Your Disbelief Doesn’t Eliminate My Reality

Posted on September 23, 2018

Woman in black and white photo looks over shoulder at man walking behind her.

Walking down the street will never be the same.

Would you mind if we spent a little time here on context? I ask because just yesterday I bumped into someone and I watched it take a minute for her to place me. When it registered she smiled and blurted, “Amanda” triumphantly. We both laughed, there were no hurt feelings or judgment.

“Context matters,” I said.

It can be pretty easy to assume that everyone has the same perspective or familiarity with something—whether something is a person, an event, or an experience. Over the past several years there have been attempts to contextualize people’s perspectives on pain: Trigger warnings, #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo.

These hashtags and qualifiers are an effort to bring to the surface the pain or obstacles that people have and to honor them. If that seems impossible, even to consider them would be a step. As a culture that likes to make jokes to avoid discomfort, disparaging trigger warnings is a common phenomenon. The other thing we seem to do is celebrate the myth of strength, that people who push through pain without acknowledgment or help are better. As a result, the idea that someone could have enduring pain or trauma is a failure or a weakness.

Let’s talk about context

I want to try and give context and in all honesty, I am doing it for me too. When I was 17 I was raped. Between the ages of 8 and 10 neighborhood boys sexually abused the girls in the neighborhood. I was one of those girls. Today I am a 45-year old woman, married since 2003 to a man I have been with since 1999.

There was a time when my rape was a story I had used to avoid intimacy. Looking back I think I also used it to keep my dreams away, the ones where I didn’t have flashbacks of being held down, where my future was unencumbered by a past that elicited comments like, “I wouldn’t expect that from a person like you.” I’m telling you this because I want you to know that for me there came a moment when it stopped—no more flashbacks, no more terrors, no more weeping. I went so far that I judged other women who continued to lead with what had happened to them. I was “healed.”

It shattered one day during a family vacation on Cape Cod. My parents were footing the bill, my sister was with us, and the girls were happy basking in the attention of the entire family. It was a perfect time until I saw a clip on the news of Representative Todd Akin talking about what the body does with rape.

The walls closed in and every sound bite about victims of rape felt like a personal attack. The defense of accused men made me feel insignificant. A divide opened between my family and myself, I was on one side pummeled by all the things I didn’t do to prevent my rape, they were on the other side with just one more story on the news that they could tune out. I locked myself in a room and began typing. I’d like to tell you it was purposeful and considered, but the truth is closer to a violent episode—hurling facts at the screen in an attempt to have my reality be more than a blip.

I am a woman.
I was raped.
I was 17.
It was not my fault.

Getting Over It Isn’t a Thing

Writing helped, but it came at a cost. Revisiting what happened and trying to explain how my rape was “legitimate” and how I wasn’t drunk, wasn’t dressed provocatively sent me back into the obsession. I needed to participate in every discussion, every thread, defending women and explaining the intoxication shouldn’t matter, clothing shouldn’t matter, flirtation shouldn’t matter. The louder I argued, the more insignificant and unsupported I felt.

I wanted to get back to being me and feeling whole. The thing is traveling with the omnipresent specter of a trauma isn’t something people choose. When I used my rape as armor it was to get ahead of panic. If I made sex harder to get to the chances of being in the middle of making out and suddenly being back in a car with my pants around my ankles and a stranger forcing his crooked penis inside of me again and again shrank.

Once again I buckled down and “got over it”, pushing the memories back. I unlinked the post I wrote about my rape. I stepped back from the articles and the news. It’s been six years. It’s been 28 years. It’s been 35 years.

What I’d like to do is explain to someone who hasn’t been raped what it can feel like to have the memories dredged up against your will. People are talking about the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and the accusations that he attempted to rape Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were both in high school. It is on every screen when I am at the gym. Friends and acquaintances are weighing in on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Radio personalities are talking about it between songs. Magazines and newspapers plaster the story on their covers. News capsule emails fill my inbox. People talk about it on the train. Staying at home might be the only option, but then my daughters ask me what I think about the situation because it’s been talked about at school.

People Tell Us to Let It Go

It doesn’t matter that my story isn’t identical.

Dr. Ford was 15 at the time she was attacked.

I was 17.

Dr. Ford knew her assailants (or would-be assailants if we need to qualify it.)

I did not know mine.

Our stories aren’t identical, but the time since the trauma is similar.

Here is how I am feeling: I‘m crossing the street before I have to walk past a man on the sidewalk. Standing in line at the café I inch forward each time someone stands close to me. I wedge myself in the back door of my car as I pump gas to avoid being looked at. I’m looking over my shoulder, literally jumping at shadows. I can’t get clean enough in the shower. I look in the mirror and cannot stand how I look. I’m exhausted in a way that neither food nor sleep can touch.

I’m hiding from Sean, slipping away before he can touch me, meeting his loving gaze with blurted chores that need to be done. He asks me what’s wrong and I say nothing, drowning in the ways he can’t fix it.

It started with Kavanaugh and his defenders, but now it’s all of them. Who is them? I can’t tell you. It’s politicians and actors, it’s women who don’t stand up for women, it’s the articles mocking trigger warnings. All of it makes me feel smaller and unheard. I don’t know how to pull myself up.

When Can We All Move On

That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s been so many years. How can we ever know the truth? Why does it matter now? Move on.

Let me tell you, I’d give just about anything to do all of those things. I don’t want this. I don’t want these emotions any more than I wanted to be raped. I don’t like burdening people with my pain or my fury. I ache to have things be simple, but I don’t get to have that. I promise that I’ll do my best. I can work really hard on keeping my wounds from making other people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make them any less real.

I have no doubt that there will always be people who think that I could have been parented more strictly or with more love, could have made better decisions. They’ll think that something like this would never happen in their family because they are too smart, too-well trained in self-defense, and ‘not those kinds of people.’ I hope to hell it’s true for them. I promise not to spit “I told you so” when it touches their family. I’ll believe them and I’ll fight for them.

I can’t make people believe the individuals who are sharing their experiences, I can’t make it hurt less for those who have been assaulted, but I do hope that in some way this makes it possible to begin to understand how we feel.

And just like that, it’s normalized.

Posted on September 18, 2018

“Mom, why is there so much sexual harassing in the news all the time,” Finley said as she plopped down beside me holding one pink and one black rubber band for the picture-day braids she’d asked me to do.

“Well,” I started as I looked at the Today Show on TV. The kids like Al Roker and the Emmys were last night—there was sure to be coverage of the event and in turn, opportunities to see the Stranger Things kids on the screen.

As the commercial break ended and coverage of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh played, Orrin Hatch filled the screen and referred to the woman accusing Kavanaugh of attempted rape as “mixed up.” Another sound bite had the President lamenting such awful treatment of the nominee, “a man that does not deserve this.”

I considered my words, but found my head filling with the familiar echoes of, “She deserved it,” and “She asked for it” and “Why was she there?” There had to have been a moment when we collectively decided the responsibility rests with the woman.

The night before Finley had asked me, “What does ‘that’s what she said’ mean?” At first, I thought she was asking because the girls have discovered The Office.

“Why?” I asked her.

“The other day I was at school, and my chair made a noise and people looked at me. I said I was trying to push my chair in hard and a boy said, ‘that’s what she said.’ I said that I didn’t know what that meant and he repeated it. Then a classmate told me it’s inappropriate and I told the teacher.”

She looked at me, “So what does it mean?”

Now, this kid has experienced me explain how “live stream” can be a euphemism for a man ejaculating live on social media. I should be able to explain “That’s what she said,” and yet I was stumped. I have said it. I have a dear friend who says it all the time. It’s wildly inappropriate and one small speck in the bucket of things we have normalized.

Why is a ten-year-old saying it? Why are ten-year-old boys playing “Kiss, Marry, Kill” in the cafeteria? How is it that 12-year-old girls are saying, “Girls can’t wear spaghetti straps because boys get boners?”

I am not a prude, in fact talking candidly about bodies, public debates, sex, relationships, and regret is something I take great pride in as a mom and a human being. Where I get tripped up is in the moments when the prevailing mindset seems to be that boys will be boys and girls are confused. It’s not a few people, it’s not sick people, it’s a lot of people that have their heads on straight. When Sean and I talk about how we will prepare the girls for increasing independence, we cover people being mean and dishonest and we also discuss safety.

I want to let them know that I think many of the dress code rules and behavior guidelines are punitive toward girls, creating and reaffirming the wide berth we give boys as they become men and long after.

Sean has said to me, “I want to teach them to be safe, which can mean knowing how boys think.”

I responded with a rabidness that shocked us both. “No. No, no, no! Why are we adapting to work around boys? Why are we expecting so little of boys?”

“Because I can influence the girls, I can’t control what boys will do,” he said.

“You can. You can influence other men, you can stand up and speak out. You can nip locker room talk in the bud and lead by example.”

He looked at me stricken. “Manda.”

“Really, why are we all so afraid to try and fix this? How will boys ever reach their potential? How can they be anything more than brutes if we teach girls to compensate for boys’ weakness? If we don’t start somewhere, it will NEVER happen.”

“You’re right. I get it, I do. I just want to keep the girls safe.” We looked at each other across the kitchen. I was so angry, weighed down by defeat and a sense of betrayal.

“I know.”

He crossed the room to me. I buried my face in his shoulder, “If you aren’t brave enough to do it…” was a thought that trailed off unspoken because the truth is as a mom and an adult woman, this is the monster under my bed. I am afraid. I am obsessed. I am unsure how to conquer it.

The coddling and protecting of men and boys touches education, the workplace, working out, and healthcare.

The other day Gabrielle Blair posted from her perspective as a Mormon mother of 6 why she believes, “men actually have zero interest in stopping abortion.” It was brilliant and believable. I wish some men out there would do that.

Senator Mazie Hirono may have said it best to men, “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.”

 

 

Kidbox-Learning about style & Value

Posted on September 14, 2018

 

 

A few weeks ago I got an email asking if I’d like to let the girls try out a clothing curation box called Kidbox. It piqued my curiosity because we have definitely entered the era of it not being safe for me to pick out clothes for the girls. They have growing opinions on color, shape, fit, and style. Once I got over the sting of not understanding their taste, I realized it’s wonderful. It’s a new way to get to know them.

 

I looked over the information:

For girls the sizing is newborn to 14 (for boys it goes up to 16)

Seasonal boxes, no subscriptions

Savings for purchasing the whole box

For every full box purchase, Kidbox donates new clothes to children in need

I wrote back to the woman and said that we’d love to do it. I did so knowing that Briar, Avery, and Finley are on the edge of their sizing. They have watched me enjoy my experiences with Stitch Fix and Trunk Club.

Deciding Whether Kidbox was a Good Idea for FAB

“So this would be for us?” they asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Would we share?” Finley asked.

 

“No, you’d each try one.”

 

She squealed. I opened my email and found the link to the style profile survey. To say that the girls loved filling it out would be an understatement.

 

“What’s my style,” Avery read. “Sporty Athletic? Definitely. Classic Preppy? Um no. Modern Casual? Sometimes. City Cool? Naw.”

 

Finley followed suit, surprised by how closely she and Avery were in style. “Maybe we could actually share, Ave.”

 

“What makes Finley so special?” Finley read aloud.

 

There was a grid of 9 options. The cool thing is if you don’t have a reader most of the survey can still be done by the child based on images and color.

 

Finley picked 8 things. “So many things make me special, some that aren’t even on here!” I was beaming, the experience was all about personal preference, positivity, and autonomy.

 

When she was asked if there were any other things that Kidbox should know about her she typed something along the lines of, “I try to avoid girlie things, such as unicorns, princesses, and too much sparkle. I want more super heroes for girls.”

You’ve Got Mail!

 

Because it was summer the time between doing the survey and receiving the boxes (maybe 5 days) was long enough for the mail to be a complete surprise.

“For me?”

Two girls rest their heads on Kidbox boxes.

Finley and Avery get ready to open their Kidbox shipments.

 

It is worth noting that the boxes are really cool, with space inside to color and a size that is perfect for say storing LEGOs, creating Barbie apartments, or stowing craft supplies.

 


I enjoyed how easy it was. When we go to the mall someone always has to go to the bathroom or gets bored. I can also admit to getting stressed out by any number of things from the music playing or just the general absence of daylight in stores. We spent a solid hour around the table talking about fashion, preferences, and how cool it is to have an outlet to “just be ourselves.”

Teenage girl clutches a sweater smiling.

Briar clutching a sweater from Kidbox. “I LOVE sweaters. Come on weather, get cold!”

 

Two sisters stand fashionably modeling fall clothing.

Finley and Avery strike poses in their favorites from the box. I smile with chagrin at the containers of mayonnaise that I didn’t think to move for the photo.

Looking through the clothes was a great opportunity for talking about want vs need.

“Ok, so you like it, but do you think it’s something that you’d really work into what you wear a lot? Or is it going to be something in the closet that you never pick?”

A couple of things were eliminated based on potential wearing other things revealed things like, “I don’t really like how the shirt I have for fancy stuff makes me feel.”

 

“Ok, so if the one here works we can donate the old one,” I said.

 

She paused, “You know what, I just don’t like stripes.”

 

I smiled. “Excellent. Don’t ever bring something into your life that isn’t going to bring you some sort of happiness.”

 

She nodded, set the shirt back in the box, and ran upstairs to get her old shirt to give away.”

 

 

Three shirts and two pairs of pants from a subscription called Kidsbox.

The contents of one box, which perfectly walked the line of the girls’ feedback.

 

Young girl holds a superhero shirt.

Finley reviews the contents of the box, “This is so great, they listened to me. I’m sad it doesn’t fit.”

 

I was happy to have Kidbox send the boxes to us to review. We weren’t compensated monetarily, but boy was the process a great way to reflect on how we shop, save, keep, and learng to let go. Based on the sizing limitations we won’t be doing many more boxes, but for those of you a few years behind us, I say give it a whirl.

Also, don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about clothes, fashion, and the emotions wraped up in both. I have years of unlearning self-defeating choices with clothing, but I rarely think about breaking that cycle for the girls. Clothes shouldn’t weigh us down.

 

You look amazing!

 

 

Fighting the Urge to Battle Time

Posted on August 15, 2018

The other day we were out shoe shopping, and as I gave Avery back a shoe that the clerk had brought out for her, I said, “Growing up is hard.” She laughed at me and raised an eyebrow, something I’ve never learned to do.

I smiled sheepishly, “Obviously you are old enough and capable of loosening the laces, I just feel like it’s still my job. It isn’t.”

“You can always do that for me if you want,” she said. I smiled back at her. “I know. Sometimes I will, but tomorrow you fly to Italy, and a week after you get back you start 7th grade. I need to grow up some.”

She pulled herself over on the bench and squeezed me.

I find this moment in time, like so many before it, nearly impossible not to lurch and stammer through. It’s my responsibility as the parent to create boundaries and structure, but allow enough freedom for testing and failing. Witness the trying on of different personas and the throwing away of others. I want to, but I’ve loved those Averys, and I’ll love those yet to come. I wish I had more time with her. The clock doesn’t tick so much as it revs like a semi truck in my ear, except of course when she’s hurt. Then time crawls.

Avery isn’t mine. Avery is.

Her strength reminds me of my own, too much for some people, hard to keep in check, and hiding vulnerability and desire to be cared for and protected that no one ever seems to get. Trying to find the sweet spot between letting her go and letting her know how ready to be right-there I am has been tricky. It’s like driving a stick, and I can’t find the right gear and switching gears all but kills me.

Three sisters piled on top of each other and laughing on a couch.

The last 24 hours Avery was in town the girls were in almost constant physical contact. No fights, no dust-ups, and more laughter than I imagined possible. And burping.

This morning she asked me to braid her hair. “How?” I asked. She handed me two ponytail holders, “Dutch braids, please.” I remembered the first time Briar sat still for me to do her hair. She was younger than six, maybe 4 and a half. It shook me at the time. I thought she’d never sit still and then boom, stillness. Ave asking me to do her hair and me having to ask her to sit down so that I could reach made me chuckle. There are no measuring charts for readiness, it happens to each of us at different times.

I was afraid to let Avery leave for Italy without some sort of gesture, an acknowledgment of the tugs I am feeling, but not so harsh a thing that she would feel sorry for going. If all goes well, when she comes home Briar will have had her wisdom teeth extracted and the post-op documented on video by Finley, and we will have bought another house.

“We’re moving while you’re gone,” I had teased her. She thrust her chin out and said, “Good, while I’m eating Italian food you can carry all the boxes.” I watched her quietly whisper goodbye to the house this morning and then turn, her Dutch braids accented by a tie she’d looped around her head, and give herself fully to the adventure ahead.

I picked a few cards from a set I bought on Etsy. They have words associated with different emotions. I added a note inside a small fabric bag that said something like, “See the possibility in the world. I honestly don’t know which of us I really did it for, but it felt like finding the words and the time to slip it into her luggage suggest that I can maneuver this time. I can give her space and hold her tight, recover when she pushes away and be without resentment when she returns.

 

Because Avery is incredible.

A 12 year old girl in glasses makes a goofy face at the camera.

Ave, as captured by Finley.

Nia Wilson, Heartbreak Train

Posted on July 25, 2018

This morning was hard.

Exhale. The mundane and the tragic collided. My whole morning sprawled out before me in a complicated matrix that would get me to the train station. My mind and heart were heavy with thoughts of Nia Wilson and her beautiful, vibrant, just-barely-getting-started life being cut short by a man who didn’t give it a second thought. She was going somewhere and then she was gone.

Nia Wilson smiling in a multi colored t-shirt.

Gorgeous and alive. Nia Wilson

I clenched my teeth and wanted to bite my fist, turn back the clock. Make it fucking stop. How can she be dead? How can a sister have had to helplessly cradle her sister? How can the world keep going?

Black and white photo of flowers left for Nia Wilson at MacArthur Station

Vigil for Nia Wilson at MacArthur Station. Photo: Todd Matthews 

 

A shirt draped on a fence with the writing: rest in power Nia. The workers of BART are heartbroken

Rest in Power Photo: Todd Matthews

 

Justice for Nina written on heart shaped balloon.

A love balloon for Nia. Photo: Todd Matthews

Oh, never mind, this is America. The ink and the buried articles about her will barely dry by the time another black woman is murdered. Her character and family called into question, and the tired, “If she’d only _________, then this wouldn’t have happened.” Others will take to Twitter and use the hashtag #SayHerName , but most people won’t.

Then there were my girls. Three sisters. Finley rubbing my arm, “Mama, is this right?” Her fingers touched the two clips she’d put on either side of her forehead to hold back her hair. “Will this keep my hair from making my skin have bumps?”

I clutched her face in my hands and kissed the crown of her head. “Perfect!”

I looked over at Avery and Briar waiting for me to help them with their hair for Chicago. “Bri, can you pass me that?”

“Sure, here you go, Ave.” Nia called her sister Letifah’s name over and over again, “Tifah, tifah, tifah.” Her sister could only shush and say she loved her.

She died because a white man decided she didn’t deserve to live. Her sister watched the man wipe the blood from his knife.

White girls maybe get killed if they go out for a jog, but for black women, it’s if they go.

If they go outside.

In a car.

To church.

To school.

To the movies.

Home.

 

I was supposed to get through all the morning stuff so I could take a train to NYC. I’m on that train now. Most likely I won’t die or if I do, it won’t be because I am white. I want to enjoy this trip, the exhilaration of the train and the city, but I can’t separate that from a young woman who should be posing for selfies and laughing with her sister.

So many of us have such privilege and the collision of that reality and anguish shouldn’t be the only time we think about it.

I did my girls’ hair this morning. I kissed them and listened to them tease and joke with each other. Briar texted me about her hair coming loose after the dance rehearsal.

I wish Nia was doing her hair. I wish Nia was texting her sister.

I’ll talk to my daughters about Nia. We’ll talk about privilege. We will #SayHerName and we will speak up.

 

Via Licia Morelli

Violence against black and brown women is disproportionate to white women (and, just in case your were wondering, it’s, of course, NOT new). In a study done from the US Department of Justice during 1979-1987 (https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fvvc.pdf) these were the facts:

Black women experienced violent crime at a rate higher than that of women of other races and at a rate lower than that of men of any race.

Latina women were more Iikely to be victims of violent crime victims than non-Latina women.

Average annual rate of violent victimization per 1,000:

White: 24.6

Black: 35.3

Other: 21.3

Latina: 30.3

Women younger than 35 experienced higher rates of crime than men or women older than 34.

In a study done by the bureaus of justice in 2016 (https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv15.pdf) here were the stats of women as victim of violent crimes by race:

White 17.4

Black 22.6

Hispanic 16.8

Other 25.7
… So while, the number of women experiencing violent crimes went down since 1987, we can still observe that the rates of victims who are BLACK women – experience more crimes against them as opposed to WHITE women and LATINA women.
▫️
Knowing these numbers is very important. It means that we, as women, can really grab hold of how ALL OF US are affected in society and crime.
▫️
So as we work to end the oppressive systems that do not report about these crimes we can be on the look out to raise the voices of these victims, ensuring that they’re not ignored and that we, as a society are PAYING ATTENTION and are AWARE of what’s happening to our black and brown sisters.
▫️
We need to be aware and looking so that we can #sayhername .
▫️

 

 

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