Healing happens in a place of safety.

“Did you hear what you just said?”

I didn’t. I had been rambling about my boys. I leaned back into the chair in my therapist’s office to think. The tree branches behind me snatched at my curls.

Yes. My therapist has a tree in her office that is constantly getting stuck in my hair.

I love it.

“That your boys are physical….”

She paused like a teacher giving the pupil a moment to catch up.

“Yes?” I said with my brow furrowed.

And…you love it.” she said slowly.

My hands shot up to my face. I peered at her between two hands pressed against my cheeks. I repeated the answer.

“And I love it.”

I whispered those words in disbelief and then the tears came. I bowed deeply in my chair and beneath that listening tree with relief. Tears of joy spilled forward and then I wiped my face and said,

“I almost made it through an entire session without crying.” Laughing I continued, “You fucking ruined it.”

She laughed but her eyes were harboring quickly escaping tears too.

You may not remember but there was a time where touch felt like the enemy. Connection and intimacy felt like a cheese grater on my soul. My healing required an end to passive consent. My soul needed some time to seek out it’s true loves. My body needed to learn what is safe, safe, safe…I am safe here.

I am safe here.

The little girl I was, the little girl in need of a constant barrier between her heart and connection is leaning into connection and intimacy. She is letting go of her shield. She is slowly backing away from the tools used to fortify walls. She is coming out to play, love, gaze, connect.

I love this girl. I love how she gazes into the eyes of her children. I love how she understands that criticism doesn’t mean that she is bad, dirty or broken. I love that she listens and can lie under a pile of freshly bathed and pajama dressed boys with wild abandon.

I love that she doesn’t seem to feel trapped anymore or not as much.

I have learned that healing happens in a place of safety.

-You deserve to live in wide open fields

I feared that my trauma was stealing joy from me and my children. Honestly, it did steal joy for a time until something shifted.

The story I told my therapist:

I held one of my sons in my arms. I gazed into his eyes and I simply paused. I didn’t move. I let him bathe in my love for him. It was like a freeze ray. He couldn’t remove himself from my adoration. I felt like I might be staring at him like a creep.

“Children don’t stare. They gaze.”

My therapist interjected that tidbit. Science has proven that when you are making eye contact with an infant and you stop, there is an immediate change in their brain chemistry. That chemical reaction identifies our basic need for attachment.

I held him and gazed at him until he was ready to go. All filled up with love.

My oldest son feels no shame about kissing his mother goodbye. My middle son starts his days by leaning into me with his face tilted upwards for a kiss.

“Good morning, momma.”

My boys are physically affectionate and I love it. It has taken 3 years but I am the mother I always wanted to be.

Fearlessly affectionate, hilariously embarrassing and stingy with the ice cream.12015233_10153641036623588_5375878501296692331_o

But mostly that first one.

Healing up,

Tashmica's signature

PS – Let’s talk about this more. Join me here.

My mom is a Fireworker

The other day, I allowed my two youngest to take our dog Lucy around the block for a little walk. Armed with the required walkie-talkies, I watched them meander down the street together. They turned the corner and I turned up my walkie-talkie.

I sat on the porch with my laptop and opened my email. *sigh* Peace and quiet.

“MOM, CAN OUR FRIEND COME OVER TO PLAY?”

Isaac always yells into the walkie-talkie. It’s like he’s not sure he can trust the thing to carry his voice.

“Sure, honey.” I said.

In about 2 minutes they came galloping my way with a little boy I’d never seen before. According to my boys (and confirmed later by my guy), they’d met him before during other walks. They arrived happy and ready to play with their new buddy. Levi reached for the door and I stopped him.

“Baby, we’re gonna play on the porch. I don’t know your friend’s parents yet. It’s for safety.”

He complained a little but I offered up Legos on the porch. Challenge accepted!

image

The boys began to talk and build. They negotiated for pieces and created storylines. They came over to show me their new creations and to tattle. Eventually, things got personal and Levi told his new friend,

” My mom’s name is Tasha and she’s a Fireworker.”

I giggled a little inside wondering what that translated into in the mind of my little one and his friend. I thought about Firemen and Fire eaters. I thought about jugglers with torches burning bright and welders. And then I thought about my work with The Firecracker Foundation.

A fireworker?

Our first vacation of the summer was spent near Charlevoix at Fisherman’s Island State Park. Some families have Disney, some go to concerts. We go to Fisherman’s Island. While I was there making memories with my boys, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar sat down with Megyn Kelly for an interview.

I read about it and gathered three main points:

  • Consent is not required if your victim doesn’t really remember what happened.
  • The Duggars’ were okay with giving Josh time to get right with God while sacrificing the safety of their daughters and a family friend. Favoritism much?
  • And it’s all fine because forgiveness, you guys. Be cool.

I took a few deep breaths and then set about writing a response to 7 main points in this article. By the time I was finished unleashing the fury, I had nearly 3,000 words. Many edits later and I was ready to offer up 1,000 words to xoJane.

It was published on June 15, 2015 at 5 p.m.

I was really excited to be published on such a wonderful site. But I was over the moon to be able to offer some insights on the appropriate ways to respond to child sexual abuse – especially to communities of faith.

My perpetrator and father was a Christian and even served as a youth pastor for a short time. My faith has been complicated, lost, challenged, found and restored through the process of healing. As I delved deeper into the world of advocacy for child survivors, I witnessed the victim-blaming, slut-shaming and outright protection of perpetrators carried out my so-called houses of faith.

It makes my blood boil.

I don’t expect to agree with ever tenet of the many diverse religions that make up our beautiful world. I do expect that we can agree that no one ever deserves to be assaulted, it is never the victim’s fault and perpetrators should have legal and social consequences for their actions.

I will not lower my expectations. I expect the Godly to raise theirs.

My favorite Bible verse has remained with me throughout my life. It’s actually kind of a violent passage all about the Lord’s vengeance against the wicked. Psalms 10:17-18 declares that the God of the Hebrews ‘defends the fatherless and the oppressed.

As a fatherless child and one experienced in oppression, it feels good to know that the Judeo-Christian God, the God of the Duggars, is a self-described, violent defender of the abandoned and marginalized.

Don’t mistake me as someone who believes that violence is the answer. I don’t but like most, I enjoy the idea of a God willing to kick a few asses for the children. Similar to how I love Iron Man for being both a hero and a narcissist.

I feel like this section is going to give us both problems so I’m going to move on.

When I told my family about this new milestone for my writing, they decided it would be appropriate to set some things on fire in my honor. Fireworks. They wanted to set off some fireworks.

Lucky for them, I purchased a red lantern while we were on vacation but we never used it. My husband and I walked down to the park holding hands. Lucy came with while the boys biked ahead. It was windier than we expected so we settled the bottom of the lantern into the hollowed out section of a stump and lit it up.

We struggled to hold it down until the heat could fill the inside but the wind kept blowing the sides in. We were afraid it would catch fire before it could get over the trees around us. I realized the problem was our grip. We had to let it go. We had to stop struggling against its need to soar.

My story has resided in the gentle hands of a loving family and then a supportive hometown community. I have always been a little worried awaiting the trolls. Maybe that’s why I’ve never submitted anything before. If I never cross the bridge, the trolls won’t be compelled to attack me.

I’ve been protecting the brave little girl in me from the strangers.

My story, who I am and what I do is important. It’s important and it’s growing faster than I can handle or control. It leaves me breathless and overwhelmingly grateful. It leaves me shaken and filled with sorrow. It leaves me exhilarated and exhausted.

It leaves me like a little red lantern, blazing and ready to soar.

I suppose Levi has given me the most appropriate title of all.

Yours,

The Fireworker

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.