To the Strangers Who Stare and Comment: Get Bent.

I am the parent of a young adult with Autism.  I’m patient. She’s helped me build that patience. But if you are a parent of a young child with Autism and you leave me a comment giving me advice that basically would reinvent my wheel, so help me God, I will reply and make you cry.

I have been dealing with the explosive outbursts, Autistic meltdowns, sensory overload, overstimulation on low pressure days, tactile issues, noise issues, overpowering scents, obnoxious gestures and flight or fight reactions for well over 20 years. I got this. I’m not perfect. But I get HER. And as my friend, Cindy, says all the time, “When you know one person with Autism, you know ONE person with Autism.” Cindy would know. She’s been a teacher for about 13 years, 8 of those with Special Education.  She’s so right. If you intellectually know that every person WITHOUT Autism is a unique individual, then WHY can’t you get that about people WITH Autism?!

Do I seem shout-y and intolerant? I am. I am tired of the looks and the stares and the rude remarks and the presumptuous (albeit well-intended), unhelpful advice from people with ZERO experience with MY kid.

I am one of those parents who, until today, thought that Autism Speaks and other Autism awareness organizations do little to help those of us in the trenches of this nonverbal disability each day. I do not have a puzzle piece bumper sticker or a blue light bulb for the once a year “Blue Out” that some of my other friends put on their porch light. I didn’t “GET IT” until this morning.

While these organizations are working on research to help us understand causes and work on better interventions for Autism, they aren’t really a helpful “go to” resource for parents of older people with Autism who are still hoeing that row for those that follow us.  I’m not at all suggesting that my 21 year old daughter is a pioneer for the AU crowd around here. But I’m telling you that the reactions that she has are less accepted of her than they are for someone with similar disabilities who is 5 years old. And most of us with older kids/young adults are figuring it out as we go along…JUST LIKE ALL OF YOU WITH THE ALLEGEDLY NORMAL KIDS.

Here is the thing, “Normal Parent:”  YOUR kid will one day actually listen to your advice. He will get to do all the “normal” developmental stuff and “normal” school and break the “normal” rules, maybe even getting suspended once in high school for the “normal” prank or fight in the gym.  He’ll graduate from the “normal” or even AP classes and go to a “normal” university or college or trade school.  If I’m lucky, MY kid might work at Target bagging groceries and won’t get put in handcuffs by the cops when she’s fighting to run away from them after they’re called because she is screaming that the music is too loud.

But you know what?  “Normal is just a setting on the dryer!” (That’s another of Cindy’s catch phrases that she uses on me almost weekly, as she talks me off another emotional ledge.)  And the need for organizations like Autism Speaks, is to help the “normal” people, like you;  To assist you in understanding that not everyone is physically ABLE to understand your social cues and common courtesies that, when you think about it logically, really make very little sense at all.  Since when does “Excuse me,” translate to the rest of the world as “Step aside quickly. I want to push past you?” It is actually just a catch-all phrase that is  “said politely in various contexts, for example when attempting to get someone’s attention, asking someone to move so that one may pass, or interrupting or disagreeing with a speaker; or said when asking someone to repeat what they have just said.”  (**according to Bing’s definition.)

So when we are paying for our cup of hot chocolate at the 7-11 and take that entire extra 2.6 seconds to place 25 cents change inside a purse and zip it closed before attempting to leave the store, the words, “Excuse me,” have little meaning to my Autistic daughter.  The old hag who shoved past her while saying them meant, “I’m an impatient old bat in dire need of lottery tickets and another pack of cigarettes. Now move your ass!”

So, now that she has been pushed and hurried, she is holding her hot chocolate in one hand and my hand with the other.  As we attempt to exit the store, a young man grabbed the door handle and swung it open widely.  But instead of waiting for us to step through it, he pushed into me as he tried to squeeze past, causing me to bump into my daughter, which caused her to spill hot chocolate onto her hand. THEN he had the nerve to be upset when she screamed from the burn on her hand and turned around and shouted, “YOU FUCK!” at him. He started to argue but I said, “She has Autism….she doesn’t mean,” and then I stopped myself. You know what, old hag at the counter and boy who can’t wait for 1 second to enter a store before the doorway is cleared?  She’s right. You ARE fucks.

Autism awareness organizations are around because YOU “normal” people are too ignorant to recognize disabilities that are not glaring in your faces.  How many “normal” people walk around 7-11 wearing gun range headphones to cut down the noise around them?! OBVIOUSLY, there’s an issue there and this person doesn’t fall into your definition of “normal.”  Do you ordinarily push past the guy with the white cane because he’s taking an extra second to get through the door he can’t see?  What about the people who are speaking in sign language to one another?  Do you get pissy and shove past them when they don’t hear your lame “excuse me” at the check out lane?

Patience is something that everyone could use.  Do I sound impatient?  Well, I am. But this is due to YEARS of having complete strangers walk up and “shush” my kid who is screaming because the lights are too bright and some assistant manager decided to crank up the music playing on the PA system at the grocery store.  I will maintain my usual demeanor, most days, in public but I will no longer apologize to people for my daughter’s outbursts when 9 times out of 10 they contribute to them.  Just because she cannot verbalize what is bothering her does not mean that she is out of line for feeling bothered.  Attempting to understand why someone is upset is a sign of maturity.

I’m not expecting the world to bend over backwards and allow the AU crowd to do whatever they want whenever they want.  All I’m asking is that you take a second before reacting to their Tourette’s-like responses and decide whether that person is in crisis. Sometimes it’s truly just a disability.

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Welcome to the Club

My sister called me this morning and asked me to lie to her. I don’t like to lie. I’m not very good at it and I honestly find the truth to be much more incredible, hilarious, and easier to keep up with. But she begged. So I did.

I told her that my husband and I were living the dream in our home with five kids (ages 16, 17, 18, 20, and 21) decorated with hearts, butterflies, and rainbows and that all that stuff we’d heard about how difficult these years would be is just a big box of hot air bought and paid for by pharmaceutical companies pushing their Xanax dreams. I told her that her two lovely early teens would be mature, pleasant, helpful, drama-free, productive members of society all throughout their teen years, just like mine have been and continue to be. I offered her my Groupon savings for unicorn rides at the next Mother-of-the-Year Awards Gala event.

And then I told her that they may want to consider upgrading that wine cellar they have and I’d be her designated driver if she needed to restock. Or I could load all the 12-step program meeting locations into her iPhone next time she came by here.

The truth is Dr. David Walsh wasn’t even remotely exaggerating when he wrote about the whole “teenage brain” thing. They are incapable of making rational and mature decisions. They’re just not equipped to make them. And it requires a hella lot of patience to stand by and point out why the choices they’re making are dumb or not well-thought-out or insane or whatever adjective you want to stick in here.

So, when my sister called and asked me to lie to her about this inevitable phase in her childrearing life, I did. I laughed all the way through it. But I did it because she just needed a little 30-second break from reality. Before hanging up, she said for me to tell my husband hi. He didn’t miss a beat when he replied, “Hi back. And welcome to the club.”

 

The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.

 

 

6 Days Left

Starry Night Prom 2015 SWAG BAGS

These are STARRY NIGHT PROM goodie bags from our 2015 prom. These customized backpacks were donated to us by the Elks Lodge #2114 in Arlington, Texas. We stuffed them full of swag for each of our attendees; AISD High School students with significant disabilities. The swag included a customized Starry Night Prom 20-ounce cup, pens, pencils, keychains, compact mirrors, coupons and gift certificates from many local businesses, toys, stickers, magnets, and other cool items. Each backpack also contained a STARRY NIGHT PROM commemorative t-shirt with all of our big sponsors printed on the back.

So all of that stuff inside the goodie bags? FREE for our students who attend. You know what else is free? The meal for each of them (and for one attending chaperone guest per student,) the prom portrait photography, the prom fun photo booth style photography, the boutonnieres and corsages, the beautiful custom made invitations, the dessert fountain, the DJ and big dance floor where they can dance and have a wonderful time. All of this is paid for by the donations of kind and generous people who want to see these kids have a magical Starry Night Prom.

And even though a lot of the swag, backpacks, venue, services including cooking and catering are donated as in-kind donations, we still need money to pay for the photography, DJ, printing of invitations, shirts, cups, decorations, additional swag, and a large portion of the food items that are purchased each year.

Our ongoing FACEBOOK fundraiser event is still active for 5 more days! Facebook has waived all of their usual fees for registered  501 (C) (3) nonprofit organizations with Facebook pages during the #GivingTuesday fundraiser drive. This means that 100% of all donations made via the Starry Night Prom Facebook page will be donated to our noble cause.

Won’t you please consider donating to Starry Night Prom and give these kids their magical night this Spring 2017? All donations are 100% appreciated. Thank you for your support.

 

 

THIS IS ONLY A TEST!

Like most of the “popular vote,” our family mourned the election results on November 9, 2016. My 11 year old niece was in tears, asking my sister, “But how could HE be elected? He’s mean. How could America elect a bully to be our next President?” Indeed.

She wasn’t the only kid to react this way. I have friends in Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Arizona and everywhere in between who held their children on Wednesday morning, wiping away tears of confusion and disappointment that someone who bullies others in public and on television and LIVES the example of what they are NOT supposed to be, could be elected to lead our country.

I gave myself that Wednesday (and honestly, the following Thursday and Friday, too) to grieve Hillary Clinton’s loss of the election. And then I chose happy.

My sister has a sign in her kitchen that says: Happiness is a Choice. Of course, she keeps that sign on the counter right next to the knife block. So, I guess if you can’t choose happiness, you can always choose the butcher knife. Still, it’s a choice. I chose happy.

Am I happy that Donald Trump is our President-elect? Hell, no. But I am happy to have the next four years to find someone better to run against him in 2020. (Sidetrack: Wouldn’t that be an awesome campaign slogan? JOAQUIN CASTRO FOR PRESIDENT- Because hindsight is 20/20. I digress.)

Look, I am an American Muslim of Irish descent, married to a naturalized Egyptian. We have a disabled daughter and we live under the poverty level and we don’t have health insurance because it’s not offered at my husband’s job and we fall through the cracks of ACA because our dumbass state officials in Texas decided to “show them” and not expand Medicaid….EVEN THOUGH Texans are still federally taxed. So we’re paying for Medicaid in other states and not insuring the poor in our own. I had EVERYTHING to lose in this election. But I’m choosing happy.

My faith teaches me that I must be PATIENT. I can be patient for 4  years of a Trump administration. I can USE that patient 4 years to write letters, investigate and research better qualified Democrat candidates and help to promote them. If we move NOW and are patient through the next 4 years, we can help put forth far better qualified candidates to win in 202o. Hey, you third party voters. PLEASE, do the same. If you in the Green Party and in the Libertarian Party work hard at finding a better candidate NOW….start fund-raising NOW….to get better candidates than Stein and Johnson…..get the monies needed to build up a great campaign 4 years from now…..I’ll bet you have a shot. Hell, you guys come up with someone better than the Democrat nominee and I’ll vote for him or her. But
ALL of you, Democrats, Greenies, and Libertarians: Let’s start NOW. Let’s get out in front
of whatever is coming down the 2020 Republican turnpike and make some serious changes in our government. Start finding mid-term candidates for your congressional representatives now. Put some effort in early so that you can all make our Congress more honest; more representative of US, the voters. They work for us. Make them earn their pay.

This is a test. ONLY a test. Somebody wanted a big shake up and change to the status quo. They got their wish. Let’s take their wish for change a step further and use the next 4 years to work toward true greatness. We’ll have a lot of pieces to pick up. Maybe we can build something new instead of just putting it all back together again. It’s not over. It’s a bump in the road. We can do this.

Judging Books by Covers

The following was written by my friend, Joli Crow. (It’s shared with her permission.) And it speaks volumes as to the body-shaming and judging and the ridiculous lack of manners that seems to be rampant any more. I read this this morning on her Facebook status and the more I read, the more my heart broke for her. I honestly don’t know what I would have done were I to have been in her place. I would like to say that I’d have called him out on it out loud. I’ve done this in defending my daughter during her autistic meltdowns and people are staring or making rude remarks. But I don’t know that I would if I were the target of mean comments and bug-eyed glares.

Joli, you are an amazing woman; a survivor. Keep strong. ~N

****

Dear Mr. Chiseled Jaw,

I heard you this morning. Standing behind me, on your phone. I heard you tell the person on the other end that you can’t stand fat people. I heard you tell them you thought something was wrong with me, because you can see the scars on my arms and chest. I heard you tell them that “a little hard work and some plastic surgery and she MIGHT be a 5 someday.” And the comments about my hair. And the laughing.

A few years, a few months, hell, even a few weeks ago, I would have broken and faltered under your harsh words and judging gaze. I would have gone home, curled up under my blanket, and cried myself to sleep. I would have started comfort eating, or hide myself in a book, or done ANYTHING I could to pretend I never heard you.

But I’m going to tell you something. Are you listening? Probably not, but I’ll tell you anyway. This “fat” body? Carried life inside it. It protected a tiny human, one who now could pick your ass up and toss you aside without a second thought.
This “fat” body? You act like it is unlovable. Yet not only do I have an amazing partner who loves it and all its curves, but I have two children who love to cuddle it; who think my softness is a source of comfort. It’s a body people are not afraid to touch, to hug. It’s a body that has lived.
My scars? The ones you said made me look like a junkie or an AIDS victim? I never chose them. They chose me. Each scar was carefully applied with hate, malice, and savagery. Each BATTLE SCAR is a reminder of each day I have survived; each war I have won. Each scar is a reminder of the victories, both large and small, that I have earned in my life.
I may not be YOUR perfect 10. But I know my worth. I know who I am. I know and love each of my demons. I have survived and I have won!

Today, you could have hurt me. You could have undone all the hard work I have put myself through to love myself more. But you’re not worth it. You are no one to me and I don’t have to answer to you or your opinions of me. Because at the end of the day, are you the one putting food on my table, clothing my children, paying my bills, loving me and each of my scars and every pound of me? Are you the one jumping to my side when I need a friend? Are you the one I turn to for comfort?

NO.

So, have a nice day. Enjoy your life and learn to be a little less of an asshole.

K? Thanks, bye!

From,

The Woman who no longer gives a damn what you think.

PS. I will admit a certain satisfaction when you were refused service because of your statements. Gotta love small towns!

Did I Do Too Much for Them?

As mothers, we second guess ourselves and the choices we make all of the time. Since these children don’t come with owner’s manuals or anything remotely close to that, we sort of “wing it” and combine our gut instincts with the way that we were brought up and what we admired from parental examples we admired from TV and movies, and that long list of stuff we swore we’d “NEVER do when I have kids of my own!” And for the most part, that tends to work really well for most of us. We do the best with what we have and what we know and we try to do what is best for our kids and hope and pray that that is enough.

I used the great ways that my mom had to interact with us when we were little. She was awesome at distraction tactics when we would fight. There were four of us and sometimes it would get pretty loud. I remember many times that she would just come in the room while we were fighting and just sit down on the floor. She’d pull all of our building blocks and Matchbox cars, Fisher-Price people and Weebles out of the box and start making entire towns right there in the middle of the rug. She’d completely ignore us while doing this. Soon we were sort of staring at all the fun she was having and no longer interested in who broke what, or whose turn it was to whatever. We’d watch and eventually sit down and ask if we could play with her. She always said, “Yes.” And we’d join in and start having fun, too. Then she’d slowly work her way out of the game and leave the room and we were none the wiser, yet peaceful.

I also decided that I liked the way that she kept open lines of communication with us. I employed this, too, with my own kids. But I allowed more expression (like limited cussing when they were at that stage where nothing else would seemingly help them “get it out.”) I never lied to them.  (Okay, I did have them convinced for years that I knew the Minister of Birthdays and Aging and that if they did something really horrible that I could call and have that year’s birthday postponed for another. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds when your kids are younger and are certain that they haven’t earned that year older until they’ve actually blown out their candles on their cake. Truth be told, I did NOT tell them the whole candles thing. That was their own understanding. I just didn’t contradict it until the oldest was about 12 and had figured it out on his own. DON’T JUDGE!)

I would watch some of my in-laws and neighbors and friends who would tell their kids things like, “stop crying and I’ll buy you sweets” or “don’t be scared. The needle won’t hurt at all.” To adults, these seem like little lies to assuage fears and calm kids. But for kids, they are actually HUGE lies that, once told and are proven to be untrue, take away from our credibility and teach our kids not to trust us. I never told my kids untruths about our ability or inability to afford something that they wanted. I would tell them, “No. That is something that is not in our budget” if they were asking for their own mobile phone or wanting to go to the amusement park or join a sports club.

I did not/will not give my kids an allowance. I hated this rule growing up but my dad had it and I’m actually quite grateful for it now. He always said, “I buy you every-damn-thing you need. If there is something you want, come talk to me about it and we’ll decide if it’s something we can do.” So when I wanted a Mickey Mouse watch at 5 years old like my neighbor had, Dad said no. He said it was ridiculous that Michael Murphy had a watch at 5 when the “big dummy can’t tell time.” (I was born in the late 60’s and digital watches were still about 10+ years away.) So, of course, I was heartbroken. But Dad told me that if I learned how to tell time that he would buy me a watch. I accepted his challenge. I learned how to tell time in one week. (And oh, yes, I rubbed that in Michael Murphy’s face big time.) And Dad bought me my first watch at the PX  (Post Exchange for you non-military types.) It was dark blue Timex with silver numbers and hands and had a dark blue band. It was a ladies watch…for grown ups. It was so fancy. He taught me how to wind it and take care not to get it wet. I had that watch for 11 years before it finally broke. I’d earned the right to wear it. And Dad promised it and fulfilled that promise. Trust was built over something little.

When my kids wanted pocket money, I made them work for it. They always had to help around the house and I didn’t pay for that. But if they wanted something extra, I made them work a little extra. My sister-in-law thought I was mean and horrible for making Ismail make all of the beds in the house (a total of 5) after their naps one day and I only paid him 25 piasters. She thought that that was a lot of work for a 6 yr old and that he deserved more than just 5 piasters per bed. I asked what she thought was fair wages. She said 1 pound. I told her she was nuts. I explained that her own sister worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week in a factory making purses and backpacks and she only brought home 250 pounds per month. That averages out to about 1.15 pounds per hour. “He needs to learn that life in Egypt is hard and that people work hard for very little money. Then he will appreciate what he has and will take care of it and learn to work hard himself.” That was ten or twelve years ago. Now she tells me that she wishes that she had done like I did as her kids think that it’s their right to demand large amounts of money to go shopping, buy fast food and go to the movies whenever they like.

I instilled a good work ethic in them. BUT there are other things that I didn’t do right. I still haven’t let them do the other stuff. I handled their confrontations, argued with store owners who wronged them, all the typical advocating for my kids. But they didn’t learn how to do those things on their own. None of them knows how to fill out a job application on their own, their own medical history, how to drive. And I’m not preventing them from doing any of that or still doing it all for them. They’ve sort of just fallen into the habit of asking me to do it and I do it. I fear that I’ve not encouraged them enough to try stuff on their own. I’m afraid to push them out of the nest to test their wings. I know that failure is part of learning and that I have to be a good enough parent to allow them to fail. But it sucks when your job all these years has been to catch them when they fall.

My best friend and I cried together over this earlier this week. She and I have a mess of kids and our oldest are about the same age. She told me that her daughter called from her university on the other side of the state wanting her to put on her “momager” hat and call the school and handle some situation for her. My friend started to do that but then caught herself.

We women are able to have entire lengthy arguments and weigh outcomes of choices all in our minds in split seconds. Men don’t realize this, I think. But we are able to go through every option available, predict results and decide the best course of action to take all within about 3 eye blinks. We’re bionic like that.

So my friend told her daughter, “You know what? This is something you can handle. You need to call and tell them that you don’t want to change dorms again and give your reasons why. I believe in you. You can do this.” Her daughter was pouty but accepted my friend’s advice. Of course, she cried her eyes out after hanging up because she felt she was a “bad mom” for telling her NO. But this is how we have to do it. And it’s hard. And it sucks. But it’s the being there to pick up the pieces if they fall and break during their test flights outside our nests that make us good moms. And while both of us know this intellectually, it doesn’t make it any less heavy on our hearts when our kids want us to do something and we force them to do it themselves.

Have I done too much? Maybe. But we do what we can the best way we know how and trust that we’ve done it right. Excuse me. I’m going to go cry now.

 

 

 

Now That I Can Breathe Without Tears

This was my post on Facebook the day following the tragic and brutal assassination of five police officers just 20 miles east of me in Dallas. I thought I would share it here and then expand:

“I spent the better part of last night with my ear glued to the radio. I feel like a giant rock is on my chest, I am so heartbroken that this happened here. And I am bracing myself to hear what weak attempt to link this cowardly and brutal assassination of our police officers to either the “open carry” side or the “stricter gun restrictions” side of the argument.
Our police force is NOT a means to anyone’s political end. These were good people who were hunted by a sniper’s rifle while they protected peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights to express their solidarity with people of the other communities who lost young black men in violent deaths at the hands of a few bad cops.
That said, I also firmly believe that every one of those black men who were killed by police officers throughout this country were also good men whose lives were taken out of the fear, prejudice, bad judgment, overzealousness, incompetence, or power-drunken arrogance of a select group of police officers. Just as black criminals do not represent the entire black population, those bad cops do not represent law enforcement as a whole.
My heart hurts today and I just do not want to deal with Trump or Clinton or anyone else’s politically motivated soundbites to further their own campaigns on the backs of Blue or Black coffins.
‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬
‪#‎BackTheBlue‬
‪#‎UnitedWeStand‬

I am still “in the feels” about all of this. I have been since Trayvon Martin was shot four years ago. I’ve watched from the sidelines and spoken my peace in support of my fellow citizens from within the African-American community. I cannot ever understand how they must feel, having to worry every time their young men step outside the safety of their own homes.

I can only imagine that it is similar to how I feel every September 11th; how I go about my day with my butt cheeks clenched and acid burning a hole in my stomach as I wait for all my children and my husband to return home at the end of that day. How every time there is a shooting, hostage situation, or explosion within our borders the first thing that pops into my mind is, “Dear God. Please don’t let it be a Muslim that is committing this terrible act.” Only this anxiety for my black friends is one that they must endure in the backs of their minds EVERY day and not just annually or during some heinous event.

I want to cry out for them and I want to hug them and I want to scream. I want to be the one who organizes some sort of training program to run through all of the law enforcement academies from coast to coast and make sure that our police officers can learn to see our human sides and not affiliate skin color with criminal capability that crosses all racial lines. How do we turn off that hate? Is there an app for THAT?

I am the person who sees the good in others. I am excited that at my children’s high school on the lower socio-economic side of town, there is a police academy training program where the local community college and police academy choose from our predominately minority population to eventually protect and serve our community. This is affecting positive change in our city. I want this for all the cities. I want to see communities working together to improve the economy; opening and supporting small businesses within the poorer neighborhoods so that money is put back into the community and helping to cut unemployment rates, increase local spending, create pride.

I am not Pollyanna. I know that these things will not solve prejudicial views of all or fear due to racial misunderstandings by law enforcement agents. I know that there is no magic wand to “fix it” in the short term. But I know that what I would like to see happen would definitely contribute to a long-term fix of what’s broke in our country. I will continue to push for education opportunities within my own community. I will continue to teach my own kids empathy, fairness, and to stand on the side of right. I know that the genuinely good people of the United States will continue to do the same. And we can support our brothers and sisters of all skin colors, backgrounds, religions, cultures, and still support our law enforcement officials. I’m going to keep doing my part.

Triggers

I have seen the Stanford yearbook photo of the convicted rapist whose father feels he is being punished too severely for “20 minutes of action” with an unconscious, young woman behind a dumpster. My stomach turns and I fight the nausea that comes in waves along with the memories of fear and disbelief and shock and horror and indescribable panic that I experienced during an attempted rape. It all happened so fast…and in front of his 1 year old daughter who I had come to babysit. She was on the couch and I was sitting on the floor playing solitaire, waiting for him to leave. His girlfriend’s shift started about two hours before his and I had agreed to watch the baby for a few hours each night to help her out. I had known them both for several years. I distinctly remember sitting strategically on the floor in front of the couch so that if the baby decided to get down I could catch her with my body. I remember that I was wearing jeans and a grubby t-shirt because I didn’t have time to go to the laundromat. I was barefoot because it was hot that day and I always took my sandals off at the door. I was bored and wanted to be at my own apartment across the street where my then husband was watching television. But I had agreed to stay with the baby at their place. And I remember thinking, “Why hasn’t he left yet? He’s going to be late for work and then the phone calls are going to start.” You see, he was on house arrest and had a specific number of minutes to get to his job and clock in or his ankle monitor would go off. He had been arrested for robbery. And he wasn’t violent. And I knew him. So I thought I was safe. And I felt him staring at my back. My back that was covered with a baggie t-shirt. And how he managed to jerk my jeans and underpants off and throw me to the floor with only one hand holding my ankles together and over my head while I was pinned to the floor with his body weight was unbelievable. I am a strong woman. I lifted weights in high school and college. I ran track and cross country and have very powerful legs. I forced my feet onto his chest and started to force him off of me. His face was replaced by that of a menacing monster and his fist that was twice the size of mine threatened to break my face if I kicked him. I felt pure fear for the first time that day. My mind raced to his daughter who was sitting on the couch watching this assault unfold in front of her innocent eyes and I started to cry. And I managed to choke out, “I cannot believe you would rape me in front of her” and then the tip of his penis that was already touching my labia was gone. And he pulled up his pants and walked into the back of the apartment. I threw on my underpants and jeans, grabbed the baby  and ran to my apartment across the street. I called her mother from my house and told her that she should call me before she leaves work so that I could bring the baby back home as she got home.  She was upset that I told her I couldn’t watch her anymore. I am sure she felt betrayed by me; leaving her in the lurch having to take off work to find short-notice babysitting that she could afford. And I never told her. And I never told my husband. And I never told a soul…because I knew that my past one-night-stand with the baby’s father that had happened when I was engaged to be married would come out and then my friend would be hurt and my husband would be hurt and I would be labeled a whore and what difference did it make since he was going to go off to prison soon anyway?

It mattered. I lost my friend anyway. I lost my husband anyway. True,  not for the reasons I had imagined, but they were gone nonetheless. And I still find myself afraid in parking garages, storage facilities, elevators with just one male rider. I doubt my ability to make good choices, whether or not turning my back to him to play cards on the floor was an invitation. This was 26 years ago. And I still panic over it. And I wasn’t “actually raped.” And though there was no penetration, I still felt violated and terrified and dirty and ashamed. And in my effort to protect the feelings of others in my life, I never told anyone and ended up carrying this violation, terror and dirt and shame in my soul and mind anyway and it is the reason for my self-doubt on so many occasions.

And I can’t help thinking that if all the Stanford rapist gets is 3-6 months in a county jail, then maybe he’ll end up on the other end of that equation at least once. He won’t make the connection that he is experiencing what she did. He’ll blame her for it. And the Swedes. And the system and probably even the judge who did him the favor of slapping his wrist instead of teaching him the accountability he so desperately needs to be taught. And no one will be any wiser or safer or better for it.

Forgive but Not Forget

“To err is human; to forgive divine.”

                        -Alexander Pope (1688-1744) 
(No, Snoop Dogg did NOT coin this phrase.)
My mom has always been a big  pusher of the “forgive and forget” policy. I don’t really agree with it. I mean, if I’m in a place where I can forgive, I will. And I am a very forgiving  person. I guess where my issue lies is in the second half of it. Because I don’t forget. And I’ll tell you why. 
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
                         -George Santayana (1863-1952)
I guess I always figured that if I were to forget the offense that I had forgiven, that I was setting myself up for a repeat performance in the future. Instead, I try not to put myself in the same position that got me hurt in the first place. This is almost always easier to do with strangers and friends than with family. You know the whole “you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family” thing. Or was that “you can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but you can’t pick your friend’s nose?” Whatever. The point is that, you sometimes find yourself forgiving people in your family merely due to some sort of familial obligation…or because you’re required to according to your religion. (Guilty! –raising my hand.) But that wound is still sore and tries to scab over and it takes some time to heal but eventually you’re ready to give that family member another chance. Or you choose to forgive them from afar…or ask God to do it for you because you just honestly cannot do it. And then decide to keep a safe distance where you haven’t cut ties but don’t go out of your way to initiate contact, either. You know, you’ll go to the family reunion and be cordial to everyone but not invite the offender to be a really active part of your life, like birthday parties for your kids or to ask their opinion before you make a life-changing decision. 
Because with strangers, it’s not that big a deal. You can just blow them right off because, hell. It’s a stranger. You’ll never see them again anyway, so who cares what they think? And you can sort of do the same with a co-worker that isn’t your boss, because ultimately, as long as that co-worker doesn’t sign your time sheet at the end of the week, you can probably just get even by hiding his or her coffee mug and then pretend you haven’t seen it. 
Friends are trickier. We try, if it’s a good friend, to discuss the issue with the person and hash it out. Probably the end result of that conversation will be a determining factor as to whether or not the friendship will continue. If it does, probably there will be apologies and forgiveness and if it’s a good friendship, a conscious effort to not repeat the offense that caused the initial hurt. But really no one forgets.