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 come 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:
Have any brochures coming up that I can help with? If so, let me know.
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.
As a family, we are getting pretty good at getting out of Dodge.
This weekend was no exception. This 4th of July we packed up the 1963 Holiday Rambler we stumbled upon on Craigslist and headed to the Whispering Waters Campground in Hastings.
While Paul spent time troubleshooting leaks and figuring out how to use the camper, we relaxed poolside. All of the manuals are from the 60s and therefore they mostly recommend you figure it out your damn self.
To each his own. Paul prefers tools and tinkering. I prefer sunshine and bad tan lines.
But seriously, aren’t all tan lines good?
The boys spent hours in the pool this weekend perfecting my panic response to their underwater swimming.
Of course, Isaac continued his exploration of Michigan’s insect population with the help of Momma’s Google.
We also went hiking on the Paul Henry Thornapple trail. My boys encouraged my hopes for a future of sibling best friendship with their hand holding and walking way ahead of us deeply involved in their own conversation. I knew that they were creating their own personal memories of each other just out of earshot.
Levi found and named a little frog, ‘Crickety’. He also discovered the happiness that comes with finding wild berries growing right were you happen to be in need of a sweet snack.
We also removed Levi’s training wheels right before we biked nearly 8 miles over the course of two and a half hours.
Truth be told, he’s been biking for awhile with them teetering just off the ground. I’ve even had a few bikers comment on it and I was all…
YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF US!
It was NOT easy for him. It involved mosquitos and falling again and again. He even rolled off the trail and into some brambles one time. After a few squeezes and tons of encouragement from his whole family – well, look at that photo – he was our hero for finishing stronger than he started.
The weekend included a few of my favorite, most beautiful purple sparklers in the hands of some happy little boys.
And other kid friendly explosives.
I also settled into that space in my head that I find in the woods. I didn’t write much but I did take notice. Mindfulness is so much easier to find in the woods.
It reminds me of my smallness in comparison to the universe.
I set an intention to give my boys and amazing last summer before they are all in school fulltime this fall. I’ve done my best to work less, spend more time creating good memories and focusing on important lessons.
It’s been as delightful as you can imagine.
It’s also been hella frustrating because I love my work. I’ve had to say no more often and it’s causing my inner over achiever some serious anxiety.
That’s the truth. It’s hard for me to slow down. I wish it came more naturally but it doesn’t.
I’m like Isaac in that way. I have two speeds: sprinting and sitting.
This isn’t really a stop. It’s more of a change in direction. A tuning in to a different, more playful channel where the house is cleaner, the meals are healthier and the children are better behaved.
I could definitely have worse intentions.
I love this family.
I love watching my husband working to make our newish camper a home away from home. I love seeing my oldest gain independence and test it in stepping outside of our little circle. I love seeing Isaac wonder at the science of the woods in cocoons, insects and water. I love watching Levi learn to be more lionhearted as he tests his own strength.
Time is frail and we only get one chance to give our children all we can before they’re ready to leave us for the world.
I’m so deeply grateful for this time
PS – Speaking of a herd of turtles, I found one. About 26 of them on a log, to be exact.
Most of it is for their benefit. I make them eat healthy foods, brush their teeth, hold hands in the parking lot and generally do things that will prolong their life.
Some things I do purely for myself. Why have children if you cannot ask them to shovel the drive, clear the table or take out the trash? It would just be wasted free labor if I didn’t.
There is too much work to be done in our home to have little idle hands hanging around.
In addition to domestic duties, my children have been subject to my insistence that we are a family of volunteers. They have passed out flyers for my roller derby league*, “worked” in a Habitat for Humanity home and placed stamps on appeals for Nyaka.
My husband and I are the captains of the volunteer ship and rarely even ask if anyone wants to come along. We just place it on the calendar and make sure there are tasks safe for little hands.
As we say on the Vixens, my children are voluntold for tasks not volunteered.
I usually do explain the cause and why we are helping in the car on the way over.
We support mommy’s roller derby team. We believe everyone should have a home. We believe that all children deserve to be loved and protected.
They usually listen for about three seconds, ask a question or two, sulk if they’d rather be playing video games and eventually realize resistance is futile before pitching in.
It’s not always pretty. Their attention span – especially Vito’s *sigh* – does not permit the dramatic shifting of mountains.
I give my time because I am passionate about service. I believe that it is important to give of your resources but you cannot truly love something if you are not willing to invest sweat equity.
The family that sweats together, loves together?
I don’t know but it seems like if I want my children to love the world around them like I do, then they have to not only see me living by my own words but they need to participate.
Isaiah is now 9-years-old and has been subjected to this lifestyle since I could tie his warm little body onto my chest so my hands could be free. He is starting to ponder deeper questions about the world around him.
He got all googly-eyed when I mentioned liking girls the other day.
I. DIE. It was so cute!
I have always given priority to organizations that serve women and children. Next in line are issues that effect families and then the environment. I’m not huge into fighting for cures or animals. I just never have been.
We all have causes that appeal to us. We have our things. Those are mine.
But what are Isaiah’s things? Does he care about roller derby? Does he want to build homes? Does he care about orphans in Uganda?
I didn’t know because I have never asked.
So one day I asked him a question.
If you could choose one thing to volunteer for, what would it be?
He looked at me kind of funny and needed a little more information before he could answer. So I broke it down for him. Forgive me if some of these terms are not P.C. but I was talking to a child.
Would you want to serve blind people, old people, animals, the environment or….?
I took some time to talk about a few different types of organizations with different beneficiaries and gave him some time to think.
After a moment of deliberation, Isaiah said that if he could choose, he would serve animals and the environment.
Those would be his things.
I was blown away by the fact that his interests were last on my own list. My son loves nature and wants to protect it.
He did not get that from me. I mean, I’m glad for nature and glad for people who keep it together. I’m just not the girl for the job.
We both attended a short orientation where we were given the rules of how to handle the animals in the shelter.
Isaiah impressed me with his care and attention to details that keep the animals safe from harm.
When he completed his orientation, he changed into his volunteer shirt before going into the grocery store. He could hardly wait to put it on.
Isaiah is the captain of this volunteer ship. We have a set date on the calendar for us to make our monthly visit and we go more often when we have time. As soon as we walk in, Isaiah runs the show. I am only there to chaperone. We visit the animals that he wants to visit and in the order he wants to visit them.
I have learned that he gets overwhelmed if an animal is too hyper or too strong. He remembers their names and asks if they have been adopted when we return. He is incredibly gentle and uses a kind voice with all of the animals. He tries to understand what they want and acts accordingly.
We leave every animal saying,”We hope we never see you again”. Isaiah understands his role is to give comfort to the animals while they wait to be adopted by others.
Watching my son doing his thing has taught me more about who he is inside.
What an incredible gift.
Following him into those kennels has given me a new love for animals and the peace that comes from being their friend.
And this whole time I thought I was the one who was supposed to be handing out lessons. :)
Have you ever asked about who they were before they became your family?
I hadn’t. Not really.
Considering our family history, opening doors behind me never seemed like a wise or safe plan of action.
Until I got this idea in my head about writing a book about the sexual abuse I survived as a child, I assumed that my mother was simply the woman who smelled like coffee and perfume when I fell asleep on her lap in church.
Her definition was (and I imagine still is) wrapped up in my own self-centeredness. She is the one who spent too much money during a hard time so that I could be the belle of the ball at a high school dance. She is the woman who slept with one eye opened and the blue screen of the TV flickering on until I popped my head into her room to say I was home safe. She grew green beans when we were little but for the life of her couldn’t get a tomato to grow in Texas.
She is my mother. I know her well.
My grandmother, my biological father’s mother, I did not know quite that well.
I remember giving her roses at my father’s funeral. She brought me the soft, slow southern drawl of my family’s roots in South Carolina over the phone but I have rarely been in the same room with her. I only had stories. Vague shadows of tales my father told my mother before he died. The death of a family member is often like pruning limbs off of a tree. Sometimes, unintentionally, you lose a few of the smaller branches and offshoots.
When my research began, I had questions. Now those questions are reproducing like a Mogwai eating fried chicken after midnight.
Correction. Based on this chart of the Mogwai/Gremlin lifecycle, my questions are budding like a Mogwai caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella.
This phenomenon has begun because I knew less than I thought. I knew nothing.
I didn’t know how my parents met or how they fell in love. I didn’t know how my grandmother grew up or what her parents were like. I didn’t know what my father’s childhood was like or who his friends were.
I still know very little.
I feel like I need a crime solving board in my attic to help me keep my own story straight.
My story is intricate, complex and fascinating because it is not mine alone.
It is my father’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my brother’s, my husband’s and my children’s story too.
We are all standing in a piece of the story. Our points of view are different but we are all here tied together.
You are probably wondering what I hope to achieve with all of these inquiries into my father’s past.
Well, so am I.
I am starting to be okay with knowing nothing.
At the end of this pile of questions, there will be no definitive answer to the question, “Why me?”
If that question had an answer, I think all of the unjustly injured people of the world would collectively sigh in relief so loudly, it would shift the planet.
The answer to “Why me?” is nearly as annoying as the redundancy of the question.
About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
The final answer is not a simple fill in the blank response.
The answer is understanding, empathy and change.
If I can show you how ruinous the experience of sexual assault and rape is by telling you my story, then perhaps you will have more compassion for those that are trying to heal around you. You might even become an advocate. You may, if we are all lucky, help me recreate what childhood means in our lifetime.
It is difficult for me to see the word Stuebenville and not go into an immediate rant filled with anger and curse words.
There are so many things wrong with what happened.
Sadly, a young woman’s rape did not stop with the act against her person. The media, leaders in her community and her peers have all added to her dehumanization and abuse.
The coaches of the young men convicted knew about the assault and tried to shield them from the well deserved consequences of their actions.They picked up a copy of the playbook that has been used for centuries to protect perpetrators and illigitimize the claims of victims.
As if being raped is not enough, she was video taped, publicly named and threatened. She was called a whore, a drunk and told that she deserved it by thousands of disgusting internet trolls.
Her experience is not even unique.
Ladies and gentleman, what you see before you is how we treat survivors of sexual assault and abuse in our culture.
It would be historically inaccurate for me to claim differently.
The past week has been a parade of terrors and in the back of my mind there sits a heavy as iron question.
How am I supposed to raise Isaiah, Isaac and Levi in this world?
Don’t all parents think that their child would never do such a thing?
How am I any different?
I don’t know that I am. Not for sure.
Someone just asked me if I thought it was harder to raise boys than girls. I used to think raising girls was harder. If you would have asked me last week, that would have been my answer.
I was wrong.
When it comes to gender issues, no one sex is harder to raise than the other. It is the opposite side of the same coin.
While I am weeding through video games that hypersexualize women characters so that my sons don’t grow up with unrealistic expectations, my friends who are mothers of girls are doing the same thing so that their little girls don’t grow up thinking they have to be that stereotype.
While I am teaching my sons to recognize the brilliance of a woman’s mind, my friends who are mothers of girls are encouraging those minds to grow strong and bold.
As a side note, I would die if any of my sons came home with anything less than real intelligence in a woman (or a man – lesbihonest).
While I am teaching my sons to observe the physical reactions others have to their actions, my friends who are mothers of girls are teaching the same lessons of empathy.
“Look at his face. Does it look like he likes that? Why not?”
We both have a lot that the other will not have to deal with. Not many little girls will be called sissies and be told to man up. However, not many little boys will be told to act like a lady.
It’s true that my boys cannot get pregnant.
Isn’t that more dangerous.
Men have the ability to slink through the world causing irreparable damage and then walking away with no stretch marks to show for it. They can assault and hide in the shadows without so much as a scheduled counseling appointment. They can be taught to wield power and control without taking responsibility for their actions.
But you know, at least they cannot get pregnant.
This is not to say that there are not honorable men (or dishonorable women) in the world. This is to say how hard their mothers had to work to raise them that way.
My sons are my joy. They are rough and tumble, sweet and sticky, art on the walls and dirty hands in my pockets.
I never want them to be someone else’s sorrow.
I have known for too long that this world is not a safe place. I don’t trust this world with my children. All I need to do to prove that is evoke the world “Stuebenville”.
We, the mothers of children, need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. It is our job to protect and deliver this next generation with more hope than the last.
We do have the most important job in the world. That is not a platitude. It is a fact that has been made painfully clear. We need to place firmly in the hands of our children a different kind of playbook.
Last night, I drove into the desert with my father. It was 1987 and my telescope traveled folded in the back. It was dark and where I hoped to see Orion hunting, I found fear instead.
When writing my story, I have to take water breaks. I stop after a harsh word or phrase is chosen and I have to look away from the page. I take a deep breath, curse, grab a glass of wine or ask God for protection again.
It’s a gauntlet. It’s a bear trap I pry open with a stick. It’s a net dropped.
You must think I am a masochist of the worst kind, to walk up to that jeep and climb in. I must be crazy to lean into my seatbelt to try and discern the new path taken and why. I promise you, I am not.
I hate my story. If I could erase three years of my childhood, I absolutely would. I would abandon all of you who read this and understand all to well how promising the idea of canceling out a few years would be. I would unwrap that golden ticket and race to claim it.
Many survivors try to in their own way. I know I have.
The truth of the matter is that although it is difficult for me to rise under this weight, I am not alone. As you read this, children all over the world are being abused. Someone is ruining a piece of their life story. Someone is choosing to tear them apart and leaving them to pick up the pieces.
I will not take a golden ticket.
I will climb into every room, car or memory left. I will examine and question. I will ache and bear.
The world needs to know. We cannot allow this to continue. We cannot choose to destroy our children any longer.