The Kindness of A Stranger

“I’ll be right back, ” I said to the lady manning the UPS counter. I directed my daughter who was all but trying to climb the walls in the tiny office, out the glass doors and back into the parking lot.

We quickly walked back to the car, where I’d left my phone. I unlocked the car doors, placed Girlie in the back and grabbed my phone. My mind was racing; I needed that package. It contained the dress I was going to wear to my sister in law’s wedding the following week. I’d purposely come into the city, over an hour drive away from our home, early so I wouldn’t be racing around in the days prior to our trip. My to-do list was structured carefully, and of course, I hadn’t made any room for Murphy’s Law.

My bank card was not working in their debit machine. I’d just used it to fill up with gas, and grab a coffee, so I knew it wasn’t the card. The funds were there. I also knew that no matter how slowly I pushed it into the machine, it just kept coming up with an error as though my card was broken. So, I would just transfer the money to my other bank card, and we’d be finished.

Or so I thought.

My phone refused to load any of my apps. Once again, Murphy seemed to be taunting me. My phone had just worked fine, using the internal GPS to guide me to the UPS office so I could pick up the damn dress, and pay the stupid duty. Frustrated, I reset my phone, and tried again. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What was I going to do? They didn’t take cash, and I couldn’t get either of my cards to work. It meant my drive into the city was mostly wasted. Frustration lined my body. It didn’t have to be this difficult. With the sun blaring on my face, I opened Girlie’s door, “Come on, we’re going to go try this again.”

We had to wait in line again. Girlie’s patience was wearing thin (as was mine), the air conditioning on much too high in the dank closet of a waiting room, my annoyance peaking as the counter attendant made her way through the line at a snail’s pace. Finally, it was our turn. Again.

“Let’s try my card once more.”

The error message returned.

“Your machine is broken,” I snapped, “I just used it somewhere else.” The woman didn’t respond.

“What can I do?”

“You can pay by cheque.”

“Who in the world carries cheques around?” I nearly exploded at her. She shrugged her shoulders.

“Can someone else come and pick up this package for me? I live an hour out of town. I just drove an hour to get it, your machine is broken, and I cannot get my package as a result. I need the dress for my sister in law’s wedding.”

“Sure. Just have them bring in the slip,” she responded nonchalantly. kindness

“Can I have it back?”

Her eyes went wide, “Uh sure. I think I threw it out. Let me check the garbage.”

I sighed, as she hefted the tiny garbage can full of other yellow slips onto the counter, and began to pilfer through it’s contents.

Halfway through her search, a voice behind me spoke,

“How much is the duty?”

I whirled around to face a middle aged man.

“It’s just $13 and change. They won’t take cash, their machine won’t take my card, and I don’t carry cheques.”

“Yeah, who does?” he laughed, “You said you live out of town?”

I nodded, “Over an hour out. If she can find the slip, I’ll just send my husband in.”

We both peered at the lady who was still digging in the garbage for my slip.

“I’ll pay it for you.”

“What?”

“I’ll pay the charges. It doesn’t make sense for you to have to make another trip because these guys have ridiculous policies on payments, and can’t afford to have a functioning debit machine.”

“You don’t have to do that.” I stammered, stunned.

“It’s only $13, I don’t mind.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he responded and moved toward the counter, “I’ll pay the duty,” he explained to the lady.

“Oh, I can’t let you do that,” the lady reponded, her hands still in the garbage can.

He laughed, “You aren’t serious? She lives out of town which you can clearly see on her package, your machine isn’t working,  and you won’t take cash. So, I’ll pay.”

“Well, it’s just that it has to have her name on it….”

I rolled my eyes, “This is a joke. You know if someone pays with debit, you don’t have their name, right? I’m okay with him paying. I just want the package.”

Her eyes darted between me and this stranger, she sighed, and said, “Fine.”

The machine made the same error for this kind man, but unlike my card that has swipe protection built in, the swipe worked for him. The receipts printed off, and he handed me one.

“Here, keep this, just in case.”

The lady handed me my package after I signed some forms. With tears in my eyes, I turned to this kind man and said, “Thank you so much. You just saved me an extra trip. You didn’t have to be so kind. Thank you.”

“Of course. Enjoy your sister in law’s wedding!”

“I will. I will. Thank you! C’mon, Girlie, we’re finished here.”

As we made our way back onto the city roads, I let the kindness of this man fill my body. Sometimes, we forget that we live in a society with other people who are so kind. The sort of people who would just randomly pay the stupid duty on a stupid package because a stupid machine wasn’t working, and think nothing of it.

I want to be like that. I want to be the kind middle aged man who paid the duty of a perfect stranger, because it was helpful, and a nice thing to do. Because kindness really is everything.

Nail Polish Wouldn’t Have Helped Me

Warning: This post discusses a sexual assault that occurred during my high school career. There is some graphic descriptions, which could potentially be triggering to some. Read with caution and at your own discretion. 

 

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Image Credit: Melanie Tata

 

Recently, a nail polish has been making headlines because of it’s supposed ability to test for date rape drugs in drinks. It’s being heralded as a breakthrough, and a solution to the epidemic of rape.

Besides the obvious problem that it places the onus on women to protect themselves from rape, is this really a solution, at all? Realistically, this nail polish is only a tool in the massive bag of tricks we women are expected to tote around; it’s one more thing we’re “supposed to do”. It’s also one more thing that will inevitably be used against us.

When women are sexually assaulted or raped, nothing they wear, they did or didn’t do is of much importance. Focusing on these inane details detract from the bigger problem with rape and sexual assault, the fact that rape will happen even if a woman is doing absolutely everything to protect herself. You may wear this polish, find your drink is positive, and decide to leave that location. Success, right? Not exactly. One of two things will happen: Either the rapist will still rape you despite you not being drugged, or he will move on to another victim.

Rape will still happen. Drugs or not, that’s the cold hard truth.

If the nail polish or any of the other products available make your feel more confident when you are out, then by all means, use it. However, we should be aware that this is not a solution. Rape culture goes beyond even the actual act of rape; it’s in how women are treated when they come forward from these traumas.

Part of that includes us not telling women, subtly or not so, that they are the ones that need to protect themselves from rape or sexual assault.

In my senior year of high school, I was sexually assaulted. The response of those around me introduced me without even knowing it existed, to rape culture. Because, they told me, everything I did before, during, and even after, made the assault my fault.

And, it just wasn’t.

When he took the chair next to mine, I didn’t think much of it. We weren’t friends, but we had a lot of mutual friends. I had no reason to suspect that his intentions in sitting next to me were anything but innocent.

It started off as awkward flirting, only from him, and I wasn’t reciprocating. I tried to exclude him from the conversation, especially after he rather disgusting comment about my breasts. While I was somewhat used to the commentary, it still made me wildly uncomfortable. Ignoring his comments did not work to detract him.

There was a lull in the conversation when I first felt his hand on my leg. I pushed it off and slid my chair away. A minute or two later, he slid his chair closer, slowly. I felt his hand again. I moved, he moved. I pushed his hand away, he put it back. I moved, he moved. This went on until I had no where else to move, and when his hand was no longer movable. My only options were now to get up and walk out, but I somehow convinced myself that it wouldn’t go any further.

He knew I was trapped. The girls that were at the table later told me they assumed I was okay with his advances, based on my dating history. They were so wrapped up in their own subtle judgment of me that they couldn’t see I was also as uncomfortable as they were. They witnessed me move away from him. They heard his crass commentary. What they didn’t see though, was his hand sliding up my leg, trying to get into my shorts.

While the clock marched forward toward the end of the school day, as other students talked about weekend plans, and crappy teachers, I was being fingered, against my will, by a Mormon boy. When I attempted to get the attention of the girls at my table, first by kicking my feet, and then by writing them a note, he responded with silent aggression. He even laughed at my attempts to get someone to notice.

Somehow, I managed to get out of the library. That wasn’t even enough for him. He followed me to my locker. As I opened the lock on the metal door, I could feel his breath on my neck. He continued to mock me, saying a string of disgusting words, trying to garner a reaction from me. When none of that worked, he grabbed my ass, causing me to whirl around to face him. In an instant, he moved towards me, expertly. One hand on my breast, the other into my shorts. I tried to pull away, he only became more aggressive, and soon, I was pinned to a locker, completely frozen in fear and shame.

The bell rang, dismissing classes, and as though he’d been asking me to borrow notes for a class, he removed his hands, the smirk still plastered on his face, and said, “Thank you.”

He actually thanked me.

A friend found me crumpled on the floor, my face buried in my locker, sobbing hysterically. Words must have been exchanged because eventually, we weren’t on the floor, we were walking through the hallways to the office that housed the on campus police officer. She remained with me the entire time, offering words of comfort, asking questions of the police officer. As I wrote out the report, no one second guessed me, no one assumed I was lying. Both of these people believed me. They knew I was the victim.

They were the only people that showed me such mercy and compassion.

I expected the same kindness when I told my parents about the assault. Instead I was met with skepticism: Had I encouraged him? Maybe my dating behaviors instigated his behavior? Was I just looking for attention? How would it make them look in their social circles if I pressed charges against a boy who was from a well known Mormon family? The shame they poured on me was like pouring vinegar into an open wound.

The mediation that was scheduled days later was anything but a mediation. It was a trial, and I was not the victim, according to them.

The vice principal used my history of skipping classes against me. My low grades. She said that it was “suspicious” and “hard to believe” that an honor student who participated in many extra curricular activities would do what I was “accusing” him of. I was drilled on why I didn’t yell, or leave the library quicker. Why I didn’t stop him, or  try harder, “if” he did it. His parents tore me apart the only way Mormons know how in these situations: I was sexually active (I was), and routinely dated different boys (I did).  That made me a liar, obviously. I had asked for it, and then regretted it, they explained. I knew I had done something bad, and this was my way of making myself come to terms with my sins.  They wanted to know if I understood the severity of this accusation? I could ruin all his golden opportunities; he could miss out on scholarships, he might not be able to serve a mission, what about his future jobs?

I wept, and occasionally muttered, “What about me? What about what he did?”

When the vice principal, and my perpetrator’s parents decided I wouldn’t press charges, I got up and walked out of the room. The same officer who had taken my statement, and was there explicitly for me, breathlessly ran after me in the hallway of the school.

“I believe you, Danielle. He’s lying, I can tell.  If you want to move forward with pressing charges, I’ll help you do it.”

“What’s the point?” I asked angrily.

“He’ll do it again. I’m certain he’s done it before based on the confidence he has. He knows that he’s protected. He’s got the perfect alibi- he’s a good guy on paper. This will only bolster that confidence.”

I shook my head again, “No, I can’t go through that again. He’ll destroy me.”

He nodded as disappointment and understanding overlapped on his face, “I understand. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

In the weeks after that meeting, as the rumors spread, and people whispered, “slut” or “liar at me in the halls, I had several girls come “out” and admit he’d done the same to them. There was no doubt he’d assaulted and even raped other girls before. Multiple times. All of them said the same thing when I asked them why they hadn’t reported him: “I don’t want to start anything. Who would believe me?” One girl whispered to me during our math class together, “No offense, but look at how everyone is talking about you. I don’t want that.”

You see, nail polish wouldn’t have helped me, nor would it have stopped the slut shaming I was subjected to as a result of coming forward. That’s the rape culture we’re fighting.  No  amount of sparkly nail polish can cover up the insidious nature of this beast. Perhaps if we find some nail polish that stops sexual predators from being predators we’ll finally be on to something.

Back To School Blues But Not Really, But Maybe

I think I’m in the minority of parents who are not happy when their kids go back to school. I mean, sure, I’m happy that he’s going to learn, and to socialize, and just be independent from me, but I just don’t really want him to go. It means longer, quieter days, no one bounding up to me to exclaim they just built the coolest ever fort, or randomly coming for a snuggle. Because, out of the two kids, he’s the snuggler. It also means summer is ending, and with that, the return of the inevitable sicknesses, and of course, winter with the ridiculously cold wind chill.

I miss my son when he goes to school. Soon, his sister will be following suit, starting at preschool in two weeks. I’m thanking the universe that we have a two week break between the two. If only to give my heart a slight break. This letting go stuff is the hard part of parenting.

The last two weeks have been full of babysitting (hell), squeezing in a couple extra summer activities with the family because summer isn’t really going to end, right? We’ve ridden bikes, gone to Calaway Park, seen family, gone to the World Waterpark, played dozens of games, had family movie nights, and baked together. I swear, I blinked, and summer was just gone. It was just yesterday we were planning all of the things we would do to fill our summer.

We’ve spent the last two weeks prepping for back to school. I did the shopping ahead of time this year, because last year, I sort of procrastinated. We did the clothes shopping, and the shoe shopping. We talked a lot about going back to school, something you do when you have a kid who suffers from anxiety. We talked about his new class, his new teacher, how most of his friends would be the same, and how there wouldn’t be as much “play” time this year.

The jump from Kindergarten to Grade 1 is going to prove to be a massive transition in our house, We’re going from school two or three times a week, to full time. For a house full of Not At All Morning People, it was going to be interesting. When I originally told Potato that he’d have to go to school every day, he thought I was lying.

“The other kids aren’t at school when I’m not there.” Logical, I suppose, but I told him that the kids in his class may not be there, but the big kids were there. Five days a week.

back to schoolThis morning, earlier than usual, he bounded into our room, his big brown eyes bright, and we snuggled, all four of us, as a family in our big but feeling smaller than usual bed. He got dressed without any prodding. I gave him breakfast (sorry, no fancy Pinterest breakfast here. I could pin the toast and milk he had though, if you need tips), learned he doesn’t really like Cranberry juice and quickly replaced the juice in his lunch, at his request, with just water. We talked about listening, and being nice to everyone. We discussed the fact that the “bully” from last year is still in his class, and reminded him to avoid playing with him, like he was told last year. I told him to take his time putting his shoes on (he just learned to tie his shoes) and not to rush because everyone else was. If he needed help, just ask his teacher.

We took the traditional First Day of School picture, and he was off to his first day of Grade 1. The start of his educational career, for real. Where he’ll sit in desks, and start having homework. He’ll learn to read this year, and grow into another part of the person he is and the one he’ll become. I’m happy for that.

I just wish, selfishly, that there was someway I could wrap him up, just like I did when he was a baby, and keep him close for a little longer. I know I can’t, and of course, I would never hold him back from exploring the world on his own terms, even if it makes my heartbreak and burst all at once.

Letters and Great Expectations

“No expectations,” Lisa reminded me days before I’d written the letter to my son’s adoptive parents. Her opinion and advice meant so much to me because a) she’s my friend but b) she’s an adoptive parent who does open adoption well. So I kept repeating it, over and over again. As I wrote, edited, and then finally hit Send, I repeated this mantra.

No expectations. Ha.

When it comes to adoption, open adoption especially, expectations are a hard thing to rid yourself of. The entire relationship, even when you are strangers, is built entirely on expectation:  That these people will be the perfect family showcased in the file you are presented with, that they will raise your child how you want them to, that they will be good people, and not disappoint, that the openness you’ve agreed on will continue, even when the paperwork isn’t legal. After eleven years of nothing but expectations, ones that were met and ones that led to disappointment, the idea that I needed to send this (big) letter with no expectations was harder than hitting the send button.

The resounding commentary I received from two adult adoptees was that he needed and likely wanted to know that I was here for him, on his own time, and to hear it directly from me. After I put my own reservations aside, I set out to create a situation where he could potentially have access to me, whatever amount he desired, with no strings attached on my end. That was the goal when I began writing a letter to his adoptive parents. Despite the sincerity of my words, I worried that his parents wouldn’t be able to really hear me. I worried because of past situations, and reactions from them; That they would accuse me of being selfish and doing this for myself, even when I wasn’t at all. I just wanted my son to know I was here, always here, and ready for him when he was ready.

The moment I sent that email, my expectations had been met.

Despite this No Expectation mantra, I still refreshed my email at least a thousand times in the first day. I was eager, hopeful. As the hours past away, I began to wonder if I had done the right thing. Why was I putting myself back in a similar position? Why was I being so vulnerable? The excitement quickly turned to anxiety, and pessimism. I reread the email over and over again, hoping that I wouldn’t find any words or sentences that could potentially be taken out of context.

Would they hear me through those words? Did I really want a response?

Of course, I did. Silence would have been painfully heartbreaking.

They eventually asked for time. I accepted that the answer wasn’t going to come quickly or easily, much like everything in this adoption over the last few years. Gently, I placed all the fear, all that doubt, the anxiety, the hopefulness, in the corner of my mind. It would all have to wait.

On Sunday, as I was making a list of all the things I had to do to get ready for our trip out of town the next day, I refreshed my email. I hadn’t completely forgotten that I was awaiting a response, but I had actually kind of forgotten that I could get a response sooner than later. I had somehow managed to accept that this was going to happen how it happened, and when it happened.

As the ping of my phone went off telling me my email had been downloaded, there it was, her name, and what I could have only assumed was the answer. The final answer.

“She wrote back,” I announced to my husband quietly.

He looked up from his book, eyebrows raised, “And?”

“You have to read it first. I can’t do it.”

“Danielle, just read it.”

“No,” I said, thrusting my phone in his hand, “You do it first.”

Of course, he obliged. I watched his features carefully, and he purposely animated them, because he knew I was watching.

“Don’t do that, it’s not nice!” I exclaimed half joking.

He closed the email, and handed my iPhone back to me, “Read it.” Then he went back to his book, like nothing had happened.

Ten minutes later, my feet curled up under me, as I switched from app to app, avoiding my email on purpose, I quietly asked, “Should I read it?”

His head whipped up and his eyes widened, “Danielle! Are you serious? Just read the goddamn email.”

Obeying his orders, I finally clicked it open. I read it once. Then twice. And then I looked up at my husband, my eyes stinging with tears,

“They said yes?”

He nodded, his own eyes wet.

“They said yes….They actually agreed to it. They said….” my voice broke, and tears began running down my face. I covered my mouth to stifle a sob, and muttered, “I get to write to my son. He wants me to. He wants me to write to him. They are going to let me.”

For a brief moment, as my husband and I shared tears together, I let the news settle over me. I’d always wanted,  hoped for this, for me. For him. For us.

And it’s finally happening.

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Image Credit: Liz West

Regarding Ferguson: Challenge That Privilege

We pulled into a roadside rest area on our way down to visit my husband’s family. I quickly jumped out of the car, and busied myself with getting rid of any of the garbage we’d already accumulated in the short time we’d been in the car. I exhaled sharply, as the traffic rushed passed us. Prior to stopping, my husband and I had been engaged in a rather intense discussion turned debate about Michael Brown. This sudden decision to pull into this rest stop was a blessing in disguise. If we hadn’t stopped, I’m pretty sure we might have reached full blown argument in about five minutes.

I was angry. Not necessarily at him, though in that moment, I was incredibly frustrated with his stubbornness. I was angry about the things I was reading on Twitter, the articles spanning the internet, the ignorant comments that people were leaving on Facebook statuses of friends, and even on mine. Beyond that, I felt helpless and incredibly awkward. Because, I was so mad about how the events were unraveling, but, and this is a big but, I’m white. Yes, I empathize, and I want to help get the message out, but I’m white. So very white. No matter how much I try, no matter how much I listen, I’ll never, ever fully understand just the full ramifications and impact of an event like Michael Brown. After I hit retweet, I can go back to my life. The same life where I’ll never have to teach my son how to walk down a street so he doesn’t get accosted. I don’t have to worry, and neither do my kids, about being profiled, or being hated for the color of our skin. All I have to do is make sure I raise children that don’t go on to become the ugly side of the internet. Yes, that is a big job, especially in the current climate, but it’s not the same. Not at all.

My privilege was stabbing me in a million different places.

Earlier that day, I’d brought the topic up to my husband in the comfort of our living room as we continued to pack for the trip. He’d said very little at first, a common occurrence when I rant about current events, but I could see the wheels turning in his head. I could see him plotting a defense, and that alone caused me to speak with more conviction, more fervor. I almost didn’t want to stop talking, because I knew that he was going to say something that was going to set me off.

“What’s the point of protesting?” was one of the first things that he uttered.

I explained, trying to keep cool. Trying to remind him that anyone can protest, even a hideous group like Westboro can do so. It’s not about the topic, it’s the very fact that being able to protest is a right. He went on to say that it was premature, all of the protesting, and that the justice system needed to be able to do it’s job.

“You mean the same justice system that allowed the man who molested our daughter to get off without even a slap on his wrist? The same one that blamed me for writing about the vague details of the case? The same one that believed a pathological liar, and decided the fact that he had actually confessed to me meant nothing?”  I challenged, my blood beginning to boil.

His silence was stony. I didn’t have to illustrate further on that subject, because I knew he was just as angry about that as I was and still am.

He didn’t respond to my questions,  “It doesn’t matter. We’d never have something like this happen in Canada.”

I gasped, laughing uncomfortably.  “You aren’t serious?”

“There would be an investigation into this. It might take years, but in the mean time, what’s the point of protesting something that eventually will get figured out?”

“That’s not the point, at all,” I snapped. “Don’t you remember G20 in Toronto? That it took the public becoming outraged in order for them to actually launch an investigation? What about the thousands of aboriginal women that are missing, presumed dead, and no one is actually looking for them, or caring that they are gone? What about-“

He cut me off, “But if a cop shot a person in cold blood, there would be an investigation.”

“You’d think. You don’t believe that corruption exists? That there may be cases where proper justice isn’t served? You don’t think that things get covered up and ignored? Especially when there is no interest from the media or general public?”

“I think you watch too much Scandal.”

I walked away, in tears, determined to distract myself with the rest of the To-Do List I had.

I knew that he couldn’t hear his own privilege oozing out of every pore on his body. I also didn’t blame him for it, either. He had an incredible life and childhood, growing up in a tiny town. One, that is, of course, predominantly white. My high school career was lined with racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and so much more. That’s not even including the abuse I was subjected to at home. We absolutely, the two of us, come from two different walks of life.

As we climbed back in the car later that day, my thoughts were swirling like a whirlpool.

“Can I just say something?”

“Sure,” he nodded, his eyes fixated on the road.

“I don’t want you think think I’m pushing you on this to be an asshole. I’m pushing you on this because I think you are smarter than the things you are saying. I know that it took me a long time to understand the concept of privilege, and it only happened when I had someone challenging my opinions. You’ve done the same for me many times, and I’m so grateful you have.”

“You just have a far more jaded outlook than I do,”

“You are right. I do! Look at my life; I definitely don’t look at things on the bright side. But, this isn’t the first time this has happened.”

“It’s not?”

I shook my head vigorously. “No, it’s not. I don’t know the number off the top of my head, but this week alone there have been multiple incidents involving cops and people of color. Not just men, either.”

“Hmm. Why is it happening?”

“Uncomplicated answer? Racism.”

The silence hung between us for a couple of minutes before I spoke again.

“Just be open to hearing the other side. Privilege isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be when you refuse to acknowledge it, and use it to condemn others who don’t have the same experience as you.” I paused. “Blind faith is a bad thing, no matter what you attach it to.”

* * * * * * * * * *.

Since the events of Ferguson have unfolded, I’ve seen varying degrees of the privilege that my amazing and completely kindhearted husband demonstrated, from many other people. Sometimes it’s blatant, and the person knows that they have it, but don’t care. Sometimes it’s formed in words that scream racism. Sometimes, it’s underhanded and difficult to see.

That’s the thing about having privilege and not understanding how it can warp your perception of the world, or how you can use it to interpret how the world “should” be. It can make you say hurtful things. It can stop you from looking beyond your own perfect white picket fence. It can absolutely make you think that others around you are bitter because they see or live the ugly side of society. It can make you blame victims, and believe that you are justified in doing so.

We all have privilege. Yes, even you.

Challenge yourself to think beyond your own circumstances, to listen to those who have experienced a life you’ll never have. Spread that message, and those stories. Challenge those that are using their privilege as a shield, because one day, they might actually get it.

Just last night, my husband said, ” I was watching the news today at work. Those cops are out of control. What are they even thinking?”

Privilege. Yep, we all have some version of it, but we don’t have to let it guide our opinions, actions or perceptions.

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Image Credit: Flavio Piffer

Because God

The radio played softly in the background, as our car drove across the congested, well traveled highway that would take us home. We’d been down for my husband’s ten year high school reunion, and it doubled up as a nice visit with his family. It’d been a busy but great weekend.

For the early duration of the trip home, my husband and I had been discussing the long list of things we had to get accomplished before his sister’s wedding in three weeks. There was a lull in the conversation when suddenly, a small voice piped up from the backseat.

“Who made the world?”

I whipped my head back to look at my son. “What?”

“Who made the world? Megan says that god did.”

I groaned inwardly, as I raised an eyebrow in the direction of my husband, his expression matched mine. Even though him and I differ in our beliefs, slightly, we agreed that religion wasn’t going to be something that we actively sought out or taught our children.  So far, the plan hasn’t really hit many snags. In all honesty, I was surprised it took this long for the topic to come up. Especially since our public school reads the Lord’s Prayer every morning. Beyond asking what churches are, and a small discussion who god is, we haven’t broached the topic much. There just hasn’t really been a need to.

My mind raced as I tried to figure out how to have this discussion without placing the same religious fervor that atheists are occasionally guilty of themselves.

“Do you remember that show we watched? Cosmos?”

He nodded eagerly.

“The uncomplicated answer is that there was a big explosion, and the earth was created from that.”

“So space created the world?”

“Actually, that’s pretty accurate, love.” For a moment, I paused, ” Why do you ask?”

“Megan told me god created everything, and I told her that’s not true. I told her science did it.”  He seemed proud of himself. Of course, I was, too. Not because he told this girl that science created the world, but that he stood up for himself. Something that he struggles to do every single day.

“Hmm. Some people do believe that god created the world.”

“Can we watch Cosmos again? I want to learn about the earth being built.”

“Yes, of course we can.”

The sun was setting as we continued to weave our way in and out of traffic.  I was bursting with so many words, so many things I wanted to tell him but I stopped myself. My experiences aren’t his experiences, and while I hope as he ages, he’ll learn from the experiences I had growing up in an overzealous religious home, now is absolutely not the time to be sharing them. Beyond that? I don’t want him to feel like we are pressuring him; he deserves to hone his critical thinking skills and come to his own conclusions, even at six years old.

“Mama? Is god real?”

It was as though he was reading my mind and could see that I was bursting to share more with him. How do you answer this without placing a certain amount of expectation on your child to believe as you do? Sure, I would love for him to come to similar conclusions as I have, but I value his need and ability to do that on his own without pressure. I looked at my husband, and immediately had the answer.

“Well, some people believe he is, and that’s okay. Personally? I don’t believe in him at all. But, your dad doesn’t know if god is real or not.  It’s okay to say that you aren’t sure, just like it’s okay to say that you believe he is real, or like me, that you don’t.”

“Do I have to believe he’s real?

“You can believe whatever you want. If you want to believe in god, or any other religion, we will still love and absolutely support you. All your Dad and I want is for your to be a good person and to be kind.”

For a moment, he took his eyes off me and looked out his window.

“I like science. I believe in science. It’s cool.”

“Yeah, science is pretty cool.”

Satisfied with our discussion, we went back to playing with his dinosaurs and his sister’s Frozen dolls.

My husband, as quietly as he could, whispered, “Do you know how much easier that conversation would have been if we said god did it all?”

I chuckled, and said, “Yes, but since when have we ever done anything the easy way?”

thoughtful

Depression Is

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Image Credit: Steven Snodgrass

 

You don’t know depression? I do. I know it well.

Depression is attempting suicide for the first time at fifteen. Forever, you’ll remember the way the sun felt on your skin, a poetic irony,  as you lurched to that overpass. The tears fell hard, continuously, and still no one understood the mania, or the urgency you felt to get to that concrete railing, and just fall.  Make it all go away, you said. Make it all go away, so you could just rest.

Depression is finding yourself locked in a sterile room with a stranger who calls himself a psychiatrist. The same one that your parents called a quack as you waited in the blue hospital gown that only lent to the nakedness you felt. It’s answering questions like, “How often do you feel like this?” or ” Do you have a plan?” or ” Rate your sadness on a scale of 1-10.” It’s crying while those florescent lights shine on you both, humming, only dulling the loud voice in your head that says, “What is wrong with you? You are just a fucking piece of worthless shit.”

It’s being admitted to the hospital, and hearing your own father say over the phone, “We’ll just leave her here. It’ll scare this so called depression out of her. It’s just a phase.”  Two days later, it’s feeling triumphant because you managed to convince everyone you were just fine. Not because you were okay with them thinking you faked it. You just didn’t want to deal with the shame you felt for feeling so ostensibly broken. You didn’t want to be the crazy one, and you believe, maybe, you just aren’t trying hard enough to be happy. You’ll try harder this time.

Depression is prescription pills. Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Ativan, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, Abilify. They are your saving grace, and weapons of mass destruction.  You are given little tiny pieces of paper filled with words you can’t read, hopefully, the answer to this never ending pain. It’s the same tiny paper you crumple in your hands with disgust at yourself, because you can do this on your own. You are better than the help of pharmaceuticals, you lie. Only the weak need help. Then again, it can be thrusting a prescription in the hand of your husband and begging him to drop everything immediately to fill it for you because you need those pills right now. Your life depends on it.

Depression is having those pills in your room one day, on your nightstand, with a glass of water, then having them confiscated the next, because you tried to overdose. Again. You’ll never trust yourself fully when pills are involved, even as a competent adult. “Why do they trust me with so many of these? Don’t they know the damage I could do?”

It’s seconds, minutes, and hours, earned by sitting in waiting rooms and offices. The psychologist your parents got for you so they could “fix your brain”. The doctors who only occasionally listen,  the ones who don’t care at all. Therapists that you cling to for life. Psychiatrists that say little, only allowing the sound of scribbled notes to fill the space between, before they announce big words. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Post Traumatic Disorder. Bipolar Disorder. It’s racing home to Google those words because you don’t understand them, yet you do. Finally, your companions have actual names. Even if you hate them for existing and demanding to be named.

Depression is being told to talk about all of this, but, shh, don’t talk too loudly. It’s having all the fucking words, but having none at all.  It’s being forced to beg for help, and feeling like a speck of dust for even daring to say the words, “I think I’m depressed.” Because, how dare you not be able to get it together? How dare you waste the Not Depressed Peoples time?

It’s shame, so much fucking shame.

Sometimes, it’s staring at your phone, wondering who you could reach out to, because you know your escape route is fading into the smoke of another major depressive state. When you do dial that number, or write those texts, you hope that the person on the other end can hear everything you aren’t saying. Can they hear the plan you’ve made? Will they see past the deflated, “I’m fine”? Please, let them hear how close you are to that proverbial edge, just a nudge away from jumping. If they don’t hear it, for a brief second, although defeated, you are weirdly proud that you’ve managed to convince another person that you are just fine. You are doing a good job of blending in, just like everyone wants you to.

Depression is the curator of the most complicated lies. But, it has help, sometimes from people in your life. They say things like, “Suicide is selfish and if you do it, your soul will be damned to hell because God hates people who murder themselves” or “Some people just like being sad all the time.” Some will tell you that all the solutions to depression lie a certain religious text, in attending more religious meetings, in just having “faith”. As if those who have religion in their life are exempt from depression. Some will tell you stories about people they supposedly knew that got over it, inferring that you should be able to follow suit. They tell themselves this stuff to be helpful, I think. Because they think they know better, because they have never really been visited by depression. Because it makes them feel better about the whole foreign (to them) idea of depression.

When you do remove your mask, in a moment of trust or perhaps angry frustration, they look at you with disbelief, a hint of smugness. “There’s no way you suffer from depression. What do you have to be sad about?” they demand.  Indignantly, you offer your scars, because apparently, in order to have this disease, you need proof that you fucking earned it. Even then, some of these people still scoff at you, and diminish the reality of your depression, because they just. don’t. get. it.

Depression isn’t a symptom or a result, though it can be. It’s a back alley predator who doesn’t care who the hell you are, where you’ve been or what you could do with your life. It wants to lock you in a room, bind you to a chair and snarl the ugliest insults, staring you straight in the eyes, daring you to fight back. Depression loves making you feel powerless, and useless, unworthy and debilitated. It’s a salesman for death and self-loathing, hocking it’s goods even when you’ve said, “No, I’m not interested.” You really, just aren’t fucking interested at all.  Yet, it always comes back, relentlessly, callously, proudly showcasing the products it’s manufactured just for you. All it wants is for you to buy that product, just once, because that means you’ll be a customer for life, even in death.

Ultimately, that’s all depression wants: Your life.

You should know, for all the things depression is, it is not capable of mercy, compassion,  most especially humanity.

But you are. We all are. Don’t let depression win. Don’t let it take those of us who suffer as gracefully as we can. We do want live, to love. I know you want that for us, even if you don’t understand where we are. We’re well versed in the lies that depression tells us, but sometimes, we just can’t help it. It’s not our fault. It’s really just not our fucking fault.

It’s depression.

 

If you are in crisis and need immediate help, please call 911. 

If you are Canadian, please use these resources via Partners for Mental Health for yourself or someone you love who needs assistance.

In the United States, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Something

The question slammed into the front of my mind as we all sat and chatted. When there was a break in the conversation, a lull of sorts, I asked the two adoptees sitting in front of me,

“What would you do in my situation?” I paused for a second, reframing the question,

“What would you want me to do if I was your birthmother?”

* * * * * * * * * *

The meeting took place in the corner of the hosts quiet wrap around deck, out in the country, far enough away from the noise of the city. The summer breeze rustled through our hair, and gave a reprieve from the stale humidity that we’d been facing in this area over the last week. There we were, two adoptees, three birthmothers, gathered together to talk about the one thing that connected us: adoption.

Each of us shared our stories, tears escaping our eyes, frustration lining our faces as we spoke of the obstacles we’d each come upon: adoptive parents who weren’t supportive of the search, parents who didn’t ask enough questions, lies we were told in the hospital, birth parents who refused contact, hope or the lack of, open adoption, and the greatest barrier of all: time we’d never get back.

All similar, all different.

As I shared my story, I remembered the last time I’d done it like this.

In the air-conditioned room of the local LDSFS agency, surrounded by prospective adoptive parents, all of whom were hanging on my every word, like I was the gatekeeper to finding a baby. That was the last time I’d worked with LDSFS, months before the fantasy world I’d created about my adoption nothingcame crashing down.

I wasn’t met with eager questions like I was in that room. The eyes on me now were filled with compassion, and an ugly understanding of all the words I was speaking. They didn’t want anything from me, and they didn’t look at me like I was a mythical creature. I was just another version of themselves, or of the woman they knew in their own stories.

Carefully, I shared my own story. When I was done, gently, one of the adoptees, commented that when I had shared how I was dealing with the current state of my adoption, she had felt as though it was punch in the gut. As she expressed that she felt like my rejection of any letters or pictures from my son’s adoptive parents would calculate in the mind of my son as a rejection from me, I felt a similar gut punch.

He’ll feel I’m rejecting him because I rejected them. Punch. He’ll fear more rejection. Punch. My rejection of the adoptive parents could be twisted into me not wanting to really know him. Punch.

Feeling a little defensive, I dug into my own wound, and made it a little more gaping so I could explain my actions, maybe helping them to see it wasn’t that simple.

It’s not as easy as allowing them to send pictures. Not after they told me that my voice and opinions in how to handle this adoption didn’t matter. Not after they screamed through emails that this was all in my son’s hands, but contradicted that position by telling me that they would do things on their terms, because they are his parents. Not after they threatened me with the thing I fear most: that he’ll never want to know me.

“It’s about control, power, and insecurity, at this point…I think,” I explained.  “There is no air of regret for any of their actions, and they simply refuse to admit that they could have possibly hurt me. An apology from them to me seems to be like I’m asking them to cut off their limbs.”

I’ve felt justified by my actions for a variety of reasons. I’m hurt, obviously. They are hurt, too. We’re all hurt. But as I finished this sentence, I felt some air remove itself from my lungs. I sounded petty, and insolent. I felt silly.

Instead of focusing on him, we’re focusing on the bullshit between the three of us. We’re all licking our wounds, and compiling lists of the way we’ve been hurt. We’re both, myself included, not even really listening to each other anymore. We are both stamping our feet, throwing a petulant tantrum, demanding that we get our way, instead of realizing just how selfish we’re all being.

I did myself a favor; I heard my own selfishness. I am too angry about the things they refuse to acknowledge they’ve done, that I’ve lost sight of what this adoption is supposed to be about; Him. My son. Our son.  I am, even if I don’t mean to, even if I say it’s to protect myself, rejecting him indirectly. They are without meaning to (I assume) alienating his biological family from his life.

The toxicity between his parents and I have nothing to do with him. We’re the grown ups. We should be better than this, bigger than it all.

And yet.

The conversation veered into other territory, and I silently sighed, relieved, grateful that I could just listen now.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Their message was exactly the same, even if it was delivered differently. Something is better than nothing. Nothing meant rejection, even if it didn’t really mean rejection. Something, even the smallest something, would have meant the world to them as children, even as adults.

He and I, together, we both have nothing right now, but something, I was told, would mean the world to him.

And that alone, would mean everything to me.

BlogHer ’14: Path to Change Agent – In Tweets

When I was choosing between the available paths on Pathfinder Day at BlogHer 2014, I debated between Change Agent and Published Author. I chose, in the end, Change Agent because I felt like my voice is sort of unfocused when it comes to the issues I want to bring awareness to. I wanted to figure how others had used their blogs and social media as platforms to ignite change. I wanted to see if it was something I could do, even when all I have to offer is my story.

The day was run (brilliantly) by Dannielle Owen-Reid from Everyone is Gay, and Rae Lewis-Thorton from Diva Living With Aids. Before they told us their stories, they wanted us to share a snippet of ours, and within moments, I was humbled by the incredible women that sat in the room with me.

 

 

Rae spoke vividly about hiding in the shadows when she was diagnosed with HIV:

 

This was what  told me I’d made the right choice in this session, because #truth.

 

And then we spoke about making money through our advocacy (forgive spelling errors):

 

But, Dannielle points out that not every demographic responds to ads;

 

After a lengthy discussion on monetization, the panelists dropped the mic with these important tidbits that I think many bloggers should think about:

 

Then we discussed how to get our message out there:

 

MochaMomma would later drive this point home during the closing keynote panel, in a different way:

 

Stop, collaborate (with other bloggers) and (get people to) listen:

 

Rae couldn’t stress how important it was for us to be genuine in our advocacy:

 

During the question period, I asked about how they have both dealt with negative comments, trolls, how they’ve let it go, and what wisdom they could impart on us, because sharing our stories is so incredibly personal and sometimes sacred.

 

But then, Rae took the negativity issue to a profoundly new level:

 

The lovely Grace Sandra asked how to respond to those in your real life who expect you to constantly be miserable because you talk about hard stuff:

 

In the afternoon session, we were given 30 minutes to write our stories in a journal. Then we were asked to answer a series of questions related to our stories (if anyone can get their hands on an agenda for this day, I’d love to add these questions). The only one I tweeted about was why my story, personally, is important.

 

 

In an act of respect, we were asked to limit what we shared on social media during this point of the session. Everyone wanted to create an environment that was safe for those of us who chose to share:

 

We spoke of ways to network our advocacy, and how to use social media for the greater good:

 

I’d gone into the session believing that each aspect of my experience has separate and therefore I had to just focus on one piece of it in order to be a proper advocate. This piece of advice hit me straight in the heart, and I feel it accurately sums up the whole point of Path to Change Agent:

 

 

A huge shoutout had to go to Rae and Dannielle. They prepared this panel incredibly well and in the end, I think everyone who attended benefited greatly from their experience and wisdom.

 

Did you attend the Path to Change Agent at BlogHer 2014? Share your tweets in the comments so I can link them in this post, or post the link where you recapped the session. Sharing is caring! I think everyone, even those who aren’t on the path to making change could benefit from the profound wisdom that was shared by both the panelists and those in attendance.