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.

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.

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!

Living in a state of freedom

You may wonder why I’m always blogging about emergency contraception (EC) and birth control. What does it have to do with domestic violence? Why would an advocate need to talk about this with a survivor of abuse? And why should domestic violence programs have EC, pregnancy tests, and condoms available on site?

If you have never experienced it, it might be hard to understand how birth control sabotage, or reproductive or sexual coercion, is an incredibly powerful way to exert power and control over someone. Imagine someone flushing your pills down the toilet or poking holes in a condom. What about stopping you from getting to the clinic to get your Depo shot? Or forcibly pulling out your IUD by the strings? If you’re in an abusive relationship, negotiations around birth control and whether to have—or not have—children might happen without your opinion being respected or even considered. The harm of this may be invisible to an outsider, but when survivors of abuse are not allowed to make their own decisions about pregnancy, they lose control over the trajectory of their life and their connection to the abuser. And they have to constantly weigh the risks of any act of resistance, any attempt at independence.

Domestic violence advocates know that survivors coming to their programs are experiencing a range of abusive behaviors. But even if they are experiencing reproductive or sexual coercion, it is usually not something they bring up. If we want long-term solutions for survivors and their children, then we need to bring it up. Offering EC and birth control information, and having it available on site, is a liberatory act.

We need to offer it because Plan B or Levonorgestrel (emergency contraception) is effective within five days after unprotected intercourse and is available to anyone, no matter age or gender, without a prescription. We need to offer it so that survivors know we are comfortable talking about sex, birth control (especially forms that are less likely to be felt by a partner), and reproductive health. We need to offer it because access to timely information and practical help can change the circumstances of someone’s life. And we need to offer it because advocacy is about supporting someone to determine their own life—to live in a state of freedom.

A flock of birds and the words "I'm Free"

“Why don’t victims just leave?”

I recently wrote this guest column for publication in Sound Publishing community newspapers.

nomoreThose of us who work at domestic violence programs hear this question all the time. The truth is, they do. Every day we hear from survivors of abuse who were able to find the support and resources they needed to be safe and self-sufficient.

Every day we also hear from people who are unable to leave because they fear the abuser will be more violent if they do. This fear is very real. According to the Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review, in at least 55% of homicides by abusers, the victim had left or was trying to leave.

Many people are unable to leave an abusive relationship because they have nowhere to go. Our communities don’t have enough affordable housing, and shelters and transitional housing units are limited. On just one day last year, domestic violence programs in Washington could not meet 267 requests for housing. People often stay with or return to an abusive partner because they don’t have the money to support themselves or their children.

We also hear from people who don’t want to leave, but want the abuse to stop. Research consistently shows that people in an abusive relationship make repeated efforts to be safe and self-sufficient, but there are many barriers—both external, such as limited resources or support; and internal, such as an emotional connection to their partner or a desire for their children to be with both parents—that makes this very difficult.

But here’s the thing: This is absolutely the wrong question to be asking, as it implies that victims are responsible for ending violence. They aren’t. Instead, we should be asking what we can do to stop abusers from being violent and controlling.

Ultimately, I have faith in people

Photo by Dread Scott
Photo by Dread Scott

During a week of searing sadness, tiredness, and anger, I am looking for a way to move forward. I find myself thinking about the people around me in the grocery store, standing on the bus, sitting on blankets at the farmer’s market, the faces of my children. These are the people I am with in my ordinary day … this is the “American public.” I wonder about what it takes to move public opinion. This week, I have read brilliant, challenging, and inspirational writing about the racist murders in Charleston. I believe that we are all grappling with the failure to openly dialogue about racism, acknowledge historic symbols of racism, and dismantle systems that perpetuate racism. What makes individuals risk offending those dear to them, speak up, do something different, make a change?

For me, learning from others shapes my thinking and moves me to act. I am not talking about grand gestures, but educating myself so I can figure out what to talk about with my children, neighbors, family members, and elected representatives. These are a few of the posts that have taught me this week:

On Faith, Forgiveness and Flags

Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof

Confederate Flags and Institutional Racism

Reading these helped me grasp the enormity of what is ahead and reminded me of the decency in people. Ultimately, I do have faith that we will make change. This is the way forward for me.

Who’s the expert on your life?

On March 22nd my home flooded. Suddenly I lost my safe haven and my life became a ball of chaos and stress.

It was hard for me to focus at work, I was constantly on the phone with the insurance company, I forgot to pay my credit card bill twice, and I broke down crying about a dozen times. This was my experience despite having a loving partner by my side, a flexible job, and friends and family to offer their support. Which made me think about how much harder it is for those who don’t have support or resources.

Photo by Jett Loe
Photo by Jett Loe

Like this story of a survivor who was forced to choose between her housing and violence. Her abuser isolated her from friends, family, and social networks. She left with literally $4 in her pocket. She had nowhere to turn and wound up in shelter. She’s not the only one; domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.

The survivors I’ve worked with tell me that folks tend to jump to problem-solving without taking the time to acknowledge how stress and trauma is impacting their lives. It is often the case that survivors are given lists of places to go and people to call, asked to identify goals, and then to “follow through” on them. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve been annoyed if someone told me to go to a support group to deal with my house flooding when I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping that night. When we take more time to sit and listen we discover that survivors have the best solutions for their problems and that they are experts in their own lives, just like you are an expert in your life and I’m an expert in mine.

Sold out

“Is having no option to leave the same as making a decision to stay?” Jill Davies posed this question at a training this week. She offered this analogy: “If all the tickets to a Stevie Wonder concert were sold out, does that mean you made a decision not to go?” Heck no! I missed Stevie’s concert when I was 19 and I’ve been sad about it ever since!sold-out-ticket

We have to change our assumptions about survivors who can’t or don’t leave their abusive partner. Most of our solutions for survivors of abuse are based on ending the relationship, but that ignores their reality. Survivors often have ongoing contact with their abusive partner for many reasons—a big one is children. As Jill reiterates, “Leaving is not the answer to domestic violence, reducing violent behavior is.” Leaving might be a part of the strategy to reduce violent behavior but it is a strategy not the strategy.

At that training, I promised to never again say a survivor is in denial or minimizing (code for “she’s not doing what I think she should be doing or she doesn’t get how bad things are”). Any strategy that’s going to help a survivor of abuse must respect her decisions about what works for her and her family.

And I’m happy to report that I got to catch Stevie in concert last year.