy. Looked kind of like a bum. But I had ZERO problem with him talking to us… it was when he reached out to grab my kid’s foot that I went from friendly and chatty to snarling mama bear. I’ve snapped the same way at well dressed middle aged women.

Here’s the deal…

People may just be social. However, recent research shows that our behavior can, in some ways be governed by the pathogens we carry. People may be more likely to be spontaneously social when they are contagious but not yet symptomatic with influenza.

http://www.academia.edu/533848/Change_in_Human_Social_Behavior_in_Response_to_a_Common_Vaccine

There are a number of pathogens that can profoundly change the behavior of the host organism. Toxoplasmosis may have few obvious symptoms in adults…but can actually change behavior and personality in subtle and dangerous ways.

And of course there are those zombie ants, who get infected with a fungus that induces them to climb to exactly the right microclimate, latch on, and die, thus allowing the fungus to propagate.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/9953571/There-are-zombies-among-us.html

So when a nice older man or woman approaches my child and reaches out to touch them (why is it always the feet?) they may be a perfectly nice “auntie” being friendly and sociable…

Or they may be a zombie aunt.

(postscript: I did in fact get sick once, possibly this encounter, I don’t remember, but from one very like it. Fun times.)

Obligatory End of Year Post

I’m finishing the year must as I started it at the moment—nursing Miles and spending time with family.

2013 was a huge, huge year. It started with surgical recovery and the addition of a family member, in the middle it was hard and everything was in transition constantly, and in the end, we had to fix our house a lot and struggled to get to a new normal which is not yet settled.

Forevermore, I will associate the new year with my son. He turns two on Thursday, which is crazytalk, but tomorrow we will fill our living room with two year olds (four of them should do the trick) and they will eat cupcakes and it will be low key and fine.

 

I’ve been struggling with depression. The battle to get respite and to get health care coverage has been demoralizing at best. One of my coping mechanisms, which only parents of violent children will understand, is to know that I have a choice, that if it gets too bad she can live somewhere else. I could think about that choice because foster care through DDS is a very different creature from foster care through CPS, the training is different, it is voluntary, etc. etc. But the same issue that prevents us from getting respite paid for also prevents her from entering that system, so really the ONLY option that would get her out of the house if she really injures someone is basically calling CPS, and that’s not an option for a kid like Shiny. Putting her in therapeutic foster care is one thing, but tossing a medically complex kiddo into “the system” is not happening on my watch.

Feeling trapped is one of my worst, worst triggers for depression. “Acute situational depression” is still situational and acute even when the situation is chronic. The cure is to fix the situation, I just feel like we’ve been slogging against it for so long.

My parents are paying for a couple days of respite this week, one day next week. We’ll get through it. When I can’t use my usual coping methods, we default to “things change, it will be different later.”

That and video games. I treated myself to the second chapter of Starcraft, which actually passes the bechdel test, but has kind of an annoying “heroine”. The game play is fun though, even if the story is (by necessity of the game design) aggravating. When you design a game where you have three factions and you play all three factions, kind of everyone has to suck at some level, and you have to sort of hate everyone. So I am playing the zerg mother and bash smash swarm it’s a decent outlet.

I don’t do new years resolutions. Coincidentally I will be starting my elimination process next week whereby I figure out which foods I tolerate and which I don’t. It is not a “diet” per se for weight loss, but an attempt to figure out if I can feel better by changing my diet. We shall see.

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.

This wouldn’t hurt so much if it didn’t hurt so much

Kailea moved out today. I’m so proud of her–she took the bull by the horns and got herself a decent first job and a place to live.

The part that hurts is that I’m super, duper painfully sick right now–sore throat, fever, chills, ear ache, did too much sick.

Cas is moving out on Tuesday morning, early.

To say that I am overwhelmed is an understatement. Both are making positive steps forward in their lives, figuring out how to be grownups, doing the things you do when you’re 19 and 20 and starting out in the world.

But oh my heart I will miss them. K is 15 minutes away in light traffic, half an hour in heavy. I will likely see her once or twice a week. Cas… I don’t know when we’ll see Cas again, off into the wilds she goes, first Nebraska and then Montana.

This means that starting Tuesday it is my job to get Shiny to school, watch Miles all day, pick Shiny up again, cook dinner with two kids and no buffer. Sounds like less than many of you guys deal with, but on top of that I’m sick, plus there’s also the background of fibro and hypermobility and pretty much always being in pain if I’m up and doing. I’ve been so lucky to have the time I’ve had with backup, but I’m going to be flying solo and that would be a lot less scary if I didn’t feel like ass.

Today I got an award lauding my organizational skills. I had to work hard not to laugh hysterically. I’m good at inspiring people. I’m good at systems. I’m lousy at maintenance and I wonder if they’ll still like me if it all comes crumbling down once I don’t have help.

Miles is also feverish and sick, limp and listless, we were at the park and he just stayed quiet on my back and spent some time nursing–he’s been a ball of energy for months, it was almost scary.

Tomorrow my husband celebrates his “birthday observed”… long story. But I will be primary with the kids. Mothers day they will let me sleep, thank god.

Allie is back at Hyperbole and a half. Every few months I worried about her, wondered how things were going. Sounds like I was right to worry, but I’m glad if she’s found her way out of the morass that depression is. I’m doing my best right now to fight it, but it feels like I”m fighting vampires with marshmallows.

If I wasn’t in such pain right now, I might be able to have a better attitude about things. But my skin burns, I feel every fiber of my clothing, my throat is full of knives and moving is hard.

I know I can do this, mostly because I won’t have any choice. If I come out the other side, it will be as a stronger, more capable human being. Which sounds like a good thing, but also too exhausting.

Little things… our hang tag expired, and I’m not getting a new one. Bye, easy parking. We’ll see how long I can go without–I could get another without trying very hard, but I”d like to see if i can manage without.

Our food budget is going to be cut almost in half. And this makes me so sad.

We have new people moving in. New people. Yay. But they’re not family. Maybe they’ll be family. Maybe they’ll just be tenants.

I hired a housecleaner. She is fast and competent and worth every penny.

I bought new bras. Only to discover that the primary reason the old ones fit was because they were stretched out. I can close them, they’ll have to do (same size and make as the old ones, super cheap price, but right now I feel every thread.)

 

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.

Toddle.

I have a toddler. How the heck did this happen? He TODDLES. Like, he mostly doesn’t crawl anymore. And he says things. Not a lot of things, and not very well, but he’s able to sign yes and say no, can ask for boob or monkey noises, can say “diaper” and sign it… and he is loving imitating things, like using a fork, or my keyboard. TODDLING WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE.

Oh, and he also climbs. And puts things inside other things. And on other things. And knows that if he can get people to let him pick up their shirts, they all have bellybuttons. Which are fun to stick fingers in.

Cas managed to teach Miles to make dolphin noises, like he needed any help.