Tag: Fear

23Sep

Pumpkin Spice Laxity

The weather got the memo that today is the first day of fall, and I responded by indulging in one of my precious Pumpkin Spice Latte packets. If your refined coffee sensibilities are recoiling in horror right now, you might need to step back from your screen for a breather while I admit that my granulated Starbucks experience was just what I needed on this gray-clad morning. (Expats gonna expat…)

The girls have been back in school for one week now, and we’re slowly figuring out our dance of schedules for the fall. The fact that Dan and I both work from home makes coordinating much easier, but it also means that we’re not always home when we’re home, and figuring out who’s taking care of what, when, takes some trial and error. Having my right hand out of commission for three months also adds to the fun. I keep looking down at my grace note tattoo in an attempt to remind myself that it’s okay our home life is in its eighty-fourth consecutive transition phase. We’re cultivating flexibility and dodging boredom, and neither is a habit I’d actually want to see go.

Other habits remain frustratingly elusive. Getting up even one minute earlier than responsible parenting requires me to hasn’t happened yet this month. In the fantasy realm of good intentions, I’m the type to rise before dawn and harness the creative magic of those pre-breakfast hours. In practice, however, I’m deeply committed to my pillow between 11:30 at night and 7:30 in the morning. So far this year, there has been neither idea compelling enough nor caffeinated beverage strong enough to tempt me to join the 5am club, but my good intentions will not go down without a fight. You’re welcome to pray for our collective sanity once I summon the courage to change my alarm.

I may not be getting up at a respectable time, but I am writing again on a daily basis—with frequent appeals to my grace tattoo—and I’m hoping I’ll be able to share some of what I’m working on soon. Writing is such a delicate subject for me. Just mentioning that I have projects in the works threatens to tip the day’s balance toward fear again, and I’m often one sharp exhale away from succumbing to the shame-mongering voices that plague all of us who create. I have goals for this fall that feel like home to me though, and so this is where you can find me each morning, duking it out with myself in a desk chair.

There are a lot of areas of life relegated to the back burner right now… or, more truthfully, off the menu altogether. Housecleaning is a dusty memory. (See what I did there?) We haven’t been keeping up well either with friends and neighbors since coming home from our trip, and our tackle-eventually list has literally piled up around the margins of our house. As usual, I’m frustrated that I can’t do it all. The superhero myth is a difficult one to set down.

At the same time, there’s relief to be found in transition times. Nothing about our life right now says status quo, so we’re free to hold our loose ends loosely. It’s not hard to imagine that next month I will start waking with the birds, and the month after that my writing day will require only the briefest of stare-downs with fear, and the month after that the windows will get washed. It’s the first day of fall, and anything is possible. Even the notion that we’re already okay.

What is life looking like for you all these days? Are you ready for fall yet?

25May

When a Good Offense is the Best Defense for Abuse

Growing up Quiverfull, I was always aware that we had more to prove than ordinary families did. When we attracted public stares, whether for being out on a school morning or simply for the novelty of so many stair-step children at the salad bar, my siblings and I took our cue to behave as much like miniature, meek adults as possible. I, as the oldest of eight, took this especially to heart. When relatives brought up concerns over my parents’ choice to homeschool, I knew that my grades were our first line of defense. When various adults from church took me aside and told me I could talk to them about anything, I said thank you and clamped my mouth tight around my smile.

Our lifestyle was hard to defend, which made defending it all the more essential to us.

The truth is that we adopted fundamentalist ideologies like patriarchy, authoritarian parenting, and legalism out of fear, not because they bettered our lives. We believed thunder-voiced leaders who told us that isolation from the world was the only way to save our souls. God’s wrath was a specter shadowing every aspect of our daily life from what we ate to how childish energy should be managed, and when we suffered, it was for our own failure to measure up. Telling onlookers the truth was never an option.

Instead, we took up offense as our best defense.

We proclaimed that public-schoolers were idiots with inferior educations as we hid the fact that one of my siblings struggled with learning disabilities that only got worse through horrific at-home “treatments.”

We loudly judged the physical and emotional closeness we saw in couples who were dating (as opposed to family-chaperoned “courting”) while we buried shameful secrets about what can happen in a family when the males are given authority over the females’ bodies.

We declared that children were not safe around homosexuals or social workers or atheists or Democrats even as my siblings and I wore extra clothes to cover the bruises we had sustained in our own home.

I was used as an example of how successful the Quiverfull movement was in producing superior future leaders who would take back the United States for God, though I was told in private that I had no potential and no character, that I was stupid and regrettable and damned.

It’s clear to me in retrospect that promoting our lifestyle was a strategy to deflect attention away from our dysfunction. Mind you, I’m not sure that it worked. My husband points out that having adults continually offer me a listening ear wasn’t normal; many people in our church and neighborhood must have sensed that our home life was much less idyllic than we pretended. However, our loyalty to our beliefs was our shield, and if we had been offered a reality television show from which to champion our choices, I believe we would have taken it.

Yes, this is about the Duggar scandal. It’s about why I was so utterly unsurprised last week when news broke that Josh Duggar has a history of sexually preying on young girls including several of his sisters. While the circumstances of our childhoods were not identical, the ideologies behind them were, and I know firsthand how quickly evil can incubate in an isolated and repressive environment.

It’s no coincidence that Bill Gothard, founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles whose lifestyle teachings heavily influenced both my family and the Duggars, was ousted from his organization last year after thirty-four accusations of sexual abuse by women who worked for him. Nor is it mere chance that Doug Phillips, founder of another Christian organization that widely promoted patriarchy, homeschooling, and other common tenants of the Quiverfull lifestyle, has had his life unravel over the last year after news of his infidelity and a sexual abuse lawsuit by his children’s former nanny. Despite how adamantly these two men spoke out against worldliness and impropriety during their careers, their positions of “God-sanctioned” power gave them the perfect opportunity to act on their impulses. Perhaps it’s even why they spoke so adamantly.

The best defense is a good offense, and how can you better divert attention from your own sexual behavior than to preach against others’? How can you further distance yourself from a history of child molestation than to take a job publicly implying that LGBT individuals are a threat to children? How can you cover up the sexual abuse perpetrated on and by your children any more thoroughly than to publicize yourselves as the model Christian family? “The lady doth protest too much” may not apply to every situation, but Shakespeare was a better judge of human character than most.

My point is that none of us should be surprised by the news of Josh Duggar’s crimes or his parents’ attempts to cover them up. The system of beliefs under which he and I both grew up creates an environment in which the powerful can inflict abuse with few repercussions, their victims can be made to feel responsible, and defending the family lifestyle is more important than helping the family heal. Growing up Quiverfull taught me to hide family secrets through misdirection, offering up my ultra-modest wardrobe and political rants and Bible memorization trophies to public scrutiny so that no one would guess the horrors happening behind the scenes. Last week’s news is just another reminder that I was not alone in this.

As sickening as the Duggar scandal is to hear, I’m hopeful that its exposure will offer a counterpoint to the façade of a happy, healthy family that they’ve televised over the last six and a half years. The cocktail of movements I call Quiverfull for lack of a more comprehensive term is nothing to be admired. Rather, it is a control-based system that allows—and sometimes encourages—different forms of abuse while publicly touting itself as God’s ideal, and the more people who recognize this in the wake of current news, the more understanding and support we will be able to offer its victims.

20Feb

Fossilized

[Part 1 of this story is here.]

By Tuesday evening last week, I’d spent the first 30 hours of my long-desired writing retreat in a headlock with myself, and I was “cotta” as we say in Italian. Cooked. Burned out, beaten, and too exhausted to keep hurling myself at the wall of senseless panic standing between myself and my blank document.

I suspect that this is frustrating for some of you to read. After all, I was in Tuscany—Tuscany!—with three glorious days all to myself. I’ve watched friends go on similar retreats and thought, If onlyMy assumption was always that prolonged peace and quiet would act as creative steroids. If only I found myself in a similar setting, then I too could produce something out of this world. But now I was there, tucked up on an Italian hillside with a project idea I loved and an awareness of my own privilege cloying the air, and I couldn’t write a damn paragraph. You’ve heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are”? It would seem that I had gone to Tuscany and run smack dab into myself.

One thing depression taught me about myself years ago is that I will fight to defend my personal collection of shoulds until sheer rock-bottom exhaustion loosens my grip on them. I don’t surrender the expectations I have for myself any other way. And why should I? In the thick of depression, it only seemed right to keep trying harder and harder to act sane, to pacify God and be an uncomplicated wife and smother desperation on sight. If it wasn’t working, I just needed to double my efforts, yes? Not until much later, after the rock bottom and the rebuilding, did I see what a chokehold those expectations had had on my soul.

Now, I’m not saying that going on a writing retreat is anything like going through depression, but I’d certainly arrived at my hotel last week clutching a stack of notions about how the time should go, about how I should be. Privilege-guilt factored enormously into them, as did something else… something I couldn’t put my finger on with all of my thoughts bolting away the instant I got close. I didn’t know what to do with these expectations other than cling more and more tightly to them though. If I let go, the trip would instantly be rendered pointless and earlier versions of my jealous writing self would show up to punch me in the throat to the tune of “Loser.”

Thank God for exhaustion.

If I hadn’t surrendered my weary, 96% certifiable self to the idea of a writingless retreat and clicked over to Facebook for some distraction therapy that evening, I wouldn’t have seen this:

Curiosity not fear
(Liz Gilbert’s Facebook page is a gem. Get thee there, stat!)

And if I hadn’t seen this, who knows how long it would have taken me to recognize the “something else” that had been giving my brain a 30-hour swirlie as fear?

Working with words can feel like trying to choreograph dust motes. Until sentences land on the page, they’re nothing more than airborne particulates, figments of psychology and instinct that tend to dissolve on eye contact. Being afraid of writing is essentially getting worked up over nothing. That was my first thought when I read Liz’s quote. What do I possibly have to be afraid of? I’m here to transcribe thoughts, not diffuse bombs. This is a zero threat situation. WTF, brain?

When I took stock of how I’d been approaching my project, however, curiosity was nowhere to be found. Stephen King refers to stories as fossils that we excavate through the writing process, and ideally, I would have been on my knees with a trowel and an old toothbrush, intrigued to see what I’d unearth. Instead, I was paralyzed at the side of the dig. Because what if I uncovered a fossil so hideous that it made folks clutch their pearls and call their congressmen in protest? Or what if the fossil turned out to be so boring that museum viewers would ask for their money back? Worst of all, what if I had the wrong tools and botched the whole operation? What if I failed?

Fear, meet Bethany. Bethany, Fear.

Getting myself in a staring match with fear was no more helpful to me than beating myself over the head with reminders of my own privilege had been. This wasn’t something I could power my way through. (Depression 101.) When I latched onto the word “curiosity” though, it pulled me right off my petrified feet and through the murk to a new perspective on what I was doing. I closed Facebook and opened Google. Research time.

Writing retreat - research

The rest of my retreat looked very different from the productive type-o-fest I’d expected. I went on long walks in the cold, ordered espressos, and adopted various park benches near my hotel for the purpose of daydreaming. I scribbled sideways and upside down in my pocket journal following looping threads of whimsy. I clipped about a hundred of the most bizarre search results to Evernote (out of curiosity, how likely is the FBI to investigate writers?) and then filled another page with follow-up questions. I still had to beat back the granddaddy of all F-words, Failure, which was all too happy to inform me that I was squandering my retreat and that research was basically procrastination in a pair of pince-nez, but curiosity kept me on a joyful forward momentum that no collection of shoulds has ever prompted in me.

I returned home last Thursday about as tired as I’ve ever been. Winning a battle doesn’t mean you’re unscathed by it, especially when you weren’t expecting the fight in the first place. I’m still feeling tender and bruisable, and I can’t pretend not to be disappointed that I didn’t return from my retreat with a manuscript of any length. I’ll be wrestling with the hows and whys of that for a long time, I suspect. However, I did bring back one significant treasure: the outline of a fossil, as clear and intriguing as a headline. And I’m not afraid of it.

Writing retreat - Bench

18Feb

My Own Personal Tuscan Blitzkrieg

For Valentine’s this year, Dan gave me something I’ve hinted (except without the subtlety part) about wanting for ages: a few days away from home by myself with absolutely no responsibilities other than taking dictation from my muse. No one except myself to feed or clothe or deodorize. No interruptions. No need to operate on a normal or even a sane schedule. My own personal Tuscan writer’s retreat.

I couldn’t have arranged it any better than Dan did. He booked me a room in a tiny hillside town that I’ve visited before (i.e. – no pressure for me to sightsee) and loaded up a grocery bag with tea and chocolate and sandwich fixings and ramen “nudolini.” I asked him about a thousand times if he was sure he and the girls would be fine, and he assured me a thousand times that not only were they going to be fine but that they were going to party it up and have company every day. (While the introvert is away…) The man has often outdone himself in the gift department, but this one left me particularly wobbly-kneed.

We kissed goodbye, and I drove off into the Monday morning sunshine last week dreaming of my return trip in three days’ time, at which point I would have twenty or thirty—or hell, why not two hundred?—brand new single-spaced pages saved to my hard drive. The prospect of focusing and digging into my current writing projects felt like a giddy secret. I was so going to win at this thing.

If you have any experience reading stories, you’ll know that that last sentence portends doom.

The champagne bubbles trailing across my imagination lasted until the moment I had finished unpacking my suitcase. I looked around my hotel room, realized with an awful kind of clarity that I would now be spending 84 hours in my own company, and began losing my mind. Truly, that’s the best way I can describe what happened. My brainwaves began to scatter like so many spooked chipmunks. Thoughts dropped out of my head the minute I reached for them and began running up walls, scrabbling under doors, whirling themselves down drains, and tucking themselves into the impenetrable sheet folds at the foot of my bed.

I went to bed at 8:00 that night with exactly three sentences written, each one of which had required an unmedicated wisdom tooth extraction of the soul. My plan was to bid this day good riddance and get up at 4 the next morning with all of my brain cells back in their proper places and waves of inspiration lapping my fingers. I couldn’t explain what had gone wrong so far, but I was sure it was nothing that a good night’s sleep couldn’t cure.

This may actually have been true.

I wouldn’t know though. That night, I managed about two hours of total sleep, snatched in fifteen-minute increments while insomnia was on coffee break. I can only remember two other nights of my life dragging by so agonizingly, and both of them involved childbirth. This time, it wasn’t my uterus taking me hostage but a mind that had turned as spastic as a volcano full of Pop Rocks. My 4 a.m. wakeup call came and went in a fog of despair that pleated itself as firmly as hotel sheets around the corners of my room.

By lunchtime the next day, I’d realized that this retreat wasn’t going to be a “retreat” at all. Not if I stayed, that is. Every minute of that morning, I’d had to consciously beat back the impulse to give up, and not just to give up on the projects I was[n’t] currently working on but to give up on writing altogether, on the idea of ever again sitting down in a quiet space with the intention of creating. Fears that I had never seen before came scuttling out of shadowed cortexes. Writing, the creative outlet I took up out of pure joie de vivre when I was five, was suddenly the most terrifying construct in the whole world, and I wanted nothing more than to drive home and pretend this getaway had never happened.

I couldn’t have been more bewildered by how my writing retreat was going than if I’d gone to Disney World and promptly been bludgeoned comatose by Winnie the Pooh.

[For the sake of your sanity and mine, this is gonna be a two-parter. Stay tuned! Oh, and if you’ve ever experienced similar terror over something you love to do, feel free to share. Misery loves company, even in retrospect.]

[Ed: Part 2 here.]

30Jan

When God Brought Me to Italy to Perish

You may have seen the recent announcement that Deeper Story is closing its doors. It’s hard for me to imagine the upcoming year without it, both from a reader’s perspective and as one of its writers. That site has consistently swept my generalizations and misconceptions of Christianity off their feet. It’s answered the question of why we believe what we believe through the medium of story, and I’m going to miss it like I miss Blue Bell ice cream.

Before it closes though, I’m getting to share one last story. I wrote about it here on my blog back when the events were unfolding, but they’ve grown in significance and clarity since then, picking up new dimensions in their expanding context. This is the more complete story of our move to Italy. It’s also a study in modern-day miracles.

Part 1 of 2 is up today (Part 2 will go up in a few weeks before Deeper Story closes):

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

It’s not easy for me to think about the fall of 2007.

Actually, “not easy” is a wild understatement in this case. Opening pickle jars is “not easy.” Putting snow boots on a toddler is “not easy.” Willing my mind to revisit some of the most emotionally intense terrain of my life, on the other hand, is about two degrees this side of impossible. The anxiety is still there. So are the first discordant notes of depression. Upheaval, insecurity, a sense of displacement so strong I could drown in it—they’re all there, preserved museum-quality in the halls of my memory.

But then again, so are the miracles. And that’s why I’m here again, two degrees this side of impossible, willing myself never to forget.

/ / /

My husband Dan, our two-year-old daughter Natalie, and I spent the summer of 2007 in total life limbo. We’d moved out of our home in Delaware at the end of May, fully expecting to ship ourselves and all our possessions out on the next flight to Italy. It was all set. Dan had been offered his dream job in the country we had long hoped to adopt as our own, and our bags were packed. Every step of the process so far had been ridged with God’s fingerprints. But then the paperwork we needed the Italian government to send us for our move was “delayed.” (This, as we later learned, is bureaucracy speak for “never gonna happen.”)

The documents didn’t arrive by our move-out date, and they continued not arriving over the next two months as we camped out in friends’ guest rooms and stretched every dollar left in our checking account as far as it would go. We were surrounded by grace in those two months; our friends’ generosity kept us afloat, and we were led again and again to trust that God had our backs despite the maddening bureaucratic roadblock. My pregnant belly was stretching along with our disposable income though, and we had to make a decision: We could either scrap this new direction for our life, or we could book a flight to Italy without the right paperwork or any guarantees and try to work out the details once we got there.

We chose Option #2.

Looking back, I turn green around the gills thinking about all the risks we took with that decision. So much could have gone wrong, and the fact that we arrived without incident on the doorstep of our very own Italian apartment that August is its own category of grace.

This isn’t to say though that the worry and upheaval through which my mind had waded all summer evaporated. If anything, my anxiety grew thicker, muddled by the confusion of a new language and new cultural customs and new everything down to the way we told time. (Dinner at “twenty-one minus a quarter,” anyone?) This newness was a mental barrier as real and high to me as the historic walls of our adopted city. I was petrified by the enormity of what I didn’t know.

Also, I was now squarely (roundly!) in my third trimester of pregnancy. Any mama who has cared for a two-year-old while massively pregnant can tell you that staving off exhaustion in itself can be a full-time job. My body was as weary as my brain, and I felt like I was always skirting the edges of the preterm labor that had complicated my pregnancy with Natalie. I lay trapped awake by worry every night. If I’d had any illusions about being in control of my life before that autumn, they’d certainly hoofed it back to the land of make-believe by now.

Then two things happened simultaneously to kick the intensity notch of my world up to Level Orange. The first was that Dan left on an eight-day trip back to the States to take care of the paperwork we had been unable to file all summer. The second was a familiar tightening across my lower belly that started one evening while I was eating dinner. I was thirty-three weeks along, the exact point I’d been in my first pregnancy when I’d gone into preterm labor. I began to have contractions that were sporadic and harmless, but the timing was enough to send me spiraling imagination-first into worst case scenarios.

I couldn’t shake my fear that our baby was going to be born prematurely while Dan was out of the country. And what if things went horribly wrong for him and he was denied reentry? My terror was so acute that it spliced itself onto my sense of reality. I felt stranded in this place, so far from friends and family, unable to communicate in my own language, responsible for a two-year-old who needed more energy from me than I was able to give. I sympathized with the Israelites in Exodus who wailed that God had brought them into the wilderness to perish.

Hadn’t he just done the same to me?

Abandoned, abandoned, abandoned. The refrain began at the epicenter of my fear and was soon taken up by every cell in my body. I knew I was being dramatic. I knew that basing my understanding of God on my current circumstances was not only poor theology but straight-up idiotic. I had been so uprooted by the past few months though that my better judgment couldn’t find solid footing. As I saw it in those panic-stricken moments, God had lifted us over the stacked odds and deposited us safely in Italy only to pull that sense of safety right back out from under me. This was it then, the punch line of whatever cruel joke he was playing on our dreams.

I felt more alone than I had ever been in my life—relationally, culturally, and spiritually desolate—and I didn’t have the courage for whatever was coming next.

Only, what came next turned out to be as far from what I’d predicted as abandonment was from the truth.

/ / /

[Continue to Part 2.]

image source

 

18Jun

Open-Source Parenting: Body Safety

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn’t until after the Steubenville High School rape case in 2012 that I realized that consent was a Thing. I mean, I’d always known the word, but I’d never before thought of it as a principle, something to be taught and learned and insisted upon the way we do with freedom and equality. I remember reading Abby Norman’s post The Day I Taught How Not to Rape and feeling stunned by the simple truth of her premise:

“We have to teach clearly and boldly that consent is… an enthusiastic, unequivocal YES!”

Maybe those of you who came from Quiverfull-style backgrounds can relate to my own upbringing in which the guiding principle was submission rather than consent. Children and women were taught that our bodies were not our own and that struggling against a physical aggressor in a position of authority over us was grounds for harsher treatment. Intimacy was something to be claimed by those in power. I can hardly think of a more dangerous mindset for sheltered children to grow up believing.

After several episodes of “submitting” to boyfriends who wanted to take advantage of me, I was finally able to reject that mentality, and I am often reminded of how grateful I am to be here, free, seeing my own voice carry weight. This has taken time to filter down into my parenting through. I’ve taught my girls from the beginning about which parts of their body are off-limits to everyone except Mom and their doctor (“If someone tries to touch you there, you say…?” “NO!!!!”), but we never talked any further about why someone might want to touch them there or what other kinds of predatory behavior they should watch out for. Part of it was that I didn’t want to scare the girls, but the larger reason was that I honestly hadn’t considered the possibility that they would be targeted.

Who wants to think about that? Let me tell you, there is a special kind of nausea reserved for parents who imagine their children being groomed by a sexual predator. I was so unwilling to go there that I didn’t even think about my unwillingness to think about it… until recently when a friend with a daughter Sophie’s age had to confront some troubling attention her daughter was receiving from a bus monitor. I spent the whole next morning doing research on how to talk to kids about body safety and then made up a worksheet that Dan and I went over with the girls at lunch (and have referred to several times since).

Our conversation was mercifully devoid of the fear and the ick-factor that my inner pessimist had expected. Dan and I talked matter-of-factly, answering the girls’ questions and helping them role-play scenarios so they could practice safe responses. We focused on these main points:

  • I am the boss of my own body! We reiterated what they should do if someone tries to touch their bathing suit areas and then talked at length about how they can refuse any kind of touch that makes them uncomfortable. This can be a delicate subject here in Italy, where even new acquaintances will bend down and ask children for a kiss on the cheek. However, Dan and I agreed that the girls’ personal boundaries are more important than society’s standards of politeness, and we taught them how to say, “I’m sorry, I’d rather not” and stick to it, even (especially!!) if the person gets upset.
  • I don’t keep secrets from Mom & Dad! We clarified the difference between a surprise (something you’ll get to tell soon) and a secret (something you’re never supposed to tell) and impressed on the girls how important it is that they tell us immediately if anyone ever asks them to keep a secret from us. We had to do a wee bit of backpedaling on this one as Natalie’s first question was, “So I have to tell you secrets my friends tell me at school?” Dan and I did the best we could explaining which kinds of secrets are okay for the girls to keep and which ones aren’t, and it’s possible the whole subject is more confusing than ever. We’ll try to keep open dialogue about it though and hope that the main point sticks.
  • If I don’t have permission from Mom & Dad, I don’t do it! This one provided the most role-playing hilarity, but our point was simple. If someone—even someone they know—asks the girls to come into their house, get into their car, or take a walk with them, they need to get permission first. Period. End of story. No exceptions. We did clarify that they can get permission from a babysitter or relative that we have personally put in charge of them, but they should never take someone’s word that it will be fine to go off alone.
  • I stay away from “tricky people”! I got this wording from Pattie Fitzgerald, a child safety expert who makes the point that “strangers” only make up 10% of those who sexually abuse children. Instead, we want our girls to be wary of any “tricky person,” defined as anyone who makes our girls feel unsafe, nervous, or icky, anyone who won’t respect the girls’ boundaries, or anyone significantly older than them who says they specially need the girls’ help. (That last one is apparently a tactic that predators use to lure kids away or groom them toward a more intimate relationship.) If they feel someone is acting “tricky” around them, the girls are to come tell us right away.
  • If I get lost when I’m out, I… The girls already knew the first rule about getting lost in public, which is that they should stop right where they are and wait for us to find them rather than wander around looking for us. We then taught them that if they see a police offer or a mom with kids come by, those are safe people to ask for help. They should then ask those people to call their parents from where they’re standing. (The girls know both of our mobile numbers by heart. Mostly. We’ve been quizzing them every couple of days to be sure.)

I’m grateful that we were able to have a good family discussion about boundaries without making the girls paranoid of every single adult male in their lives or every stranger on the sidewalk. In fact, as we talked, I realized just how empowering the conversation was. We were teaching the girls that they have the right to say no to unwanted touch. What I would have given for that sense of ownership over my own body as a girl!

I’m not sure whether or not we’ve covered everything we should on this topic with the girls. When I read that the director of GRACE, a Christian child abuse investigation firm, has seen too much to allow his daughters to sleep over at their friends’ houses or attend church camps, my throat closed up a little. Is it really as bad as that? Am I endangering my children every time I leave them in someone else’s care? The idea of keeping the girls confined to home doesn’t sit well with me, so I’m trusting that there’s a balance between naivety and paranoia. Surely we can be informed and prepared without thinking the worst of everyone around us. Surely our children can take steps toward independence without opening themselves to abuse. Surely, surely, fear should not be our rubric for parenting any more than denial should.

The idea behind this Open-Source Parenting series is that we can share our collective wisdom for the benefit of all, so here’s where I open it up to you. What are your thoughts on teaching body safety to kids? Are there any strategies or conversations that have worked well in your experience? I’m still very, very new at this line of thought, so I’d appreciate any insights you might have… and judging by the sheer number of new parents among my friends, I suspect I’m not the only one.

29May

A Summer Without Sequels

I want to blame it all on the allergies—the way my head rolls bowling-ball heavy atop my neck, the thick woolly fog obscuring my vision, the struggle to make myself see even journal entries through to the end. It would be a justified accusation too. May and June are my Kryptonite, a radiant green that sucks the energy right out of me. I could write a poem in the pollen swirled across the surface of our car.

Allergies alone, however, do not explain why I’ve spent this week clutching a to-do list like it’s a Get Out Of Writing Free card. They don’t explain my almost desperate search for distraction when I sit down at my computer (“Why hasn’t anyone shared a BuzzFeed article in the last three minutes??”) or my avoidance of quiet alone time. Allergies may have everything to do with the Visigoth rave going on in my sinuses right now, but they’re not to blame for this creative paralysis. Not solely, at least. Maybe not even at all.

Last summer, I lost myself. More accurately, I let go of my own hand, choosing soul-disconnect over the more painful parts of my reality. I didn’t know any other way to cope.

To be honest, I still don’t really know how to talk about that time. I barely wrote anything during those three months, and what I did scratch down in my journal is as jagged as broken glass. I skim the entries as lightly as I can before drawing back, cut to the quick. I’d like to blot it all out of my mind, let last summer accomplish what it started and erase me from its memory.

The fear of it is still fresh though, or rather, a fear of its sequel. We leave in less than two weeks for a vagabond-style summer, and this is enough to send my mind into a self-protective tizzy. What if time charges away from me again this year? What if I look around and can’t see a place for myself? What if I feel too much? What if the joys of ice cream and swimsuits and late starry walks aren’t enough to hold me in place?

If I lose myself again, will I be able to find my way back?

My head feels heavier than it should, over-packed with histamines and fears alike. I’ve been trying to distract myself the hell out of Dodge, but it’s not working… which, duh. In what universe is running away from heart, mind, and soul a safeguard against losing them? That’s why I’m writing this, by the way, out of a determination that this summer isn’t going to be a sequel. Shut-down isn’t an option I’m allowing myself this time around. I’m going to feel the things I feel—feel them head-on without rushing over to Facebook for a quick numbing fix. I’m going to inhabit my life, the hard parts as well as the good. I’ll do my damndest to lean into painful changes instead of resisting them (easier said than done by a power of three bajillion, but still) and to be a scientist of my own spiritual journey, and it’s just possible that I can end the summer more alive than when I started it. Allergies notwithstanding.

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