From NOPE to YAAAS!

2016 has been rough. So when the calendar reminded me that I had to work on a Saturday, I wasn’t too psyched. It had been a long week, which was attached to a long month, at the end of an even longer year. But because of our partnership with Goodwill for our Refuse To Abuse 5k, I was scheduled to  give a talk at Goodwill’s Youth Aerospace Program about healthy relationships. So, even though my vibe was NOPE, that’s how I found myself driving up to Marysville on a Saturday at 7am.

As soon as I got there, I knew I was going to leave happier than I started. The room was full of young people and their parents, all of whom had come together to talk about healthy relationships and their hopes for the future. So that’s what we did.

We did In Their Shoes: Classroom Edition. I encouraged the parents to let the youth lead, and they did (even though it was sometimes hard). It was remarkable to watch the youth in the room take charge, make decisions, and go boldly forward. Each group walked through the story of one of six characters who experience unhealthy and violent relationships. And then we talked about it.

yaaass-horseYouth shared their perspectives and their desire to create new ways of doing things. Their parents listened and then shared their hopes and fears about letting go and standing beside their beloved teenagers as they enter into their first relationships. We talked about the things to look out for and the things to celebrate. And then we reminded each other to continue to ask questions, listen up, and stay connected no matter what.

There was so much love in the room that Saturday afternoon, my NOPE attitude turned into YAAAS! And as I look forward to 2017, I am heartened that although there is still a whole lot to feel down about, talking with young people about their relationships will always be a YAAAS!

Doing nothing is the worst choice

Someone asked me if the current national conversation about sexual assault is helping our organization with increased interest or support. The answer is, not really. And I think the reason is that it’s hard for human beings to connect individual responsibility with community responsibility.

Often, I get supportive comments when I say that I am employed at a non-profit that works to prevent domestic violence. The term “domestic violence” can have different meanings; but usually people tell me that they believe that violence is rooted in individual behavior and poor choices. They don’t see what I see―that preventing violence requires, in part, government policies that support safe, affordable, accessible housing, child care subsidies and a livable wage for everyone. I guess it all sounds too impersonal and far away from daily life. And, yet, it matters. And it follows then that who is on the Supreme Court matters also. And who is in charge of Health & Human Services. If how you treat people does matter, than our leaders’ behavior and ideas matter.

I hear people say it is hard to vote at all with two imperfect presidential candidates. But this election reminds me of the importance of voting. People who came before me literally died for my right to vote. And, the right to vote is facing increased restrictions across our nation. Maybe your ability to vote isn’t restricted, but it could be happening to someone else in your community.

This October is Domestic Violence ACTION Month. Having a conversation with my children about the potential for abuse happening to them or their friends can be overwhelming. But, just like with voting, doing nothing is the worst choice. It is always harder to make things better after the worst happens. Exercising your right to vote and starting a conversation with your children about domestic violence are actions that matter. Your actions can be part of preventing more bad things happening and creating a world we all want to live in.

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Good talk

My kids are at that age where they are starting to have playdates, so I’ve had to figure out how to ask about guns in their friends’ homes. Ohmahgah, it’s so hard! I mean, I’m socially awkward anyway. And an avid conflict avoider. (I’ve had decades of practice with my very conservative family). So when it came time to ask, I was terrified. But I had to do it. My experiences growing up in a house with guns and the constant news stories about kids being killed gave me the courage I needed.

This is how I do it. “So, do you keep your guns unloaded and locked away?”

Photo by Geraint Rowland
Photo by Geraint Rowland

Yikes! It’s hard every time. Responses so far have ranged from a calm and understanding “Nope, we don’t have any.” to “What!? We don’t have guns in our house. Do YOU?” to “Actually, we have one that is dismantled and unloaded and locked in a storage unit that the kids don’t have access to.” So far I haven’t gotten a response that would make me feel like my kids couldn’t play at a friend’s house, but I’m sure that will happen at some point, because I’m going to keep asking. My kids’ lives depend on it.

So now I’m inspired by my new found bravery to dive into other tough conversations, like talking about relationships with my kids. Not just the birds and the bees, but age-appropriate ways to talk about love, consent, and bullying.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month, I’ve decided to have at least one conversation a week with my kids about this stuff. Here are some things I will be asking them:

“What does it mean to be a good friend?”

“What do you do when you don’t like what a friend is doing?”

“Who do you play with on the playground? What do you like about playing with them?”

Hopefully it will become a habit that lasts. One more thing I’m going to do—talk to my parent-friends about talking to their kids. Hmmm, that sounds hard too. Maybe I’ll just show them this blog post and say, hey—wanna join me? That’s doable. Because the more the merrier when it comes to helping kids learn how to be respectful, kind, and loving adults.