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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

1 in 3

When I was 2, according to a faint whisper amongst the cacophony of family stories, a member of my family had an abortion.

I won't say which member or how she's related. Her story is not mine to tell, nor am I clear enough on the details to write about it with confidence. The story was told in a dark moment of desperation, and today I am telling it for one reason only: to explain the impact it has had on me. Because, that's MY story, and the only one I can tell.

My first response was a lightbulb. Oh. That's why she hates me. My very existence created a difficult and painful situation. And so many things fell into place.

I've begun to write this entry half a dozen times, but I am realizing that I can't tell the full story, even my part in it, without revealing more than I have a right to share. So, I will stick to the point- what the story is meant to illustrate:

When we talk about abortion, we often talk about choice, rights, and morals. We talk about the right to choose. We talk about a woman's right to control her own fate, her own destiny. Many on the other side dismiss those "rights" as invalid- saying that the woman had the "right" to choose to have sex, to live a lifestyle which might lead to pregnancy. And both sides have a point.

A woman does have the right to choose whether she will engage in, or abstain from, sexual activity. But, pointing that out too often dismisses the responsibility that is carried, not only by the woman, but by the men with whom she partners. When abortion comes up, the moral responsibility is always on the woman, but we rarely hear about the boyfriend or husband who got her pregnant. It's HER choice, after all. And, shouldn't it be? If she's being called upon to risk her health, and to take ultimate responsibility for a child, shouldn't she have the right to choose?

Some will say an unqualified absolutely yes, and some will say no. I am not here to debate those answers. I am only here to talk about my experience, and maybe, to explain why I feel the way I do.

The fact is, abortion is not a cut-and-dried "yes" or "no" answer. It is not something upon which we can stamp a label, it is not something that fits neatly into a box of morality or feminism or rights. If you think there are pat, cut-and-dried answers, you lack the emotional and intellectual maturity to enter into the discussion.

Medical science and many on the pro-choice side will tell women that they have absolute autonomy over their own bodies. Except when they don't. Pregnancy is not the only choice over which we lack complete control. Cancer, for example, takes away our "right" to choose our life path. As does, more relevantly, infertility. The bottom line is, we don't always have a choice in how our lives will play out.

On the pro-life side, many will tell women they are "murdering a baby," a phrase which is repugnant in its accusatory, hateful tone. It dismisses the mother as a "murderer," tossing her aside in favor of a mythical child which is not even yet a fully realized human being. It dismisses the many, MANY stories of women who are in abusive situations, who are faced with the very real choice of living a life of poverty if they carry a child to term. Who have no supports to carry them as they raise a child. The village becomes very silent when a single mom steps forward. The very people who would strip a woman of her right to choose post memes degrading foodstamps and other welfare programs- vital programs that, if more generously funded and administered, might make it possible for a woman to both become a mother and to have a career which will support herself and a child.

The hypocrisy on both sides is sickening.

I support a woman's right to choose- not because I believe that abortion is ever the right answer- but because I believe in respecting a woman's intellectual ability to make choices for herself, and yes for her unborn child. I believe in a woman's right to choose, the same way I believe in parents' rights to raise their children. Yes, some parents will abuse their children, and that is tragic. And some women will choose abortion. Also tragic. But the way to prevent it is not to remove parental rights and put children in the charge of the State, nor is it to remove women's legal rights.

If we want abortion to end, we must work harder at education. At providing options. At making having a family an affordable, viable way of life. Affordable daycare. Reasonable concessions for working parents- many countries offer a YEAR of paid leave to new parents. A year. Not six weeks. Many countries actually value children and families, and show it in ways that put America to shame. Affordable, accessible adoption. Better options for women who want to bring a child to term but don't feel able to raise one. Better education for families and for individuals about the entire process.

If we want abortion to end, we must teach our young men respect for their partners, and responsibility. We must teach our young women the TRUTH about birth control (it fails at least 1% of the time, some methods more often,) and the truth about the risks they take when engaging in sexual activity, without telling them that sex is ever a shameful thing. It is an expression of love, but it also comes with a commitment to the other partner. It's not just about selfish pleasure. It's something that is exchanged, not something that is simply gained, and it is a precious transaction.

How dare we call sex shameful? How dare we shame a woman's choice to share herself with a fellow human being? How dare we call an act which results in the conception of a child evil (except when it is the result of a selfish and violent choice, and not a partnering between two willing adults.)

And there ends my carefully controlled rein on my emotions.

HOW DARE YOU call a woman in MY family a murderer? HOW DARE YOU?

Who do you think you are, to make a judgement like that? Who do you think you are, to look at this person, whom you know NOTHING about, and judge her?

You want to talk about rights? You have none in this place. Not without knowing her. Not without hearing her story, and the stories of all the women who have made this very personal choice. Even hearing the story, you have no place. You have not stood in her shoes. You have not lived her experience. You have not faced her demons. It is not your choice to make.

Learn to love. Learn to LISTEN to the stories. Read the #ShoutYourAbortion stories. Read these women's experiences. Understand what led them to make the most painful and personal decision of their lives. Until you can weep for these women, for all that they face, and all that they suffer, until you acknowledge and recognize the women who are ALSO SOMEONE'S BABY, someone's mother, someone's sister, someone's cousin, someone's niece, you have no right to talk about abortion. None.

So, unless you can speak with empathy, and support the policies that will make families strong in America again, kindly shut up. That's someone I love that you're talking about.

I will not "shout" her abortion, but you can be very sure that I will shout in her defense, and you may not like what I have to say, but until you can hear the words, until you can understand the grief and the loss, and the hope that comes after the trauma, until you can begin to contribute to the healing, you will have no place here in this sacred space surrounding my family.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Today was a day

Today was a day.

Today, the sun rose. It shone through the window and lay on my face, insistent. It pushed through my eyelids. It wouldn't let me go back to sleep. Today my cat lay on the blanket, anchored as firmly as a boulder, unwilling to relinquish her soft and her warm. Today the two, the sun and the cat, battled silently. The sun won.

Today I showered and dressed and went out with my dogs. Today they frolicked in the grass and wrestled and sniffed and rolled. Like every day.

Today I came in and worked, reaching out to the world and creating, through a little screen and a keyboard.

Today I was restless and sad. Today I remembered. Today the memories spilled over and leaked down my cheeks. Today I felt tired of feeling tired, and the road and the memory of happier times called me. We walked together, the memories and I. The breeze whispered over my skin and the sun shone smugly warm, victorious over the cat, who was still curled on the bed, sulking in her soft and warm.

Today I found a tiny plastic cow on the road, and wondered about the child who lost it and the story of how it came to be there. Today I found a smooth, white stone and remembered gathering them as a child, treasures that exasperated my mother when she had to empty them from pockets in the wash.

Today, I walked as far as I could before I had to turn back. The grass was lush and green and soft under my feet. The sun smiled on and on, and the breeze whispered and hushed through the trees.

Today I didn't get a letter from a friend in the mail, but a book came, and that was almost as good.

Today was a day. A day I decided to go for a walk. To look for the beautiful things. To feel the sun and the breeze and the grass.

Today was a day I decided to go on.


For those of us who live with the symptoms of PTSD like anxiety and depression, every day is a choice. We get up. We move through our days. We choose, every single day, whether and how to continue living.

If you are dealing with anxiety and depression, remember, you are not alone.
It gets better. Every day you have a choice to make. Today, I've chosen hope. I hope you will, too.
Safe travels, friends.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Of Love and Loss and Moving On

This is a re-post, from my now-defunct blog, Life, Dreams, and a Turtle, from January 2013.

In October of 2012, one of my best friends, Laura Curtis, passed away. The loss was sudden, and I was the one who got the call- I was the last person on her phone, and the person the State Troopers contacted in an effort to locate her next-of-kin.

Devastation has no words for this kind of loss. I miss her, and my sister, who passed suddenly just two years later, in August, every single day.

For those who never visited Life, Dreams, and a Turtle, Kame (pronounced Kah-may), is my Eastern Box Turtle.

My notes in church are often less.... lyrical, than you might think.
 Kame has once again slipped into hibernation mode. His torpor means that he disappears for days at a time, emerging only occasionally to explore the offerings of fresh raspberries and take a short dip in his bathing tub, before disappearing beneath the mulch once again. He deals with winter by avoiding it entirely, passing it half-asleep and hidden.

Not for the first time, I find myself envying my shelled friend's ability to sleep through the less pleasant months of the season. I, too, have been hibernating, in a way. I've been avoiding speaking out about many of the emotions rolling through my days as I move forward, because so many of them have to do with other people, and I have vowed that this blog will be about my own life, and not a clearinghouse of gossip about others.
It might not be possible for me to blog without mentioning what's going on in my ex's world, or in my children's, but I'm trying not to air anyone's laundry but my own.

So much has happened since I last wrote. October brought with it a shocking blow with the loss of a very old and dear friend. Laura Kim Eisele Curtis was one of the best friends I've had. She put up with my ramblings, my oddities, my failures and my quirks. She made me laugh. She made me less ashamed of my PTSD symptoms and helped me see it as a condition to be managed, rather than a weakness. She stood beside me as I walked through some of the most difficult times in my life, and she allowed me to be a part of her life as she dealt with her own losses, blows and failures. Her passing was devastating, and a loss to the world, though most will never know what they missed by not knowing her.

My beautiful friend Laura, with her dad, Don, being a goof in the background. She had a quirky sense of humor that she came by honestly.

There are many things that Laura shared with me that I will take to my grave, but I can tell you a few things about my dear friend. She was a great singer and an amazing mom. I will forever hear her voice singing "You Are My Sunshine" to her daughter over the phone at bed time on the occasions she stayed at my home. There is surely no sound more beautiful in the world. She was a good friend. I can't count the times she listened to me and let me run on. She gave me good advice. She was the one who encouraged *cough*dragged*cough* me into seeking out a college degree. She has been my friend, my support, and my confidant for well over ten years... and now she's gone. Just like that, in one dark night, she left this world and traveled beyond the veil.
And even now, she is with me. 

I could hear her beside me, snickering, at her final service, as the Pastor's voice rose in song. He had a lovely voice, but Laura often attended my son's guitar lessons with me, and we had sat, barely containing school-girl giggles, through many voice-student's renditions of "New York, New York". Since her parents live near the Big City, and my favorite fictional heroes are rumored to occupy its sewer system, the song made us giggle all the more. I could feel her arms around my shoulders, even as I cried. I could hear her voice in my dreams, in the wretched days after her passing, laughing and exclaiming, "but Mary, I'm here with MacKenzie! I'm dancing... I don't hurt anymore..."

Her baby daughter who succumbed to SIDS was waiting for her, I know. And although she has left two other beautiful young women behind, I know the joy of that reunion will be complete when we all come together in Eternity's time. Laura knows no grief now, no pain. She has stepped out of time, and into the place where there are no more tears, no more sorrows. It is only those of us who are left behind who grieve for the parting. I could feel her presence again, more faintly, when I achieved my first college degree. I could hear her voice, quietly telling me "I'm proud of you, Friend. You did it."

Laura has moved on, and although I was not ready, could never be ready, to lose my friend, I know that this parting is a part of life. Death's pain is the echo of the separation Man took from God in the Garden, and it is eased by the knowledge that the gap has been closed by His son, that this world is healing. Death is a scar in the eternal tapestry, nothing more.

And now, it is time for me to move on, to move forward in my own life. I can not hold on to the hurts and worries and grief of the past year. I can not hold on to the man who was once my husband, or allow his choices to guide my emotions any longer. I must come to a place where I can see him building a new life of his own, and be able to smile and wish him well. I have not yet reached that place. I don't know how long it will take, but I do know that the only way for healing to begin is to remove the splinter of bitterness and anger.

A painting from my college Illustration class, with a quote that I hope, will define the new year.

Someone very wise once said that revenge is like a splinter. It festers and poisons the mind. The only way to heal is to let it go.

The river is moving on... and I must step into it once again, and find a new way. 


Saturday, May 23, 2015

What if Josh Duggar were my son?

I remember most clearly that he was not circumcised.

When I had my first adult encounters with men, I was shocked to realize there was a physical difference. In a way, it made it easier for me. My partners were not him. They were different. It was such a small thing (no pun intended,) but it helped me differentiate in my mind the man who abused me from the men, later, who became lovers.

I went to his funeral when I was 15 years old. When I heard he'd passed away, I needed to see for myself. I needed to know, for sure. It brought me no closure. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to imagine him burning in hell, because that's what the very few people who knew what he'd done, told me I was "supposed" to feel. I felt nothing. Knowing he was facing the finality of God's justice did nothing to fill the emptiness. It wasn't until many years later, with good counseling that addressed the incidents within the larger context of my childhood, that I was able to, finally, lay him to rest in my heart, to bury him in a place where he has no effect upon my thoughts or feelings any longer. If anything, I feel pity for the man who was so lost, damaged, and selfish that he had to seek out a four year old for what he couldn't get from a woman his own age.

There's been a lot of social media outrage over the news that Josh Duggar has admitted to molesting several girls as a teenager, including his own sisters. There are sarcastic posts, laughing and jeering at this self-appointed paragon of family values. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I've been fairly quiet about the whole thing, mostly because I've never seen 19 Kids and Counting. The entire "quiver full" concept is ridiculous, (not to mention Biblically unfounded,) and putting it on public display is even more so. I rarely watch television at all, and couldn't be bothered with TLC's "reality television." (I use the word "reality" very loosely here.)

It feels as if, as a Christian and having recently joined the ranks of the other Mommy Bloggers, carving my own little niche in our rich and varied world, that I should say something about this whole scandal. Something in defense of my faith. In defense of my religion, which is under subtle attack by those who "don't understand organized religion" (a direct quote from another blogger,) and who blame Christianity and churches for the closeted, backward lifestyle the Duggars promote. It makes me want to cry, "Not all Christians!" Maybe we need a new #hashtag for the occasion?

But how can we defend Christianity without seeming to defend the Duggars and their abysmal handling of their son's behavior?

Having grown up in a similar culture, thankfully minus the "quiver full" philosophy, which is fairly new to Christianity, I can see how this story unfolded, through the eyes of parents who were faced with the devastating knowledge that their son had done the unthinkable.

I can understand how they must have felt. Shocked. Horrified. Angry. Grieved. How they must have prayed. Where could they turn? Who could they trust? Even modern psychology is silent on the idea of treating juvenile sex offenders. Incarceration seems to be the only answer society has. Lock them up! Throw away the key. Never let them see the light of day again.

It's easy, as a mom, to embrace the idea of punitive justice. It's easy to be angry on the behalf of those girls, (as we should be.) It's to point the finger at the homophobic hate merchants who claim to speak the Word of God. It's easy to think LOOK! Look what happens when you let your kids get religion! They get all weird and then they COVER UP THINGS LIKE THIS! This is what God brings you! Weirdness and perversion!

But aside from the subtle, and not-so-subtle blanket condemnation of my religion, which is no surprise to me- it's been going on since the Romans used Christians dipped in tar to light their garden pathways- What went wrong in the Duggar's handling of their son's transgressions? We all know what they did wrong in seeming to gloss over their girls' experiences, but what about how they handled their son's actions? That is, after all, the focus of most of the blogs I've seen- condemning how the parents handled the revelation that their son was a pedophile.

What, precisely, should the parents have done? Should they have turned him in to the local police, so that he could be arrested, finger printed, and put in Juvenile hall? Should he have had a permanent record filed, marking him as a "sex offender?" Perhaps he should have. Justice, in these cases, is important for the victims. It is necessary to acknowledge the horror they suffered. It is necessary to hold the offender responsible for his actions.

In the long term though, what do we do with teen like Josh Duggar? What would you have done if it was your son? How would you handle the news? How would you try to get to the root of what has gone wrong in his psyche? Current treatment programs are limited in their scope, and have a varying rate of success.

It appears that the Duggars sought out what, for them, passed as "counseling". They went to the church elders. They turned to a family friend who was a police officer (who was later found to be as guilty as Josh himself, with files of child pornography populating his computer.) They put him in a work-straight program of some kind.

In the Duggar's eyes, they gave their son a chance to recognize the horror of what he'd done, and to redeem himself, a chance that most writers seem to think he didn't deserve. As a mother of a teenage son, that cuts at my heart. What if it were MY son who was caught doing what Josh did? Wouldn't I do anything to "fix" him? What would I have done? While my church does offer lay counseling, and my relationships would lead me to go to the elders for advice if I faced something like this, their answer would be "go to the police." And then what? Once justice is served, what do you do with the boy who is still there, who still has to live the rest of his life with what he's done?

In my family, it's more likely that one of my kids would be a victim than a perpetrator. Both my kids are empathetic to a fault, and both have been raised with a strong knowledge of boundaries, because of my own experiences. Both understand the concepts of body safety, respect, and consent.

I know what I would do if my daughter were a victim. I'd seek out counseling for her. I'd ensure that she never felt as if she were "broken" or damaged by what had been done to her. I'd make certain the perpetrator was called out for his actions. I'd seek justice.

But what would I do if things were different? What if my son were accused? What if he confessed? Is it possible that, with proper counseling and redirection, a young sex offender can change? Can be healed, so that he knows and respects proper boundaries? Can empathy be learned? Can he be redeemed?

In all this furor, I wonder, will anyone ever give Joshua Duggar a chance to prove that he has learned from his incredibly bad choices, and that he has the ability to develop empathy and remorse? Or will we burn him at the pyre, dancing with glee over the fall of a conservative family who have a lot to learn about forgiveness, tolerance and compassion?

I know what could, and should, have been done differently for the victims. I grieve for them. I hope that they get the help they need to move on, and to move out from under the cloud of  the idea of a permanently damaged "victim" that society puts on young girls who've experienced sexual abuse.

I wonder what more should have been done for Josh Duggar, the teenage boy who committed a horrific act, for which he will pay for the rest of his life.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Three Bears and CPS- A Mixed Up, (but true) Fairytale

Once upon a time, friends, there was a family. They were a nice family, neither too hot nor too cold. Quirky. Charming. Fun.

The Bear Family, aka The Wild Things.

The family consisted of a Mama Bear and her baby bears, Babygirl, and Thing1. They used to live with a Papa Bear too, but an old girlfriend, a trip to Vegas, and a midlife crisis later, Papa Bear moved away, to be heard from only sporadically.

The three remaining Bears were a bit sad, but they had lives to live, and overall, were living happily ever after in their old farmhouse in the country.

Babybear Thing1 went each day down the lane to the Big Bad Wolf School. Big Bad had reformed. He no longer eats children, instead, he set up a school to teach them The Ways of The World. Baby Bear Babygirl had already finished learning The Ways of the World, and had graduated from the Big Bad School, earning herself a place in the hallowed halls of the Forest College.

Little Bear, Little Bear, come to my school...

The Bear family had a long, complicated history with Big Bad's school. They'd escaped, for a while, into the neighboring realm of Homeschooltopia, but when Papa Bear left Mama Bear the sole provider of the porridge, they'd returned.

BB Thing1 did well for a time, learning important things like the Pythagorean Theorum, which will come in handy one day if he's ever confronted by the Pythagorean Virus. But BB Thing1 was unhappy. Mama Bear wasn't sure what the problem was, if he'd been infected with the dreaded Mathitus, or was struggling with some other malady. The Bear family sought advice from the Magical Doctors of Healing, who tsk'd and shook their heads and waved their wands, all to no avail.

The Mythical Pythagorean Scrolls reveal the Secrets of Maths, if you can translate the runes.

Mama Bear continued to parley with Big Bad's staff, She wanted BB Thing1 moved into special classes. Big Bad huffed and puffed. He wanted Thing1 in school, period. No special classes. No extra servings of porridge or injections of Math. Only if the Magic Doctors of Healing specified special classes would he (reluctantly) relent.

Mama Bear received word from the Magical Doctors that they had turned down her request for Special Classes. Not warranted, they said. Sorry, they said. Common Core is pushing too many of our Forest Children into Special Classes, and they are overcrowded. Nothing we can do.
Mama Bear was dejected, but determined to make Big Bad listen to reason.

And then came the call. Agent Goldilocks, from Forest-Child Protective Services, wanted to talk to Mama Bear about BB Thing1's education. She'd received a report, she said, about Thing1's attendance. It wasn't up to Forest Education Regulations. This was a problem.

Mama Bear nearly panicked. She was so angry she shook. FCPS didn't have a great reputation. They often took Forest Children from their homes, forcing them into Big Bad's school, removing their options and making them take the potions the Magical Doctors of Healing prescribed, whether or not those potions actually had any effect in the past. Mama Bear knew she had to act fast, to save her Baby Bear.

Never... EVER get between a mama bear and her cubs. 

She called in her Sister Bear for help. Sister Bear came to Mama Bear's house, and swept through it like a hurricane, cleaning, straightening, and ensuring everything was ready for Goldilock's visit. Sister Bear called Brother Bear, who had dealt with Goldilocks before, and in fact had adopted Forest Children who had been in Goldilock's care. The Bear family came together to face this new threat, as they always had.

When the Sister Bear had left, and Brother Bear hung up the phone, Mama Bear was left to face the upcoming visit. She had trouble sleeping, shifting between fear, anger, and frustration. She couldn't eat or concentrate on her work of filling the porridge pots. What if Goldilocks wanted to take BB Thing1 away? What if Big Bad was right? What if she was a bad Mama Bear, and BB Thing1 would be better off with another Forest Family? Or living with Papa Bear, even though he only contacted the baby bears once every few weeks or so?

She kept her baby bears close, and prayed.

Goldilock's visit was rather anticlimactic in the end. There was no blustering, no huffing or puffing. Goldilocks reviewed Mama Bear's emails to the Big Bad school. She spoke with the Magical Doctors of Healing. Mama Bear revealed her plan to return to the realm of Homeschooltopia, to heal the bumps and bruises BB Thing1 had developed from being pushed and pulled between the Big Bads and the Magical Doctors. She feared Goldilocks would disapprove of the plan, and try to stop the Bears from fleeing to Homeschooltopia.

Goldilocks called Big Bad's tactics "bullying," and assured Mama Bear that "the school isn't always right." She told the Bears that their family "seemed very strong," and that they were doing just fine. She assured Mama Bear that Forest Education Regulations did indeed allow the family to move to Homeschooltopia, and in fact she thought the plan was a good one. In addition, she recommended a Forest Services Grant Program, that could help Mama Bear with some of the problems the humble home had developed, as a natural result of being 200 years old.

Agent Goldilocks represents The Law.
Big Bad was trying to use her to force Thing1 to attend his school without conditions or concessions.
Turns out, The Law was on the side of the Bears all along.

Goldilocks declared the case "Closed," and wished Mama Bear and her Baby Bears good luck.

The Bear family happily and swiftly packed their things to depart to the realm of Homeschooltopia, writing the necessary letter to tell Big Bad where he could stuff his school and his Forest Education Regulations Attendance Policy, that very day. They knew they had a lot of hard work to do, building a new base of education for Thing1 to climb to the Hallowed Halls of College from, but since their School would be an individual bridge for BB Thing1 to climb, the task isn't insurmountable.

The morals of the story are multiple:

1) Education is a fluid concept, and it is as individual as each family. Homeschooling is the right path for some. Private or charter school, or public education, for others. All options are equally valid. It's important that each Forest Family choose the right one for them.
2) While not all schools are run by the Big Bad Wolf Corp. (LLC), those that are require Mama and Papa Bears to stand up for their children's legal and educational rights.
3) Agent Goldilocks of the Forest Child Protective Services Agency isn't a villain, after all. In fact, she proved quite helpful to the Bears.

It is the job of every Mama and Papa Bear to champion their childrens' cause.

Your turn: Tell us about a time you stood up for your child, whether it was with a school situation, or another circumstance.
The Wild Things' story goes on, but the drama in this chapter has come to a close, for now.
Until next time, we hope that you, too, will live happily ever after.

The End.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Case of Home vs School

It's not helicopter parenting. It's "raising" teens.
When I'm driving her to school and she's 20, talk to me about "helicopter" parenting.
The reason I've been quiet here has been, I've had a lot going on with the Wild Things. Babygirl is doing great in college but isn't super-motivated to get her driving license. I'm playing Mom taxi, which, I know, is "enabling" a bit, but I'm ok with that for the time being. We have some great conversations in the car. 

Beyond that, she's a high school senior going to college. She's right on that cusp of adulthood, when so many people seem to advice shoving them out of the nest... but she's still my Babygirl, and while she's quite mature in some aspects, she's not fully grown. Watch an eagle teaching its young to fly sometime. They don't just shove them out of the nest- they take them on test flights a few times, before dropping them and forcing the eaglet to use its wings. 

Thing1, as you may know, has had an oppositional relationship with the administration of our school district nearly from day one. It's a long story, one that I will likely blog about at some point, but this week it came to a head. The school has given him a choice: Return to school after 3 months out (due to anxiety issues) and fail the 9th grade, with the threat of a PINS report, (persons in need of supervision- basically parole for juveniles), or homeschooling. 

We're going with option 2, since I don't think it's going to help his anxiety or his education to be labeled and treated like a disciplinary problem at this point. So yeah. 
It's time we busted out. 

This is huge guys. There's more to it, of course, than I'm sharing. I have to balance the storytelling instinct that all writers, bloggers included, are driven by, with respect for my son's privacy. He knows that I blog about these things, and he understands that I share out of compassion for the other parents I've met through our travels, who are facing similar challenges. Many feel overwhelmed, like David facing the Goliath of public educational law. 

This David is retiring from the field. We're turning back the clock, and going back into homeschooling. It was HARD the first time around. It was challenging and overwhelming. I wasn't sure either of us would survive it. But...

For a few short years, I saw a change in my son. I got back the outgoing, motivated, happy kid he was before his entry to public school. He got into woodworking and refinished several beautiful pieces of furniture. He started playing guitar. He discovered Minecraft and built worlds out of nothing, along the way learning redstone, a complicated version of electricity that allows players to create amazing machines, lighting systems, and other mysteries within the game. His intelligence and spark came out and I saw him GLOW. I want to see him smile again. I want to hear the excitement in his voice when he discovers something in science, or solves a complicated math problem. 

I want to see him smile again. 

This isn't just homeschooling guys. This is a journey, a quest. I'm going to get my son back. 

Wish us luck. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Post Traumatic Special Cupcake Syndrome

I didn't plan on making this a blog post. In fact, it was meant to be just a comment on my Facebook page, but I am seriously ticked off, and I need to tell you why.

This morning, I read a tweet from a Youtuber who was chided for not putting "trigger warnings" on his content. Trigger warnings are comments or warnings applied to various media online, to make survivors of abuse or trauma aware that the posting may contain content which can "trigger" symptoms of their mental illness, like flashbacks, nightmares, or anxiety attacks.

Trigger warnings have their place. They protect trauma survivors from further pain. 

To give my response to this a little bit of background: I have lived with PTSD for 20+ years. I was diagnosed in 1989. I was a stupid, scared teenager with no concept of mental illness except that it made one "crazy" to have one. I did not make a good connection with the psychiatrist who made the diagnosis, and soon dropped out of therapy. 

I've essentially been on my own with this. When I was diagnosed, there were no internet communities dedicated to abuse and trauma survivors. There were no soldiers' groups spreading PSAs for combat veterans. There were few therapists who were familiar enough with the condition to provide effective treatment beyond medications to mask the symptoms. It wasn't until I was an adult that I was able to find the counseling and help I needed to cope with the symptoms.

That is not what makes me angry. It's been incredible to see an entire community spring up in support of those who live with the effects of past trauma. It's been healing to be able to reach out to others and tell them there IS hope. You can heal. You can find peace, and while PTSD isn't truly "curable" in most cases, the symptoms can be managed with good support and self-care routines. 

What makes me angry is the request for trigger warnings on content that is put out there for entertainment.

Now, let me clarify- Trigger warnings have their place. They are common in communities that are designed as a support network. Those online spaces are, by definition, safe zones. They are where survivors go to find the connection and healing they need. Trigger warnings on shared content that might be problematic for the members of the group are just a common-sense courtesy that make these groups what they are- bubbles of safety.

The internet, as a whole, is NOT a "safe zone". it is the wilderness. You enter at your own risk.

It's beautiful, and there are hazards. Preparation and common sense are necessary. 

Expecting any content provider or entertainer, to provide trigger warnings is unreasonable and dangerous- and here's why- it's GIVING UP YOUR CONTROL. You are giving someone else the job of keeping you safe. This is not healthy or productive. It's the first step on a slippery slope and in certain circumstances, can lead you into abusive, unhealthy relationships. 

As a survivor, control is a critical thing. You lost control to the traumatic event. In healing, there often arises a need to control EVERYTHING. This might come out in OCD symptoms. It might come out in needing routine or a "safety" item or object. It comes out in a myriad of ways, some healthy and some not. 

The attempt to control others, by demanding trigger warnings, is an unhealthy expression of this need, and when people respond by giving in to the demand, they are essentially feeding the insidious Special Cupcake Syndrome that impedes healing.

We are all Special Cupcakes, but not even cupcakes deserve the right to control others to get our needs met.
Special Cupcake Syndrome is when someone who has a mental illness, or who does not have a mental illness but desires attention and control, who may or may not be an abuse or trauma survivor, demands special treatment, or acts out in ways to get attention for themselves, or attempts to control or manipulate others, using their real or perceived condition as an excuse for their behavior. 

Let us be VERY clear- PTSD and related illnesses are NOT THE SAME THING as Special Cupcake Syndrome. Sometimes, the lines can become very blurred between the two, because survivors NEED attention. They need validation. They need support and healing and understanding and compassion from the people around them. These are natural and valid needs for every human being. None of those needs mean that they are displaying SCS, and not all expressions of these needs are SCS related. NEVER FEEL GUILTY OR ASHAMED TO EXPRESS YOUR NEEDS. 

SCS is not an expression of a need. It is an unreasonable demand to have that need met by someone else, in a way that seeks to control them, and it's most commonly found in online interactions. (Though, it does happen in real-life encounters as well.) With SCS, getting the need met is less the goal than controlling the other person. Getting your needs met in ways that do not manipulate, abuse, or attempt to control others is the only healthy road to healing. What survivors both need and fear is to be KNOWN. We need to be seen. We need to be loved as individuals, by people who know us well enough to love us. We can not get that from people who do not know us well, like celebrities, web page administrators, or other "anonymous" internet connections. They have no connection with us, or real investment in our well-being. Demanding that they meet our needs is not only unreasonable, it's unrealistic. It is holding another person responsible for our feelings and reactions- which, in turn, gives them control over our feelings and reactions.

What SCS behavior gets us is attention for our condition. Attention can be a balm, a soothing salve, but if it is for the wrong thing, or expressed in the wrong ways, it's actually doing more harm than good.

Bandaids don't heal everything. Sometimes stitches are required to close a wound. 

If you have a puncture wound, doctors will tell you NOT to use salve or try to heal the surface of the wound too quickly- doing so can cause a really nasty infection, and the wound will have to be re-opened to drain it. Puncture wounds must be healed from the inside out. So it is with trauma. Until we allow ourselves to deal with the initial trauma, and have help adjusting our perspectives from a trusted therapist, we can not heal. 

Healing is the only path to peace. 

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, mood swings, or other symptoms of trauma, please seek out the help you need. There are many qualified counselors who can guide you through the healing process. There are groups and communities where you can begin to find connections and build a network of support. There are probably people in your real-life circles, who care enough about you to become part of your healing process. If there are not, you may need professional support and help to find those people. You need to learn about healthy personal boundaries and healthy ways to get your needs met in the context of loving relationships with healthy people.

Self care is NOT an expression of SCS. It's a good and healthy expression of supported yet self-sufficient autonomy.
It takes time. It takes trust in others. It's not easy. It takes support. You can do it. The trauma left you wounded, but you're still here. You are not a victim. You are a survivor. Own it. Where there is life, there is hope. Make the most of it. With love from the trenches, Mary PTSD Resources: For Veterans (Thank you for your service!)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Life is Wild. Try to Keep Up

So, this morning I got into a minor commenting skirmish. Shots were fired, but it was more along the lines of children exchanging taunts on the playground than snipers slipping through the brush. A minor scuffle, with both parties leaving the field intact, the only injuries being to pride and tempers, and even those were slight. Embedded in the snarkfest (which I fully admit to engaging in- not trying to sling the blame elsewhere here!), was a jab at my blog's name.

Hmm... doesn't seem to capture my better side, does it?

"Life with Teens & Other Wild Things" apparently implies that my children are "wild". Out of control. Undisciplined. Disrespectful. Bad Kids. Therefore, by default, I must be a prime example of that internet pariah; a Bad Parent. I should totally think about changing my blog's name, so people don't get the impression that my kids are wild. Wouldn't want anyone thinking I'm a Bad Parent, now would I?

Well, the truth is, I am a Bad Parent. My kids are Wild. And you know what? I wouldn't change it, even if I could.

My kids are two of the most empathetic, kindest hearted people I've ever met. Despite being mercilessly harassed for several years by her own bullies, the one and only time Babygirl fought another kid in school was when she belted a boy because he punched her friend, Sarah, in the arm. Babygirl returned the favor, and bopped him a good one. Normally, I discourage fighting. I've told my kids that the only acceptable time to hit someone is if they hit you first. No exceptions. Except... Sarah has autism. She's high enough functioning that she's in regular classes, but limited in her ability to understand and take part in social interactions. So yeah.

Thing1 isn't always as quick as his sister to see the softer side of things, but go ahead and attack someone's religious, political, or personal beliefs in front of him. Not necessarily beliefs he agrees with, or holds himself, mind you, but anyone's right to believe and worship as they see fit. I dare you. This dog will fight if you rattle his cage, and he will defend your right to disagree with him as strongly as he'll defend his own opinions.

Are my kids perfect? HA!
When I stop laughing... I'll have to say... no. But then, how could they be? They sprang forth from imperfect parents, after all. (And, I will add that any parent who believes their little  princess-angel-cupcakes-sparkle-glitter-cannons are perfect is either delusional or lying through their professionally-whitened, impossibly-straight teeth.)

Oh, you have a perfect kid?
Let me introduce you to my unicorn. Watch out. He farts. 

I have good kids. Imperfect kids. Yes, they are wild. And that's ok with me, because their wild sides come out in good ways.

My parenting style has been haphazard at best. I've read so many books on parenting I could start a library... and I have a hash-mixture of different philosophies, advice, styles, and techniques. A few of them worked for us. A few were complete disasters. None were a perfect fit, but from the patchwork, I've pieced together a garment that at least covers the worst of our indecencies. Together, my kids and I have survived thus far. Not just survived. We've thrived.

We've been strong enough to face diagnoses of depression and anxiety. Rebuilding after a tornado that dropped a tree on our home and caused extensive destruction to our property. An expulsion from a school that was not prepared to deal with unique needs associated with the diagnoses. Homeschooling. The breakdown of a marriage and the loss associated with divorce. The loss of close friends and family members through death. Losses when friends moved away. A return to public school. Graduation from high school. The beginning of college.

"All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."
~Walt Disney

We've been on this Wild Ride together, and as long as we cling tight to one another, we've made it through everything life has thrown at us. Together, we ARE Wild Things, and I am proud to carry that title, along with all the scars that go along with it.

I wouldn't change a thing about this Life with Teens, and other Wild Things. Our story might not be white picket fences and June Cleaver aprons, but nobody watches those outdated, white-washed shows anymore, anyway. Long live the Wild Things. We're here to stay.

And, if you'd like to check out another Wild Parent, swing on over to KzooDad's blog, where he shares his adventures with his own Wild Things, and I occasionally trade snipes with other commenters. :)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Perspectives (Reprinted from Life, Dreams & a Turtle)

This blog post first appeared on my now-defunct blog, Life, Dreams, & a Turtle. Kame (pronounced kah-may), is my Eastern box turtle, and he was a regularly featured part of my old blog.

Today, I read "His Name Was Tom", on Scary Mommy. It reminded me of this old post, and made me wish I'd gotten my "Tom"s name.

Kame's favorite time of the day is meal time. 

Once upon a time, Kame was homeless... By our standards. He lived wild, in the freedom that comes of having all of creation for a home. When I think of him... and all the others who live in the often harsh conditions of nature, I am filled with a mix of pity and envy. Freedom has dangers, but it is glorious. I live captive to all I own, and to my family and my marriage. I do not know, if I had a real choice, if my kids weren't so dependent on me at this vulnerable age, if I would choose freedom, or remain in captivity.

Last night, I took my kids to the roller rink. It was closed, even though the website had clearly stated hours. Turns out a private party had taken over the place for the evening. I drove away grumbling. I had four kids in the car and had planned on leaving them there while I went shopping for a few glorious child-free hours.

A mother is nothing without a back-up plan, so I had one of the teenagers with a smart-phone check movie times, and detoured to the theater instead. The change meant taking four kids with me to the grocery store (we had over an hour before the movie started), but I was able to drop them off and run the groceries home while they took in the show. I'd get my kid-free time after all.

Heading into the theater, I was approached by an older man. His beard was trimmed and his clothes clean, but an odor hung around him, stale and slightly sour. He approached, holding out his hands as if to prove himself unarmed, mumbling. When he drew closer, I could understand.

"Help a Vietnam vet get a chicken dinner, ma'am? I's hungry. Ain't ate for 2 days. I can get a chicken dinner over there, right behind ya, ma'am. Chicken dinner sure sounds good. I'm hungry, ma'am."

My first response... I am ashamed to admit... was fear. I didn't know what was wrong with him, what he would do. I was herding four kids into the theater, and my first thought was to defend them.

"Just a minute, hon, I've got to take my kids in to the movie," I replied, trying to control the shiver in my voice.

I hurried the kids inside, and lingered long enough to be sure they'd gone in to their show. I went back outside reluctantly, uncertain if he'd still be there, but he was, hopeful but keeping a respectful distance.

He saw me heading for my car, and called "Have a good evenin', ma'am," giving me a friendly wave.

I'm sure he's had many people simply hop in their car and drive away, ignoring his existence. For a brief moment, I considered it, but there was something in that friendly, sad little wave, that compelled me. I know what rejection feels like and I couldn't bear to inflict it upon someone who has grown so used to it he accepts it as his due.

"Wait a minute," I said, as if I'd planned all along to help him.

He came hesitantly but with a sort of repressed, shamed eagerness, still keeping his distance. He's learned this dance well. Never get too close, don't crowd people. It makes them uncomfortable. Always be ready to run. I remember, too well, living by those rules and my heart hurt for him.

I gave him the little cash I had, and a Twix bar I'd bought in a moment of weakness. Dieting has never been easy for me, and the allure of chocolate, caramel and cookies had proven too much for my weak will. When I'd stood in line at the grocery store, that Twix bar had whispered my name, alluring, calling, pulling me in like a lover to a secret tryst. Now, I handed it over without a second thought, at once ashamed that I'd been so greedy and thankful that I had something to share.

"Oh!" he exclaimed with a smile. "I like them! They're chocolatey. Thank you, ma'am."

And with that, he was gone.

I have no grand illusions that my clumsy kindness last night will make a lasting change in that man's life. I'm certain that I'm simply one more in a long line of soft hearted saps who've handed over a few dollars and supplied him with another evening's beer. I caught the sharp scent of alcohol when he stood close, and I know the statistics of alcoholism among the homeless as well as anyone. I'd like to hope he got that chicken dinner, but I have my doubts.

He did mention that his check would come "tomorrow" and he'd be able to buy food again. His running ramble seemed designed to reassure, to communicate that he's not that bad off.

"Stayin' at the motel, here," he assured me. "Check'll come tomorrow, my food stamps. Then I can eat. Money ran out though, and I ain't ate in two days. Chicken dinner sure sounds good."

Suddenly, my efforts at dieting seem... almost ridiculous. Want to be thin? Try not eating for two days. For over a month, I've been complaining bitterly over a $900 repair bill for my car. I have a car. And my family had the $900 to pay the bill. It was a bitter blow, but we managed.

On the way to the theater, I was mentally grumbling over the high-spirited hijinx of my kids and their friends. The day before yesterday, another friend's little niece was diagnosed with Leukemia. (And if you are moved to pray for this little angel, her name is Brianna.)

I'm not trying to pretend that we're lavish in our lifestyle, or that by enjoying the gifts God has graced us with- good mental and physical health, the ability to work and support ourselves, and our healthy children, that I am somehow sinning, or adding to the burden of my brother who asked for a few dollars to buy himself a chicken dinner.

The money I gave him was the last of my cash for the week, and I will have to make due with a quarter tank of gas until my next check comes. Somehow, my sacrifices seem miniscule, in the bigger picture. A Twix bar and a few dollars... they seemed so important to me, until I met him... And now, I will never forget a ragged old man whose eyes lit up, who really appreciated a candy bar and a few dollars to buy a chicken dinner... More than I did, until I gave them away.

"Oh, I like them! They're chocolatey!"

May you enjoy it in peace, my friend. You'll be in my prayers.

Rejoicing in the day,


There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.
Jan Schakowsky

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
-Matthew 25:40
New International Version (©1984)

"Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us."
2 Kings 4:10