Back to school!

School has finally started here in Seattle!

giphy

You might have heard that Seattle schools didn’t start on time because the district and the teachers disagreed on several contract issues. So the teachers went on strike for our kids and our schools. As the mother of a first grader I’ve been scrambling to secure child care, but I support our teachers.

The thing that made this strike a bit unusual (as far as teacher strikes go) was the huge amount of support teachers received from parents and communities. I’m not talking about a handful of parents bringing brownies to the picket lines. I’m talking about district-wide grassroots organizing. Parents, students, and community members came out strong—they walked picket lines with teachers, held their own march, and kept teachers supplied with food, water, and that liquid sunshine known as coffee.

Neighborhoods with lots of support trekked across the city to places with less and provided food and supplies there. Neighborhood childcare collectives popped up. An organization started by a couple of parents called Soup for Teachers exploded on Facebook as the place for parents to not only organize lunches for teachers, but also a place for accurate and timely updates on how the negotiations were progressing.

So kids, let’s review what we’ve learned from this strike about community engagement:

  • It’s possible for A LOT of people to come together and rally around an issue that is pressing and important.
  • Community members who are not directly affected will get involved when they understand how others in their community are impacted.
  • When community members show up and do what they can, people get the support they need.

Awesome! Guess what? Violence in our homes is also a pressing and important issue affecting all of us. How can we take what we’ve learned from the strike and apply it to supporting survivors, holding abusers accountable, and promoting healing for all?

She can’t wear that to kindergarten

Photo by Lesley Show
Photo by Lesley Show

We had a nice and sunny day the other day. In fact we had a few. And on one of those days, my 4-year-old daughter (who has a great fashion sense—which everyone knows does not come from me) got dressed and as we were getting into the car, my son commented that when she goes to kindergarten next week she won’t be allowed to wear “those shorts.”

Now, I’ve written before about my rants discussions with my son about sexism, but you know who really needs to hear my rant? The school. (And don’t worry—they will.) A school which in most regards I love. It is a school that embodies beloved community—their motto is that students will be responsible, respectful, and safe. It has more parents involved than I ever imagined possible. I like the teachers. I like the principal. And yet, here, in this beautiful place, they are sexualizing kindergarteners by having a dress code that includes edicts like “no spaghetti strap tank tops” and “no short shorts.” Sexualizing you say? Yes sexualizing. Why else would you make gender-specific dress code requirements? I’m sure they’d cite the usual reason: “distraction.” But shouldn’t we have higher expectations for people to not objectify young girls?

I cannot believe that this is the world we live in. Not only do I have to plead with my daughter to not wear pajamas, but I also have to police whether her shorts are too short or her straps too much like spaghetti. Our job as parents is hard enough—please don’t force sexism into it. There’s enough of that out there already.

What does a Bat Mitzvah have to do with healthy relationships?

Recently, we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of a cherished daughter of dear friends. While reminiscing with my twin daughters about their Bat Mitzvah, it dawned on me that this process actually prepares young people for entering into loving and respectful relationships. To prepare for a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, young women and men have to learn to speak publicly, think critically about ideas, and express their beliefs with each other and trusted adults.

The Bat Mitzvah process centers you in an environment that is bigger than your individual needs and wants. At age 13, you are seen as ethically responsible for your decisions and actions, and you are joining the Jewish community as an adult. Years of Hebrew school culminate in leading a Shabbat service, singing an ancient trope from the Torah (Hebrew Bible), and reflecting on your Torah portion  (Dvar) and connecting it to contemporary life. The parents have a role in publicly acknowledging their child’s commitment. It is a moment to share a bit about who you think your child is and what you hope for them. I love this part of the service, and never get tired of hearing all the ways adults love their children.

My daughters had to interpret ancient teachings through their own experiences while adults asked their opinions and offered respect for their thinking. Pretty heady stuff at 13. The process immersed them in a community that amplified their voice and lifted their authority and confidence. And it gave me new ways of talking about respect, supportive love, and what a healthy relationship feels like.

Photo by Valley2City
Photo by Valley2City

Space babies

I ♥ football. Although I was really grouchy about this year’s Super Bowl because I was still bitter about my Falcon’s loss in the playoffs, I still watched the game. And the commercials. And I know there is A LOT I could say about how women are portrayed in these ads, but I’ll let you peruse the game day dialogue at #notbuyingit for your fill of that.

One (ridiculously adorable) commercial got me thinking about something else. First, if you haven’t seen it, watch this car commercial with cute human and animal babies.

Adorable, right? (In case you didn’t watch it, a little boy asks his dad where babies come from and dad tells a fantastical story about a planet full of babies that each day get rocketed to earth to find their parents.) All of us parents have had that moment of panic when faced with a tough question from our child. Your tongue caught somewhere between figuring out an age appropriate response and your own discomfort.

Uh…uuuhh…

So I’ve got a solution for you! It’s a win-win. It buys you time, prevents you from having to make up space babies, AND it’s a chance to start a great conversation with your kids about healthy relationships. Try this: “That’s a good question, little Tommy. (sweaty palms on the steering wheel, deep breath) And it’s a little complicated to answer, but I know that often babies come from two grown-ups who love each other very much and want to start a family. What do you think it means when two people love each other?” Answers will certainly vary and could be quite comical. But it will open the door to a conversation about what healthy relationships look like, and get you out of stumbling over body parts and mechanics. For the time being. You’re welcome.

Grinding at the homecoming dance

My newly minted high school teenagers just attended their first homecoming dance and complained grinding was the dominant form of dancing (video spoiler alert—parents prepare to be perplexed or horrified). I’m glad to know there are some good suggestions out there of how schools can prohibit grinding and promote equitable relationships among teens. Yet, as a parent, talking to teenagers about grinding is difficult and frustrating.

I do it because I want to them to believe in their own power and know that they deserve respect. But talking about grinding with your mom is gross, awkward, and not appreciated. I want to yell “No, no, no! Those boys do not deserve to touch you in that meaningless way!” or something equally unhelpful. Instead, I say things like, “Grinding treats you like a body part, not a person; and he doesn’t even have to look you in the eye.”

While I can’t protect my children—gone are the days I could literally lift them out of harm’s way—I can have influence. I can ask the school why they don’t have a no grinding policy, instruct the DJ to play a variety of music, ask kids who are grinding to leave (not just momentarily separate them with a beam of a flashlight), and openly talk about the policy at school.

I think the attitude “kids will be kids” is an excuse for parents to avoid the whole issue. Yes, you do have to talk to boys about their power, objectifying girls, curiosity and arousal, and the best ways to build friendship and intimacy. Yes, you do have to talk to girls about all of these same things. Oh, so much easier said than done. But if we are willing to initiate a conversation about grinding then hopefully our kids will continue to talk to us about things that make them uncomfortable.

Are my daughters safe online?

As a parent of teenage daughters, I worry that being on the internet itself, and especially Facebook, is leading them to make unwise decisions. Like other parents I know, I said “If you want Facebook, I need the password.” But I often wonder―am I understanding what I read? Do I know what is really going on? And when do I talk to them about what I see? I know my daughters crave their privacy even on Facebook, and don’t want any reminders that I am hovering. I want them to have safe, respectful and positive relationships―everywhere they go―is that too much to ask for?

Dr. Danah Boyd studies how youth use social media. I found her recent article “Cracking Teenagers Online Codes” to be both troubling and reassuring. Using social media in and of itself does not put kids at risk — “Teenagers at risk offline are the same ones who are at risk online.” There is a strong fear of sexual predators online, but the reality is that most sexual abuse involves someone our children know, trust, or love. Issues of bullying, homophobia, teen dating violence, suicide, and substance abuse are around, and we need to talk to our children when we see it on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else.

Here is what I found to be most reassuring in the article: “Teenagers absolutely care about privacy . . . like adults, they share things to feel loved, connected and supported . . . teenagers are the same as they always were.” They are using the internet to check out new ideas, see what other kids are thinking about, find someone to relate to. They are trying to relieve the alien teenager feeling. Okay, so even if my daughters’ online lives sometimes feel like a barrier to our connection, I just have to be brave and ask about what concerns me―and keep asking. If I listen with a lot of patience and silence, maybe one or two questions or concerns will slip out, and I will be there ready with love.