10 October 2016

Building a Culture of Consent, One Karate Class at a Time

I was at my son's karate class this week in my usual spot with other parents and siblings, holding my daughter as she tapped away at my phone taking pictures and exploring the shiny bubbly apps on the screen. 

She is two. 

A very outgoing and sweet boy came up to us and first hovered, then kind of squeezed his body up against ours to take a better look at the little screen. 

He looked about four years old. 

My daughter quickly looked up at my face, a look I see often when she is apprehensive about what is currently going on and looking to me and my reaction to either affirm her fears or sooth them with a look that says "It's okay, this is fine." 

My face was a question back to her...and then words: "Do you not want him to see the phone so close? Would you like to give it to me and I can put it away?" 
This was like asking to take away an ice cream cone. 
"No" she shook her head. 
"Well, he's interested in it and it may be good to either ask him not to give you space, or come up on my lap and I'll hold you, you can tell him 'No' if you want, or you can share and show him what you are doing" 
She opted for a very quiet "No" and then crawled onto my lap with the phone tucked up under her chin and tightly against her chest. 

At this point the little boy kind of caught the drift and moved away to go investigate another child's activities down the row. About two minutes later he came back and this time I could see his body was slightly rigid with anger and emotion and desire and ready to confront us. 

He walked up to inches of our faces and practically yelled, "Sharing is caring! Sharing is caring! If you don't share, it's not fair!" 

My heart dropped, and my own emotion and reaction was immediate, but I am thirty seven and have more control than a small child. What I wanted to do was pick my daughter up and run and yell over my shoulder..."She doesn't have to share if she doesn't want to, and you better start learning this now, kid!" 

Instead, I looked down at my daughter who was clutching the phone against her chest again and fiercely scowling at him with a very furrowed brow and a worried frown. She looked to me again. 

Mom-teaching moment... I turned to the boy "You know, if you have something that is yours and don't want to share it, that is really okay. You are right that sharing is caring, but we don't have to share if we don't want to, and it looks like right now she doesn't want to share the phone with you." He walked away with a strong pout. 

Okay, so here's what I know. I know that he was absolutely in the right to voice his emotions and desires. I know he was completely in the right to want what he wanted and to ask for it and even demand it. But what angered me is that somewhere along the way, this boy was fed those lines "Caring is Sharing and if you don't share, it's not Fair!" I get it, I was raised in the era of parenting where we took turns when demanded to, not when we were done with the toy or swing or game. I was told basically the same mantra many times, that we share, no matter what, sharing is the decent thing to do and if you don't you are a snob or a bully or a little shit of some kind. And I absolutely still encourage and foster the idea of sharing between my children and their friends, but that's the key: encourage, not require. 

I think our children can start learning a huge lesson in consent at the age of, yes, two...by reinforcing the very very critical point that if you don't want to share, that is also your right and absolutely okay. Every scenario my daughter and this sweet little boy (for he absolutely is a sweet child) would independently face in life came flooding at me and I realized the magnitude of such a seemingly small lesson I could teach both my son to be a man and my daughter to be a woman. When asked to give, to take part in, yes to share, the choice has to be of ones own and not due to pressure of moral stature or what's "fair" because life ain't fair and we will all be told "No" in so many small and big ways and we are better prepared if we know how to accept that response and also dish it out and be confident in doing so. And while my knee-jerk reaction was to go all momma-bulldog on this boy, I actually had great compassion for him and the disservice he is being taught at this age, that life is fair and he is entitled to what he craves and wants in any given moment. 

I know there is a shift already in many parenting and teaching circles to "fix" this idea of timed turns and forced sharing, and I am grateful for that and grateful that my son was in such an environment at preschool. But there are many who are not there yet, we could all be teaching our children some important lessons that will serve them well as adults, and particularly as young adults wrought with emotions and hormones. Something as simple as saying "No is okay, it sucks to hear, but it's their choice" could allow our children to adapt and grow simply knowing this as truth. 

It's the subtle suggestion that instils my daughter with the idea that "Oh, if I say no, this disappoints him, but that's okay, it is my (body, self, integrity, property, skill, etc.) and not his to take or demand" as opposed to the subtle dangerous suggestion that "If I say no, I disappoint him, and that is not okay." 

Consent has been the hot topic lately with this presidential election season and while it's scary and outright infuriating to have to witness such a show of limitless absurdity, these conversations are happening and bringing much to light. And damn it if this all doesn't need to be brought to the surface and wide out in the open. There is hope in this dialogue and unpeeling of ourselves and what we choose not to talk about or share.

Let's allow for a new attention on the subtleties as well as the outright obvious ways we build humans up around us and either give them the strength and confidence to use their voices and communicate their needs, or create an environment of timidity, fear, stunted and wayward emotions, and reactionary instincts. I intend to help my daughter and my son have the right tools earlier than I did. At thirty seven, I am still finding my voice and strength to speak my needs and my place in the world and it shouldn't take us that long to get there.

And to the sweet angry boy who was turned down, may he find his way, and if we see one another again, I intend to keep the dialogue going so that there is a perspective in his daily routine that suggests an alternative is indeed possible. And if nothing else, I send him Love. 

Applewood Heart 

29 September 2016

Three Heikus~


This, my slanted heart
Found rock at a glacier edge 
New paths forged by grace


Birth canal rockstar
Grit and glitter little girl
My daughter, this Love!

Separation, August 2015:

Train whistle, baby cries
I fold laundry to distract
Full moon, fan clicking


Love, Accidentally and Open

My wedding day was planned for a hot Saturday in August of this year. I went to work that day instead, then to a friend's house. She is a healer and soap-maker and I spent the evening watching her make spa bars, her home filled with the scent of peppermint and tea tree folded into beautiful midnight black wisps of charcoal and salt. When I told my counselor what I had done instead of getting married, she pointed out to me the wonderful symbolism of this, that after about a year of separation from my groom-to-be, who was at this point the groom-not-to-be, I spent the evening in this cleansing act of soap making, washing out the old plans and opening up to the new and very changed reality I've been in now for months. This struck me, and I realized I have come a long way within a year and, while everything is very much still murky, still unknown and in a "process" or a revision, I am not who I was a year ago, and the idea of washing that old self away was refreshing and beautiful and rewarding.

Of course no one intends to have kids with someone, buy a home together, and then fall apart during the major home remodel, and a year later be in this realm of "moving on" of "making a new life plan..." And all while attempting (fairly successfully, all things considered) to parent two children we both can't imagine being away from or devoting any less to. I won't go into specifics, but it's right to say that this separation was a surprise, a heartbreak, a very real cataclysmic kind of life event that took me months to come to terms with and also admit to the world. This news will still surprise some who may read this. I myself have had almost a year to adjust to the non-wedding date and yet when it came up on me, I was surprisingly moved, emotional, and sad. I was no longer in a place of wanting to marry the person I had planned to, I had come to a new place one finds after the heartache, the anger, the rage and pooling life at your feet emotional mess that is a break up of a ten year life together. I was over that hump of daily coping. But on the day in August, I realized I wasn't missing a person, rather I was mourning the idea of my wedding, the marriage that could unfold, and that sense of having a partner for the duration of this trip of life.

I sat in my friends space, reggae on the stereo, a cold rum and soda in my hand, enveloped in this aroma of pampering and healing. Cleansing indeed.

Once this date in time had passed and was survived, I felt things shift ever so slightly, compared to the massively groundbreaking shifts that I had rode within the previous year, like a portion of my life was holding it's breath enough for the day to pass on the calendar before allowing the exhale and then inhale again. And that's when I began to reimagine the "Accidental Heart Project" my son and I had been curating since his infancy, really since before he was born, before I met the not-groom-to-be...and this was an important fact to remember suddenly, how the project was a lot larger than my relationship.

I'll explain about the project.

Do you see hearts out in the world, those spots on the sidewalk, a tree knot, an unintentional splash in your coffee, a river rock?...I do too. I've noticed them for years, made note and mentally collected these little Valentine's from the ether, considered them momentary mementos of the collective Love that is indeed around us and potential in all that we are and do. When my son was a toddler, we started taking photos of the hearts when we stumbled on them in our day, and as the digital file of snapshots grew, we talked about what to do with the hearts. We had a lot of ideas, but when the wedding date was decided and on the horizon, I knew the hearts would be a part of the day in some way, maybe a collage, maybe printed table decor, the ideas were flowing as the plans started to unfold for the big event.

Despite the heartbreak of my failed relationship, my son and I continued to collect the hearts. We banked them whenever we saw them. And each time I had a thought of not knowing what will become of this now that things had changed so. It was a couple of weeks after the wedding date that I started thinking about this project and what it might mean in the new light of my life. What do these hearts now symbolize that they might not have before? Were they always more manifestations of Love from all around, from our internal selves, accidental reminders in our daily routine that we are capable of love, that we have this superpower, all of us, this capability to love and be loved? I wasn't sure of any answers, but it certainly helped my mental state, my heart state, to know that this project had a larger purpose and reason for being, that this was about more, that it could keep going and have a destination that encompassed more than a big party under a tent.

We've called it "Accidental Hearts" because the rules are that the heart must be unintentional, not fabricated to be a heart. We've had to make some tough calls, those hearts that are almost-hearts, but not close enough to the heart shape to qualify. We've had discussions about this, debates and negotiations to decide whether a heart belonged in the collection. Sometimes my son won, sometimes I did. And we keep going. This is an unending journey together.

The idea to share this, came to me on a day when I was feeling lame about not writing more, and also knowing I had to boost this blog into a regular habit, for the tenth time, and also with the incentive that my son starts kindergarten as a homeschooler this Fall and wants desperately to learn to read and write and we need daily little assignments or projects of the creative kind to fuel this. He wants to contribute some poems, I will contribute some poems and writings, along with the posted photos from our heart database.

This is where we have come with this. I think of "heart on your sleeve", "open heart", "broken heart"... How we imagine love to be in our lives, how then life teaches us love in all its broken and imperfect and ravaged and glorious forms. How love comes from outside and from within almost as if accidentally and unintentionally and the surprise when we actually notice it, when we feed it, when we allow it to grow and become...How does your Love become? How have you reimagined Love? How have you survived Love? How have you begun to Love yourself or another after not loving for a long long time? How has Love swept you off balance and made you reexamine every corner of your self? This has been the work of the last year for me, not an ending, but rather a waking up to what Love means and the power of the kind of love I want in my life, the kind I already have around me, and the intentional life I am living now that I wasn't quite living before the shakeup. And I am deeply inside it all still, within the confusion and change still, but also very much more aware than I thought I could be.

I am so astoundingly grateful for my life and the support I have received in various forms in my life, and for the self-awareness and gradual evolution that has taken place and continues every day to move forward and upward.

Here are our hearts and words...