Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dear Santa

After almost every trip home I fall into a mild depression (not the clinically diagnosed kind). Because during those few days back in my hometown, I get to spend short but valuable quality time with my best friends. These are woman who I have known for years. Before babies. Before husbands. Heck, most of them before I could drink, or vote, or drive! 17 years and more. I love them so much. And miss them every day.

Sure, thanks to cell phones, emails, and Facebook, I don’t miss them nearly as much as I would have a 100 years ago when we could have only sent written correspondence that would take a week or more to deliver. Keeping in touch now is much more convenient and economical. But still, Skyping doesn’t replace sitting next to them on the couch, sipping a glass of wine, and laughing together. Or crying together. And I can’t do that from 800 miles away.

And I miss that they know me. Really know me. Know that I’m sarcastic, opinionated, and bawdy. Now that I am passionate about important things and irrelevant things like which peanut butter is the best. That I have the best intentions despite having a propensity for putting my foot in my mouth. That I love gossip, but not in a mean spirited way. That I often need to bitch and complain, just to get things off my chest before I can get any clarity on the situation. That I’m a loyal friend, but I also believe in being honest even though I know it’d be easier to just tell you what you want to hear. They know that I can be unintentionally judgmental, and they help me work on changing that about myself.

With them, I don’t have to act smarter than I am. Or to censor myself. Act more pious. Or polite. Or wittier. Or more informed. I can be exactly who I am, and they love me and accept me just for that. I feel safe and unjudged.

As a married mother/adult living in a university town, I have found it very hard to make friends. Sure, I have some wonderful acquaintances, but that is all they are. Nice people that I exchange pleasantries with in social situations.

How are you?
I’m great. How are you?
How is the family? Good?
That’s terrific! Man this weather is beautiful/terrible/crazy/unexpected.
Yes, isn’t it? But that is Indiana for you.
True. Well, it was good to see you.
Awesome, it was good to see you, too.

But for one reason or another it never seems to go past this very superficial level into any more meaningful relationships.

Part of the problem is that because this is a university town, most people I meet seem to see their time here as temporary. Just a bookmark in their life until they move on to their real jobs, their real homes, their real lives. They don’t seem interested in putting much effort into making good friends here, since they themselves are only here on loan until they finish their degrees or find permanent positions elsewhere. And I will admit, back when I lived here as a graduate student in the early 2000s, I was the same way.

The other problem is that when you were young, it didn’t take much to establish a connection. You thought they were fun and funny and they thought the same about you.  But now, you might like her but your husband doesn’t care for him. Or your husbands get along but you and she have nothing to talk about. Or you both like the couple, but you can’t stand their kid and don’t really want them around your kids. Or worse…they don’t have kids, so they just can’t understand your schedule and why you always turn down their invitations to go meet for drinks at 9:00 pm on a school night.

Superman doesn’t seem as phased about not having friends as I am. Honestly, between having me and his parents nearby…he seems quite content with all of his acquaintances. But I want, no, I NEED some girlfriends! And not the kind I can only reach out and touch through a keyboard, but the fleshy kind. The kind that will show up at my house unannounced on a Saturday and sit and drink a cup of hot chocolate with me while we watch the kids play in the snow in the backyard. The kind that we have a monthly game night with, when you bring the kids’ pajamas, because you know the fun will go way past their bedtime.

Oh, and not to be too picky, but I want one that mothers similar to me. Someone that doesn’t feed their kids McDonald’s at every meal, but doesn’t think Ronald McDonald is the devil either. Someone who doesn’t put coke in their one year old’s sippy cup, but doesn’t feed them only organic seaweed juice. Someone who believes in discipline, but also believes that children are children and that 4 year olds shouldn’t be expected to conform to adult standards of politeness and properness. Someone who doesn't chronically read parenting advice books. Someone who I can ask parenting advise from, but isn’t offended if I don’t take it. A mother who is realistic about their love for their child, and doesn’t insist that they are god’s gift to the world and they poop skittles and rainbows. A mother who likes spending time with her children, not one who always wants to do “just girls” things because she is desperate to get away from them at every opportunity.

I know my list is not unreasonable. I know this, because I know these women. And if this were a perfect world, I’d live next door to them in Virginia Beach and still have my amazing in-laws living just 45 minutes away.

But until then, I can just say:

Dear Santa Claus,

Please, please, please bring me a friend this year.  I’ve been very good all year and I think I deserve it.


P.S. She must believe in Santa Claus.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Talking to Kids About Abuse

This is an incredibly informative blog that addresses talking to your kids about sexual abuse written by a woman who attends my church. I highly encourage every parent to read it and to consider talking to your children about this subject.  Like she says, even children as young as four can understand these basic concepts.  Your children deserve to know they have rights not to be abused.

Thank you Jenni.

Talking to Kids About Abuse

Children as young as four years old can understand the basic concepts of good touches, bad touches and confusing touches. These young children can also understand the definition of sexual abuse and are not afraid of the words that send a chill up the spines of adults. Use the words "sexual abuse" when talking with your child because if a child is victimized, they need to be able to tell you that they were "sexually abused."

Child protective services social workers will tell you that a child without the language to describe their victimization is a child whose case is weakened in the court system.  Remember, you are not putting the responsibility on the child.  Instead, you are helping the child to understand the problem and identify safe people who will support them.

Children need to hear information more than once. This way, your child will "own" this information. Repetition allows them to retain what they have learned. A one-time discussion is soon forgotten.

Also, repeating your discussions every year will reinforce what they have learned and reintroduces points they may have forgotten. Let's not rule out the possibility that, in the course of your discussion, a child may exclaim: "Hey! That's happened to me!" While a parent can never be fully prepared for such a disclosure, you may want to know how to respond to a child who discloses abuse, before you begin your talk with your child.

This synopsis is offered here to help you discuss this very difficult topic with your children so that they will have the tools they may need to stay safe from sexual abuse.
  • Teach your child that they are special and have the right to know everything they can about being safe.Discuss of all the safety rules they have learned and explain that there are some more safety rules to learn.
  • When teaching your child about sexual abuse, talk about 3 different types of touch: good touch, bad touch and sexual abuse touch. "Good touches" are those touches that make us feel happy, safe and loved. Good touches can make us feel warm inside or can make us feel like a smile. Emphasize that most of the touch we get is good touch. Good touches are so important! "Bad touches" are those touches that hurt us; they feel like an ouch. Some examples are kicking, hitting and biting. "Sexual abuse touch" is defined as "forced or tricked touch of private body parts." The key words are forced and tricked. A force is when someone makes you do something you don't want to do or don't understand. A trick is when someone lies to you, fools you, pretends or calls something a game, that really isn't a game, so they can touch your private body parts or have you touch theirs. Explain that sexual abuse is confusing because it doesn't necessarily hurt; the touch can feel good. And that is confusing to children.
  • Use the words "sexual abuse" to eliminate unnecessary confusion. The effort to call sexual abuse by another name (such as inappropriate touch) is counterproductive--leading to more confusion for children. After all, we can be assured that the sexual abuse offender of our children will not call what he/she is doing sexual abuse.By giving your child the correct language, you give your child the power.
  • Teach your child that their body is their own and that no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or in a way that they don't like.
  • Teach your child that they have the right to trust their own feelings and to ask questions when they feel uncomfortable or confused by someone's behavior. Talk about times when they may have had an anxious feeling (forgetting homework, losing something, frightened by a loud noise, etc.). Discuss the importance of paying attention to our feelings in situations when we are feeling uncomfortable.
  • Teach your child that they have the right to say "NO!" to sexual abuse. Teach them that they can say "NO!" to anyone who might want to sexually abuse them; even if the offender is an adult; even if the offender is someone they know.
  • Teach your child that it is very important to tell a trusted adult if someone sexually abuses them or hurts them in any way. Teach your child that they can tell another person if they are not believed. Discuss and identify trusted adults in their life.
  • Teach your child that it is okay to break promises they might make about sexual abuse. Children do not have to keep any promise that makes them feel bad inside.
  • Teach your child that if sexual abuse happens to a child, it is NEVER the child's fault. Older children (4th grade and up) may come up with ways in which it could be the child's fault; explain that sexual abuse is against the law and children are not responsible when someone breaks the law and sexually abuses them.
  • Teach your child that a person who sexually abuses a child can be anyone. Most children, even adults, think that offenders are usually strangers. Children need to know that they have the right to say "NO!" and tell even when the offender is someone they know, like, love or even live with. (In 90% of cases the offender is someone the child knows.)
  • Let your child know that it is never too late to tell about sexual abuse.
  • Let your child know that if sexual abuse happens to them,  they are still lovable and that you will always love them no matter what.
This information was taken from

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who is worth protecting?

Last July, I wrote a post going public with a secret I had kept for nearly 25 years, about my experiences of being sexually abused when I was a young child.

This was not something I did lightly. For a period of nearly 25 years, I told very, very few people. And often once I had told someone, I almost always regretted it. I felt marked. Like as if that person now saw me with a scarlet letter, A for Abuse. I was marked as a victim. Who wants to be thought of as a victim?

I have shared the actual physical details with even fewer people. Because really, who wants to talk about them? Certainly not most normal people. Certainly not me.

But overall, it actually felt good to blog about it last summer. Weirdly liberating to share my shameful secret with the blogosphere. Maybe it's because I didn't tell people face to face, so I didn't have to experience their looks of "what do I say to that?" but when I wrote this blog I didn't feel the same burn of the scarlet letter, even though I was opening myself up to not only close friends and confidants, but to all my friends and family. And even some people who I only knew in real life in a passing fashion. Heck, even to strangers, if anyone passed the link on.

The first few days after posting the blog, I waited with some trepidation to feel that same burning shame, but it never came. And really, I kind of just forgot about it after that. My secret was out. No big deal. What had I been so afraid of?

You see, I am actually pretty lucky, as far as sexual abuse victims go because I don't really feel my life has been too affected in the long run. I didn't turn to drugs or other forms of self abuse (cutting, etc) to punish myself. I don't have messed up relationships with the opposite sex. In fact, from what I've read about typical abuse survivors, it seems the only stereotypical way it affected my life is that I was overly curious as a child about sex, leading me to becoming sexually active at a younger age than most of my peers.

Maybe it is because my abuse was temporary, unlike many who suffer at the hands of their abusers over long periods of time. Maybe because my abuse was not violent. Maybe because my parents did not know, so I never felt the betrayal of witnessing them turn a blind eye, or worse blaming me, as some kids do. Maybe because in all other aspects of my life I felt loved, supported, safe...

But wait, there is one more way my life has been affected. As I said before in my previous blog, my childhood experience does affect my parenting. It has made me what some deem overly protective. We did not let our children go to daycare or be babysat by anyone other than their grandparents or godmother. Within the past few months we have allowed them to be watched shortly by their good friends' parents. But we are careful not to open the flood gates on this one. Going into their neighbor friends' houses whose parents we do not know is still a huge no-no, and will be for a long time!

But even though I know I'm lucky that overall my emotional scars don't run too deep, as evidence that I can type out blogs like this without retreating into hysterics or regressing on whatever progress I've made, I am not immune from getting worked up when I hear about abuse. Of course I am referring to the current headlines about Jerry Sandusky.  Obviously I think he is a monster.  Obviously I'm sickened by what he did and my heart goes out to those children.  But, here are my three main take aways.

#1 The media needs to learn the difference between molestation and rape. Many commentators and news outlets reported that Sandusky had allegedly "molested" or "inappropriately touched" children. That is wrong. He is being accused of raping children.

Molestation is touching and inappropriate behavior.

Rape is actual penetration of an orifice (anus, mouth, vagina).

To me, this is an important distinction. Not to say that molestation cannot be traumatic, because it certainly can (especially when experienced over long periods of time and by someone you are supposed to trust), but it is not the same thing as rape.  Both are sexual abuse.  Both are reprehensible, but let's call a spade a spade. He didn't just look at the boys with wanton eyes. He didn't just rub their butt over their football pants. He stuck his nasty man penis in places it should never have gone. There is a difference and it should not be glossed over because it is uncomfortable to think about.

I am a bit of a hypocrite on this one. For years and years, I referred to what happened to me as a child as being "molested" because honestly to me it sounded less vile. In my mind, it seemed like when you say the word "rape" people visually think of the physical acts. The penetration of orifices. And as I've said before, I didn't like think of people thinking of the physical acts. I didn't like feeling marked. Like a victim. So I said "sexual abuse" or "was molested" as a weird euphemism, because those could mean something as little as some creepy mall Santa once rubbed me inappropriately. But the truth was, I was raped. I need to learn to use that term, even though it isn't pretty. Even though I don't like what it denotes. And so does everyone else.

#2 TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are only four years old, but I have already talked with them about the importance of not letting people touch their pee-pee or butt. These are called "private parts" because they are private. Mommy and Daddy can touch them only to help them clean them, but even we don't need to touch them outside of the bathroom. And NO ONE else should be touching them. And that they should tell Mommy and Daddy is someone does, or tries.

I hate having to talk to my four year olds about this. I worry about scaring them. I worry about taking away their innocence. But, I worry more that someone would touch them and they wouldn't know a. that it was wrong, b. wouldn't know how to tell us, or c. would be afraid to tell us. So, I talk to them about it, even though I wish I didn't have to. And I strongly feel all parents should.

#3 I am angry. I am so angry at the adults who knew about this and did not protect these children. Instead they chose to protect the reputation of their colleague.  Of their schools. Of their football program. When given the choice of "Who is worth protecting in this situation?" Not one of them chose the children. So yes, I believe the whole lot of them deserve to be fired, and brought up on criminal charges.

And I'm angry at the people I see defending these people. Because when presented with the facts of "Who is worth protecting?" they too are not choosing the children.

Let me give you a hint people: when the choice is "Who is worth protecting?", the correct answer is always going to be THE CHILDREN. If you have chosen anything are on the wrong side of the argument.