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.

Believe me. I know.

Today I woke up to heartbreak.

Clear and strong, like a window cracked into giant glass slivers.

Another survivor, bearing the burden of proof.

A family chanting and then berating. Pushing for a more palatable story and when not rewarded with what they wanted, they turned to petty attacks and cutting words.

I won’t repeat them here. It’s not my story to tell.

I did have advice though.

Every time I tell my story, there are consequences for the people in my family.

I fear my mother will never release the guilt she feels about her inability to see what was hidden so expertly.

My brother mourned a father I only know in pieces and parts that don’t reconcile themselves to one another.

My father’s family experiences a range of emotions and reactions that I will never understand.

It is my story.

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It is my truth but sharing it hurts. It hurts others and sometimes – damn it – it hurts myself.

Even though I wish it didn’t any more.

However, I did not conjure up this pain. I did not bring this upon us all like some plague.

My father did this.

He made choices that turned his only daughter into his victim.

He ruined his own reputation and sullied his own good name.

I am only telling the truth.

It’s not an easy truth but my story belongs and I have rarely been made to feel otherwise.

Your story belongs too.

This morning, I recognized a truth being stifled. I saw a true story being shoved out into the open where it was insulted and scolded in an effort to change the truth.

It was heartbreaking.

And it will happen again. It’s probably happening right now in some corner of the world and just down the street.

I’d like to say I don’t understand why families of victims behave this way but I do.

Deeply, in my heart, I also wish that my father had lived up to his good reputation. I wish it were as simple as the wrong outfit, the wrong place, too many cocktails, flirty behavior or unclear boundaries.

If only.

I recognize, deep in my heart that when you see that no one is safe, you start to realize that it could happen to you and you panic.

Stop it.

Those excuses only take the focus off of the only person in the situation who deserves to be shamed, punished and seeking repentance – the perpetrator.

If someone has enough faith in you to share the burden of their most terrible story, please, please believe them. Please.

Give faith in return for faith.

If you fail a loved one in this manner, it will have dire, long-lasting and sometimes irrevocable consequences for you both.

Believe me. I know.wpid-img_20140502_073144.jpg

True story.

Love,

Tashmica

PS – I had to add this sassy picture to drive home the point. Ya dig?

Come Dance With Me

It has been nearly two months since #Stargazing2013.

I wore my Joanie dress. That’s what I love to call the green dress that I feel channels Joanie’s style from Mad Men.

The room was filled with family, friends and even a few strangers. I was nervous. I nearly lost my temper looking for my other earring. Emotions were running a little high.

Don’t worry. I founded it and kept my cool.

Once I arrived, warmth, love, hope and encouragement seemed to be hanging from the ceiling. It tinkled like crystal chandeliers and inspired hugs that rose out of the ground and up through entire bodies.

I told my story. I cried. I even got that verklempt voice. You know the one that sounds like a duck. I kept it together. Breathed. Paused. Continued.

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It was not easy but it wasn’t terribly difficult either. Love is a funny thing that way. It inches stepping stones closer together and opens bolted doors to meadows filled with fireflies.

I shared my big and scary dream.

I started an organization that aims to –

Honor the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma with a community invested in the healing of their whole being.

It’s called The Firecracker Foundation.

I want to make sure that children who survive what I did, have the love, therapy and support they need to have a healthy and happy future. I think our community should be invested in their healing.

I know that we should not leave them behind to fend for themselves.

I asked everyone who attended #Stargazing2013 to join our community. I told them – you belong with us.

Everyone agreed.

Some donated. Some pledged. Some volunteered.

Offerings of gifts I do not own.

And then we set some stuff on fire.

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You are looking at a very bad idea.

Sparks flew. The fire launched and it seems to be heading for a steady blaze.

Just a few days after the event, Louise Knott Ahern told my story in the Lansing State Journal and then it was picked up by the Detroit Free Press.

Thirteen men and women volunteered to share their stories and images in a calendar project that will be sold as a fundraiser. Their vision turned art photography will impact the hearts of fellow survivors and gift others a deeper understanding of what it means to have to live with the consequences of sexual trauma.

FC - Survivors 2013

Yoga studios around town are offering donation based classes to fund yoga classes for trauma survivors. The first one was yesterday and you can view a full schedule here.

My board of directors is training, strategic planning and committee building. Grants are being researched and programs are being built with the honor of our youngest survivors in mind.

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Holy cow.

And how do I feel?

It’s taken me a few exhausted days of stumbling about to figure that out.

I am proud.

I am proud and deeply in love with what is happening around me.

I am proud, in love and filled with so much gratitude, I can hardly contain it.

And, if I were being completely honest, I would admit that I’m a little frightened.

A good healthy fear never hurt anyone. I’ve heard that pride goes before a fall but perhaps if it’s tempered with crashing waves of gratitude, I’ll be able navigate this sea without too many shipwrecks.

Most of all – more than anything – I feel…

Over heartache and rage
Come set us free
Over panic and strange

I want the whole damn world to come and dance with me. 

Dancing so hard,

Tashmica