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.

Fire Drill

I am going to interrupt the first paragraph of this blog to tell you the aftermath of writing it. This is simple too ironically delicious to pass up.

Go to Google images and search “Fire Drill 1960s.” I mean, really.

I went looking for a good picture idea to illustrate a story of growing up in the 1960s and doing fire drills at my little rural school. A story I don’t need to tell you now.

What I found was NOT a fire drill 1960s style, but rather an atomic bomb drill 1960s style.

duck-and-coverWhat tickled me so much about these pictures of children huddling under their desks (which, by the way I did not experience as funny at the time) is that how we prepare our children these days for the actual threats they face is very much like this google-search-gone-sideways result: we are leaving our children huddled under their desks when the real problem is that the building is on fire.

I thought of a couple stories to illustrate how we can use the notion of the fire drill to practice things with our beloved kids before it is an actual emergency. And to show how weirdly odd we grownups behave in the face of actual emergencies.

Fire drill: unintended pregnancy

I once asked a young woman friend of mine who was headed off to college what kind of birth control she was using or thinking about using. She’d had a serious boyfriend in recent months and I was thinking they were likely sexually active so I was just curious. She looked at me with a stricken look on her face and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then she blurted out, “I’m not opposed to abortion.”

“Um, sweetie” I replied “you know there are ways to avoid getting pregnant if you don’t want to be right?”  And the conversation unfolded from there.

We grownups waste unimaginable quantities of energy and money arguing about whether abortion should be illegal or legal. Available or unavailable. In the meantime this is the stupidity our children are saddled with. By losing our focus on what is actually happening with our kids, we outright deprive them of meaningful access to the information they need. Metaphorically, we leave our teens huddled under their desks. Come on. We can do better than this.

Another time, some friends and I were talking about Plan B (the emergency contraceptive) when their teenaged son walked in. It struck me suddenly that teenagers may not even have any idea what the concept of a plan B is. I mean, do you? Plan A is we meet at the corner to walk together to lunch. Plan B, we meet at the restaurant and I’ll save us a table. Right?

No surprise, the young man didn’t have any idea what plan A and plan B meant. But then, poor thing, I subjected him to some questions about the contraceptive Plan B. What followed was a wildly entertaining conversation which I will leave for another time.

Back to Plan B which is, after all, the fallback. It is not the first line of action for young heterosexual sexually-active people. And yet we adults leave our children huddled under their desks while we argue about regulating the actual drug of Plan B–in fact, all the way to the Supreme Court. The building is on fire people. Grownups get your act together and help kids with Plan A for sexual health and wellbeing, contraceptive and otherwise!

Fire drill: gun violence

I don’t own a gun, but I got a free gun lock at a recent event and gave it to a friend of mine who has school-aged kids. She doesn’t have guns either, but we gabbed about if and how she asks about guns when her kids go to play in their friends’ homes. She said she has struggled with this in a mighty way but has not yet figured out how to ask. It is just so hard to talk about it.

And this is completely understandable. We have locked down the conversation around guns rather than the guns themselves. Even the most basic common sense actions are taboo because any mention of guns leads straight to the second amendment. Even when all we’re talking about is keeping our children from accidentally shooting themselves or someone else. Children have a natural curiosity around guns, secured or not. Again, we leave them huddled under their desks while we argue about politics.

Fire drill: rape and domestic violence

Let’s face it. Even approaching thoughts about a beloved child raping or being raped—being battered or battering is more than most of us can endure.

And yet, no victim or rapist, no victim or batterer comes into this world as such. We unintentionally put our children on a path the moment they are born with our ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. And we follow that up with a million actions, individually and culturally.

But we do not need to fix all of our million transgressions against our children at once. One at a time works. Each one of us doing one at a time.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month. And I’m here to tell you that in the same way that we don’t have to wait until our daughter or son is accidentally pregnant or our child shot to do something, there are simple ways to help kids learn about and navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships. You may never know if something very simple that you say or do plants a seed for a child or young person and helps them avoid a small problem or a large catastrophe.

Grownups. We can do this. It is not hard. It is actually really fun and, I have found, often hilarious. Try these ideas and let us know what happens. Write about your stories in the comment section below, or on our Twitter or Facebook page. We can help each other learn how to safely usher our kids out to the playground!

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

Don’t Think the Supreme Court Matters? Think Again. “In one instance, the Supreme Court can bend the arc of justice faster than any march can. And then in the next breath, it can bend that arc into a hook that pulls us back decades.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions “The majority opinion considered whether the claimed benefits of the restrictions outweighed the burdens they placed on a constitutional right. Justice Breyer wrote that there was no evidence that the admitting-privileges requirement “would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment.”

Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Rights in Key Sexual Assault Case “For many Native women and children survivors, civil jurisdiction isn’t an academic or even a legal question. It’s a matter of life and death.”

The Supreme Court Upheld the Law Against Domestic Abusers Owning Guns. If Only Someone Would Enforce It. “A study from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that “laws restricting firearm access for batterers subject to restraining orders are associated with a 19 percent reduction in rates of intimate homicide.”

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.

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

This Was a Bad, Gruesome, and Utterly Typical Week for Men Killing Their Partners “A week like this of any other kind of incident—mass shootings, publicized incidents of bullying, canoeing accidents—would probably occasion some editorials, some discussion on the morning talk shows, maybe even a grim press conference from the president, vowing not to stand for any more.”

As An Abuse Survivor, I Understand And Support Amber Heard “Suddenly, my morning ritual of laying in bed and browsing the internet on my phone wasn’t fun. Instead, it was peppered with stories about Heard that pointed the finger, hurled sexist slurs, and made up grandiose stories about what really could have happened.”

What the War on Reproductive Rights Has to do With Poverty and Race While claiming to care about Black lives, anti-abortion advocates have used racist billboard campaigns to shame Black women out of having abortions without addressing any of the reasons why we choose abortion

Shouting about guns. Again.

There was another mass shooting last week. This one was in Pennsylvania. As I write this (on March 10) there have been 8 mass shootings in the U.S. this month. EIGHT MASS SHOOTINGS IN TEN DAYS!!!! Sorry to get shouty, but I’m super mad. My heart breaks for the children whose parents were taken from them. My heart breaks for the communities that have a lot of healing to do. I’m struck by how little media attention this last shooting has received (the fact that the victims were Black probably also had something to do with it). How jaded we’ve become about mass murder.

Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence
Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence

Did you know that more than half of mass shootings in America are domestic violence related? Most of the victims are women and children. Most of the shooters are men. This sounds all too familiar to advocates like me. We hear about this kind of thing all the time―survivors who fear for their lives because someone who is supposed to love them has threatened them with a gun.

The media pays less attention to mass shootings when the victims are family members of the perpetrator. But some of the more high profile shootings also include elements of domestic violence. Like this recent tragedy in Kansas where the gunman was just issued a restraining order by his girlfriend and promptly went on a shooting spree at his workplace.

We know the facts, so why aren’t we putting domestic violence front and center when we are talking about guns? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently asked his first question from the bench in a decade. Why? To question if we should be taking guns away from abusers. The New York Times calls the case in question a “minor” one. I disagree. A gun in the hands of an abuser is anything but minor.

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

The very funny Rachel Dratch and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America ask, “What could go wrong?

The Hijas de Violencia (the Daughters of Violence) are a Mexico City collective that fights street harassment with confetti guns and punk rock.

Elizabeth Banks tells Rebecca’s Story for the Draw The Line campaign from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

What to do with the weight of this world

statue-with-globeOne of my most normal friends confided in me the other day. She said she’s feeling deeply anxious in a way she’s never experienced. She’s worried about being so worried.

My less normal friends and I have been feeling this way for a looooong time.

It’s not surprising that we’re freaked out. The world is shouting at us.

Wrong. Doom. Racist. Threat. Get out. Women-hating. War. Guns, guns and more guns.  This election year will undoubtedly kick all this up a notch, if there is even a notch left to be kicked.

There is a growing mountain of evidence that our brains are hardwired for negativity. Think about it. We were able to survive through multimillions of years by remembering which berries made us puke and which of the other animals are inclined to attack or eat us. Whereas, remembering whether blueberries taste better than raspberries was of very little survival value. Positive experiences just don’t have the impact or the staying power in our brains.

Learning this helped me overcome the natural inclination toward the negative. I learned that I had to work harder to help the positive messages and experiences stick.

I’ve been paying attention to my amped up anxiety of late. And watching to see if doing stuff actually makes me feel better.

Last week, I went to a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It’s ironic, but talking about guns made me feel better. Connecting with 25 like-minded women and men, walking away with two free gun locks to give away, and signing up for their lobby day felt good.

I’m donating $3/day to the gohomemalheur.org campaign. Where previously I was filled with rage at the overentitled white supremacist militant jerks holding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hostage, once I donated and saw that I’m in the company of so many others (all giving to organizations that the militants would loathe, including the Paiute Tribe and the Southern Poverty Law Center) I’m fine with what’s going on. They can stay as long as they want.

And finally, deep breath. I walked around Capitol Lake. Silently, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. At the conclusion of the walk, our leader suggested something he calls one finger Zen. Holding up his index finger, he mimed pressing down as he urged us to tap the off button.

Indeed. Walk away from your screen. Get off your couch. Go see for yourself if working for social justice helps.

 

 

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

Rape Is Not A Death Sentence “Every well-intentioned instance of ‘[rape] ruined your life’ needs to be replaced with ‘this was not your fault. This does not reflect on you. You will get through this.’ ”

No Visible Bruises: Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury “Many victims spend their lives grappling with the consequences of an undiagnosed, untreated, unsupported injury, about which the narrative almost inevitably turns hostile: that they are crazy, or somehow to blame.”

What Obama’s New Move On Guns Does For Domestic Violence Survivors “As women who end up living in domestic violence situations, one of the things that happens is that you lose all power…When you don’t hear your government officials talking about it, you are just silenced one more time.”

Five greetings of holiday cheer

‘Tis the season. I close out my blog writing for 2015 with a string of holiday-themed confessions and advice. Please, grab an eggnog and pull up a chair.

Peace on Earth

Make peace with the earth.

I grew up outside. The outdoors is where I go when I need to experience renewal, re-creation. My first political activism involved working as a student intern in the 1970’s under the guidance of chain-smoking, tough-as-nails environmental bulldogs Flo Brodie and Jack Davis. Sadly, they are both long gone, but all of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to them for stopping an industrial logging export facility from being built right next to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.

Blessings to Flo and Jack and to those young and very much alive activists who point out that earth and climate justice are the same thing as racial and social justice.

Home for the Holidays

Re-friend your people on Facebook. Make peace with your uncles, cousins, and former classmates who have posted hateful things that resulted in you tossing them off your friend list.

My cousin Bill posts pictures of guns and voices wildly different perspectives from my own. I once came close to unfriending him—but I resisted because I love him so much. I’ve discovered that arguing back in a clear, kind way actually results in him moderating his position a bit. I should ask him if he ever stops himself from posting something because he thinks of me. Probably not. But I know I think about what he’s going to say when I post certain things—and part of me can hardly wait.

I know you don’t want to re-friend your “cousin Bill.” Do it anyway because if you don’t argue back then we will all end up living in thicker bubbles among the dwindling pool of people who agree with us on everything. This trend toward isolation and intolerance of any view different from our own cannot end well.

Merry Christmas

Dig a little deeper into the story of Christmas and reflect on refugees past and present. Find ways to make it clear refugees are welcome here. Capitol_protest_Tyra

A small crowd gathered at the capitol the other day to express the opposite. They howled “Refugees are NOT welcome here.” I went to the counter-protest to see if I could persuade the people holding “Vets Before Refugees” signs to reconsider this us vs. them thing. I told them that I agreed that we have done a terrible job caring for returning vets. In the above photo captured by the Tacoma News Tribune, I was pointing to a vet’s Union Gospel Mission patch. He said he worked there. “Then you have experience working with folks who are caught in the crossfire of life circumstances. That’s gotta give you some sympathy for the Syrian war refugees, right?” We might have continued that conversation, but the rally organizer came over to hiss “Terrorists are embedded with those refugees.” She was not budging on that point. There was nothing more I could say.

The Syrian refugees are not terrorists. They need a home. I was taught that Mary and Joseph were refugees too. If we cannot learn some lessons from 2,015 years ago, what’s the point of celebrating the birth of that famous baby?

Joy to the World

Be happy for the liberation of yourself and others.

As difficult as these times are, I find joy in movements organizing for justice. Black Lives Matter to me as a white person because I want to live in a world where African Americans and have equal access to the same things that have brought me comfort, happiness, and peace. It is not asking too much because it can be done.

I recently joined Olympia SURJ and follow the leadership of Full Circle United as they direct me to take action. Find the group that is organizing in your town. Bring joy to your life and to the lives of everyone around you.

Silent Night

Rest and be well.

At times, I am shaken awake long past midnight by fear and worry. When that happens, I take a deep breath. And listen to the silence. Some nights I get up and creep outside to be in the stillness—the quiet darkness. We are all loved by the silent night. Be at peace. All is well.