December 08, 2016

Ways to Save: December

Per our discussion last month after Trump's election, I'm coming up with ways to save up to $5 every month in order for people to dedicate that money to organizations who will oppose the worst policy suggestions Trump has made to protect all of our rights.

I'm going to try to offer 5 ways each month, so that people can try to find a way that works with their lifestyles. I'm going to try to avoid focusing on things like "quit eating out" because you can find that information anywhere.

1. Program your thermostat if you can.

The Department of Energy recommends setting your thermostat between 7 and 10 degrees higher or lower than your ideal temperature for eight hours a day.

You don't really have to go that extreme to see a change, though. Maybe drop it by two or three degrees from where you are most used to it and see how it goes.

2. Give Meatless Mondays a go.

If you're an omnivore, depending on how much you spend on meat, dedicating one day a week to going meatless can save you anywhere from $5 - $10 every week, maybe even more.

3. Adjust your tax withholding.

I'll be honest. I don't do this one personally. I like having a big tax return. However, adjusting your withholdings can increase your monthly take home (obviously) and thus allow you to have a lil more money to fund your resistance.

4. Coupons!

This will probably be a recurring one, but here's a list of available coupons currently. I just briefly glanced through and saved $5 on things that I know we'll need this week. Check it out here.

I don't always find coupons useful because we use a lot of generic products usually, so I understand if this isn't particularly helpful. But I really recommend taking a look or even googling for coupons for the brand name products you do use.

A word of caution: It's important to balance what you actually need to purchase against coupons. Don't wind up actually increasing your spending by mistake!

5. Invest in a reusable water bottle if you use bottled water.

We all know this basic pitch: reusable water bottles are better for the environment and for your wallet. There's a moderate amount of additional effort required in washing and drying and putting them away and filling it...but I doubt it factors much into the overall reduction of the effort.

I'm personally a big fan of whatever was on clearance that time I went to Wal Mart to buy reusable water bottles, but you can find some suggestions from Real Simple here.

So these are all pretty rudimentary, but I hope you can find something here to help out this month. Let me know if you have any additional ideas, or if you try any and they work or don't work. Best wishes with your resistance this month!

December 07, 2016

Santorum, a DREAMER, and a Double Standard

Rick Santorum had an interesting exchange with a DREAMER on Van Jones' The Messy Truth. Elizabeth Vilchis, an engineer who was brought to this nation illegally when she was seven years old, had questions about whether she will face deportation under Trump's administration. Here's one of the comments that Santorum makes that really stuck out to me:

“As much as I’m sympathetic to you, you should recognize the gift that America has given you and that you can give to the world.”

I was struck by this quote because it reminded me of this one from 2012:

"If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that."

You may recognize that as a quote from President Obama that was heavily criticized at the time by his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Of course, seeing the quote in context, it's pretty clear that the President wasn't referring to businesses, but to the roads and bridges that businesses use, but hey, who cares about facts, right?

The outcry to President Obama's cherry-picked quote seemed to center around one idea: individualism. Individualism is a fundamental American value. It's one of the biggest obstacles we have to actually making progress as a society. It's the underlying thought behind the idea that the poor in America see themselves not as oppressed, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires (for more info on this disputed Steinbeck quote, check this Wikiquote out).

There's this idea that the force of the individual is unstoppable. The individual is to be credited for their successes (and also, often, for their failures--this is the flip side of personal accountability).

And yet, as we can see in Santorum's quote above, this just isn't always the case. This principle is applied disproportionately. It's not a stretch to assume that folks most likely saw the business owner "maligned" by Obama's quote as being a White American, born here. That person obviously made themselves.

But when we look at a DREAMER, like Vilchis, we see not someone who has made herself, but someone who has been made. It's not her own individual merits that have contributed to her success. It's not her intelligence or hard work or tenacity or perseverance or excellent time management or wonderful study skills. It's a gift that was given to her.

What Santorum is saying here is this: "You didn't make that. We made it for you." The concept of individualism isn't applied the same.

Why do you think that is?

The Sneaky Agenda of Pedantry and White Supremacy

Yesterday, I was watching a video of Roland Martin debating with "alt-right" (white nationalist) leader Richard Spencer over at According to Matthew, and I was taken aback by one thing. You can see the whole clip in the link, and it's worth a watch, but what really struck me was an exchange about white supremacy.

Martin asks Spencer point blank whether he is a white supremacist, and Spencer replies that he absolutely is not. White supremacists, he says, believe they should rule over other races, and he does not. Therefore, he is not a white supremacist.

This is true. In the most literal sense, the definition of white supremacy is:

the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.

So you can see, there is an element of domination in that definition. But what's so slippery about this literalism is the way that it skirts over the first part of that definition. Spencer does say very specifically in the segment that he does not believe in racial equality because, "People are born with different talents."

By allowing them to continue to use this as some kind of a loophole to get out of the charge of being white supremacists, we're doing a huge disservice to racial justice in the United States.

The truth is, you don't have to actively espouse the belief that one race should rule over others to be a supremacist. You just have to passively accept the structures that keep that system in place, and this is most definitely true if you accept the first premise of the definition, which Spencer clearly does. This Spencer does with gusto, even going so far as to argue that whites are discriminated against because they are "underrepresented" in the tech industry, despite the fact that they are overrepresented in so many other fields.

We have to change our understanding of white supremacy to include supporting the system, period, and not actively working to dismantle it--and this is Spencer to a T. At the least.

Don't let these dumbasses squirm out of the label because they don't want to rule over others when they are actively whining about the "underrepresentation." Sorry, bruh, that's just not how this works.

This is not normal. Don't let it become normal.

December 01, 2016

Identity Politics and Why They Matter

I am an atheist in South Carolina. Not only that, but I am a female atheist. Thankfully, I'm white.

My status as a woman and an atheist give me a small window into identity politics--much smaller, albeit, than that of marginalized groups. I was considering this recently in a conversation about whether state citizenship should be primary to national citizenship. For me, as an atheist and a woman, this would be disastrous. As a woman, I'm already subject to a host of restrictions which my state has been allowed to enact. Just recently, they banned abortions after 19 weeks. They have laws on the books that state that if I am pregnant, and am declared brain dead, I cannot be removed from life support--even if that is expressly my wish, in writing, on file, or the wish of my spouse, the person who knows me best in the world.

As an atheist, I am constantly confronted with the fact that in my state constitution, I am expressly forbidden from holding public office. This clause is unconstitutional, and thus the only thing that protects my right to participate in politics in my state, should I choose to do so, is my nation's law, which the Supreme Court found to protect my rights under the requirement that no religious test can be used to determine eligibility for office.

For me, identity politics is a part of my daily life. I organize around issues as a woman. I organize around issues as an atheist. I organize around issues as a woman atheist.

I've seen bandied about the internet various analyses of our recent electoral loss that pin the blame solidly on identity politics. They caution us, as Democrats, to move away from identity politics, to bring white working class voters into the fold again, and truth be told, they aren't entirely wrong in the end outcome. What they are wrong about is in the idea of abandoning identity politics to do it.

My grandfather was a coal miner. He was a union man until the day that he died. Throughout his career, he worked hard, but also participated in multiple strikes and other union efforts aimed at a variety of goals. These efforts paid off. He was compensated relatively fairly for exhausting and dangerous work, he received benefits like health insurance and retirement, and he was able to send his children to college. He was a working class man through and through, born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, and he voted blue nearly his entire life, because he believed that it was the Democratic party that protected his way of life. His identity was, you may have guessed, that of a working class man, and it was that identity that strongly influenced the way that he voted.

What we have lost is not our rudder, but the ability to craft an identity for precisely those voters. Working class politics IS identity politics.

As we move to craft a new strategy going forward, we should focus not on doing away with identity politics altogether, but a focus on creating and strengthening coalitions of voters that have the same identity--we should focus on identifying those traits that we have in common, across the other identities we hold, the intersections where they connect us all, and forging bonds around those.

There seems to be this disconnect that has identity politics on one side and the economic questions that indubitably influence working and middle class voters (primarily white) on the other, and it's simply not accurate.

Building coalitions around economic issues shouldn't be difficult; we just failed to leverage it in this election cycle in a meaningful way. Hillary Clinton's tepid back-pedaling on trade deals and inability to speak to the worries of those who believe their industries to be unduly impacted by regulation simply wasn't enough to craft a working class identity.

Identifying these common threads that bind us is incredibly crucial, and abandoning identity politics simply isn't an option. For many of the groups that are tied up in the concept can't realistically separate themselves from it--their identities quite literally ARE political.

For instance, we saw a landmark leap in gay rights with the Oberfefell v Hodges, which guaranteed the right to marry. However, we still see rampant failures to protect the every day existence of gay people. In many states, there is no protection against housing and employment discrimination. Some cities have tried to enact such legislation on their own, only to find the state legislature actively working against them to ensure that it can't be done. In this instance, you can clearly see that a gay or lesbian identity (or rather, anyone who identifies as queer, non-binary, etc) is, in and of itself, political. The only thing motivating these legislative moves is a fear, distrust, or dislike of their identity.

We see this also in transgender bathroom laws. Those of us in the progressive community completely understand that trans people have been using the bathroom with us for..., well, forever, and that the instances of this being abused are few and far between. Yet we see an assault on this very basic right that threatens not just to bar transgender people from bathrooms, but to bar them from public life--full stop. If you can't comfortably use a restroom, you're not going out, you're not getting involved, you're not active in your community. Again, this political attack is motivated by one, and only one, aspect: the trans identity and the fear and mistrust of people. The identity is, in and of itself, political.

We see the same phenomenon over and over again. Undocumented immigrants are another group whose identity is inherently political. The identities of people of color, and especially Black identities, while they have always been political, are even more politically charged now as we see a push for criminal justice reform to stem the tide of death and destruction ripping through their communities at the hands of our police forces. That makes their identity inherently political.

When we talk about shifting away from identity politics, instead of expanding them, what we're really asking for is the impossible. It simply can't be done when so many people have identities that are so tied up in and threatened by politics.

And the crazy part is, crafting a working class identity, in addition to not being difficult, would reach across racial boundaries. It's not a white identity. It's an identity shared by a multitude of different people.

I'm not sure what such an identity would look like, but I harken back to my grandfather with some guesses. I'd say it's the ability to feed your family. It's safe working conditions for reasonable pay. It's putting more into our people than into our corporations. It's paid family leave so that parents can spend time with their children without having to worry about their livelihood. It's criminal justice reform to make working class neighborhoods more welcoming for the people who live there. It's providing a path for the children of working class parents to reasonably afford college educations--or technical schools--if they choose to. It's providing high quality public education that is appropriately funded. It's looking at the tax code to encourage the wealth inequality gap to begin to close. It's healthcare that's affordable and high quality and accessible for everyone. It's listening to people when they say that they are not better off after trade deals (plot twist: I'm actually pro-free trade to a large extent, but I feel like we have inadequately communicated the benefits to average citizens) and taking action to address those issues, whether that is educating people, providing job training, or renegotiating deals to whatever extent we can.

It's so many things that we're already doing. The real question is, how did we fail to get that message out there?

November 14, 2016

Sisterhood is a Myth and Additional Thoughts on How to Proceed Now

It's been a few days--almost a week, as I'm sure we're all aware--since the election, and I'm one of those folks who has thought about little else. And in that time, I've discovered a wide range of messages, one of the loudest being "SISTERHOOD!"

Sisterhood is an amazing concept. It's the idea that all of us ladies will team up and support each other and fight for the same causes. It's a great idea.

It's also a myth.

Here's a screen grab of a CNN exit poll from last Tuesday:

Please take note of where the blue is and where the red is: white women overwhelmingly supported Donald J. Trump, he of the pussy-grabbing and abortion-punishing.

White women, it is time to get our house in order before we go calling for "sisterhood". I'm just telling it like it is, because that, of course, is the new "normal".

Seriously, 53% of white women who voted said, "Huh, yeah, all men talk that." 53% of us said, "Oh, you know what, racism isn't so bad." 53% of them said yes to what Trump was selling, and that is sad. We let our sisters of color down--notice the margins for everyone else. 90 point different between black women who voted for and against, a 42 point difference for latino women. Respectively, that's 9 and 4 times the point difference for white women (and ours is in the OPPOSITE direction). They came out. They took up the mantle. They defended our concept of sisterhood.

And it's clear why this is: as much as we often are tempted to center conversations about gender around our oppression as white women, those who are at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression don't have that luxury. When we center conversations around ourselves, when we practice White Feminism, we have the privilege to say, "Okay, the rest of this stuff doesn't matter to me--it's about jobs or draining the swamp or whatever." Our "sisters," as we've often called them, don't have the same privilege. Donald Trump doesn't just threaten one of aspect of their identities--their entire existence is in peril, and it's our fault.

I know what some of us are thinking. "BUT I VOTED FOR CLINTON." Or, alternatively, "I DIDN'T VOTE FOR HIM DON'T YOU PUT THAT EVIL ON ME RICKY BOBBY."

When community members commit violent acts or cause harm, we expect them to speak out, and that is exactly what we must do now. White women did an irrevocable harm to this sisterhood. We said, "Your problems don't matter to us." We said, "Our problems are more important." We said, "We can deal with this other stuff later."

In the past week, I've seen folks lamenting the effect that this will have on women, and yes, that's going to suck. I've done it myself--remember my last post, when I asked everyone to donate $5 to Planned Parenthood? I promise my heart was in the right place, but I completely erased the causes that may be important to other people facing a complex interactions of oppressions. For that, I deeply apologize.

Yesterday , I was reminded of the concept of "triage." Though it's a medical term, it's also got a relevant definition for us. When you triage, you "the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success."

Right now, we need to triage. We need to look at what groups are the most vulnerable and make sure those groups are shored up first. We need to progress out from there and keep things rolling. This won't be easy. It may involve sacrifice. It will certainly mean looking outside of our immediate circles for many of us. But the time is now to figure out what our priorities are and how we can get things accomplished.

As white women, we're uniquely positioned. On the one hand, we have a small taste of the oppression that other groups face. On the other, we have a level of power that they do not. It will be up to us to leverage these two facets of our experience to generate as much protection as possible for our fellow citizens as well as for ourselves. Now's not the time to center our white womanhood; it's the time to realize that the sinking feeling we woke up with every day this week is just a sampling of what other marginalized groups, and those at the crux of multiple avenues of oppression, experience daily.

We've seen Trump's transition team appointments. Mike Pence as the chairman would--alone--be terrifying, but then we have people like Ken Blackwell, who believes that being gay is a choice, and Steve Bannon, who is a white supremacist, and Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic looking to gut our emissions reduction efforts. There are populations in our nation that feel they are in imminent danger, and they are not without evidence to support the assertion, folks. This is where we are.

Here's a handy list of groups that correspond to different causes. Now's the time to put our money, time, and talents where our mouths are, and then maybe--just maybe--we can talk about sisterhood. We've got to do our part first.

I'll still be doing my Save $5 a Month to Donate, but I'm switching up the message. Pick a group that corresponds to what you're passionate about. Feel free to share in the comments.

November 09, 2016

President Elect Trump is a Real Thing:
Here's what we can do next

This year has been a year of reflection for me. I've hit that magical last year of my twenties, and I think it's natural that I've ben looking back over the first part of my youth with a critical eye.

Ten years ago this past June, for instance, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I was a scared eighteen year old girl, three months pregnant, driving my car as fast as I legally could west from Sumter, South Carolina. As I passed Shaw Air Force Base, my cellphone rang. I flipped it open. Before I even said a word, I heard, "Turn around and get your ass back here. You think you're leaving? You're worthless. No one will ever love you."

I hung up the phone and kept driving. I didn't look in the rearview. I remember resting a hand on my stomach and thinking, "Will you ever be safe?"

I count that moment as the moment I first became a mother. You see, I was in a relationship that was no good and I kept hanging on because I thought I was supposed to. I was pregnant, and I thought if I could just be good enough, he might not love me, but surely he'd love our baby. So I took more than I should, and I kept trying, until that last night, the night before that drive, and the morning after, when I woke up bleeding and thought I had lost my baby. I didn't have my car key--he took it with him so that I couldn't go anywhere during the day. I was ashamed to admit to my parents the trouble that I had gotten myself into. One thing that I knew, though, was that he could hurt me, but I could never let him hurt my baby.

And so I waited all day, until he got home from work and took a shower. I slipped my key out of his pocket. I left all of my belongings inside, and I crept down the metal stairs. As each metal stair in front of the apartment creaked, I cringed. These were the same stairs he'd threatened to push me down time and again, joking that he hoped I'd miscarry, and each sound seemed an echoed betrayal threatening my escape.

To make a long story short, I made it down those stairs.

For years, I have fought to make sure that the answer to the question that I asked my unborn son that day in the car would be a resounding "yes!" Last summer, we finalized his adoption, and I rejoiced. Finally, we were both safe.

Yesterday, my fellow American citizens chose to place my life, security, and future, and that of my children, right back in the hands of a man exactly like the one I've fought for ten years to escape completely.

I woke up this morning, and I was devastated by this news. Suddenly, I was back there on those steps, hoping beyond hope that I would make it down without him noticing, barely daring to breath, so afraid that my heart felt like it was kickboxing through my ribcage, like it was trying to escape, and maybe it was. I was back in that place where I was helpless, powerless, to keep my baby safe.

I'm not sharing this story for the sympathy. I promise you, I have a point. You see, right now, we're all together on that staircase. We're jumping at every groan. We're scared and we don't know what's around the corner.

But this story doesn't end on the staircase. You see, at the end of the staircase, I made it to the sidewalk, and on the other side of the sidewalk, I made it to my car, I unlocked the door, I put the key in the ignition and I drove out of the parking lot. I made plans, and I followed them. I took my power back.

That's where we are as we all take stock of this loss. Don't stay on the stairs. Come with me, and let's look at how we can make it down the sidewalk and out of the parking lot.

October 27, 2016

When We Prioritize Rapists Over Their Victims, Part II

[content note: sexual assault, incest, our ridiculous justice system]

I honestly hope that there comes a day when we don't ever have to talk about this again, but alas, that day is not today, and here I am, talking about this. Again.

Back in August, I wrote a piece I titled The Conversations We Have With Our Daughters, and it was actually fairly well read considering the fact that I do very little to publicize this blog. It seemed to resonate with people across the political and religious spectrums, which is a rarity for me. I can't say this was surprising, though, because the story that I talked about--the extraordinary light sentencing of the rapist Brock Turner, who is a rapist, and who was convicted of raping someone (all of the redundancy is purposeful)--resonated across the board. It tapped into social justice and feminist themes from left-leaning individuals and personal accountability and the overall softening of morality for right-leaning individuals. It was, indeed, the one story that the majority of our country seemed able to agree on.

Seeing the outrage over the rapist Brock Turner's sentence was buoying for me. It seemed like people were really willing to take a stand, and I had hope that we would see other judges taking note. I had hope that we would see sexual assault victims feeling that level of support.

And then the next story happened.

And then, just this week, I see the headline, "Father who 'repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter gets 60 days."

60. Days.

The headline is alone is enough to make my blood pressure veer dangerously high, but then you get further into the story, and you see that--ONCE AGAIN--the needs of the males around a female sexual assault victim are AGAIN prioritized over the victim's own needs.

From a Washington Post piece:

In the note to the AP, McKeon also referenced letters written to him by the victim’s mother and grandmother. Both letters requested the convicted man not be sentenced to prison. 
The victim’s mother, who walked in on the man sexually abusing her daughter, wrote that the man’s two sons love him and she wanted his “children have an opportunity to heal the relationship with their father,” according to McKeon. 
The victim’s grandmother echoed this, calling the man’s behavior “horrible” but stating that the man’s children, “especially his sons, will be devastated if their Dad is no longer part of their lives.”

The judge also said that the mandatory minimum sentencing law allows for any defendant who is convicted of assaulting a child under the age of 12 to be given an alternate sentence if it is shown that perhaps psychiatric treatment would be more appropriate.

Are you seeing a theme here? Everyone's talking about the rehabilitation of this rapist. They're talking about the sons needing to have a relationship with their father.

What about the victim? The Washington Post reported:

For all these letters defending the convicted man, though, Deputy Valley County Attorney Dylan Jensen told the AP that no one spoke on behalf of the victim, a 12-year-old girl, at Friday’s sentencing hearing.

Did no one think to talk to the victim about what SHE needed from the justice system? Maybe ask her what she needed to see happen in order for her to feel safe again? What's her opinion?

Nada. Listen to the crickets chirping.

I'd love to be nice, and I'd love to be nuanced, but to be honest, I can't. I'm just too damned pissed off at this point.

Quit prioritizing the needs of rapists and other males over the needs of victims.

WTAF. Why does this have to be said?!

October 26, 2016

What Lurks Beneath the Surface:
Parenting in an Age of New Genetic Knowledge

When I was pregnant, I spent a good deal of time imagining what my child would be like. Would he have my eyes? My nose? My chin? Would his hair be dark like mine? Would it be thick? Would he be short and skinny, as I’ve always been, or taller, thicker? Would he have my smile?

I imagine this experience is fairly universal for people who are pregnant.  It’s only natural to wonder about the outcome.

Recently, our family has dealt with a darker side of this same game, one that none of us had really thought about. It began with my dad’s mother, back in 1981, when she passed away from breast cancer. I’ve shared this story before. When my aunt, her daughter, was diagnosed a few years ago, she underwent testing for genetic mutations that could explain our strong family history of the disease. We’d always known that we had that history, but at that moment, it took on a name—a BRCA-1 mutation—and a specificity that was different from the vague “remember to do your self examinations” boogeyman it had been in the past.

After my aunt’s positive result, her siblings were each tested, and sure enough, each of them tested positive. We’re now in the process of checking my generation, but as I sat with my dad in his genetic counseling session to explain his results—a session I didn’t need to be at, but that he had insisted I attend—I began to experience a whole new set of parenting fears. It was clear from my dad’s reaction and his questions that his primary concern wasn’t his own increased risks of cancer, but whether he had passed it on to his daughters and what the next steps were that we should each take. It was suddenly terrifyingly clear to me that I could take care of my children, nurture them, protect them, love them, provide them with the best medical care I could afford, and still have something sideswipe us unexpectedly.

What was in my genes?

This, too, I imagine is a normal experience for parents today. From understanding rarer mutations that cause serious illness to others that leave us vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease, and a myriad of other ills, we’ve all got a greater knowledge of how our DNA can be the blueprint that our health tracks along for the rest of our lives.

I have two boys. There is a chance that if I have the mutation, I have passed it on to them, but while it causes a higher risk in some cancers for men, it’s not the same as if I’d had daughters. I’ll encourage them to be tested when they get older, but it’s not the same sense of urgency that I hear in my dad’s voice when he chides me for not being tested yet.

I was reminded of the conversation with the genetics counselor as I reached a point in a book I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading Still Alice, and if you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, consider that your spoiler alert.

The book deals with a woman who, at just fifty, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She is tested and finds that she has a mutation that means, with 100% probability, the possessor will develop the disease, at least with current medical rates.

Alice is dealing with her own diagnosis, but she’s also dealing with a deeper undercurrent of fear: she has three grown children, and each of them has a 50% chance of developing the mutation. When her oldest daughter also has it, Alice feels responsible.

I found this scene really moving because another genetic monster has stirred the surface of the childrearing pond in our home in the past few months—depression.

One day back in September, my older son’s school counselor called to say that we needed to come in. My spouse and I met in her office, and she said that another student had reported that our older son had said he experienced suicidal thoughts. When we talked to him, he said it had been going on for a while.

I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s nine, nearly ten, and I can remember writing my first suicide note at ten years old myself. I remember that feeling like I just couldn’t go on any longer much younger than that. It’s been the shadow that has dogged nearly my every step.

And yet, it was still an asteroid impact straight to my gut. There was this intense sense of guilt, this knowledge that my genes could be the culprit. There was this moment where I envisioned my child, this being that I love so fiercely, going through every moment that I have gone through. I felt like a rug made of banana peels had been ripped out from beneath me.

As parents, we are constantly fighting for better for our children, and here was on thing that I had given him, a thing that he will live with for the rest of his life, that I can never make better. It’s just there, lurking in his DNA like it lurked in mine, pacing the double helix and waiting for a moment to snare him.

I’ve written pieces before in support of parents of children struggling with their mental health. I’ve written them as the child of parents whose children struggled with their mental health. Here, suddenly, I find myself on the flip side of that equation, and it doesn’t add up. It wasn’t something that I had planned for, and no matter how many different ways I try to solve for x, I keep circling back to that future that I began imagining for him shortly after I knew I was carrying him, and how this may impact it. In so many ways, I wonder if I should apologize. I wonder how to explain. How much will he understand? He still seems so young.

We live in an amazing technological age, an age when we are learning more about our bodies and natures than we’ve ever known before. In some ways, though, that knowledge…it’s a double-edged sword.

So what do you do when your nine year old tells you he does, in fact, have suicidal thoughts sometimes?

If my experience is any guide, you cry. Not to him, because you don't want to scare him. But while he's watching TV, or playing video games, while you're in another room folding laundry, you cry. You wonder why. You rewind nine years of interactions in your head and wonder what you've done wrong. You know all of this is unreasonable, because you've been on the other side, you've been a child suffering with depression, but you still can't bring yourself to stop. You have a driving need to pinpoint the exact moment that you screwed up and your defective genes fired. You  know that's not how this works, it's not how any of this works, but you do it anyway.

You fall apart, but you pull yourself back together. You search your insurance's list of providers for a mental health service in your area. You call and make an appointment. You feel your guilt and fear fan angry flames when you are told that your child can't be seen for over a month. You curse the fact that you live in a place where it is so difficult to access mental health care, and you hope beyond hope that this therapist clicks, that you have a lightning strike of luck, because you can't imagine going through this over and over again trying to find someone who does.

Most of all, you hug him really tightly, and you tell him how important he is to you. You don't have all the right words, but you try. You try as hard as you can.

October 19, 2016

I've been gone. Maybe you've noticed.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably noticed that it's been several weeks since my last post, and I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who has been checking in. There's no large crisis, but rather, a multitude of miniature things have piled up and made my writing more sporadic.

I've started a job, both the kids started school, we're dealing with bullying with my older son, and so much more. It's been a stressful period, and there simply wasn't energy left over to really do justice to blogging.

I'm not sure when we'll be back to normal, so I can't make any guarantees as far as when I'll be able to carve out time to start posting again really regularly. I am, however, going to try to do at least one a week because I definitely have some thoughts.

So, for those of you following along, I really appreciate the patience you've shown.

Here's to getting back to writing!

August 30, 2016

Violent Disparities: The Difference Between Men and Women as Victims of Violence

This week, a New Jersey two year old was brutally killed by his mother's boyfriend. It's a horrendous story.

It comes fast on the heels of a similar story out of Gastonia, NC, where a three year old girl was also killed by her mother's boyfriend, although the cause of death hasn't been released as far as I could find.

In the New Jersey story, the mother was present. Indeed, it seems the toddler became upset after an argument by the adults--an argument in which the mother was pushed by her boyfriend. When the toddler began crying, the boyfriend turned his rage on her.

Inevitably when these stories hit the news cycle, you'll see the same types of sentiments trotted out: "These silly mothers. Being a mother means giving up everything. You should never let someone hurt your child--never." Indeed, when the New Jersey story broke, I encountered and responded to this sentiment several times.

The entire time that I was considering the argument, though, I couldn't help but compare and contrast it to the reception that the father of the Gastonia toddler received upon his daughter's death.

Josh Kinnett, the toddler's father, hadn't seen his daughter in more than a year and a half--over half of her life, she'd been without her father. Then the following shows up in the news story:

"There would be times she would call me up crying, hysterically crying where to the point I got worried. Do I call the police right now?" he said. "She told me crazy stories - how he would beat on her and they would fight all the time and stuff."

Here, Kinnett is describing phone calls he received from his daughter's mother after their separation and her subsequent connection with his daughter's murderer. This line in particular played over and over in my head, because here's the truth: if these arguments were really about a parent's responsibility to protect their child, why do they so often focus only on half of that equation?

In the story out of New Jersey, no one asked where this child's father was either, and here, in North Carolina, the father received an outpouring of community support--despite the fact that, by his own admission, he hadn't seen his child for over half of her life and he repeatedly ignored his ex's stories that indicated his daughter might be in danger.

Where are the pitchforks for these men? Why are there not calls for them to be in jail? Why aren't people questioning their inability to defend their children? Why aren't people disputing their right to be called a parent?

If we're going to do this, do it fairly.

Naturally, this makes me questions whether the real issue here is protecting children, or whether it's policing women's sexuality. So often we hear that women should deal with the "consequences" of an unplanned pregnancy. It's their punishment for choosing to have sex. Rarely do you hear similar rhetoric applied to the men that they are having sex with. Men are, we are effectively told, impulsive, aggressive, visual creatures that lack a serious measure of self control. Men don't want to settle down; they have to be trapped or seduced or manipulated into long-term relationships, and that's why women shouldn't be surprised when they sleep with them, get pregnant, and wind up alone.

Simultaneously, we live in a nation that is surprisingly keen on keeping women pregnant but not acknowledging that bearing and raising children is expensive. Raising a child, alone, on a single income is difficult. It's much easier to do so when you have additional incomes from another party. This leaves women with children more vulnerable to abusive relationships. Relationships that seem stable and settled can swiftly change after this financial interdependency is established, becoming dangerous to all parties. Yet it remains the woman's responsibility to accept the consequences and protect her children. If she doesn't accept the consequences, how will she ever learn?

And what's to learn? The only lesson is not to have sex outside of socially acceptable norms for females. That's it.

If you're going to apply this argument, if you're going to insist that the mothers in these cases are really the ones to blame for putting their children in these situations, be fair about it.

Ask where the fathers were too. Ask why they didn't work hard enough to keep their families together. Ask why they didn't check in on their children. Ask why they weren't there.

Hold men like Josh Kinnett, who freely admits he ignored evidence that his children in dangerous situation that left one of them dead, accountable.

Do that, or admit what you're really upset about in this situation, because either all parents are equally accountable, or it's not about the children at all.

August 23, 2016

The Woman in the Photograph and the One in the Mirror: Reflecting on parenting and scientific literacy

She wears a plaid jacket and a brown skirt. Her hair is curly, and dark brown—maybe permed. Over her left shoulder stands a man that I recognize as a younger version of my grandfather. In the right corner sitting at her feet is the teenage version of the man that gave me my smile: my dad. It’s a smile she shares.

On her lap is a red headed toddler. Her other two sons and daughter, all teenagers, are scattered around the picture too. A typical family portrait.

It hangs in the guest bedroom of my grandparents’ house, and I consider it at night before falling asleep in the house that she and my grandfather built to be the home that they’d grow old in together.

This picture captures a story that I don’t know well, because we don’t talk about it too often. I know where the story the picture tells ends, though—a quiet graveyard, a tombstone that says “Beloved Wife and Mother”, the dates that mark the start and end of a life cut short by an aggressive breast cancer in a time when there were few options, a diagnosis delivered in a period when the options were eking out days, weeks, or months—not curing, not remission.

I wonder, when I see the picture now, if she knew. Was this picture meant to be a talisman? Was it meant to remind her what she was fighting for? Or was it meant to give them something to hold onto?

In the years since her battle and eventual death, science has far outpaced the meager hope it offered (and failed to deliver on) at that time. Now, when her daughter was diagnosed, my aunt fought it, and won. In that fight, we gained a crucial bit of information about our history:  My aunt carries the BRCA-1 mutation.

Like I’m willing to bet most families that carry the mutation, we knew that we had a strong history of the disease. My grandmother’s mother and grandmother both died from breast cancer. We knew that the history was there.

But prior to this information, we were facing a faceless adversary, one that defied being named and lurked in shadows.

The miracle of science, though—today, we have a name for it. We have a test. We have genetic profiles—of us. Of the tumors themselves. Science has dragged that nameless beast out of the shadows and into the light.

We have the possibility of a “vaccine” of types—one that would help our bodies learn to fight its own cells, mutated and deadly.

We have preventative measures—mammograms from age 25, mastectomies, hysterectomies. We know that there are so many ways to approach the issue now.

When I look at the woman in the mirror today, a woman that may face this reality, it’s a very different story from the one that the woman in that photograph saw.

More than thirty years of science has written it.

We are at a tipping point today, a point where anti-scientific attitudes in the United States are at a laughable high—but popular culture has begun pushing back. We have Cosmos, we have podcasts and sitcoms that make science real and accessible. We have best sellers written by some of the greatest scientific minds of our generation. Events like Pluto losing its status as a planet, like discovering rare species, like changing weather patterns through our nations, like landing a spacecraft on a comet, provide a new insight into science in ways that we can’t even begin to understand.

As a parent today, I consider encouraging an interest in and understanding of science to be a fundamental responsibility in the raising my children. I have the dubious honor of raising the next generation of not only potential scientists and doctors, but educated voters and involved citizens. Making sure that they understand how the world works, that they are curious and questioning and tenacious when they search for answers, are among the greatest contributions that I can make to the future.

It’s science that has reversed the tide of disease, that has allowed us to grow as old as we do. It’s science that has destroyed and built in the past century. It’s science that has explained the music of the stars.

And yet, we seem to have a tenuous grasp of the idea. We often convince ourselves that it’s simply unknowable, too difficult to even attempt to understand, let alone successfully convey to youngsters.

But it’s not.

Read a science book—Pond Walk is a an awesome option for toddlers and preschoolers, older children will love the For Kids series, or 11 Experiments That Failed. Our Family Tree is an exquisitely eloquent look at the evolution of life, right up to where we are today. Watch Cosmos together—even preschoolers will enjoy the pictures, and if you have Netflix, you already have it in your home right alongside Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, and House of Cards.  Talk about what you see around you. You don’t need to have the answers—be a partner in asking questions. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” “What do you think?” and “Let’s find out together.” Make a trip to the library—even if you have a substantial library of your own, there’s something about seeing the rows and rows of books that just puts wonder in the eyes of kids.

The truth is, we can’t afford to have a generation that’s not scientifically literate. Science quite literally underlies every aspect of our modern life. It’s what keeps our water drinkable, our air breathable, our food growable.

We can’t afford it, and to be honest, I especially can’t afford it. People like me, who may be living on the edge of what science can and cannot do, need a generation of individuals that will be able to look at the world and say, “I wonder if…” We need a generation who will look at a problem and say, “Let’s figure it out. Let’s solve it.”

Because that’s the statement that will continue to further the divide between the woman that I see today in the mirror and the woman that posed for that photograph decades ago.

It’s that statement that will be the difference between my story and a story cut short too soon.

It’s that statement that will change the world.

And we are the only ones that can teach it to our children.

August 16, 2016

The Conversations We Have With Our Daughters:
When the rehabilitation of rapists is prioritized over the recovery of victims

[content note: this post deals with sexual assault and related issues]

Every summer, my stepdaughters stay for about six weeks, starting in June. Since Spousal Unit and I have been together ten years, I've spanned a large chunk of their childhoods--they were two and four when we first met, and now, they're teens or nearly teens.

With this new phase, like with all parenting stages, a unique set of challenges presents itself. I ran into this headfirst this summer. It began when the phone rang on a Thursday morning, just after ten. We had a busy day ahead of us, and everyone was chipping in to get housework done before the exterminator came to do our quarterly treatment. So I answered it, and passed the phone off to my youngest stepdaughter when the voice on the other end asked for her.

"I can't talk right now," she said. "I've got to help make sure the house is ready. I'll call you when I can talk." She hung up, and I thought nothing of it.

Until the phone rang again, about fifteen minutes later. And then again, just a while after that. And again...and again...and again. Each time, it was the same number. She'd answer it and say the same spiel. Each time, I saw the frustration that played across her face.

On the other end of the line was a boy about her age who had decided that he wanted her attention. Finally, after she hung up again, I said, "Is this bothering you? Would you like for me to answer next time?" She nodded, looking relieved.

And the next time, I did. I picked up the phone and I explained to the young person on the other end of the line that this was our home phone, that my stepdaughter had set a clear boundary, and that I expected him to respect her boundary. Can you guess which part of the conversation he keyed in on?

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought this was her cell phone."

I have to be honest, I saw red. I snapped back with, "The issue is not the phone. The issue is you not respecting the boundaries that my stepdaughter has clearly set for you. Even if you were calling her cellphone, we'd still be having this conversation, and I sincerely hope you are not disrespecting her boundaries in other areas, because I can promise you, you will be deal with her father, and her mother, and me. This is not acceptable."

By the end of the conversation, I had put the fear of God, or at least, the fear of me, into a kid half my age, and I couldn't even bring myself to feel guilty about it. Instead, I was thinking of all the bullshit she will deal with, for the rest of her life, because of men that don't respect her boundaries. I thought of all the conversations that we (general we, not our family in particular) have with our daughters to try to protect them.

We tell them, "Hey, you may not want to wear that. Someone could get the wrong idea." We say, "Don't drink too much. You don't want to have regrets." We chide them, "If you're going out, take friends. Don't walk alone. Keep your keys in your hand. Don't talk on your phone. Don't look distracted. Don't wear your hair in a ponytail like that--it's easy to grab. If you're drinking, cover your drink. Don't put it down. Don't look away from it. Don't go to the bathroom alone. Park under streetlights. Don't unlock your car with the remote as you approach it--someone could see the lights and attack you."

We tell them all of this stuff because we desperately want to believe that if we can cover everything, they'll be safe. Nothing will hurt them. I distinctly remember one conversation in particular with my father after he read a news story about a young woman who was attacked at a gas station, kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered. I remember the look on my dad's face when he said, "Promise me you won't stop for gas after dark by yourself. Just don't do it. If you absolutely need to, call me. I'll come to you." And I did promise, and it's only recently--almost twelve years later--that I have started to loosen up on that promise. I can remember scheduling road trips so that I would be able to fill up for the last leg before dark, all because of a conversation with my father--all because I could see how badly he wanted me to be safe.

These conversations aren't a one off. They're a million little things over the years that build up into a cohesive narrative: If you just do what's right, you'll be safe.

As feminists, we often deconstruct this narrative. We point out that somewhat conveniently what's safe really adds up to being a rather traditional picture of femininity--sober, "modestly" dressed, home by dark, etc. We point out that it's not up to us to prevent rape. It's up to rapists not to rape. We point out a myriad of ways that rape culture permeates our wider social mores and norms.

But it doesn't change the fact that on a wide scale, we're teaching our daughters to live in fear, to run through a checklist of what they should and shouldn't do, all to avoid a crime that it increasingly seems like isn't a crime.

You see, part of my bottled up rage unleashed over the phone that day was driven by the story of Brock Turner from just a few weeks earlier. He, of course, was the rapist with good swim times, convicted of raping an unconscious woman, convicted by a jury of his peers, and then sentenced to only six months in jail (of which he'll probably only serve half).

I revisited that place recently as yet another convicted rapist--emphasis on convicted!--was sentenced to no real prison time, and instead will do work release from the county jail and probation. Here's the judge's reasoning:

"I don't know that there is any great result for anybody," Butler said. "Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated."

It shocked me, again, to see the needs of a rapist so clearly prioritized over the needs of his victim, and over the needs of potential future victims. If part of the point of sentencing is to deter future crimes, what message does this send to potential rapists?

Here's a breakdown of what happened:

Wilkerson’s victim drank too much celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and Wilkerson told her friends he’d take care of her. Instead, he “isolated and raped the half-conscious victim,” prosecutors said in court documents. 
Wilkerson admitted to investigators he’d made advances to the victim that night, “but that she rebuffed him each time, and that he felt ‘pissed off’ and called her a ‘fucking bitch,’” according to court documents. 
Wilkerson told the jury that the woman wasn’t inebriated and that their sexual activity was consensual. His defense argued that the victim filed a rape claim to cover up for a drop in her grades. 

"We had consensual sex after she had told me no a whole bunch of times." Yeah, that makes sense.

We invest so much energy in these conversations with our daughters, and yet, they are still systemically devalued by lenient sentencing like this. It's maddening.

Say it with me: The safety and recovery of victims far outweighs the rehabilitation of rapists.

Tell the judges. Tell the prosecutors. Tell the police. Tell the whole damn world.

Victims over rapists.

Why is this even a discussion to be had?

August 10, 2016

Mom Thoughts: Little A prepares to start school, and I'm considering taking up day drinking

Today I'm deviating a bit to talk about something that's on my mind: my baby starting school.

I'm usually manageably sentimental about my children. My goal is to raise them to grow up and fly away as fully-functional, well-adjusted adults, and I've always parented with that goal in mind, from the time they were born. There have been missteps, because I'm human, but overall, I feel like we're on the right track.

I shook my head a bit when parents would get teary-eyed over their kindergarteners while I escorted my older son into school his first year. I had a plan, you know. The first week, I walked him to the door. The next week, we parted ways a little further away from the classroom threshold. By the end of the second week, I was dropping off my five year old and he was barely looking back. He was excited and happy. I was patting myself on the back and thinking, "Autonomy! What a grand job I have done encouraging him to be autonomous. 10 points to Gryffindor!"

But now, we've taken steps to make sure that our family is permanently capped at six, and Little A is starting school. School. Kindergarten. My baby. My last child.

I'm a little bit of a mess. Yesterday we registered him and Friday we'll meet his teacher. I'm finding that there's a huge dissonance between my stated goal--raising adults who will be happy to leave me--and my actual emotional response right this moment--more along the lines of "can't I please keep them little just a bit longer."

I've enjoyed the transition between stages. I've loved watching their personalities come in and grow. It's been my pleasure to guard and guide them through the process so far. I'm just not ready for it to be over, and for some reason, this milestone really has me staring down the barrel of the future. Usually I can reorient back to the present pretty easily, but right such luck. It probably doesn't help that my oldest stepdaughter is starting high school, so we're experiencing both ends of the spectrum, all at once.

I'll do the same with Little A as I did with his brother. Maybe it will go even quicker. He's more independent than his brother was at his age. He's got the fierce, "I CAN DO ANYTHING YOU CAN DO," attitude that younger siblings often seem to develop, and he'll have Big A to walk in with him. It's got to be cooler to walk in with your big brother than with your mom, right?

At the least, I've gained a little insight. Once again, I'm reminded that even the best laid parenting plans, even the clearest and most lofty of goals, can get knocked eschew by the reality of watching these amazing little beings grow up.

August 08, 2016

The Toxic Side of Forgiveness

Back in June, serial killer Michael Madison was sentenced to die. Madison killed three people, including the daughter of Van Terry. When the victim statements were read, Terry launched himself at Madison, creating a somewhat viral sensation. What really struck me was something that Terry said, emphasized here:

The father of victim Shirellda Terry, Van Terry, said, "I know I'm supposed to forgive you." In the middle of his victim's statement, Terry suddenly paused and appeared to belly flop onto the area where Michael Madison was sitting with his attorneys. 

We hear this a lot. You have to forgive to move on. Anger is only bad for you. Withholding forgiveness is a power move, it's about taking back your control or keeping the person who hurt you at arms' length, and none of it is good for you.

In Christianity, we had the idea of "turn the other cheek": no matter what someone did, you should forgive them. In doing so, you mirrored Christ's forgiveness of you. It's a key component of the faith, and indeed, if you google, "What is forgiveness?", many of the first page results link you to pages that focus on the Christian view of the idea.

The entire concept has always made me uncomfortable. It shifts the burden of guilt on to a victim. If you can't forgive someone, it's a heart problem with you. I was struck by this again while reading Mr. Terry's comment because I, personally, can't imagine forgiving someone who had murdered my child, and I can't think of one good reason that a victim's family should have to.

This idea that we have to forgive or we're only hurting ourselves is really fallacious. It confuses two basic concepts: forgiveness and acceptance. The two are very distinct, though, and understanding them gives us a deeper view of our own human nature.

Forgiveness is the idea that we let go of the offense and need for revenge. In and of itself, it's not a bad idea. Here's what Lynn Ponton, MD, said about taking steps towards forgiveness:

  • Acknowledge your own inner pain.
  • Express those emotions in non-hurtful ways without yelling or attacking.
  • Protect yourself from further victimization.
  • Try to understand the point of view and motivations of the person to be forgiven; replace anger with compassion.
  • Forgive yourself for your role in the relationship.
  • Decide whether to remain in the relationship.
  • Perform the overt act of forgiveness verbally or in writing. If the person is dead or unreachable, you can still write down your feelings in letter form.

But sometimes, we place an unhealthy emphasis on someone being able to forgive a wrong. Instead of healing, forgiveness becomes a club with which we can beat someone into social conformity. You should forgive the parent that wronged you, or the spouse that hurt you, or the person that attacked you, whether you are ready to or not, whether it is helpful to you or not. When that's the emphasis, when it's forgiveness at any cost, it's not helpful or healing. It's a form of revictimization.

There are circumstances where forgiveness isn't necessary and acceptance will provide the same effect. Acceptance is acknowledging that this happened to you and that you can't change it, but that you can determine how you move forward.

For instance, in the case of a murdered child, I don't think it's possible to take Dr. Lynn's advice above and try to understand the murderer's point of view or motivations. Their motivations are irrelevant. If you're a victim of molestation, you don't need to forgive yourself for your role in the relationship--it was something done to you, not something you chose to do.

The emphasis on forgiveness springs from the belief that it's the most useful, or even only, path to letting go, but in cases like these, acceptance can be just as efficient.

Not being able to forgive isn't a failing in you. The important part is that you reach a point where you can let go and live your life in the best possible way for you. Sometimes that path will be forgiveness; sometimes it won't. As we used to say back in the day when I was doing mission work in Costa Rica, "It's not wrong--just different."

August 04, 2016

Donald Trump doesn't understand sacrifice, but my dad does

I was three years old the first time my father went to war. It’s memorialized in letters. Here’s one from Friday, January 18, 1991:

Hey Big Girl, I’m still alright. How are you? Are you being good? Well, keep being good for Mommy. Keep saying your prayers. Be nice to everybody. Have fun playing. I love you and Miss You! Love, Daddy

Most of them were short like that, just a few lines. He often shared random tidbits from his day, like this one, from January 19:

I washed my clothes again today. We have to wash our own in buckets and hang them up to dry.

Every letter ended the same way: I love you and miss you! Underlined. Exclamation point. Often with random capitalization. Sometimes, like this one from January 29, they had instructions:

It looks like I won’t be home until the war is over so you have to keep being my good, big girl. You have to keep listening to and helping Mommy and Granny. Keep going to church and saying your prayers. Keep writing me and sending me pictures. That sounds like a lot but you can handle it.

Some, like this one, from February 6, a Wednesday, tried to explain things that no three year old could understand:
 I know it’s hard for you to understand why I have to be in Saudi Arabia but there are a lot of Daddies here that miss their girls. Someday the war will be over and we’ll all come home.

I’ve always been proud of my dad. He’s been in the National Guard since before I was born. He’s been AGR, active guard and reserve, for most of that time. He was also my first best friend. I can remember spending Friday evenings playing hide and go seek. He’d always win…mostly because he was more than willing to climb into places more timid minds wouldn’t even consider.

Being a Guard family in a time when there was mostly peace meant that our family didn’t spend a ton of time apart, but the specter was always there. In 1997, my father participated in Task Force Eagle, a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia, and again, the letters came. One day in March when I’d been suffering from walking pneumonia for weeks he wrote:

I sure hope you’re feeling better. I wish I was there to baby you. We could make a bed on the floor and watch TV all day. You would have to eat soup and other yucky stuff but I’d have popcorn! (Ha Ha)

They’d often end with postscripts:

P.S. Help Mom! That’s an order!

Sometimes, they were addressed to me and my sisters all together:

Hey Boogers, It’s me, Daddy Booger. How’s it going? Not much going on here. It’s really hot and I have a sunburn. It’s not bad though. Well just wanted to write you a quick note to say I love you and miss you. Take care and be good! I’ll be home soon.

My dad is not a warrior. He’s a firefighter, and it makes perfect sense that he would have spent so many years saving lives, or attempting to.