Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thoughts on a Tragedy

*I shouldn't feel like I have to do this, but I still want to make this clear.  I don't think I'm unique, or more affected by recent events than anyone else, these are simply my thoughts.  I completely accept that there are those who I love and respect who will not agree with some of these thoughts.  However, I have moved past the need to sugar coat my views in order to make others happy. So there that is.

Prior to this tragedy, I've been wrung out emotionally when it comes to my job as a school psychologist.  In my 16th year, many of my efforts end up feeling futile.  There have just been too many heartbreaking situations and I'm just burned out.  I'm weary of people harming children, either physically or emotionally.  I'm tired of hearing some parents putting their children down in ways that I know will affect them horribly.  I'm sick of calling CPS only to have my efforts fall flat, have the children recant their stories, and then refuse to talk with me anymore for fear of the consequences. This school year, I put a great deal of time and energy into a tiny one, and had made progress, only to hear she was being reunited with her biological family.  I can't see the future, but history indicates this will not bode well for this youngster and it breaks my heart. I have had a parent answer my inquiry about her pregnancy with her child with, "Well, I drank a lot.  I was trying to abort him, but it didn't work."  I have to not only restrain myself from killing some of these parents with my bare hands, but I have to listen to them intently and give them suggestions on how to parent.  I've said this before: Children are God's biggest gift to us. The fact that so many spit on this gift and stomp it into the ground makes me crazy. I recently said to my husband, "God is testing me.  I'm either supposed to prove how well I can actually do this job, or I'm meant to do something else."  His response was, "I don't think God would put a child in need in your path for the purpose of scaring you off.  I don't think it works that way." 

Well, crap.

Since Columbine, my biggest fear has been a school shooting.  Columbine happened early in my career and I didn't have children of my own yet, but it certainly did change school culture.  Other shootings followed, and when I had my own children it made it even harder for me to fully process them. As school psychologists, we have received tons of crisis intervention training and our schools all have lock down procedures.  We have drills regularly, and have actually gone into lock downs when crimes were being committed in the same neighborhood, just as a precaution.  

Then Friday happened. Some things you simply cannot prepare for.

I was at work on Friday morning, testing a sweet young man for learning disabilities when I glanced at my phone and saw some mention of Connecticut.  Once our testing session was completed, I got on my laptop and went to  I'm not going to lie, I truly started to freak out when I heard it was an elementary school and that children were shot. I shut my door and watched a little more. I drew my blinds, started to shake and literally felt like I was going to vomit. At the same time, I was trying to stay calm because I didn't know what the fallout would be at my particular school and if someone else freaked out, I would be expected to be the one to jump in to help.  I was worthless the rest of the day, I hid out in my office and counted the minutes until I could go home. My services weren't needed, thankfully.  I know myself and I know I could have done it if I had been needed, but I hadn't flipped out this badly over something since 9-11 and that scared me. I haven't cried this much in a long time. I didn't learn that their school psychologist was among the dead until the end of the day. That shouldn't have affected me that much, but it did. I'd had talks with Mike about what would go down if there was a school shooting at work, and if children were in danger and I could intervene, I might not come home. I couldn't NOT shield little ones with my body, and I wouldn't even think twice about it.  Then my children wouldn't have a mother.  That's Nightmare #1.

Nightmare #2, of course, is that a shooting would occur at my own children's school, and I would have to live with the unthinkable...waiting.  Waiting to hear if my babies were safe, or not. To be perfectly honest, I haven't been able to think that much about Sandy Hook from the parent's perspective.  My brain just can't go there yet, and brain, I thank you. I know I will eventually, I already have!  In my imagination, when I can't sleep, I had thought about this awful possibility, way before last Friday.  I don't know what it is about motherhood that makes it almost innate at times to imagine the worst, but we do and I know I'm not the only one. The one thing I did think about as a parent was those precious little bodies having to lie there in those cold dark classrooms because it was a crime scene.  What would it be like to not be able to hold your child instantly once you'd heard they'd been taken?  That's purely horrific.  Yes, their souls had moved on, but to not be with them?  It's unimaginable.

I've thought a lot about the first responders, and the adults involved in the incident.  I think about the principal, the school psychologist, and the teachers who paid with their lives trying to stop it. I've thought about the policemen and investigators having to enter a classroom full of dead children.  I've thought about the governor telling those parents who hadn't been reunited with their children that they wouldn't be.  And I've thought a lot about all the children who survived and the lifelong effects this will have on them. The thing that has jacked me up the most is thinking about all those children being terrified.  The kids who were shot must have been so completely confused and scared, and that haunts the shit out of me. Seeing their beloved 1st grade teacher die trying to protect them must have seemed like it wasn't really happening.  I know young children very well, and their inability to comprehend what was going on, while being terrorized makes me want to go in a corner and sob. No child should ever have to experience that kind of fear, and it makes my stomach hurt.  

The general public doesn't know about teachers. They've gotten bad press for being lazy, ill prepared, mean, unfair to students, dismissive of parents...let me tell you about teachers.  Yes, I have my favorites for sure, and you know who you are, but I cannot think of a single teacher who wouldn't have done everything in their power to protect their students during a catastrophe. They'd put themselves between a bullet and your child, general public.  It hurts to think about the teachers of that school who survived, because no matter what they did do, I'm sure some of them are feeling horrible. Some may feel like they failed by not saving more kids and their colleagues. It doesn't matter how impossible the situation was, they wish they'd done more. But how could they have?  I certainly wasn't educated about what to do while being shot at  when I was in graduate school. Which brings me to my personal opinions about all the things people are arguing about, people's undying quest for blame.


I have people in my life that own guns who I care a great deal about, and I respect their right to their opinions.  Make no mistake though, I. HATE. THEM.  I will always hate guns.  I will never own a gun. They terrify me.  I grew up in LA and didn't know a single person who hunted.  To me, guns mean violence, guns mean innocent people getting shot, guns mean gang activity. Nothing will ever change that with me.  I'm not stupid, there's no chance the 2nd amendment will/should be amended, but what I believe would help is a ban on assault weapons.  Who needs those to shoot a deer?  People say to me, "But then the criminals will get them illegally anyway, and the public won't be able to buy them legally."  Possibly.  But the shooter at Sandy Hook took his own mother's guns, that were bought and registered legally. He actually tried to legally buy another but there was a 14 day waiting period.  He used the assault rifle to murder all his victims, and the pistol only to take his own life.  If his mother hadn't had an assault rifle, or had them inaccessible to him, perhaps this wouldn't have been as bad.  If he'd had to wait 14 days, maybe he would have reconsidered.  We'll never know.  Here's the thing:  Crazy people aren't going anywhere, and we can't ban them.  What's easier to ban from society, a human being or a piece of metal?  

Mental Health

I don't know many people who wouldn't agree that our mental health system  needs a major overhaul in this country. Since I've been a psychologist, mental health resources have been cut time and again.  State hospitals have closed in droves in California. The truth is, we don't know very much about the shooter.  The only thing we know is that he had Asperger's Syndrome, which has no links to violence.  Asperger's kiddos are socially awkward and have difficulty communicating, and are often very intelligent. That kid had way more going on than we know about.  I read he was somewhat impervious to physical pain, which isn't a symptom of Asperger's. He had constant supervision in high school, and got lots of services in high school.  Did he get into illegal drugs?  What happens when an Asperger's kid takes meth?  We just don't know.  When kids graduate and become adults, a lot of those services and support stop.  It would have been up to his mother to investigate possible ongoing supports, and it was likely to be incredibly expensive.  You can commit an adult to a mental hospital, sure.  And they can sign themselves out in 48 hours. A psychologist can hear a great deal from a patient, but can take no action unless the circumstances are incredibly specific.  Are you going to harm yourself, do you have a plan, how are you going to do it, when are you going to do it?  Are you going to hurt someone else, what is their name, how and when are you going to do it?  We have to get this much specific information before we can do a damn thing, otherwise it's a breach of confidentiality.  I don't know what will happen from here.  I think the likelihood of that young man having another disorder is incredibly strong, even if it was undiagnosed.  We may never find out.

Our Media Culture

The speed in which social media has changed our world truly scares me.  Journalists get information from Twitter, which is beyond absurd to me. Rumors appear to be the norm. The day of the shooting, there was so much misinformation released it was shameful in my opinion.  He had his brother's ID, okay that was an honest mistake.  What about the information that his mother was a teacher at the school, which proved to be untrue?  That should not have been a difficult fact to check. I'm still not clear on whether or not the shooter attended Sandy Hook, the jury seems to still be out on that.  Again, it shouldn't be a hard fact to check.  Perhaps that's been cleared up today, I don't know.  I've been avoiding the news, which leads me to the next problem.  Our culture and media absolutely sensationalizes these horrors. I was concerned when I saw parents on the talk show circuit already. It's a mistake.  It hasn't even been a week yet, and the magnitude of what has occurred and the loss they've suffered won't hit them for awhile, and they're clearly still in shock.  However, they're adults and can make these decisions themselves.  What made my blood absolutely boil is when I briefly saw a child survivor on Dr. Oz today. I hate him anyway, but I was so angry at the parents, the producers, pretty much anyone who made that happen.  Those children should not be on television by any means. Period.  They're all very likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, are probably having a very difficult time even processing their own loss, and they're being whisked away to Hollywood already? It's shameful, harmful, and wrong.  Someone should have stopped them. The networks that are clamouring for these children to appear on their shows need to take a serious look at themselves.  As of yesterday, at least, two of the children who died still didn't have photos released to the press.  I don't know the reasons why, but if their parents did so to protect their children in the mere days after this tragedy, they have my absolute respect.

Where was God?

The people in my life vary wildly, from A to Z. To me, that stands for Atheist to Zealot...ha ha, I'm so clever! Anyway, I did wonder where God was the day of the shooting, and felt too rattled to even pray. On Sunday at church in quiet prayer, this is what I prayed: "Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop..." There's been a lot online lately about the relevance of prayer in school and what happened, and it's pissed me off something horrible. I feel strongly that faith, as well as other personal things such as sex, should be taught at church and at home, not at school. Those subjects are the parents responsibility. My children have faith, strong faith. They pray for those who aren't here anymore, they pray for the sick, and they pray for people who are mean to them, which isn't easy.  They may pray in school, I really don't know. The reason I don't know for sure is because prayer is an intensely personal thing. I rarely pray out loud, and if I do it's usually a whisper. When I read what Mike Huckabee said recently, I truly felt as though I could punch him in the face: "We ask why there's violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?" Ummm, yes sir, YES we should be surprised, and horrified, and angry, and outraged. I read an article a couple of days ago by Rachel Held Evans, which I found to be brilliant.  In a nutshell, she said that God doesn't need our permission to enter anywhere, and who exactly do we think we are again? It's the height of arrogance to presume that we know where God is and where He is not. How does Mr.  Huckabee know where God was last Friday?  How does he know prayer did not take place? As a matter of fact, one of the teachers has said that one of her students suggested that they pray and they held hands as a class and they prayed. How does he know that those beautiful kids there didn't pray every single day they went to school?  Just because the school didn't mandate it doesn't mean it didn't happen. The God I know doesn't behave like a sullen teenager who wasn't invited to the party and chooses to light the venue on fire for revenge. I read one response that said God only goes where He's wanted.  I disagree completely.  God goes wherever He wants to go, but mostly where He is NEEDED.  We don't always know what that looks like, but here is how I think He was there on that horrible day.  God was in those incredibly brave women who sacrificed their own lives to save countless other children. He was in those policemen who had to face unfathomable horror as part of their jobs. He was in that lovely neighbor who took several of the terrified children into his home and gave them juice and some of his grandchildren's stuffed animals to try to comfort them. Most importantly, God did not forsake those angels because there's no organized prayer in school.  I understand, but don't agree with, the point Huckabee was trying to make.  However, he had horrific timing, wasn't thinking about the families of the lost, and was just 100% wrong. I have the feeling he'll pay dearly, and I hope he does.

As the days lead up to Christmas, my prayers and thoughts are with all the families involved. Facing this holiday and trying to plow through for the other children in some families is going to be excruciating. I can't imagine how hard that will be.  My thoughts are also with the shooter's remaining family, because the pain they must be in has got to be unreal.

I don't know why this happened.  I have to hope that some good will ultimately come out of it.  Maybe it needed to be this gruesome, heartbreaking, and awful to wake us the hell up as a country.  We are better than this and God needs better from us.  More kindness, more mercy, more reaching out to the marginalized people in our society.  Help those who have nothing, offer to babysit, mow a lawn, pay for someone's meal. I know that sounds cliche, but I do believe that love and kindness can and will overwhelm the darkness. During the break that I'm on for the holidays, I plan to try to relax and recharge, because like it or not, this is where God wants me to be too.  Everyone can do something.  I'll end with one of my very favorite quotes:

"Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."
-Bishop Desmond Tutu

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Night of the Red Yugo

In writing down all of these stories for posterity, I do cringe when I think of the effect it may have on my mother.  She has been amply warned.  I am trying to appease the karma gods in the hopes that history doesn't repeat itself.  I'm also remembering these things about my younger self, and trying to absorb as much of the lesson as I can remember.  Onward.

When I was 15, I had a good friend named Carol.  We'd been friends since 7th grade.  We ended up going to different high schools, but we remained friends.  My family loved Carol.  She was different from my other friends in a lot of ways.  She was a major non-conformist, dressed differently, was insanely artistically talented, and probably one of the smartest people I have ever known in my life. Her sense of humor was piercing and unmatched. She had awesome taste in music and we saw incredible shows together. Among them were General Public, The Cure, and The Untouchables, all in Hollywood. I remember bad fashion and even worse eye makeup. We had tickets to see Fishbone, but we didn't end up going for reasons I can't remember.  I still regret it.  She got me into The Specials and basically all things ska. Another thing Carol had going, from a teenager's perspective at least, was very little parental supervision.  Her mom and dad owned a boat, and spent a lot of time on it, leaving her and her older sister home to pretty much fend for themselves.  In fact, my memories of her parents are very dim, I may have only met them once or twice.

So one night, I was invited to go out to a club in Hollywood with Carol and her boyfriend.  I think there was a band playing, maybe they knew them?  Her boyfriend was in a band.  I honestly can't imagine another reason why 15 year old girls would find themselves allowed into a club in Hollywood, but there we were.  Truth be told, I remember little of the night.  We started drinking early.  I had my very own bottle of Night Train.  Ha!  This is funny...I just googled Night Train so I could describe it for my readers who don't know what it is.  The first link popped up on  It describes the following:  

Night Train Express
17.5% alc. by vol.
Don't let the 0.5% less alcohol by volume fool you, the Night Train is all business when it pulls into the station.  All aboard to nowhere - woo wooo!  The night train runs only one route: sober to stupid with no round trip tickets available, and a strong likelihood of a train wreck along the way.  This train yard favorite is vinted and bottled by E&J Gallo Winery, in in Modesto, CA.  Don't bother looking on their web page, because they dare not mention it there.  As a clever disguise, the label says that it is made by "Night Train Limited."  Some suspect that Night Train is really just Thunderbird with some Kool-Aid-like substance added to try to mask the Clorox flavor.  Some of our researchers indicated that it gave them a NyQuil-like drowsiness, and perhaps this is why they put "night" in the name.  

I am not lying when I tell you...that description is so 100% accurate and reading it just made my stomach hurt.  Holy Moses, that stuff was vile.  I'm pretty sure that this particular night was my one and only trip on the Night Train, for reasons that are forthcoming.  There are a lot of reasons I can't stomach NyQuil, but now that I'm really thinking about it, that evening may be the reason.  So!  There we are in a parking lot in Hollywood, drinking our cocktails.  Very glamorous.  I remember being hungry and somehow acquiring a large bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.  They tasted amazing.  I'm fairly sure that my cocktails and chips were my dinner that evening, and I'm positive that everyone can predict what happened soon after.  The club spun.  I fell numerous times.  I was taken outside and threw up in an alleyway.  The parking lot spun.  A guy Carol knew took pity on me and put me in the backseat of his red Yugo and locked me in.  This sounds awful and dangerous and it WAS, but he honestly was just trying to keep me safe.  The backseat began to spin, and I felt that I would be the worst person in the world if I threw up in this nice dude's car, so I scrambled toward the passenger door to unlock it before hurling myself (and the contents of my stomach) onto the asphalt.  The guy was nearby, and was impressed by my efforts.  I clearly remember him saying, "Man, THIS girl has the makings of a champion drinker!"  SIGH...

My friend Carol emerged from the club eventually, and stalked down the street.  Wait!!  What's going on, you drove me here, how am I going to get home?  She had had a fight with her boyfriend and strode down the street at top speed, not listening to anyone around her.  Her boyfriend ran after her.  I waited awhile before it became clear that she was not going to be returning soon.  It was late, I don't even want to guess what actual time it was, but I had to call my dad.  It had to have been at a phone booth since it was 1985 or 1986.  Here's where I cringe today...I was drunkedy drunk drunk.  I called my poor dad to let him know that, not only would I not be making curfew, but that I no longer had a way home from Hollywood to Altadena.  And there was NO WAY I could hide the fact that I was hammered out of my mind.  I remember him asking me where Carol was, and I said, "I don't know, she had a fight with him and she ran off.  But I met this really nice guy named Mike, and he said he'll drive me home."  Gee...I'm sure that put his mind at ease.  I continue to be sorry, to this day, for doing that to my dad.  There were plenty of other times that I engaged in crazy, dangerous behavior, but my parents were usually kept in the dark.  This time he knew, and all he could do is wait for me to arrive home.

Now is when I tell all of you how and why I was the most fortunate girl on the planet that night.  Mike F., (not to be confused with my husband), truly was the nicest guy in the entire world.  He absolutely looked out for me.  He drove me straight home, he never laid a hand on me, and he even walked me to my door and handed me off to my dad.  Mike F. was sober, and my dad told me later he couldn't believe how lucky I had gotten.  I don't think he grounded me, because Carol had kinda left me hanging.  The fact that I was 15 and plastered didn't seem to register that much, but that's a different story for another time.  Of course, the next morning I woke up and I thought I was going to die.  Carol called and apologized, and told me Mike F. had asked for my number.  Hmmmmm.  Well, okay.  I wasn't interested in him in a romantic way, but he HAD been exceptionally cool and nice to me, so we started to talk on the phone.  Looking back, I cannot think of a single moment that evening in which I could have possible appeared charming or appealing in any way.  The only thing that I can think of that might have impressed him was my sheer determination not to vomit in his car. By the time we met, I was trashed and regurgitating everywhere.  How incredibly attractive! Ugggggg.

Mike F. and I talked on the phone quite a bit.  He was a few years older and lived a few towns away.  I think he may have graduated already, while I was still a sophomore. I could consult my journals to check the accuracy of this, but I would probably become mortified at what I would read and lose interest in this post, so I shall go forth.  Mike F. worked at the flower district in downtown LA, and at some point, I did indeed receive roses.  I didn't know what to do.  I did go on a date with him, once.  The funniest thing about our "date" was when we walked out the door of my mom's house and I asked him where his car was.  "Right there."  A white Yugo was parked in front of my house, not a red one.  He found that hilarious and began to point out all the other things that were red that eyeballs.  My face when we got to my dad's house.  Probably at least part of the contents of my stomach.  His car though, was always white and I had never been more sure that there had been some mistake.  

We stayed friends for years, through girlfriends of his and boyfriends of mine, Mike F. was always looking out for me.  When I moved to SFSU he actually sent me a stun gun to use for protection.  One night we went to see a show in Berkeley and my car was broken into and the stun gun was stolen.  Whoops. At one point, he gave me his calling card number so I could make long distance calls when I had run out of points on my dorm phone.  That was lovely until he called one night and said he'd gotten a $200 bill.  Double whoops...I paid him, of course.  

I lost track of Mike F. in my early 20's, and I never found out what happened to him.  I want to thank him for always being so cool to me and for being such a good friend.  MY Mike maintains that our friendship probably wasn't what I thought it was, and he probably carried a torch for me all along.  I disagree, but there we are.  Whatever the case was, I have intense gratitude for having had this person in my life.  I also lost track of my friend Carol, who had some rough years from what I've heard.  However, I also heard that she pulled herself together, has children, and is also some sort of scientist.  This makes sense, as she was incredibly intelligent and gifted.  I miss her, and would love to find her one of these days.

I didn't deserve to be lucky on The Night of the Red Yugo. I was reckless, irresponsible, and incredibly, incredibly stupid.  There was clearly an angel looking out for me that night who came  in the form of a young man I'd never met who made sure I stayed safe and was properly delivered home.  I will forever be grateful that he took care of my pathetic, foolish 15 year old self. Thank you Mike F., wherever you are 

I still can't smell or eat Cool Ranch Doritos, or take NyQuil.  And I still swear that on that night, that car was RED.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Raising MY daughter.

Madeline turned 14 over the summer.

My daughter woke up one morning with legs coming out of her ears.  She suddenly has perfect hips.  Her face has changed.  Her room has turned from one for a cute little tween with drawings and a Justin Bieber calendar to posters of her favorite bands and skateboard company stickers everywhere. Justin Bieber is lame now.  (Saw that coming.)   I stood in her room the other night as she slept and just marveled for a bit over that room, a teenager's room.  The little rubber stamps I used to paint butterflies and dragonflies flying across her light yellow walls are still in her closet.  Didn't I just do that?  Now she has black sheets and her wall is covered with her drawings of wolves and  posters of Hot Chelle Rae that she wasted all the ink in her printer to create.  None of  her clothes fit.  I feel like the worst mother ever, but when I was packing her up for a field trip to the Marin Headlands, I said, "Where are the rest of your jeans?"  Turns out she had been wearing the same two or three pairs over and over because the ones I remembered don't fit. I bought them all at the same place so they looked the same. It would have been helpful if she had SHARED this information with me, I still do her laundry!  I'd been washing clothes that were never worn and didn't fit.  I digress.

The problem with this whole turning 14 thing is that my daughter is still  11.

Madeline has always been an old soul. She's special, and I'm not just saying this because she's mine.  It's more of an awe thing than a braggy, pride thing.  She has never had a shy moment in her life, she can talk to anyone, and she's wise beyond her years.  We didn't make this happen, she came this way. Her pre-school teachers were in awe of her on Halloween. When she was four, her class was an absolute cloud of sequins and tiaras, every single solitary little girl in her class was some sort of princess.  Not my girl.  She was a pirate, and not a cutesy one either.  She meant business.  She had an eye patch and a hook and pretty much stayed in character all day. (And yes, I did dress my son as a lobster because I couldn't resist and he was only a baby and had no choice.)

I had to have "the talk" with my girl a lot sooner than I would have liked to. She was 7, and was informed by a classmate what sex was.  Her classmate was not particularly well informed.  This would be a good time to point out that I have perfected my poker face over the past 16 years of being a public school psychologist.  I can keep a straight face in almost every situation if I have I did.  I told her the basics. I told her that it was only for grown ups who love each other and it's best if they're married.  I also told her that she could always ask me questions about it and that I promised I would always tell her the truth.  And soooooooo, she started in with the questions.  Detailed questions. I'd thought due to her incredulous expression that the talk was winding down.  I was mistaken. After I had answered every single question I could muster, I walked into my bedroom and my brain exploded.

I know people in my midst that feel that I should "guide" more, and perhaps not be as open as I have been.  But you know what?  This child is SO her own person that if I attempted to mold her into what I believe she "should" be, or believe what she "should" believe, the outcome would be that I would truly get shoved away and I would never get the pleasure of being in this amazing person's true company. My goal in life right now is to keep her talking to me.  I agree that sixth graders should not have to hear about sex or drugs or tons of profanity.  But they DO, and I can't shelter her from hearing about these things.  So I answer questions about these things too.  Why do people try drugs?  Why do some girls sleep around?  When can she have a boyfriend?  Uhhhhhhhh... "High school."  When, mom?  "That completely depends, my dear, on your grades and behavior and respect and the kind of boy he is and we have to know him and know his family and HE has to have good grades and he has to be smart and he has to treat you with respect and it'll be better if you're friends first blahblahblahblah."  At this point I hope that I'm making it sound like more trouble than it's worth. What she isn't aware of, at this juncture, is the kind of girl she is.  She's a smart girl, but isn't a geeky kid. She can hang out with boys or girls and be equally comfortable.  She's got a wicked sense of humor and is creative and artistic. She's an amazing listener and a very good friend, and she has absolutely no idea how cute she is.  We are DOOMED.

The future scares the tar out of me.  The best thing that I can do for my daughter is make sure her feet are securely planted on solid ground, and then she can venture forth and decide what she believes in and feels in her own heart.  I can tell you all right now that there will be many moments when I don't like this, I can feel them coming.  My mother is a very strong woman who gave me a solid sense of right and wrong, although I sometimes engaged in the wrong anyway.  She wasn't always available to talk, but all these years later at 42, the lessons stand strong in my soul and won't budge.  My late father was the most incredible listener, as was my grandmother. Whenever I talked to either of them, I received rapt, undivided attention.  I always felt like I was not just the only person in the room, I was the only person on the EARTH at that moment.  Nothing makes a young person feel more valued than being truly listened to and heard.  Considering how much of my work life involves listening, and often to people who I'd rather not listen to (never the children), coming home and immediately being called up on deck is freaking exhausting.  I will sometimes get texts from the other end of the couch or her room, "Mom, can I talk to you?"  My internal voice screams, "Aaaaarrgggg!!!  NO, can I please for the love of all that is holy have a MOMENT to take off my shoes and change my clothes and clear my head?"  My external voice says, "Sure."  I will always be available to listen when she wants to talk, even if I am semi-comatose.

I recently took her to see "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."  I would not have taken the average 11 year old girl to see this movie, but Maddie is mature and informed for her age.  Part of that is my fault, she asks about my work sometimes and I tell her.  Not everything, but enough to have her understand and be able to process some pretty heavy themes. She's a very open-minded girl and would never dream of treating anyone differently because of their color, wealth, sexual orientation, or religion.  She's an incredibly sensitive girl, and is the one her friends go to with their troubles. Anyhow... I absolutely loved the film, and at one point it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't let her know how much it meant to ME.  Because my adolescence is long gone, and while I look back with a combination of nostalgia and horror, she still has all of this in front of her.  It might not be cool to love something that her mom liked so so SO much.  So I toned it down.  I read the book, and she's reading it now.  I want her to understand that everyone feels alone at one time or another when they're teenagers.  Maybe it's more like a lot of the time, or the majority of the time for many. As hard as it is to be a teenager, everyone has to keep plowing through and they'll survive it.  I want her to know that in the process of surviving adolescence, there will be amazing moments with friends, music that hits her at exactly the right time,  laughter that will make her stomach hurt, and priceless experiences that she will never, ever forget.

Important fact to point out...I am NOT my daughter's "friend".  I am her mother, 100%.  However, I laugh when she's funny, which is often.  I like talking to her about music and books and patiently listen to her talk about girl drama and crushes.  She enjoys laughing with/at me when I dance in her room and pretends to be horrified when she's just secretly just impressed and doesn't want to admit it.  Okay, maybe she's really mortified when I try to do Gangnam Style, but I truly enjoy myself!  And if I may, I recently schooled both of my children on Just Dance 4, and I have proof! This was a text to her cousin, and this was the biggest compliment EVER.  I was revered for about a half an hour, and it was worth the heart attack I nearly had as a result.

She has yet to attempt to walk out the door in anything inappropriate, but believe me when I tell you that noise will get SHUT down immediately.  She can't date. That sounds rational and normal, I realize, but she has friends in 6th grade who are "dating", and while it can only be so serious, these kids are getting far further along in the courting world than I would be willing to even entertain. My daughter is going to be good at getting into some trouble, the writing is on the wall.  So it's my job to keep her involved and busy in things she loves.  Anyone know of a really awesome advanced art class anywhere nearby?

There are non-negotiables.  No mean children are allowed to live in our house.  Kindness is a requirement, as is thinking about people who have less than we do, and trying to help when we have an opportunity. Disrespect doesn't fly for a moment, nor do shoddy grades that stem from indifference. They are required to be kind, caring, respectful, and hard workers.

I don't think that I'm all that unique, it's just been on my mind a lot lately. I'd consider us close, but I still lose it.  Make no mistake, the following phrases are often heard yelled in my house.  By me.  "Pick up your towel!  Can you please take the trash out, I don't want to ask you a third time!  Are there any dishes out by the computer?? You cleaned your room, do you SERIOUSLY think you cleaned this?? Maddie?  Maddie?!! MADDIE!!!! There is NO WAY you didn't just hear me calling you!"  As the weeks march on, these "requests" are met with deep sighs and rolled eyes, which are par for the course.  I have to keep reminding Mike that it's normal.  It's not acceptable, but it's ALL kinds of normal and sometimes we have to let an eye roll go by unchecked.  There are about 47,832 waiting for us, might as well wait for the big ones.

I need to stay very well-acquainted with this little person.  I see glimpses of me in her, although she is far more confident.  Pretty soon I may be receiving texts that are banishing me from her room, her feelings, her life.  Until that happens, I will remain available, incredibly proud, and constantly on her case.  Cheers to the next decade!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Perils of Caring

In my line of work, there is a lot of discussion about professional boundaries, finding a way to take time for ourselves, and not to let the stories about the children we work with take too much out of us.  We're encouraged  to not take work home, both literally and emotionally.  All of these things take a lot of practice.  I attempt to adhere to these recommendations, but definitely don't succeed every day.

I think most helping professions attract some really interesting people.  I've worked with some that appear as if they switch their hearts off at the beginning of the day.  While I don't find this practice to be particularly effective in education or psychology, I do completely understand it.  It's probably a lot easier for these people to get their jobs done without becoming emotionally shredded. Then there are those on the opposite side of the spectrum, who seem to eat, breathe, and sleep their jobs.  They go way above and beyond what's required, and they become too involved.  They stay late every single day, they give parents their home numbers, and almost every aspect about their lives revolve around what they do for a living. In my opinion, some of them are simply looking to impress others. I'm not going to lie, there are aspects of this level of dedication that I truly admire. However, I don't think that it's entirely healthy, and I just flat out can't do it.

I believe that I'm in between these two extremes, as most probably are. I don't know what the deal has been with this school year, but it's been one of the toughest in my 15 year career.  Children are privileges, blessings, gifts.  They are precious little beings that should have to be earned.  Sadly, this isn't the case, and the fact remains that it takes more time and effort to adopt a rescued dog than to have a child. I'm still in a fairly active state of awe that we were lucky enough to have the children that we do.  So it offends me to my core when I see children being mistreated.  In certain cases, I have gone above and beyond the scope of duty.  I've had CPS on speed dial this year. I've been more confrontational with parents than I have in years past. Some people simply will not listen to what needs to be said unless it is done in a completely blunt, direct manner. However, 9 times out of 10, the results of my efforts are not what I hoped and prayed for.  This can feel like a kick to the chest at times. Wow, that was a lot of work for nothing...but it's NOT for nothing.  Knowing that I did absolutely everything within my power and within the confines of the law (can't kidnap anyone and bring them home) to help a child has got to be enough.  It rarely feels like enough.  That's when I have to remember to let it go, remind myself that the outcome of these situations are ultimately within God's hands, and move onto the next situation.

People I know who aren't in education often say to me, "HOW do you do this?"  My answers over the years have included, "You just have to learn how to compartmentalize, I leave it at work, I come home to my own children and that helps..."  This year, my stock answer has been, "I don't know."  This has been a year full of so many horrific situations that I truly don't know how I'm doing it. The abuse has been worse, the neglect more intense, the complete lack of regard for education even more overwhelming. The amount of truly awful cases have been on the rise this year as well.  It occurred to me yesterday that the sheer volume of these cases may have something to do with my ability to keep going.  There is literally not enough room in my head to remember all the details.  If there were only two or three really heart-wrenching cases, maybe I would think about them all the time.  So my psyche's inability to effectively store all of this information has actually worked to my benefit.  I haven't always shared horror stories with Mike, sometimes I'm just so burnt I don't even want to talk about it.  However, I talked with him this week about some, down to the minute details.  He was speechless for a little bit before saying, "That makes me feel sick."  Yep...indeed it does.

Having the children that we do sometimes makes my job even harder to stomach.  I look at my first grader and just cannot fathom anyone harming him.  I read him stories and think, "Wow, that one kid never got to do this. No one read to him, or cuddled with him in an affectionate, yet non-abusive way." I talk with my daughter and realize how many girls her age are never given any attention at all, or they're told they're mistakes and stupid. I think about the children I know, the same age as my own, who are routinely exposed to drugs and violence.  They don't have beds, let alone books. They don't know if parents will come home at night to feed them. They don't know if they'll have clean clothes to wear to school the next day that don't reek of smoke.  It's important to point out that these families are not merely poor...there are tons of resources.  I, along with other professionals, attempt to get them beds, food, and clothes.  Oftentimes though, the parents don't follow through with anything, and we have absolutely no legal recourse at all.  Calls to CPS are made, of course, but often nothing actually happens to change the situations. The biological parents, no matter how inept, hold all of the legal cards except in extreme cases. Earlier this year, a CPS worker told me that a policeman had told her that a parent showing their 8 year old porn isn't abuse if that's how they choose to teach their children about sex.  I'm not kidding.  So many of these little people are perpetually treading water at the very bottom of Maslow's hierarchy.  Simply being provided with food, water, clothing, and shelter are not part of these children's daily reality, let alone receiving any love.  It's very, very hard to deal with.  It SUCKS, actually.

My biggest fear is that my propensity towards wanting to help young people will adversely affect my own family.  I have to find a balance.  On the one hand, it's important for my kids to understand what I do and know that helping people is an incredibly important, essential part of being a Christian and a human being.  On the other hand, depending on how much I allow myself to get sucked in, it's possible that my own children will get cheated out of my time.  My mother is an incredible person who has helped countless children throughout her career and charity work.  She has a tremendous heart for people who have less, and a strong sense of justice. I am proud to say that I believe I inherited some of these characteristics from her.  However, and I don't think she'd debate this, I did get cheated out of some of my mom's attention growing up.  My parents divorced when I was very young, and she was involved in many things, both professionally and on her own time.  She was gone a lot, at night.  I didn't have a lot of opportunities to talk with her about things that I was experiencing, both in high school and college. To be fair, my mom isn't a talker like I am, I can talk forever. She's accomplished amazing things, but I did miss that, having a mother who was as interested in me as she was in the children she tried to help.  My children have got to come first, and it has to be a conscious, deliberate action on my part.  My daughter, who is about a month shy of being in the 6th grade, still talks to me.    She is full of hormones and drama and uses expressions I don't understand.  She's changing incredibly quickly.  I make it a point to ask her what happened at school, how her friends are, etc.  There are times when I can't even follow what she's saying. I listen. Sometimes it gets to a point where my eyes start to cross and my mind wanders and she's talkingtalkingtalking.  And I have to stop and remind myself, "Jane.  She's talking to you. Stop answering your email, stop texting, put the magazine down."  Listen.  The key with my daughter is to have her continue talking to me, no matter what. Right now is a very pivotal time for her, and she could go north or south. She's beginning to like boys, and she spends a lot of time in her room now. I have to maintain my detective-like level of interest, because she's already trying to get over on us.  She's a great kid, this is all normal. But I also know that children look for small leaks in the dam.  The second it's strength is compromised, it can break and all hell will break loose. No leaks.  Not yet. They have got to come first, and I can't forget this.

At the end of the day, you have to have the heart for this kind of work.  You have to be able to accept the fact that you can do everything you can think of to help children and families and nothing may change.  Even when things do change, things aren't always going to turn out the way you would like them to.  However,  I think it's important to remember that the amount of work we put into children may actually help, we just may not be aware of it.  Maybe the kids remember what we tried to do, and that someone cared. Even if we were unable to swoop in like a superhero and fix everything that was broken in their lives.  A wise person told me recently, "It's a big deal when kids feel cared for. Never underestimate."  I forget that, I'm rarely satisfied with just that, but I know he's right.

Do I get sucked in too much sometimes?  Absolutely.  I take certain things very hard, and have come home more shredded and teary this year than ever before. Have I lost sleep over some of these cases?  Yes, I have. Do I care too much at times?  I think so, yes.  But I'd still prefer to roll the way I have been, trying my best and putting my whole heart into trying to help. Sometimes it hurts, and it can be really frustrating, but I have to keep going, regardless of the repercussions. I still prefer this over being dead inside and just going through the motions. I have no idea how I'll manage the next 20 years of this, but I will. This is what I'm supposed to do, and when you feel a lot of stuff, the bad comes with the good. I choose to blame my dad for my extreme emotions.  Thanks, Dad!  :)  Man, what a legacy I inherited!

It's better to put your heart out there and risk it getting hurt than not having a heart at all.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Grief. Such fun...

I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago to visit a friend, and as part of that visit, we finally went to the church where my dad’s ashes are kept.  This was a visit that had been foiled a couple of times…once I went and the plaque wasn’t up yet because they’d had to do some repairs, and so I had no way of knowing where my dad’s ashes were.  Another time was over Thanksgiving and the church was locked up like Fort Knox.  So finally, on the second anniversary of my father’s memorial service (purely by coincidence), I was able to go.  It turned out to be a pretty important moment and it’s hard to explain why.  I know he’s not really in there, but we both felt him in that tiny room, and talked with him.  I didn’t cry.  Walking downstairs from that room into the beautiful sanctuary of All Saints, I was stricken moreso by the perspective of the empty church from the altar.  Two years ago, I’d stood there, in front of maybe 100 people?  I don’t even know how many were there, I just remember seeing key faces in the crowd as I gave my speech about my dad, a speech that was supposed to have a time limit.  As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who disregarded that rule…I’d written it out ahead of time, and simply had to read it.  I did it.  I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, the font on this Bible is HUGE”, but I didn’t say it out loud.  Memorials are strange events, something to live through when you lose someone so dear.  They end up being somewhat of a blur, and my memories of that day come in snippets…like a wedding, you don’t really have the opportunity to really talk with people.  Anyhow…it was good that we did this, my dear friend and I. It was something I needed to check off my grief list.  There are more, but I'm getting to them slowly.

The next morning, we had breakfast and walked around the Los Feliz area of LA.  We went into an awesome bookstore, something that is easy to forget even exists in suburbia, which is the world I exist in most days.  I picked up a book called “The Long Goodbye” It’s a memoir written by a woman who watched her mother die of cancer at the age of 55.  Reading the back of the book, it mentioned how complicated grief can be, and how nothing really prepares you for it, even when the death is expected and even anticipated. It also mentioned how our society largely ignores this inescapable part of human existence.  There are so many other cultures in the world that honor grief and have rituals and traditions…here in America, you’re supposed to get over it and move on pretty damn quick.  I showed the book to my friend, and he immediately said, “Oh my God…you’re buying that, right?”  I did, and I’m reading it now. It’s amazing.  I mostly read in bed by a book light, and I’ve resisted the urge on more than one night to get up and go grab a highlighter, or start my computer.  I’m only about 2/3 of the way through, but it’s really shedding a lot of light on the last several years of my life.

One of the things that the author highlights is how incredibly painful it was to watch her mother die.  Not at that exact moment, although she was lucky enough to be present when her mother finally left.  Her mother’s illness, like my father’s, lasted over years and was just excruciating.  The feelings are so complex.  In dealing with my dad, I felt like the parent, frustrated over the fact that he really never took good care of himself.  As he deteriorated, it got harder and harder to be around him and everything that came with it.  All he would drink was Coca Cola, which couldn’t have been good for him, but he refused to drink more water.  I was angry with him for being so ill.  As much as I loved him, there were times when I was here at home in Sacramento and it would be time to go to the airport and I would cry, not wanting to go.  The house in Altadena that was a place of such comfort to me growing up, now just represented sadness and sickness and disrepair, since he wasn’t able to take care of his house anymore.  He existed in one room. The rest of the house would be “cleaned” periodically, but mostly looked ghostly from lack of use.  My old room housed his amazing nurse, and the other bedroom was stuffed full of junk and smelled dusty and old.  The bathroom was filled with medical supplies, bedpans, and insane amounts of medications.  This wasn’t my home, this was a house with a dying occupant…sometimes it felt like the house was ready to move on, even when my dad wasn’t yet.  I hated that he was sick, it seemed so unfair when I had other friends whose parents were young and healthy and would get to know their grandchildren well.  I was lucky in that my dad got to meet and know my kids, a little, but my grandmother was at my college graduation. My kids never really got a chance to get to know him and what he was like before he was so ill, and that’s hard to live with.  They deserve to have known him, and they didn’t.

I believe it was around 2008 when people I knew just started to GO.  I remember at one point making a list…friend’s parents, extended family, family friends…we had eight people die in one year.  I remember telling my dad about it and saying, “The only one that was really expected was you, and you’re still here!” and we both laughed.  I wanted him to go, I was tired of his pain, tired of never knowing what was next, tired of all the hospitalizations.  I wanted peace for him.  However, when I got the call that he was gone, I froze and had no idea what to do.  I think I’ve written before that I went and cleaned the shower, a task I hate.  At the time, it made perfect logical sense.  Now I understand that I needed to distract myself with something mindless, something I could do alone while I tried to process what had just happened, as well as put off some exceedingly important and painful phone calls.

Lately, I’ve been feeling this odd dread…it took me a little while to figure it out.  A year ago, I had no idea what the next two months would hold.  In May, my old childhood friend Matt died unexpectedly, and less than 30 days later my best friend lost someone incredibly dear to her under tragic circumstances.  I went to both of these memorials and it suddenly struck me. I didn’t know which was harder, being in pain over your own loss or watching people who you’ve loved and known since the beginning of time in so much pain.  It’s a scary thing to be in the presence of so much intense pain coming from so many people.  You can feel it in the air. As the anniversaries loom very soon, I still kind of can’t believe that they even happened.  Shock and robot mode gets you through what you need to get through, and you don’t have a chance to really think about it until a lot later.  How in the world does Matt’s mom, who I’ve known since the day I was born, even get out of bed in the morning?  How does his wife, or his brothers?  Thinking about it makes my chest hurt.  Regarding my best friend’s loss, I have tried to put myself in her position.  I’ve tried to imagine losing her suddenly, in such a brutal way.  I have to admit that I get to a place in my imagination when I have to stop…I just can’t go there.  Having her in my life is like breathing, we’ve been friends for 30 years.  I have been constantly amazed and proud of her candor, strength, and determination to face her pain head on and plow through it.

Last week I attended our church’s annual women’s retreat in Lake Tahoe.  I’d been asked to lead a break out session about mental health.  (Those of you who know me well can stop laughing now!).  It went well, I think.  I never really know what I’m doing, I just go talk and usually end up feeling like a big dork afterwards.  In any case, one of the areas I covered was grief.  The one thing I stressed was that you can’t outrun grief…it will stop at nothing to find you.  I’ve seen what it looks like when people try to outrun it, or hide from it under a cloud of substances and denial.  It’s not pretty, and relationships fall apart.  The bravest thing you can do is feel it, and it sucks.  I also mentioned that you can be going along in your life, happy as can be, and grief will sucker-punch you.  An example:  Dad’s been gone two years now, and I miss him every single day, but I’ve accepted it.  Over Christmas, I was watching the end of The Wizard of Oz with my husband.  Dorothy discovers that the Wizard is a sham, and calls him on it, telling him he’s a very bad man.  He replies, “Oh, no my dear. I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad Wizard.” I burst into tears, much to the alarm of my husband.  I’d completely forgotten that my dad used to say that when I was growing up all the time.  At that moment, with that wave of memory of being 6, 12, 17, 20, and having my crazy, dramatic dad say those words just did me in.  Sucker-punched.  Another time happened last summer when I was shopping at Old Navy.  They were honoring the military, and there was a young man in the Army there in uniform.  He had eyes like Matt’s, and Matt was in the Army.  The last picture I saw of Matt was in uniform.  KaBAM!  Tears in line at Old Navy…just let me get to my car, just get me to my car. When it comes to my best friend’s pain, it’s too personal to even write about…it just hurts like hell.  Pictures of her friend, so young and gorgeous are usually enough to bring me to tears.  It’s not fair.

My assignment at work is changing, and I won’t be working at the high school next year. I’ve had the true pleasure of working with some amazing kids with some pretty heavy burdens to carry, as young as they are.  They are things most of us can’t even begin to imagine.  In any case, I only have three more days with them before I have to say goodbye, and they’ll work with someone new next year, a wonderful person who I completely trust.  However, I’ve been taking it hard.  It took me a little while to figure out why, but I have.  I started at this school after dad died, after his old high school students talked at his memorial about what an impact he had on their lives.  Some of his students graduated high school before I was even born, yet there they were at his memorial, talking about him as though they’d just had him as a teacher.  It wasn’t conscious on my part, but I think as I started this position at this particular school the fall after he died, I wanted to honor him by trying as hard as I could to connect with these kids.  I want to make him proud; I want to have made an impact and to have these kids remember me in the same way his students remembered him.  Somehow having this part of my job come to an end means letting a little more of him go. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but that’s exactly how it feels. In working with teenagers, I felt like he was right there, cheering me on.  What’s irrational about this, of course, is that I know he’s proud of me in what I do.  He always was, it doesn’t matter what the exact capacity is.  He knew how much I love kids, and how I’ve dedicated my professional life to at least attempting to help them.  Yet, it still feels like I’m having to say goodbye to him again in a way.  Grief, in its sneaky, mean-hearted way, has made sure that the only person I really want to talk to about having to move on from these kids is my father.  He’d understand how I feel…he does understand.  So do many other important people in my life, but grief has made sure he’s the one I want to talk to the most.

I really wish, as this very brave author of “The Long Goodbye” has done, that our society would start to recognize and talk about grief openly.  The one thing I know for sure is that none of us will ever escape it, it’s just a matter of when we’ll have to experience it.  I have friends who have lost children….children.  I have absolutely no idea how they didn’t just crumple, boneless in the corner, and die there.  That is a loss I can’t fathom, I truly can’t.  I think all parents do, in their nightmares.  These friends of mine amaze me, and I admire their strength every day.  At some point, my children will have to live without me.  My husband may too, or I may have to live without him.  I still have my mom here, thank God, but she won’t be here forever.  My in-laws are all here and healthy, but no one lasts forever.  Again, I can’t think about losing more friends, but we’ll all have to go at some point. It’s such a solid, un-yielding part of being human…we all have to lose people. You never know how hard it will hit until it happens.

The bright side is this:  I notice beauty in a way I never have before.  I absolutely revel and cling to small moments of joy, things I would have thought nothing about before.  I was in Lake Tahoe last weekend, and spent a fair amount of time in absolute awe of its brilliance.  On the drive home, alone, I exclaimed out loud several times, “Oh my God, look at that!”  We’ve had late storms here, and then it warmed very quickly.  As a result, there were waterfalls absolutely everywhere. Yesterday I went with my 11 year old daughter to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with her 5th grade class.  The day was gorgeous, and this sounds nuts, but all the colors were brighter than I remember.  The ocean, the clouds, the jellyfish, they all looked almost fake in their vividness.  She had never been there before, and was so blown away by the things we saw.  “Mom!  Come over here! This is the coolest thing EVER!” She was right too, it was the coolest thing ever. 

Life is the coolest thing ever.  Live it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012're making yourself look foolish.

Dear World,

There are a great deal of things I know nothing about.  Public policy, for example.  Politics just upset me in general. I know next to nothing about sports, pretty much of all kinds except baseball.  And when I say I know baseball, all that really means is I can follow the game.  While I consider myself to be a Christian, I in no way ever profess to be an expert on scripture, and will forever have to look things up.  I don't know the history of yoga.  I know absolutely zero about the business!  Every time a friend who does know informs me of something, I am shocked that the world actually operates that way.  I don't understand the stock market.  Hell, I don't even understand our taxes, or our investments.  People have to break certain subjects down to a true primary level in order for me to even begin to get it.  I have no spatial ability whatsoever, and any little iPhone games that require spatial skills, I suck at. I love art, but I would never, ever claim to know a lot about it.  I just know what I like to look at.

When presented with a subject I know little to nothing about, I admit it.  There's no sense in trying to fake my way through a conversation.  It's  been my experience that people respect this...if it's something I should know, or would benefit me to know, I make it my business to find out. I don't, by any means, find myself amongst the smartest people in a room.  My skill set and knowledge is very specific and very specialized.  

Here's what I know a fair amount about:  Music...I have no musical talent or extensive knowledge about the history behind it, I merely know as a lifelong appreciator.  Early 70's funk, Motown, 80's New Wave, 90's grunge, etc....I think I'm reasonably informed.  I know about weird details about certain areas of the world like the horrific conditions in North Korea and genocides in Africa.  This is not due to high intelligence or extensive study, I just like to read a lot.  My husband will never get why I enjoy reading about these things, but I do.  Currently, I'm reading about the history of mental hospitals in America.  It's horrifying and fascinating, and soon I will be fairly informed about this as well.  I know a lot about musical theater, which would have happened one way or another growing up with my father.  It would have seeped in via osmosis. I can sing almost the entire Pippin soundtrack, although I don't know if I should even admit that.  I've never even seen the play.  I know about clothes, and I know about makeup.  This knowledge does not make me deep, I realize.  But I like clothes and makeup, so there you go.

Here is what I know a LOT about.  My job.  Over the past 15 years I have learned and will continue to learn more and more about special education and psychology.  I have no doubt that my learning isn't anywhere near being complete, but I pour my heart and soul into it every day.  So world, here is what I would like to ask of you...please don't try to inform me of how a child qualified for services...I qualified them.  I know the 13 handicapping conditions, and the educational criteria. I may not have all 13 committed to memory, but I do know them. I also know the difference between Ed code and DSM-IV-TR diagnoses...contrary to what some of you appear to believe, they are not the same. Do not tell me that you "know" a child has this disorder or that disorder, when in reality you know nothing about any of them, other than maybe from Wikipedia. Do not attempt to intimidate me with your vast "knowledge" about  my job. Try not to inform me that I'm not a "real" psychologist...I'm an educational psychologist and will never claim to be more than that.  I will always be respectful in meetings, and I will always word things as carefully as I can.  However, if you're wrong and I know you're wrong, I will shut you down and you will end up looking monumentally foolish.  Don't try to fool me with your dizzying acronyms in an attempt to make yourself look like an expert.  You're not...and I know what disorders are real and which ones are the disorder du jour that you found on the Internet.

I am an the few things I know.  I'd be happy to educate and inform, if that will help you.  If you have information I could benefit from, please let me know.  Otherwise, please...shut it.



Saturday, March 17, 2012

The New Elitist Feminism. (I'm SO going to catch hell for this...)

I feel so conflicted right now...but all these thoughts are swimming around in my head, and they're screaming to get here come the screams!

A little background...My parents divorced when I was 3, and primary custody was given to my mother.  As I've written before, my mom is a highly complicated, incredibly intelligent person who raised me while being exposed to her strong feminist belief system.  At the time of my being raised-dom, the 70's and 80's, there was a lot of good coming out of these teachings.  I went to grade school during the time of "girls can be anything", which I believe I greatly benefited from.  I was taught to never see myself as been less-than, simply because I was a girl.  I listened to a lot of Helen Reddy. But I also grew up kind of not seeing boys and men as truly "people".  I was very close to my father and my brother, of course, and I have had male friends my entire life.  Despite this, outside of my family, I don't think that I really saw the males in my life as having real emotions and perspectives on things. I have to add at this point that I do not blame my mom for this (really, mom). For whatever reason, this is just what I picked up.  I honestly don't have a reasonable explanation for this and am positive this is not what my mother intended. In my mom's defense, she grew up in a totally different era, and believing in something that could empower women was a very positive thing for her. She has accomplished a great deal in her life and I'm incredibly proud of her.

As I grew older and entered middle school and high school, things changed for me.  I loved clothes and makeup, and I still do.  I received a fair amount of grief about this from both my mom and my sister during this time.  They both accept this and have apologized for giving me a hard time about it.  It was a weird time for me. I still believed I could accomplish anything, but didn't put a whole lot of effort toward anything in particular.  My bedroom was plastered with pictures from fashion and beauty magazines that, of course, added to my already rock solid belief that I was a hideous troll.  I think I probably would have sold my soul for clear skin.

In my 20's, I believe that I experienced a fair amount of discrimination for being female.  I was horrifically sexually harassed at a job I had in college, something I haven't ever spoken much about.  Nothing happened to me physically, but the husband of my boss of the software company I worked for said vile, explicit, disgusting things to me on a regular basis.  I didn't tell anyone, and did nothing about it.  I also just didn't fully understand the psychology behind it at the time, that this loser was actually engaging in this behavior in order to intimidate me.  I wonder what that that paragon of male virtue is up to these days.  Also in my 20's, I met and married my husband Mike.  He is my best friend, and probably bore the brunt of  my leftover "men don't really have feelings" problem.  I've since gotten over this, obviously.  

I had our children in my 30's.  I clearly remember a moment after I'd had Maddie, and had gone back to work full time.  I'd been having a really hard time keeping on top of everything, and was exhausted and thought I was doing everything wrong, as most moms do.  My own mother said to me, "I think we did you girls a disservice.  We all worked so hard at being forces to be reckoned with in the working world,  we never really took the time to think about who would raise the babies."  I remember feeling supported, relieved, and shocked, all at once.  Jeez, mom!  I thought I did everything I was supposed to do...I got an advanced degree, I have a meaningful job, I have a great marriage and beautiful children.  And yet, what I discovered at this time is the whole "Superwoman" thing is a total and complete MYTH.  No one I know skates through this experience.  All the working moms I know freak out that their house isn't clean, stress over the fact that they aren't being good enough mothers, and lament about not being on their A-game at work.  The only thing that brought me peace with this is the acceptance that I won't and can't be perfect at everything.  Good enough has had to become...well, good enough.

Probably my favorite moment in the last decade in which I was the victim of serious sexism was simply ridiculous.  Many people have challenged our marriage and questioned the type of wife I am.  In this instance, it came from the husband of a former friend.  You see, I have this really irritating habit of having an opinion, in case you haven't already noticed this.  I don't tolerate being mistreated, and as a result of this, I'm not.  However, while in the presence of this person, I would be continually disregarded and talked over.  Women didn't matter.  It absolutely bothered me, but I tried to overlook it and roll with it for the sake of the friendship.  Then Mike shared something with me...this person had told him that he should really work on trying to "get your wife under control."  This was years and years ago, but still makes me giggle to this day.  Yeah, give that a try!  As a matter of fact, I think that was Mike's response to him...a sarcastic, "Ok, man.  I'll try that."  I remember being astounded that there were still guys like this out there. Good Lord, it still makes me laugh.

These have all been my experiences that have evolved from being brought up by a feminist, and trying to forge my own path.  However, there is a "tone" to some feminist-like voices these days that literally make my stomach hurt.  A very good example of this is, an online blog that I've mentioned before. To be fair, they don't identify themselves as a "feminist" site per se.  Jezebel is described as: blog aimed at women's interests, under the tag line "Celebrity, Sex, Fashion. Without Airbrushing.The Jezebel manifesto states that the site "will attempt to take all the essentially meaningless but sweet stuff directed our way and give it a little more meaning, while taking more the serious stuff and making it more fun, or more personal. Basically, we wanted to make the sort of women's magazine we'd want to read." One of the site's guiding principles, according to Holmes, is to avoid saying "misogynist things about women's weight."  Okay, that all sounds fairly benign and positive, right?  Let's address women's issues, inform the masses, and have some fun.  Yeah...not so much.

Their recent salivation over ripping Jason Russell to shreds has gone to new lows.  In response to his recent breakdown, they write, "We're not sure how to adequately express our shock and disbelief at the news that Jason Russell, one of Invisible Children's co-founders and the star of the Kony 2012 campaign, was taken into custody last night for drunkenly masturbating in public. But, as Jezebel's own Erin Gloria Ryan put it, "Wasn't the entire Kony 2012 campaign essentially this white guy masturbating in public?" Holy Moses, ladies, HATE much??  They've been after this guy since day 1, and why?  Because he's a white guy.  How does this further the cause of women in our country?  How does being snarky, sarcastic, obnoxious, and just flat out MEAN help empower women?  You know what this kind of crap does for us women?  It makes us look awful, mean-spirited, and petty.  I will say that there were plenty of comments on the site that stated what I just did...that if Jason is truly having a breakdown, it's not something to laugh at.  They truly ought to be ashamed of themselves.

It's possible that they have intended for their site to be purely entertainment based, but that's not what it has turned into.  It has been touted, at the very least, to be pro-woman.  Yet, look what else I found?  This was dated February 10, 2012. "On Wednesday, posted screenshots of a woman being raped. They didn’t post the video, because the video had been removed from the Internet. Luckily for everybody, though, Jezebel had screenshots from the video, so even as the victim may have been feeling relief that it had been wiped from the Internet, hey! Jezebel still has screenshots. Like a white knight on a trusty steed, raping and raping and raping and raping and raping the victim with every pageview. And because Jezebel is a responsible website, the editors… apologized? Explained? Justified? Justified their action in a short and sour editor’s note.", what, in the name of God, ARE YOU DOING??  They've also covered the foolishness regarding the birth control debate quite a bit, but have chosen to focus on the fact that it's all white males making the decisions.  Really?  Hmmmm, read this:  "Yesterday, a Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Republican Debbie Lesko's HB2625 by a vote of 6-2, which would allow an employer to request proof that a woman using insurance to buy birth control was being prescribed the birth control for reasons other than not wanting to get pregnant."  Last I checked, Debbie was a woman's name.  So who is to blame?  The GOP, or just all men ?  Jezebel, could you even attempt to be fair?  I hate what's going on with regard to contraception in this country, it feels like we're living  in maybe 1975 or so.  But it's simply not fair to put all men at the end of the barrel of your gun. (I know you don't like guns, I don't either.  I was just trying to make a point there.)

I was raised to be a strong woman, and I am one.  I also love and adore the men in my life.  My husband and my son have my heart.  My father made a profound impact on my life. My father in law is one of the kindest people I have ever known. My male friends have all helped me to see that just because men don't emote as much as women does not mean they don't have emotions.  I am proud to work alongside with many dedicated educators who work long hours for piddly amounts of pay.  I have tremendous respect for my pastor.  The list could go on and on.

To the people in today's media and on the net who have hidden behind being proponents of "women's issues"...Guess what?  Being mean doesn't make you smart.  Hating men doesn't make you any more involved or informed.  Being incredibly insulting doesn't make you clever.  We can all empower women, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, but we don't have to cut men down to do it., I will no longer visit your site or read any of your articles.  I hereby announce my boycott.  Oh, I'm sorry, was that sexist?  I will be girl-cotting your site.   Lose the tired old rhetoric, stop whining, and grow the hell up. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

My take on KONY 2012 and the arrogance of America...

I'm imagining by now that most people have heard of the KONY 2012 movement and have either seen the video or at least heard about it. Filmmaker Jason Russell is the co-founder of the organization Invisible Children and has made a 27 minute film hallmarking the atrocities of the warlord Joseph Kony.  Kony was the leader of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) and has committed horrific crimes against humanity across Central Africa for more than 20 years. He's stolen children in the middle of the night from their villages, turned the girls into sex slaves and the boys into soldiers.  He has forced the boys to kill their own parents, and in some cases, abuse them before killing them in ways I don't even want to write about.  He has essentially taken these children and systematically and maniacally broken their hearts and their spirits in order to manipulate them into doing other atrocities in his name.  Many hadn't heard about this going on until this video came out.  I had.  I knew that children were walking miles and miles away from their villages to the bigger cities to sleep at night because they knew they'd be safe there.  The next day, they walk back and then do it again. I knew that one of Kony's tactics is to get his boy soldiers addicted to drugs, primarily amphetamines, so as to make them more effective killing machines. I also know that similar things have taken place in Liberia and Kenya.  This just happens to be an interest of mine, and something that I like to read and learn about.

Jason Russell made it absolutely clear that this video was an experiment using social media to raise awareness about this particular issue.  However, over the past couple of weeks the criticisms of this video, and of Jason Russell, have truly astounded me.  I find it incredibly sad that our culture has essentially turned into a pack of vultures that actively enjoys watching people go down.  It's practically a national pastime at this point.  I think there are a lot of reasons why people have come out so strongly against this video and the Kony 2012 movement. In my opinion, many of the reasons are disgustingly egocentric and short-sighted.

Everyone is a Critic

A major downside of social media and the Internet in general is that it's given license to anyone to attack and criticize at will.  Look anywhere and you'll find it.  Kids are being horrifically stalked and bullied on Facebook.  Actually, adults have gotten to the point where they use Facebook to complain about everything!  The weather, bad traffic, bad drivers, not feeling well, their lousy jobs, former friends, the lists are endless and tiresome.  I'm not exempting myself here, I've done it too. People post reviews of books on Amazon that are absolutely scathing, not just about the book, but about the authors on a personal level.  The comments about videos on YouTube aren't even worth glancing at...they quickly plummet to anonymous people calling each other expletives.  What are people getting out of this? It's just mean-spirited and cowardly. This leads me to my next point that is specific to Kony 2012.

Let's Play "Hate the Hipster"!

This is an element of this situation that truly troubles me...I've read articles on websites that I sometimes enjoy, like, which at the very least is usually amusing. One of the articles I read started with "I hated this video on sight" and went down from there.  Why???  They accuse Jason of being arrogant, superior, and someone who has used this video to exploit the issue.  Regardless of the fact that using the video to expose Kony was kind of the POINT, I think there's a bigger issue at play here.  I believe that these "elite" people are choosing to criticize Jason Russell because he's a cute, white, surfer boy from San Diego.  I truly, truly do.  These critics are so "cool", that they have to dislike popular things, God forbid they become conformists!  I think that if a different "type" of person had done the exact same thing, the response would be different.  An older woman perhaps, or someone of color, or someone not as good looking.  Yet, the fact that he's a cute white boy seems to have diluted the issue for some.  Isn't this discrimination? I've read criticisms about the fact that he included his own adorable little tow-headed son in the video.  What could this darling little boy know about suffering in Central Africa? I personally think that having his son in the video is brilliant, the point being that these atrocities that Kony has inflicted on thousands of children could happen to us.  Any one of those beautiful children in the video could be our children, had we been born into a different culture.  America has become absolutely gifted when it comes to lifting  themselves above everyone else in the world, and think that nothing that bad could ever happen here.  The arrogance of that is amazing to me.  

Everyone Knows How to Run a Charity Now?

One of the main criticisms has revolved around the way Invisible Children spends it's money. Jason Russell has made it very clear that they use a three pronged their films, pay their employees, and help to rehabilitate the children who have been rescued out of this slavery.  That's the way that they have chosen to run their organization, why does everyone have something to say about it?  There are plenty of other charities who raise money that may go directly to the people they are trying to help.  I don't think that anyone should give to a charity blindly, do your research and donate to whatever cause you believe in.  I will say this though...if other charities had undergone the same level of scrutiny that Invisible Children has over the last few weeks, I guarantee that our nation's people would learn a lot of things they would not want to believe. No organization is immune to corruption, it happens all the time.  I personally don't believe, based on what I've read, that Invisible Children is a corrupt organization.  I don't believe that I've learned enough about them to make a call one way or the other, to be honest.  Somehow though, amazingly, everyone else seems to have already tried and convicted these people.

Another criticism that I've read was "child slavery isn't a new issue to Africa..."  That one absolutely floored me.  Because they didn't uncover something "new", it's not as important? Is it old news?  Are those sweet little faces not worthy of attention and help because they aren't novel?  WOW.  I guess helping horrifically abused children is "so yesterday!"  Lord, please help us.  The fact that child slavery isn't new should fuel the issue, not weaken it.  The fact that it's been allowed by our nation, the most powerful in the world, to continue for decades is evidence of our complacent society.  It's so easy to distance ourselves from these issues.  Those kids in Africa are all really poor and dirty, and they look different, and they may even worship differently than we do.  That would never happen here,, maybe they're cursed somehow.  For all the Christian folks out there who are dismissing this movement, what about Matthew 25 34-40?   “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"  

I don't know about all of you, but that directive is certainly clear and easy for me to understand. HELP.  We're supposed to help! What could be more meaningful than to educate the younger generation about these issues around the world?  Oh, there's a criticism for that as well...

These Stupid College Kids Will Fall For Anything!

The major focus, the most intended audience for this video, is young people.  High school and college kids have been largely responsible for spreading the word and sharing it.  The video itself has been minimized as being "slick and fashionable".  Well, the young people of our country are used to and tend to expect slick and fashionable.  It works, it gets their attention.  Right or wrong, this is true...this generation has grown up being bombarded with visual images that are far more advanced and sophisticated than the images we grew up with.  Yes, production was probably quite expensive, but I believe the style of the video has a major role in how widespread this movement has become. Now Invisible Children is selling t-shirts and bracelets and posters, "conning" our kids into thinking this is a cool thing to do.  It'll just be a flash in the pan that should fade overnight, right?  It hasn't faded, though.  Our kids have brains, and the ability to think for themselves.  Sure, the idea of running around in the middle of the night on April 20th to plaster the city with posters is appealing to the rebel that resides in most young people.  Legal vandalism! When I was in my 20's, I would have been all over this, no doubt about it. 

Our young people are not being used as pawns, as some have said.  They're actually being given an opportunity to learn about something unjust and evil that is happening in another part of the world.  Currently, our young people are bombarded with negative things...promiscuity is rampant, drugs are everywhere and being sold on campus at high schools, popular music is largely vulgar and disgusting.  WHAT could be wrong with making international awareness "cool"?? I'm sure that this will be a passing fad for some, but what about the young people who could become truly inspired by this, and empowered?  There are amazing young people in our nation who have the potential to help change the world, but they can't do it if they don't know what's going on.  It doesn't have to be with Invisible Children, it doesn't have to be about Kony.  These people could grow up and start their own charity, volunteer overseas, or become investigative journalists that help expose monsters like Kony, and there are a lot of them out there.  Give our young people some credit.

Jason's Experiment

Again, at the beginning of the video, Jason Russell stated that this was an experiment using social media for global change, and to raise awareness.  HE SUCCEEDED.  His video has broken every record, and is the fastest spreading viral video ever.  The last figure I heard was that the video had reached 72 million people.  The day after I saw the video, he was on The Today Show. In the evening, it was on the local news, which is generally so inane that I don't even watch it. Later that evening, he actually even reached what I refer to as "Stupidity News", that being Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood.  Oh my God, how refreshing it was to watch that story covered instead of another tired story about another idiot Kardashian person.  That same day, I googled it, and the amount of links that popped up was overwhelming.  Those were only the ones I saw...he's been everywhere, trying to defend himself at every turn.  He set out to raise awareness, and he HAS.  He's chosen to focus on Kony, who is by no means the only evil tyrant out there.  You have to start somewhere.  What's more important is that he's brought attention, in general, to the plight of children throughout the world. America, historically, has been  very good at ignoring this issues. 

I'd be lying if I said that there haven't been moments when I have been weary of hearing this, all the varying opinions, all the criticisms, all the media.  This is what divisiveness paralyzes people.  In hearing so much conflicting information, the brain (mine, at least) becomes overwhelmed and just shuts it out.  The presidential race is a great overwhelming and stupid, I'd prefer to just not pay any attention.  I'll vote, but beyond that, I'd like to pretend it isn't happening.  What the critics of Invisible Children don't realize is that they're casting these shadows of doubt on people who are putting everything they have into helping others.  As a result, people don't know what to believe, so they just put their attentions into other things.  I'd urge everyone who is reading this, do some research.  Find out the truth about whatever organization you'd like to support.  Doctors Without Borders. Clean Water International.  Peace Corps. World Vision. Courage To Be You. There are hundreds of organizations out there that are working to change the world.  Just choose one!

What Jason Russell has managed to do is truly ground-breaking, and he deserves a ton of credit.  I don't know what will ultimately happen with this movement, but he has accomplished something monumental, surfer boy or not!  He gets major props from me. More power to you, man, and God bless you.