Would you like a sandwich? Talking consent with my son.

I’m not one for hiking.

I love nature and all, but I don’t go out of my way to roll in it. I typically go for meandering walks with my three boys and little dog in tow. Last Friday, we decided to go to the Ledges at Fitzgerald Park after school. Again, not because it’s something we typically do but because school is almost out for summer.

I’ve been asking the boys to contribute to a list of things we’d like to learn, places we’d like to visit and things we’d like to try while enjoying their summer break from school.

In preparation for their return home, I’m shoving things into the tiny spaces of my calendar. I’m building even bigger fences for my beautiful lines in the sand and readying my home for the storm that is three growing boys. I know they haven’t exactly been away at boarding school but for 6 blessed hours a day, they’ve been at school.

It kind of feels like I’m battening down the hatches.

I’ve got lots to say about preparing my nonprofit entrepreneur life for the challenges of summer break but today, I’m going to talk about the Duggars.

More specifically, the topic of consent.

Even more specifically, that time I had an awkward conversation with my 11 year old son while hiking the ledges about consent, sexual assault, sex and sandwiches. Not exactly in that order but all of those things were discussed. Stick with me here.

As with most problems, it all began with NPR. I’ve been really into podcasts lately. I listen to them while doing dishes, walking to the office, folding laundry, pulling weeds. You name it. If there’s a quiet span of monotonous work, I’m listening to either The Moth, Being Boss, Invisible Office Hours, On Being…you get it.

At around the time that the past crimes of Josh Duggar were being splashed across the web, I had just listened to an episode of This American Life called Birds & Bees.

The byline had read:

Some information is so big and so complicated that it seems impossible to talk to kids about. This week, stories about the vague and not-so-vague ways to teach children about race, death and sex – including a story about colleges responding to sexual assault by trying to teach students how to ask for consent. Also, a story about how and when to teach kids about the horrors of slavery and oppression in America.

Okay. Sure. Let’s give that a listen.

It was thought-provoking and the individuals interviewed brought insights that made me consider my own language regarding these topics.

Especially the segment that detailed the experience of a facilitator teaching consent on a college campus. There were many moments where male students were very vocal about their confusion about what consent means. Honestly, it sounded to me like one of my kids looking for away around following the rules.

It’s cool. That’s often how developing minds expand.

You can listen to the podcast (highly recommended) but basically, they wanted answers to questions like;

What if she said yes earlier in the day?

Wouldn’t checking in ruin the mood?

What if we’ve both been drinking?

Scary stuff. As universities across the country work to educate men on how not to rape rather than teaching women to prevent rapes from happening to them, these questions were indicative of just how much more work there is to do.

Fast forward to Friday morning. Josh Duggar sexually abused children in his own home as a teenager. Some of the girls he victimized were his own sisters.

You’ve probably read the headlines. Unless you’ve decided you’ve had enough terrible news about teens sexually assaulting other teens or children and adults covering it up and/or blaming the victim. I know I’m pretty tired of this story.

Exhausted in my bones.

Here’s where this story hit me.

The Duggars practice a faith that I disagree with but they are clearly parents who are trying to raise Godly people. Does their definition of Godly and my definition of Godly align?

Girl. Nah.giphy

But they love their children and they have invested their entire lives into homeschooling their children and separating them from the immoral, sinful world chocked full of people like me. People that dance, drink, get tattoos, accidentally swears, works outside of the home, don’t have a particular church called home and allow children to watch superhero movies that are rated PG13.

If there’s a slippery slope, I’m surfing that bitch with wild abandon.

As I’m reading the stories, I’m getting scared. I’m thinking if these people can’t raise a son that can honor the bodies of little girls in his home, including his beloved sisters, than how the hell am I going to raise 3 sons to be good men?

This is where my mind was at as we stepped onto the trail at Fitzgerald Park. I’m not saying this was a correct mindset. I’m just being completely honest and letting you into my mildly over-reactive brain.

My oldest son held my hand as I turned to him and began to tell him about Josh Duggar.

Yes, I have a tween that will still hold my hand. BOSS.

I explained what Josh Duggar did in language I decided was appropriate. I expressed how saddened I was by the story. I used the word sex but I didn’t giggle or blush.

I was a total adult. Then I asked him,

Do you know what consent is?

He said he didn’t know that word.

Well, let me give you an example. If we were home right now and I asked you if you wanted a sandwich, what would you say?

He shrugged and said, “I’d say yes.”

You just consented to a sandwich. You could have withheld consent by saying no and you can withdraw consent at anytime if you change your mind.

He understood. Phew. Now on to the tricky stuff. I explained the podcast I’d heard and the questions the college students had asked. I said,

Some people think that if someone gives consent they can’t change their mind later. They can’t withdraw it after it’s been given. So if a girl says she wants to have sex and then changes her mind….

And then my son interrupted me to say,

Well, that’s silly. What she says now trumps what she said before.

YAHTZEE!

Collect yourselves. It’s too early to celebrate. I had follow up questions and concerns.

I’m so glad you feel that way. I just worry. You know? I do the best I can to make sure that you and your brothers understand things like this. I try to have the important conversations with you but if people like the Duggars with all of their focus on holiness can muck it up, what can I say to make sure you guys understand.

Mom, I don’t know. I mean, you’re the parent.

Damn. That’s true. A point that makes the reaction of the Duggar parents all the more maddening. As parents, your job is to not only teach the lessons. Your job is to hold your children accountable when they break them. It’s not easy but it is necessary.

Also, can we just agree that modesty cannot be the scale by which we measure how much our children deserve to be sexually assaulted? Instead, let’s send the message that your judgement of an individual’s morality is not grounds to associate their being with a lesser value.

Let’s agree that even if you think someone is behaving immodestly – totally using Duggar language here – you still don’t get to sexually assault them and blame them for your disgusting, criminal behavior.

No one deserves to be sexually abused or assaulted. Ever.

WORLD, WHY CAN’T WE AGREE ON THESE SIMPLE IDEAS?

There’s so much more about this that bothers me but I thought I’d focus on a conversation that can benefit our families and our communities.

Consent. Teach it. Add it to the list of things you plan to teach your children about this summer. Use metaphors like sandwiches.

Or the next time a little girl says she doesn’t want to be photographed, don’t. Show her you deleted the image and thank her for telling you how she feels. Recognize that she owns her body and the right to opt out of you taking pictures of it.

Or the next time a teen cringes at being hugged, step off. Better yet, start by offering a high five or a hug. Give options. Not everyone wants a hug from you. It’s true!

The next time you witness your child stepping into a friend’s space without consent, teach them to check in while the stakes are just Legos and unwanted squirts from a water gun.

It is so very important.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – I really enjoyed this post about teaching consent to children. Check it out and then share one of your favorites in the comments.

Happy to help!

I want my children to grow up to live a life that fills their spirit with bliss. I want them to walk with purpose and offer compassion in their own unique way. I want them to wake up every morning with a fire in their belly for social justice.

I’m not going to lie to you. I want my children to be activists.

You wanna be a lawyer? Oooh, how about immigration law or The Innocence Project.

You wanna be a doctor? I hear there are kids with cleft palates who could use someone like you. Have you ever heard of Patch Adams?

You wanna be a fireman? Do it. Saving lives, protecting families is an honorable gig. Be safe. Bring me stories.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. It shouldn’t. Conversations in our home revolve around the celebration of their interests and guidance towards how they might use their day job to serve others.

I will admit that I’ve also told them to make it so mommy doesn’t have to work. I recognize that these are conflicting instructions but I figure either way, I CAN’T LOSE!

Real talk. Nobody saving the world is rolling in bank but they are rolling deep in the good.

My kids watch me. As they all do. They 11136651_10152893200734022_8788192720637140555_ncome to the events, they sit through the meetings, they help their momma empty the car after the latest event. They know my elation and exhaustion. They know my successes and my frustrations. They get to witness it all.

Should make for a great book someday.

Lord, help me.

I often worry that it’s all too much. That I do too much. I worry, like mothers do.

And then, I get an email like this:

image

Have any brochures coming up that I can help with? If so, let me know.

He ends his email in the same way I do.

Happy to help!

It’s never too early to learn grassroots organizing. #amiright

As a side note: that’s my best friend’s face making a cameo appearance. Hey girl, hey!

So, my son is sitting on the Teen Yoga Committee for my foundation. He is the brother of the founder of the Dog Olympics. I’m thinking, he will be learning some communications this summer. And the best part?

It’s all because he’s happy to help.

My children will be who they are meant to be. I enjoy watching them change, grow and become more and more independent of me. Different than each other and bringing their own brand of amazing into my life and the lives of others. It is a remarkable privilege to give my children the room they need to be who they are and then watch the magic happen.

Wouldn’t you agree?

May the life I give my sons now, lead them towards their own bliss. Amen.

Love,

signature1

Old School: The College of Mommy Guilt

It has been 11 days since I last posted here.

Maybe you hadn’t noticed.  It has been a crazy week for so many.

It felt like forever for me.

It’s not that I wasn’t writing.  I write constantly.

My job requires well crafted emails, letters, posts, tweets, reports and occasionally the nicely drafted handwritten card.

Add to all of this, school work.

That is right, ladies and gentlemen.  I have just completed my first week of college after a nine-year break.

Have you met my nine-year old son, Isaiah?

I am taking a creative writing course.  I foresee that school commitments will affect my family, derby career and my social life.  Those decisions are already starting to chafe.

This is precisely why I get so irritated when I see advertisements or articles offering women a strategy to having it all.

Here is a strategy you can count on.

If you want it all, you must want very little.

If you are willing to make sacrifices, you can commit your life to deep loves but not much else.

Take it from me.  I am a expert on the topic. :)

I am already a bit tired and hyper vigilant when it comes to my calendar.  Thanks to a coworker, I have my profesh and personal calendars all synced.  I have never been a calendar girl.  No pun intended.

I now live and breathe by Google reminders.

What about my boys?

They start Karate next week.  Two times a week they will learn their hi-yas and ker-chops.  They are both in school and need help with homework.  I have a nightly study partner in Isaiah, who needs as much practice spelling as I do in mathematics.  We are riding the routine struggle bus as we adjust to stupid early mornings and regular friggin’ bedtimes.

I am still waiting for the world to recognize the value of a slow start of 11am.

Vito is confidently sauntering into daycare waving to the drooling toddlers and teachers alike.  He has no fear.  I am not completely comfortable with him having such an independent life.  He is the first of my children to attend daycare.  It is only part-time. Why do I feel like a part-time parent?

My husband is getting emails from me regarding where he can pick up the photo I had printed for Isaiah’s class.  I invited him to view my calendar so that we can also sync.  We are thinking about having a weekly morning coffee date to discuss…whatever the hell we want to when we are not running around like a team of two people out numbered by three children.

Paul has even changed his schedule so that he can be there to pick up our boys at school and help out on days when I work from home.

This week has left my family a cranky, whiny, exhausted mess.

Why, in the name of all things educated, did I need to make things so complicated with my career, my continued education, my roller derby and my friends.

There it is.  There is the millstone around my neck.

Mommy guilt.

The internal belief that I, as the best mother in the world, am responsible for fixing, making right, soothing and coaxing the Pleasantville life I used to see on T.V. for my family.  If my children throw temper tantrums, it must be as a result of my lack of parental focus.  If my husband, can’t find the ketchup, well darn it if I forgot to organize the pantry.  If my mother-in-law shops for our school supplies, it is because I am too busy after partying with the Vixens.

Well that part might be true. :)

Do you know what I remember about the time my mother put herself through college and graduated with a degree after my father died?  I don’t recall substandard meals, missed appointments or her general disorganization.  I can’t remember one spinning plate crashing to the ground even though, I am sure it must have happened.

I boast about the kind of woman who raised me while pursuing that degree.  I am proud.

I have a feeling that in the next 16 weeks and perhaps for the several semesters that follow, I will need to remind myself that I do not have to manage it all to be successful.  I need to remember that my children benefit from my role modeling and the lifestyle I provide for them.  I need to be reminded that their behavior is the result of years of loving discipline and not a few hours I spend away after bedtime.  I may need to be reminded that my children volunteer, do yoga, attend bouts, ride motorcycles and know many trusted and loving adults that are the village I have chosen.

Most importantly, I need to push my monster mommy ego out of my own way.  My family’s life does not need to revolve around me.  I am not at the center of the universe nor am I controlling its balance.  We are a family.  Just like I sacrifice so that I can afford Karate classes my children will more than likely quit before the Olympics, they will sacrifice by reading quietly so mommy can study sometimes.

This week has been difficult.  Sacrifice is difficult.  Seeing those ends you hold together come apart is a humbling experience.  Recognizing that your lifestyle of love, peace and grace has made it possible to stretch those ends through loved ones is humbling.

We can all consider this the first lesson of the semester.

I wonder if my children will ever cease being my greatest teachers. 

Enjoy your weekend,

Tashmica

 

 

Liar, Liar.

A few days after Columnist Mark Mayes from the Lansing State Journal ran Lilly’s story, he forwarded me an email that made my heart drop into my stomach.

It was a forwarded email from Nick Johnson, Principal of Holt High School 9th Grade Campus to (according to the sender) the entire staff.

Allow me to summarize.

The email stated that my blog posting, Bullies Are Stupid & I Love the Way You Walk was with a few exceptions, basically false.

I felt terrible.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t go around telling stories on people.  I think other than the Penn State thing, this is the first time I have ever written about some entity or group of people in particular.  I deal with problems that arise face to face.

I read and reread his version of the incidents.  The words inaccuracies and omissions stood out time and again.  The heat drained from my face slowly.  I read it again.  I called Ginny and asked a few questions. I read through a very clear timeline of events and how they were allegedly handled correctly by the Principal and a few staff members.

I started to feel a little better.

Why?

I mean, if the email I was forwarded did indeed come from Nick Johnson than I could go through and pick it apart.  I could restate Ginnie’s story and what Lilly’s experience was.  I could but I won’t.

It is simple.  It boils down to one question that we will be bringing to the meeting with us.

Why after nearly nine months of Ginnie seeking answers and policy changes on her daughter’s behalf, is the entire staff of Holt High School’s 9th Grade Campus more entitled to a full explanation of the situation than Ginnie herself?

There were many, many opportunities to explain and find solutions during the school year.   Why now?

Convenience?  Ineptitude? Forgetfulness?

Why is the story suddenly so clear and so well recorded?  How is it that suddenly there are way more adult staff members involved in the report than ever before?

This is what we intend to find out this Tuesday, August 7th at 5pm in the Administration Building of the Holt High School 9th Grade Campus. We hope to see you there.

Click here to RSVP.

I promise, that if I find anything I wrote in this blog to be untrue, I will update you accordingly.  This is not about one principal that gave my sister in law the stink eye once.  This is about the policies of one school as it relates to bullying.  This is about all of you who left comments about your own personal stories and concerns.

Whether you are a parent, student, staff member or concerned community member, you have a voice in this too.  We may have gotten Lilly’s story some attention but you are just as important.

On a happy note, Lilly celebrates her 15th birthday tomorrow.  Happy birthday, darling!

Sincerely,

Aunt Tasha

Happy 7th Birthday, Little Fish

This week marked the 7th year of life for you, Isaac.

You are the little boy we named “laughter” in Hebrew and watched blossom into a true joy. You are the prankster in our family. You love to pull pranks and whether we fall for the joke or not, you still point and laugh uproariously.

This year has been a year of seeking for you. You are the finder of rare rocks, interesting bugs, magic potions and the very best hiding spots. You are starting 1st grade this year. I can’t believe how you have grown.

I am not entirely sure why we are so lucky to have you as a part of our family but I am so happy you are. Nothing would be near as funny, sweet, joyful or loving without you right in the middle of all of us.

We love you, Isaac.

Mommy loves you.

Enjoy a whole, full year of learning, seeking and finding new things. Thank you for sharing your discoveries with us.

Sincerely,

Mom

Seek & Find Isaac

Lilly’s Mom

To whom it may concern;

It appears there are a lot of you.  You are deeply concerned.  Concerned Enough to send emails, posts, tweets and comments letting the world read all about Lilly’s story. If perhaps you missed my blog post Bullies Are Stupid & I Love The Way You Walk, read it NOW!

Lilly’s mother would like me to share something with you all.

I really would like to thank Tashmica Firecracker Torok for taking such interest in her favorite niece! To all of you that have read and responded to this wonderfully written blog, thank you! It seemed for so long all of my concerns, frustrations and feelings of sadness were falling on deaf ears. Thank you for listening.

9th grade was a rough year for Lilly. Lilly finished up the year with her head held high. I could not have been more proud!! Nobody knows what Lilly’s future holds, not even the doctors. Whatever she does she will know she is loved, she is stronger than she believes and I will continue to go to the ends of the earth for her!

Growing up I always heard “sticks and stones may brake your bones but names will never hurt you.” This could not be further from the truth. Words KILL, and we continue to see it and hear about it in the news! As the adult in charge it is your job to step up and teach students respect and empathy. They need to teach peers to stand up for one another.

Holt High School 9th grade campus fell very short, and my daughter payed the price! As Aunt Tasha said, Lilly’s physical bruises have healed, unfortunately her self esteem, courage and trust have been deeply wounded. That scar will remain a lifetime. Continue to read, pass along the blog and please voice your opinion!

Principal Nick Johnson has never been held accountable for his actions or lack of. The lies he told and put in writing have never been put to truth. Most of all, as the principal of an entire building, he only has enough confidence and pride to fall on the heels of someone else’s apology by simply saying….

“I’d like to echo that”.

Lilly’s mom,
Ginnie Torok

Months ago, when I shared with my friends what was going on, I kept trying to think of something I could do for Lilly.  Something that would let her know she was special.  I skate for the Lansing Derby Vixens, so I thought about bringing her to a bout and letting her be all VIP.  I thought about scheduling a spa day with my stylist.  I just couldn’t put my finger on the right thing.

The write thing.

Ginnie told me that if the administration would not do the right thing, she wanted me to do the write thing.

Thank you all for doing the write thing.  Continue to share and know that Ginnie, Ben, Lilly and family are discussing the next best course of action.  I will be sure to share with you what they believe that to be.  Thank you for loving and encouraging our Lilly! Thank you for continuing to prove that not only do we live in a community that will not tolerate bullying, you are willing to advocate to keep it that way.

With all my fiery heart,

Tashmica

PS – We are reading every single comment through tears passing over smiles.  What a treasure you are.

The Sock Hop

I believe that you lose a bit of your soul every time you have to match and fold white socks.

I hate it.

I know.  This is the part when you tell me folding is for suckers.  You probably just pile them in a drawer somewhere and match while you go.

I am sure that is just awesome for you, yourself and…you.

Huh.  That worked out way better in my head.

As for me and my house, we have a lot of feet.  Ten feet, to be exact.  Most of which need a readily available pair of socks prior to putting on shoes.

If you have a lot of children, like I do, than you know that a single road block on the way to becoming fully dressed is like the Berlin Wall of accessorizing.  There is no try. There is only do or watch your children completely lose it over the mismatched sock drawer.

“Isaac, do you have your shoes on?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“There are no socks in the sock drawer.”

“Yes, there are.”

“Not in my size.”

Harumph.

“Of course, there *move socks around* are.  I just folded *pushes more socks to the side* socks yesterday. Who unfolded all the socks? *darts evil stare at Vito*

*Vito smiles, farts and pretends to cluck like a chicken.*

Wonderful.

Some hours later, we do finally manage to finish preparing to venture out into the world and I am already exhausted.  It is 9a.m.

Today, I decided that the boys could and would help me fold socks.  Vito was mainly directed to play elsewhere.  I showed them how to match and then how to tuck the socks inside themselves to keep them together.

Isaac was off like a flash.

If it were to save his life, Isaiah could not fold socks.

I taught.

He struggled.

I encouraged.

He complained.

I became frustrated.

He did too.

“Isaiah, why is this so hard for you?” I said completely perplexed.

“It’s just not my gift.”

I laughed. I laughed loud.

I then encouraged him to keep trying.  He kept whining and I started to think.

COME ON, MOMMY BRAIN!  There has got to be something I can use from my handbook on parenting!

What is it?  What is…it?!

I HAVE IT!

*Sigh*

“I *dramatic pause* am a terrible cook.”

“Mom, you cook good stuff all of the time.”

“Oh honey, it was not my gift though.  I hated cooking and had to practice for years to learn how to make things that taste good for my family.  I still don’t really enjoy it.  It’s something I have had to work on.  Now, I am proud of a very few things I can make for friends and family.”

*Isaiah, catching on to the parallels, eyes me suspiciously*

“Keep trying, babe.  You’re doing well.  It may take a minute but you’ll get it.”

*Isaiah drops sock*