An open letter to my son

"Almost done"Last Thursday you sent me this picture with the message “almost done.” Your dorm room was clean and you were packing up to come home. You have done more than survive your first year of college; you have done well. You ran with discipline, you took your classes seriously, you made friends, you found your way. I’ve told you I’m proud of you, and here it is in writing. I mean it.

I’m glad you’re home. I always need to look at you, have you close, to know that you’re still whole. These are troubling times.

I had intended to write to you about the Stanford rape case. I want to know if you read the victim’s statement. And what do you make of what Brock Turner’s father said? I had thought I would write about justice and how I don’t think the answer is to give Brock Turner the same sentence a Black man would get. That’s the wrong twist on equality.

I want you to be invincible, especially now in a world that seems so destructive, but I worry about how invincibility contributes to momentary lapses in judgment that can have devastating consequences. I worry about you being hurt. If you are, I will do everything I can to help you heal and be whole again. I worry about you hurting someone else. If you do, I will do everything I can to help you take responsibility and to explore a justice that can help everyone with healing and wholeness.

I was overwhelmed by the last paragraph of the victim’s statement. I read it over and over―her promise to girls everywhere. In spite of what she has been through, she claims her power and extends it to others, with love and with hope. It was a victory of sorts―she will not be defined by what Brock Turner did to her. None of us will. Not the young women you run and party with. And not you. That’s the point. You are not Brock Turner. You can stand with her.

That would have been the end of this letter. But then the shooting in Orlando happened, and I can’t ignore it. The airwaves are exploding with information and opinion. It’s as if the piecing together of timelines and facts will make sense of something that makes no sense at all. There should be no war of attribution here: ISIS, homophobia, domestic violence, guns. The protections we have created, and the ways we enforce them, don’t work. Could any amount of knowledge and any number of warnings have stopped Omar Mateen from doing what he did? Punishment and isolation are not the antidotes for hatred. Already this is coming through with Pride.

My thoughts are not as coherent as I want them to be. All I am trying to say is that your humanity has been compromised by Brock Turner and Omar Mateen. There are limits to what a mother’s fierce love for her son can provide. Until you return to campus for your sophomore year, I can have the illusion of making the world right for you and keeping you whole. Today that is what I have. I’m glad you’re home.

College bound

It is senior year of high school for my twin daughters and I find myself talking about college applications with all kinds of people. I was getting my nails done when the owner of the salon―a Vietnamese immigrant―asked me for information about the application process and due dates. She was relying on her son to translate and she wasn’t sure that she was getting all the information she needed. It took me several days, but I managed to find a free college counseling resource that could communicate in Vietnamese.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to try to navigate this process when English is your second language. We had to hire a college counselor to help us. We filled out 28 pages of different financial aid forms. We checked our daughters’ online applications and read their college essay questions. Even with the resources, time, and teamwork at our disposal, it was still hard.

And what about people who have another whole layer of chaos in their lives? How do you manage this transition in your child’s life if you are in an abusive relationship? What if you have to anticipate and work around a partner who humiliates and controls you? When all your decisions are undermined by your partner, how can you figure out what questions to ask and if there is help to get answers?

College boundSending your kid to college is a dream for many parents, and it can feel even more pressing if it is their ticket out of an abusive home. But that’s not possible if it takes professional help just to fill out the forms. We can change this system and we must make it accessible. The vision of all girls moving forward depends on us.

What the abortion debate is really about

If abortion were to be made illegal, what should the punishment be? A lot of folks stumble when asked that question:

In our society if you break the law there are consequences, right? So if you think abortion is murder why does the idea of sending a woman who gets one to jail make you uncomfortable? I think it’s because “life” is not what actually lies at the root of the abortion debate. It’s really about restricting, controlling, and policing women’s bodies.

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I wondered if my opinion on abortion would change. It has. I have become even more pro-choice. At eight months, I have a pretty good understanding of the physical, emotional, and financial realities of pregnancy. And I believe now more than ever that women should have the right and power to choose what is best for them, and not be punished.

Some advice

List from Excellent to The Worst with a checkmark next to The WorstThe moment I announced my pregnancy it began: the crazy comments from close friends and strangers alike. What I should do, what I should eat, and how my body looks. Like when my friend leaned across the table and whispered in my ear, “You shouldn’t eat that ceviche because it might kill your baby.” This was one of the first things she said to me after I told her the news!

I like to believe that it all comes from a well-intentioned place. When people don’t know what to say, sometimes they say things that are wrong and unhelpful. I’ve had to deal with this for seven months and it’s infuriating.  It makes me think about survivors I’ve worked with in the past. When they tell their friends and family about the violence in their lives,  they don’t always get the best response or support. The unfortunate outcome is that people walk away from conversations feeling further isolated, misunderstood, or judged. Not the end result either party wants.

So here are some tips on how to support your loved ones in good times and bad:

  • Acknowledge what the person told you and what they are experiencing.
  • Ask how you can provide support.
  • Tell them you are there for them no matter what.
  • Ask if they want advice before you give any.
  • Think about what you are about to say. Is it helpful? Will it come across as supportive?

It’s okay to not have the perfect response. Being a good listener is sometimes worth a thousand words.

Preschool problems

I’ve got a problem. My little girl needs to go to preschool next September and after weeks of research and help from fellow parent friends I’ve found one―ONE!―school in my neighborhood that I can afford that might work when pieced together with, literally, four other childcare options like drop-in daycare and kind friends. And only if I also rearrange my work schedule, which I’m super lucky to be able to do because I work part-time and have a very understanding supervisor. The number of balls in the air here are dizzying and just might crush me if they all drop.

woman-laundry-with-babyBut then I think about how much harder it could be. How on earth do single parents do this, or parents in a toxic relationship? My partner is loving and supportive, but I’m still the one doing all the research, comparing preschools, visiting the schools, and rearranging my schedule. The title of this Slate article sums up what so often happens: When childcare costs more than rent, women stay at home. Of course, even that is not an option for many families.

The issue of childcare has a huge impact on people in an abusive relationship. Having a job can be a literal life line for someone being abused. It means time during the day when you are not isolated and can build relationships with other people, and it means a paycheck. Money gives you options and the power to make your own decisions. No one who is trying to keep themselves and their children safe should have to struggle to find affordable childcare so that they can keep their job. That’s my hope for everyone.

A new kind of New Year’s resolutions

2016 in sparklersEat healthier, read more, save money, get organized. Welcome to 2016 and New Year’s resolutions! I have been a sucker for resolutions for a long time and like many who make them, I break them.

My resolutions for 2016 weren’t going to skew much from the traditional list. Then I received news that one of my friends had been killed in a tragic car accident. The day after Christmas my family went to her memorial service. It was one of the saddest, raw, and full experiences I’ve had in a long time. People shared stories about Katie, how she had impacted the lives of her students, her family and friends, and her community. No one talked about how healthy she ate, how much she read, how organized she was. It’s because at the end of the day that’s not what matters.

So this year my resolutions are different:

  • Tell the people who I love how I feel about them
  • Be kind to myself and others
  • Listen and connect deeply with those in my life

Looking at these resolutions, I realize that it’s really all about relationships. If we were all to prioritize these things, it would not only make our own lives better, but it would help anyone in our lives who is experiencing abuse. A person who is being abused most needs to hear that she is loved, that she deserves kindness, and that you will stay connected with her no matter what.

Desacelerando (Slow down)

Tengo la mala costumbre de tratar de hacer demasiado, en poco tiempo. Nadie puede decir que no soy eficaz. Sin embargo, vivir de prisa simplemente me ha evitado disfrutar y estar presente en muchos momentos, momentos que pasan y no suelen repetirse.

to-do-list-breath-inHace unos meses, mi hijo de 7 años me compartió algo que estaban practicando en la escuela, me trajo un velocímetro con tres niveles: el nivel azul, cuando esta uno sumamente tranquilo; el nivel verde cuando uno está en la velocidad adecuada; y el nivel rojo, cuando uno está acelerado. Los dos nos pusimos a practicar nuestros niveles de velocidad. O sorpresa, más de una vez escuche, “mama, estas en rojo, ¿cuál es la prisa?”. En ese momento, entendí el  como estoy viviendo mi vida.

El estar viviendo en ‘rojo’ me hace sentir saturada, cansada, mi creatividad disminuye, pero lo más triste es que mis relaciones personales se ven afectadas también. No dedico tiempo de calidad y muchas veces debido a todo lo anterior estoy irritable, o impaciente. Y esto está escalando, no tiene mucho deje comida en la estufa mientras salía a hacer unos mandados. ¿En qué estaba pensando? Gracias a los bomberos y excelentes vecinos no pasó a mayores.

Mi tranquilidad mental y espiritualidad definitivamente se han visto afectadas también. Por un lado quiero vivir en armonía, feliz, disfrutando cada instante tanto con mi familia como en mi trabajo y por otro lado me saturo a más no poder, hago, hago y hago pero no vivo, no estoy presente, estoy en piloto automático siempre haciendo o produciendo algo. Esto tiene que parar, quiero y estoy dispuesta a cambiar esto. Una amiga sabia me sugirió empezar con cosas pequeñas, como tres minutos de yoga al día, detenerme constantemente y hacer respiraciones profundas, alimentarme bien, tratar de ir a la cama a buena hora.

Todavía me cacho en rojo más de una vez al día, pero por lo menos ya estoy más consciente de esos momentos. Cada día es un nuevo empezar, una oportunidad a ser mejor. Día a día continuaré siendo consciente de mi velocidad y la ajustaré cuantas veces sea necesario. Te invito a hacer lo mismo, no perdemos nada y podemos ganar mucho!

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I have a bad habit of trying to do too much in a short period of time. No one can say I’m not effective. However, living in a hurry has kept me from enjoying and being present in many moments; moments that I can never get back.

A few months ago, my seven-year-old son shared with me a tool they were using at his school; he brought home a speedometer with three levels: the blue level, when you are very calm; green when you’re at the right speed; and the red level, when you are in a hurry. We immediately set out to practice our speed levels at home. Surprise! More than once I heard, “Mom, you are in the red, what’s the hurry?” Right then, I realized the problem with how I’ve been living my life.

Living in the red makes me feel saturated, tired, and less creative. But the saddest part is that my personal relationships are affected as well. I do not spend quality time with those I love and many times, due to all of the above, I am irritable or impatient. And this is escalating—not too long ago, I left food on the stove while I went to do some errands. What was I thinking? Thanks to firefighters and great neighbors, it did not get as bad as it could have been.

My spirituality has definitely been affected as well. On one hand, I want to live in harmony, happiness, enjoying every moment, both with my family and my work. But on the other hand, I saturate myself to the top and I do and do without living. I am not in the present—I am living on autopilot, always producing or doing something. This has to stop. I want and am willing to change this. A wise friend suggested I start with small things: like three minutes of yoga during my day; pause often and take deep breaths; eat well and try to go to bed early.

I still catch myself in a hurry more than once a day, but at least now I am more aware of these moments. Every day is a beginning, a chance to be better. I will continue to be aware of my speed and I will adjust it as many times as necessary. I invite you to do the same—we can’t really lose anything and we can gain a lot!

I stand with you

StandWithPPIn September, my Facebook feed became saturated with the #IStandwithPlannedParenthood campaign. People I haven’t seen or heard from in over 10 years were talking about going to Planned Parenthood and how it helped them. I wasn’t surprised by all the support—Planned Parenthood has helped me too. But I was surprised to see a post from one of my closest friends where she shared her experience going there for an abortion. I realized that during that time period I had seen her almost every day. I had sat with her in class, done homework with her, and gone out for meals, all the while having no clue that this was going on in her life.

I debated for a long time whether or not to bring it up, but I eventually did. I told her how bad I felt that I hadn’t noticed that something so difficult was going on in her life. She said it was hard to go through alone, but didn’t talk about it because she was ashamed, embarrassed, and thought no one would understand. Of course that made sense to me, I’ve had those times too. I felt that way about the time a guy I was dating in college assaulted me, even though I know that’s fairly common. It was a sad moment when we realized that we could have been supporting each other. Then we got mad. Why didn’t we feel comfortable talking to each other? Gah, patriarchy had been wining!

But ever since that time, we’ve been using our experiences to fight against the patriarchy. She’s using her experience to demand that health, reproductive care, and options are widely available. My experience has been a slow burning fire that keeps me committed to my work in the domestic violence movement. Instead of standing by ourselves, we are standing side by side.

Vulnerabilidad (Vulnerability)

Me encanta el video de Brené Brown: El Poder de la Vulnerabilidad. Me pone a reflexionar en lo importante que es permitirse ser vulnerable y los beneficios que se reciben con ello. El cómo vivir cada día su exacto momento, sin tantas expectativas y sin tratar de controlar resultados. El sentir esta vulnerabilidad da cabida a su vez a sentir otras emociones.

Y cuando pienso en vulnerabilidad, pienso en mi role de ser madre, ¿cómo estoy educando a mi hijo de 6 años? ¿Le estoy permitiendo desenvolverse  y encontrar su propia personalidad, y desarrollar su individualidad? ¿Aceptarse tal cual es? de tal manera que vaya aprendiendo que los momentos donde él se sienta vulnerable y se permita ese sentimiento son aquellos momentos que le darán la oportunidad de ser imperfecto y aún así amarse.

Se imaginan si el supiera desde ahorita ser vulnerable como parte normal en su vida diaria, donde ser permita sentir lo que sienta, tristeza, alegría, enojo, en fin, todas las emociones y saberlas canalizar pero sin eliminarlas, ¡wow! ¡Creo que esta es la base para relacionarnos sanamente con otras personas en nuestra vida!

Ahora bien, si me miro en un espejo, ¿qué tanto de esa vulnerabilidad me permito sentir? No mucha si soy honesta, pero estoy empezando a dejarla fluir cada día y en cada momento que se presenta y sé que vale la penar amar y decir, te amo primero; que vale la pena arriesgarse por ese sueño aun cuando no traiga el resultado que espero; que vale la pena soñar y luchar por mi sueños aun cuando la vida los va moldeando de una manera diferente a lo que pensaba. Que ser madre y aprender junto con tu hijo que sentir nos hace fuertes, nos hace ser lo que somos.

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I love Brené Brown’s video The Power of Vulnerability. It makes me realize how important it is to allow myself to be vulnerable and the benefits that come with it. Living each day in the present without expectations and without trying to control everything—that vulnerability allows me to feel other emotions.

And when I think about vulnerability, I think about my role as a mother. How am I parenting my 6-year-old? Am I allowing him to find his own identity? Am I allowing him to develop his individuality and learn to accept himself as he is? I want him to learn that the moments where he feels vulnerable—if he allows himself to feel it—those will be the moments that will give him the opportunity to be imperfect and still love himself.

Imagine if he learns at this young age how to be vulnerable and makes it a normal part of his life, where he recognizes what he is feeling—sadness, joy, anger, and all the emotions—and knows how to accept them and to channel them without eliminating them…WOW! I believe this is the foundation to have healthy relationships in our life!

Now, if I look in a mirror, how much vulnerability have I allowed myself? Not much if I am honest, but I am starting to let it flow each day and in every moment that presents itself.  I know that it is worth it to be the first one to say “I love you.” I know that it is worth it to risk everything for a dream even when the result is not what I hoped for. I know it is worth it to dream and fight for my dreams even when life shapes them in a different way that what I had planned. And I know that it’s worth it to learn, along with my son, how to be vulnerable. It will make us strong, it will make us who we are.

Why I’m not giving my son advice on how to talk to girls

Arguably one of the perks of being a dad is the constant stream of opportunities to give fatherly advice.

Advice columns are one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The best ones are like miniature ethical treatises—perfect for a lapsed philosophy major with a short attention span. And who doesn’t like giving advice? To be human is to be full of opinions about what other people should do.

So my son’s first attempts to talk to the girl he has a crush on? A golden opportunity for an advice enthusiast. But I’m passing it up, at least for now. Here’s why.

It turns out that 99% of what I want him to know before his first date isn’t anything new. It’s the same stuff we have been practicing since he was a baby. Love yourself and be open to loving other people. Be kind. Respect people’s boundaries. Pay attention. Use your words.

If I were to make a list of the absolutely critical information straight boys need about dating and relationships, you could boil it down to one feminist principle: Girls are people. (There are lots of variations on the theme: Girls are people, not prizes. Girls are people, not shiny objects.) Special coaching on “talking to girls” seems to me to violate this principle. Girls are people, not aliens.

Of course, that doesn’t make telling a girl you like her for the first time any less excruciating. My palms get sweaty for him just thinking about it. But that isn’t because girls are “girls.” It’s because liking someone and wanting them to like you back is intensely vulnerable. In this TED talk, Brene Brown talks about vulnerability as risking connection, and the courage to take that risk as the key to intimacy and joy.

The awkwardness is essential, and there is nothing I can say to guide him around it. Even worse, there is no advice he can follow to protect himself against heartbreak. Like all the other times I have watched him leap into the unknown, the best I can do is admire his courage and offer him a place to land.