Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PLEASE teach our boys.

The news surrounding the Stanford sexual assault case has had me in knots the last several days. I know this hit the news so hard because of the letter the victim released (that is absolutely gut-wrenching, but brilliant and powerful) and the fact that the judge gave him basically a slap on the hand for such evil behavior. However, I really can’t get past the fact that this assault happened at all. It’s so incredibly common, and happens on every college campus. It’s almost expected.  Think of the lovely SAE boys a couple years ago who were caught on campus using the N-word with glee…the girls on that campus referred to that fraternity SAE as standing for Sexual Assault Expected.  Think of the prep school in New Hampshire where a kid was recently convicted of raping a 15 year old freshman (high school, mind you). It was a tradition at that school for seniors to find a freshman to bang, and there was even a location where it commonly took place. They even had a cute little name for it that I can’t remember, but it was basically a shed. This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME, but the Stanford one has certainly stuck with me.


I drank a crapload in college. And high school. And after college until I quit entirely. I was in stupid, dangerous situations all the time. I never blacked out, but I have definitely been drunk enough to be totally incapacitated, unable to walk on my own, dizzy, sick, and ridiculously foolish. I had a pair of jeans in college that we named the “vomit jeans”. I’d imagine I don’t need to explain the reason for this in detail, but said jeans earned their moniker over and over and over again. I had jeans that were ripped at the knee, not because it was cool like it is now. I had ripped jeans in 1989 because I fell quite often. I was in so many situations that were insane, and not just at my own college. Marymount, UCSB, Cal, SFSU, UOP. Dozens of bad decisions, and dangerous settings. And as far as sexual assault goes, nothing ever happened to me. This isn’t due to the fact that I was careful and mindful of my surroundings. It isn’t due to the fact that I was a good, self-respecting girl. Nothing bad happened to me because I was lucky as hell. Nothing bad happened to me because I happened to be with boys who understood the words “no” and “stop”. I want to find the parents of all the dumb boys I kissed drunk at parties, and thank them because I was a complete idiot. But no amount of drunkenness and bad judgment ever means that a girl deserves to be violated. EVER.  Alcohol clouds judgment, absolutely. But it doesn’t make you rape people.

There seems to be a culture that encourages seeing females as bodies only. Apparently that’s all we have that is of any value. Women are to be used at will, and that mindset is accepted by so many. When Maddie was in 6th grade, she had twin boy classmates. They’d gone to school together since Kindergarten. The dad was very invested in the notion that these boys were super athletic and would get full scholarships and eventually play pro ball. In the 6th grade, at some school gathering, I overheard the dad talking to him. He told his 12 year old sons to be careful around girls. This was the reason why:  “You have to be careful, because these girls can talk you into anything. Next thing you know, one of them gets knocked up and your chances for a scholarship are ruined.”  THAT was his concern, these evil sirens who suddenly “become” knocked up and could potentially trap his darling boys. It made me absolutely ill. This is also the dad who got his sons a stretch limo for 6th grade promotion. SIXTH GRADE.  It was so completely absurd I still can’t quite get over it. But that was the mindset, they deserved it ALL, limos for accomplishing absolutely nothing, and cautionary tales about potential sluts. This is a mild example, I realize, but it’s a real one. What about maybe not engaging in sexual activity before college, or if they do, taking some goddamn responsibility for it? What about them not hearing that the sun shines out of their ass every day? That they’re sooo special and amazing? How about letting them fail sometimes?

This entitlement parenting has got to stop, you guys. We are raising monsters. They have GOT to understand and accept that they aren't always going to get what they want.

Dads have a very important role to play here. Moms do too, of course, but it’s different when boys hear a message from their father. Males possess a sex drive that we don’t have, and it’s not their fault, God made them that way for a reason. Maddie complains about it all the time, the things she hears from her male peers. “Mom, it’s all they think about! What’s wrong with them?”  Yes, it is all they think about, and there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re teenage boys. But dads are the ones to teach them restraint, and honor, and respect. They are the ones to explain that while it’s natural to be terminally and insanely attracted to girls, they are people too, worthy of human decency. They are the ones who need to be super explicit in explaining exactly what consent is, and what it is NOT. Teach them that humping a unconscious person isn’t “20 minutes of action”.  I’m upset at the leniency of the sentence, but I’m thrilled he was convicted. I only wish the dad had to go too, since he thinks the tragedy here is that his son no longer enjoys his rib eyes.

Our son is only 11, but he has always been good at standing up for other people and shutting down bullying when he sees it happening. He is small for his age, and I worry about him sometimes, but his bravery in this astounds me. Today I talked to him about what happened in an age appropriate way, making sure he understood exactly what rape is. I talked to him about respect, and about protecting the girls he knows. I talked to him about consent, and always making sure that if he ever wants to hug and kiss someone, that's it's okay with them. It was a strange and awkward conversation, and I'm sure Mike will need to follow up. But I wanted to emphasize the heroes, and that THEY are the ones I want him to emulate as a young man. 

The heroes in this story, those two young men who chased down that asshole and held him until the cops came? Just, thank GOD for them! If they hadn’t come along, that kid would have left her there with the trash cans. Passed out and naked in the dark, by herself. Someone else would have found her, or she would have eventually regained consciousness herself, torn apart and totally confused and terrified. And they never would have caught that kid. He would have gotten away with this total atrocity, and he would have done it again. Thank GOD for those guys.  I’ll tell you what, I know a LOT of good guys like them. I can think of kids in high school I’ve worked with who absolutely would have done the same thing. I think of the young men in our youth group at church, and the amazing, upstanding people they are becoming. None of these kids are perfect, that’s what adolescence is for, to make a lot of mistakes under the wings of your family and teachers so they can help you figure it all out. But there is not a single young man I can think of who would ever do such a thing to a girl. In fact, every single one of them would have chased down any evil bastard who did. Some of the kids I know probably would have beat the living crap out of them too, and while I hate violence, that would be okay with me. It’s not enough to teach our boys what not to do. We have to teach them to be the heroes, to stand up for people who can’t do it for themselves (like naked unconscious women laying on the ground by dumpsters). We have to teach them to speak up when the chatter in the locker room becomes out of control and disrespectful. Guys listen to their peers, they need to lead the pack.

When I was 19, I was home from college for the weekend. My best friend Renee and I decided to do our standard "driving around route". Over by our old high school, down by the Rose Bowl, and over to La Canada, a more affluent suburb next to Altadena where we lived. That night, La Canada High was getting ready for their homecoming game, so there were a ton of kids out and about. We were driving behind a kid with a passenger, and we saw him go out of his way to swerve and hit a yellow lab that was in the street. It was truly horrible and I was driving. Renee yelled, "Follow him!" and I did. We followed these kids down where there was a dead end, and I will never forget this:  The driver was laughing. The passenger looked like he had just been kicked in the gut. We yelled, "You just hit that dog!"  We managed to get the license plate, and since there were so many kids around, they knew who the driver was. We called the number on the dog's tag (he lived), and we waited until the police came. This case actually went to court and we testified against the kid. The poor owner of the dog had left the gate open in a rush because she was heading to the hospital because her husband had just had a stroke. The passenger also testified against his friend, saying he made it clear he wanted to hit the dog. The defendant was never in the same room we were, we never got to see him. What we did get to do is hear the mother HOWLING in the next room when they found him guilty. Screaming and crying that he'd never get into law school now, his future was ruined. I remember saying to Renee, "Shouldn't she be more concerned that her son is so twisted that he wanted to hurt an animal for fun?"  La Canada is a wealthy community, and that kid thought he could do anything he wanted to. But guess what? Because WE were watching and chased him, and because his friend was brave enough to testify against him, that little punk-ass learned (I hope) that he can't do whatever he wanted with no repercussions.  We stood up and called him out when we saw someone doing something wrong. I am proud we did that. We were trying to look out for a living creature that was unable to protect itself under the circumstances. 

But that was just a DOG. This young lady who was at Stanford that night is a human person, whose life has been wrecked far beyond three months in county and the inability to enjoy her favorite foods. We can't change what happened, and we can't fix our jacked up justice system overnight. But we CAN make a focused and concerted effort to bring up our boys better than this.

They deserve this from us.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The "Housemate" Years


This post may hurt some feelings. I hope it doesn't but this was my experience during this time, and my recollection of it. Nothing bad ever happened to me during this time due to having these folks in my house. I was never abused or mistreated. It was just weird.

A whole lot of shit went down when I was ten years old. I wrote another blog post about 1980 about 6 years ago, but this one is about the living situation that unfolded for me at this time. My parents had been divorced for a number of years, my older sister had been hospitalized at the age of 18, and my brother had gone to live with my father at age 15.  I was 10, and this left my mother and I alone in a beautiful Craftsman house in Pasadena, with three extra rooms. Two actual bedrooms and a closed in sun porch which was almost all windows, the room that had been used as a play room when we were younger.  My mother made the decision to have people come and rent out the vacant rooms. From the age of 10 to 17, at least 11 different people lived in my home with me. These were people my mom knew, or at least had vetted through other people she knew. It wasn't like she put an ad on Craigslist or posted "room for rent" ads on telephone poles. But to me, they were strangers. 

Mom had some practical reasons for this decision. Obviously it would help us financially. She was also gone quite a bit in the evenings with her political interests and organizations, and having other adults in the home means she had de facto babysitters. Years later, I asked her about this decision, and she gave this additional reason: "You and I weren't getting along well during those years and I knew you wouldn't yell at me in front of other people." Wow. Teenage girls are, by definition, wretched creatures. I have one and she yells at me too, on occasion.  My mom wasn't wrong, we weren't getting along and I didn't yell at her in front of them. But hearing this made me feel like I was not a priority, I was just an issue that had to be dealt with. It was an unpleasant variable, that possibility she could come home after a long day and have to deal with a heinous beast for a daughter, so she found a way to make that variable less likely to occur. This part will never make sense to me, the preference to bury it and not deal with the issues head on. She has never been one to relish hashing out emotional stuff, it just isn't her gig. I think that strong expressions of emotion make her uncomfortable, but I often wonder how things may have been different if it had just been us, and if she had tried harder to understand me. I remember how I treated her at times, and it wasn't pretty. I probably could have tried harder to understand her too. That said, I had a lot of legitimate reasons to be upset and confused, and I needed her during this time. This has come to light recently, as I am realizing how much my own daughter needs me. Teenagers need as much, if not more attention as toddlers do. I was very close to my father, and he wasn't without his faults. He made mistakes and we got it all out in the open before he died. As close as I was to my dad, at the end of the day I think teenage girls really need their moms. There were some awesome moments between my mom and I, memories that are very special to me. But on a day to day basis, there was a wedge there, or eleven wedges. 

It wasn't cultish, I didn't have to drink weird Kool-Aid (Jonestown) or worship a head of lettuce (What's Happening). There was a loss of privacy and the relaxation and comfort that comes from being in one's own home. I felt like I was a visitor, or someone else who had simply rented a room in a house. I couldn't always use the kitchen or the washer and dryer when I wanted to because they were using them. I didn't have friends over that often, it just felt odd having to explain who all these people were. As I got older, I would usually just go straight to my room and only come out for food. My dad hated this arrangement, he called it a commune, but my mom called it "living in community." I still don't entirely understand the difference between the two.  I don't think my parents were full hippies, but they were definitely hippy adjacent, so sharing things was a big deal.  We didn't share everything like they do in true communes, but there was a red silk coin purse with communal money for food. I stole from it frequently to ditch school and go to Numero Uno Pizza on Lake Avenue with my best friend Renee. I don't think my mom ever knew we did that, but I suppose she does now! We DID spend it on food...

The Cast of Characters...I have splintered memories of these people, and I wonder if I even remembered them all. I will do my best:

  • Judith was a very kind woman who always listened. She had a daughter Jan who had a child at a very young age, Joey. They all lived with us for a spell, although Judith was the main housemate. I looked up to Jan because she was blonde and pretty. 
  • Sylvia was also very kind to me. She had wild curly hair and big boobs. The only reason I remember about her boobs is that one day she told me that she had always wanted to become ballerina but her boobs were too big.  She helped me name my dog Jasmine. She said that she loved a Carole King song called Jasmine. I loved the song too, but it turns out it was "Jazzman."  Whoops. Jasmine was a better name for my dog.
  • Jerome was a guy with red hair, a bushy red beard, and a collie named Ollie who looked like the dog version of himself. He had a motorcycle and took me out for a ride one day, much to the horror of my mom who didn't exactly give permission for this. I did have a helmet. 
  • Anya wasn't there very long, she was from Poland and told me the meaning of Solidarity, which was the Polish trade union. I didn't fully understand it, but I liked that she told me. She also lent me a dress to wear when my friend Matt's dad died because I wasn't really a dress girl and I had nothing to wear to his funeral.
  • Jim was a really nice person who continually got on my nerves. I'm not sure why, I think he lectured me a lot about healthy food. One year for my birthday, he made me a dinner of which every dish was made from garbanzo beans. Every. Dish.  It was such a nice gesture, and I ate as much as I could manage, but I hated garbanzo beans with a fiery passion. Still do. 
  • Todd! Dang, Todd was so young. Todd is now my brother in law, married to my sister. At the time, he was a bohemian in his early 20's that cared a lot about social justice. Now he's a bohemian in his mid-50's who cares a lot about the environment and climate change. He's a great guy...the main thing he did back then that bugged me is mumbling jazz. Imagine someone singing to themselves. Now imagine the tune having no melody or structure. Mumbling Jazz...he still does it.
  • Raoul was a heavy set Hispanic dude. Once he took me to the mall in Arcadia where there was a pet store. I didn't like the small compartments the puppies were being kept in and I wanted to talk to the pet store person about it. This embarrassed him and he seemed to subscribe to the "children are to be seen and not heard" belief. He wanted me to be quiet and not say anything. Yeah, that didn't work. Clearly he wasn't aware of the type of child he was dealing with, you can't shut me up now either.
  • Brooke was a young aspiring actress who wore loads of eyeliner. We had a doberman mix dog at the time named Charlotte whose markings on her face were not dissimilar to Brooke's eye makeup. I remember seeing her on television one time, she was an extra on Moonlighting. Brooke was sad. She was a pretty girl but she had no self-esteem whatsoever. She once told my mom of all the men she slept with to get acting parts, I'm assuming. She told my mom, "Sometimes they don't even want me to talk."
  • Jeri was maybe in her early 30's?  She was there for awhile and we got along pretty well. She lived in the room closest to mine and once she made a joke about me singing along with my Supertramp record in my room. That embarrassed me and I never sang in my room again while other people were home. Jeri was one of the last housemates we had, and I remember she and my mom had a big falling out. I have no idea what it was about, but she moved out and we stopped renting rooms. I was 17.

Some weirdish stuff happened over the years, but nothing happened TO me. The upstairs of my house had two tiny bedrooms and one bathroom. The bedrooms probably had about 7 feet between them, and Jerome lived in one and I lived in the other one. I shared a bathroom with a grown-ass man who was not related to me when I was around 13-14. At one point, Jeri told me that Jerome thought I was attractive. What the HELL?  Not cool. Not a good decision. It put the idea into my head that something bad COULD happen to me and it could have transpired very easily. But it never did, despite the fact that the stage was practically set for it. I was alone with them frequently.They were all good men, but can you ever know for sure? 

So what good things came out of this very unusual scenario during my formative years? I'm pretty flexible overall, and college really wasn't that much of a shock because I already knew how to live with strangers. I was cooking for myself and doing my own laundry at ten years old. I was super independent as a result of all this.  I can get along with quite a wide variety of people. Not that much throws me.

The more negative things about me that could be attributed in part to this element of my childhood?  I'm pretty damn slow to trust people. I have like 6 people I totally trust, and most of them have known me for over 20 years. It's hard for me to let my guard down. I rely on humor and sarcasm a LOT. It's definitely my defense mechanism, and I remember referring to my childhood back in high school by saying, "Oh well, more material for my book!" 

I think my siblings and my mom's family sometimes don't understand why I don't make getting together as a family more of a priority. Both my brother and sister experienced our nuclear family as a unit. I really didn't, so trying to recreate it feels foreign to me.  My parents were divorced by the time I was four, I have zero recollection of them being together. And by the time I was ten, both my siblings were gone. I love them both very much, but I don't look at our experiences as kids as "growing up together" like most siblings experience.  When it comes to the way I grew up,  I didn't have my siblings with me to experience all of this together. It was just me.  I did have more of a family unit at my dad's house, which is where my brother lived. When we were all home at his house during these years, it did feel like home.

As a parent, it's still hard to reflect on these years. My children are 15 and 11 now and when I think about the possibility of being a divorcee and renting out vacant rooms in my house and allowing people to live here with them? And allowing them to be alone with my children when I was often out and about, doing my thing? HELL. NO. In fact, I am extremely hypersensitive about being away from them, other than times I'm at work. Opportunities pop up, like perhaps being an adjunct professor at Sac State, which is something I would adore doing. However, it would require me being gone in the evenings, and even though Mike would be home with them, I won't do it. Even evening church activities, study groups, and youth's all important and I get a lot out of these things, but I won't take chunks of evening away from my kids on a regular basis, I just can't. Friends ask me to do things after work, and I do sometimes, but I usually feel ridiculously guilty about it. Even though they can totally take care of themselves now and they don't need me to bathe them and put them to bed, I still want to be here. This is probably something I should learn to deal with sooner or later, because the unintended side effect of this is that I often end up feeling pretty isolated. No matter what, I don't want my kids to ever feel like they take a backseat to other things.  
I did feel that way growing up

So to my friends and coworkers who may not have known all of this, there are approximately 93 reasons I ended up being an educational psychologist. This is one of them, yes indeedy. But I don't need a pity party, all of these things transpired and made me who I am and on most days I think I'm a fairly productive and decent human being. I also love my mother very much and if she could go back, maybe there are some things she would have done differently, I don't know.  

What I do know is this:  Children have to feel like they are incredibly important. I'm not a perfect parent and I screw up all the time. I spend a decent amount of time wondering which horrible things they'll remember and what they'll write in their blogs in 20 years from now. I have great memories of both of my parents, and we did incredible things together. But when I think about feeling warm and comfortable with my parents, I think of these things:  Being at my dad's house as he was making dinner, watching MTV with my brother when it first came out. And after the Housemate Years ended, being in my mom's house with a fire burning, bread baking and classical music playing as we both studied; she for seminary and me for my AP classes.  Security. Familiarity. HOME. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Please don't let Ugly win.

Oh my LORD, the election. I spend most of my time flabbergasted with my jaw hanging open. I finally got a few of my thoughts together and here they are:

I believe that Trump knows exactly what he’s doing. While he doesn’t have experience in the political realm, I do think that he is aware of the fact that he can’t lead our country based upon insults and bullying. He’s doing it because he knows it gets attention, in the exact same way that a naughty third grader does. It’s very effective. We are all just the suckers that have tuned in to watch. I watched intently at the beginning because I thought it was hilarious, a bad joke, more reality television to pickle my brain. Bad behavior gets headlines, and press, and airtime. He may actually have ideas about policies and how to get things done, who knows? Make no mistake, I am not a fan of his in any way, shape or form.  However, I’m not nearly as afraid of Trump as I am afraid of some of the people who follow him and appear to believe that his shenanigans are totally acceptable. He may act totally normal once he gets into office, but his followers don't know this. 

This really isn’t a political post. It’s about the nasty part in all of us, and whether or not we decide to let it come out.

I am well acquainted with my bitter, ugly side. Most people who know me would be appalled if they could get inside of my head. I call people names, tell them to grow the f up, criticize their parenting, tell them they’re horrible people, tell them they’re lazy and life will never hand them anything. This all occurs IN MY HEAD. There are times when I feel like a badass and I think to myself, “I’m going to tell that person off today, I’m tired of their crap and they need to hear it.” But I never actually do it, because not only is it unprofessional and ineffective overall, it’s not kind. Negativity just breeds more negativity.  I try really hard to be kind, even when I’m being wildly unkind in my own mind. I try hard because it’s how I was raised, it’s how I am trying to raise our children, and because I know that kindness is what works in the world. I know that kindness is what God wants from me, regardless of how frustrated I become. I have a filter. I believe that most people do.

The dangerous thing about giving that nasty side of Trump center stage is it gives some people license to let that demon in themselves out of the cage and into the light of day. This is a man who has said disparaging things and mocked the following groups: women and their bodies, immigrants, Mexicans, refugees, gay folks, disabled people, black people…Lord, who is left?  He has advocated for killing terrorist's families, which is a war crime. He repeated, into a microphone, when a person at one of his rallies called our current president a pussy. He’s said he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” Does he truly think he can do these things? Does he not understand that he has to get Congressional approval on nearly everything? He’s got to know this, he’s got to be saying this for shock value. But he also knows that there is a very specific demographic in America that would drink every drop of this up. These are the people at his rallies who when seeing protesters removed are yelling, “Kick his ass! Light that m’fer on fire!”  These people believe he means it, and these people believe that this kind of leader would make this behavior not only okay, but revered and respected.  This terrifies me.

He apparently has huge support from the evangelicals. As a Christian, this hurts my soul. Most of the things that come out of his mouth prove how much of a Christian he is not. And I can’t just heckle his sorry attempt to quote scripture by saying “It says in TWO Corinthians...”  Yep, I found that super amusing, but a lot of faithful people don’t know the Bible well and I am one of those people! For the people watching who don’t really know anything about Christianity and what it really represents, this becomes who they think American Christians ARE. This is tragic, folks! Cruel, unkind, judgmental, greedy, hateful…these traits are the polar opposite of what true Christianity is supposed to be. I am positive that there are people in our country, searching for faith and contemplating whether or not they want to investigate church and Christianity. And I’d imagine there are some who see this joker out there, claiming to be a Christian and think, ummmm, no thank you. I want no part in this madness. And if that’s what I thought it was, I wouldn’t have anything to do with it either! The crazy Christians get the most press, like the Westboro folks. This has always bothered me, and made me feel like I have to defend my beliefs to some. What if one of these people becomes the leader of the free world?  Do I think Trump is a practicing Christian? Probably not, but that’s not my business and not what I base my vote on. But other people think he is, other people think this kind of “faith” is something to aspire to. So what do we do with this realization?

What’s going on right now is so much bigger than this election. I think there is a chance that this person could win. I believe we will become an international joke and America will gain a more negative reputation than it currently has. But it has a larger implication for us as human beings. If we begin to feel justified in letting that vitriolic, evil, nasty element that lives in all of us out in the open on a regular basis, what will the world look like?  HELL. It will look like hell.

We're better than this. I pray it doesn’t happen.