22 June 2020

Namaste and Agape

Well! It's been a minute, hasn't it?

Since we left off almost two years ago, my son has become a rising second grader (talk about time flying!), I started a new job, my son was diagnosed with ADHD (a post in itself!), I made it halfway through my graduate coursework, and we've encountered too many unprecedented times in our lives than we wanted to take on, the most recent being the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of all the things that have changed our lives, be it for better or for worse, COVID is the thing that has affected everyone, regardless of their age, gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, or any other aspect that sets us apart from each other. The pandemic has shown us that, above all other things, we're human first. And concurrent BLM protests have shown that despite this fact, we still have a long way to go (another post in itself!).

It's drastically changed how we go about our day-to-day: many, like myself, have been working from home since mid-March when things really started ramping up. Still more of us finished out our children's school from home and anticipate at least starting next year in a similar way. And if you thought there'd be a daily routine to go along this new normal, ha... have I got news for you!

One thing that, at least for me, has changed for the better is the ability to take online yoga classes with my favorite yogi and spiritual guide of all time, Jessie Kates of SHIFT Yoga. (And before I go any further, since her classes are online, that means you can take them, too, so... you know, GO DO THAT. I'll see you on the mat!) Jessie's classes are like nothing I've ever experienced before: she's raw and authentic, takes the time spent flowing to explore the crevices of your conscious and subconscious, focuses on juiciness and melting into poses and really honoring your body for the incredible things it can do.

Her classes are like movement therapy for me. Flowing with her has taught me to be more open and forgiving, more willing to try new things, and probably most importantly, more able to work through difficult feelings and emotions as sweat falls from my forehead to the mat below. Monday night was definitely one of those nights; the class wasn't intense from a sweat standpoint--Yin is known for getting into the tissues rather than focusing on muscle--but it managed to dig pretty deep.

Jessie's honesty about her own life can prove inspirational even when you don't think yours is in a rut. That night, she shared she was going through some really difficult times without giving specifics, just enough to show that digging into neglected areas of our bodies was just as much for her as it was for us. I was lying on my mat, kind of struggling to get settled since my SI joint is still acting up (yet another post for another day), listening to her words ripple over me like river water over smooth stones, when I realized...

I love Jessie.

I mean, I care about her, of course, and I've missed the hell out of her, but it goes far deeper than that. Hearing her talk about her struggles with the pandemic, with life as we know it now, with her family and their own difficult time managing this new reality, my heart started to ache, that familiar ache you get when someone vital in your life bares their soul to you, completely unencumbered and shamelessly.

But I've yet to tell her. In fact, lying on that mat, my eyes slowly opened as the realization dawned on me: I haven't told a lot of my friends that I love them, even though I truly do. Why hold back on something like that, something so breathtaking and heartwarming and truly authentic as love?

Ancient Greeks (and maybe current Greeks, I'm not sure... it's all Greek to me... /terriblepun) had at least six words to describe love: Eros, or sexual passion; Philia, or deep friendship; Ludus, or playful love; Pragma, or longstanding love; Philautia, or self-love; and Agape, or selfless love. Some of these, like eros or ludus, are easier to come by. Others, like philautia or pragma, take some personal work and deeper introspection.

Being separated from people has taught me how much love I have in my life on a daily basis, not just from my partner or my son--and this quarantine has taught me how much of that love I've missed out on when we're at work or school, so I'm grateful for these times and for that love!--but from the family cultivated over the weeks and years I've known people. It's also shown me just how much of that selfless love there is to go around.

It's hard to see that when you're forced apart from people or when you see the turmoil going on around the world. But if it weren't for this circumstance, who knows when I would have "seen" Jessie next and feel that philia all over again. Who knew we'd be sharing agape by offering to grocery shop for the elderly or donning masks whenever we leave our homes or taking to the streets to protest police brutality. Those are all acts of love.

If anything, this has all taught me how to appreciate the love I have in my life and the myriad ways it presents itself... and it's shown me how important it is to tell those in my life that I love them. It's such a painful, visceral ache felt in the pit of my stomach to miss out on that love. I can't even imagine if I could never feel it again.

So it's time to tell Jessie that I love her. It's time to tell all my friends I love them. And it's time to make that a normal, everyday thing: to express and embody a feeling so warm, so enveloping, so capable of lifting great loads off shoulders and soothe broken hearts, even if only temporarily, before it's too late.

22 August 2018

I can't protect him forever.

Did I ever tell y'all that Alden and I go to marriage/couples counseling? Probably not; it's not a detail that comes up in conversation very often, and when it does, people assume it's because we're experiencing difficulties in our relationship.

We don't see a counselor because we're on the brink of divorce, though. We're pragmatic people and see value in therapy, and while we hardly ever go with expectations of where the conversation will end up, we always leave feeling stronger and more secure both in our marriage and in ourselves.

Yesterday was one of those "I have no idea where this will go" kinds of sessions. It was also one of those where I talked almost the whole time, which is unusual; typically I have things to contribute, but I let Alden or the counselor do most of the talking. Since we talked about school starting up, though, my floodgates opened wide.

I recently posted about my rainbow child going to Kindergarten, so this topic was fresh (and apparently forefront!) in my mind. I expressed my fear about Tycho going to school and having to basically put in all this effort--again--to make sure teachers and the administration and students accepted him for who he was and mitigated as much bullying as they reasonably could. He's a unique kid, and with that will come some challenges that he'll ultimately have to overcome (as he has done so well already in his five short years of life), but I can't help feeling protective and wanting to shield him from all that mess.

Our counselor pointed out something important, a fact of life that I try really hard to ignore: I can't protect him from everything. I can be his rock, his guide, his mom... but that's really it. He's the one who needs to fight those battles and advocate for himself. Like, okay, duh; I can't be at school with him, making sure that his peers are kind to him at all times. It's just not feasible, and it doesn't teach him shit.

I also can't stop him from changing who he is. This one was probably more difficult for me to wrap my brain around; I've become accustomed to the rainbow-loving, nail polish-adorned, glitter-wrapped human that he is, and I'm incredibly proud to see him buck gender norms in favor of what makes him happy.

Sometimes when he comes back from his dad's house, he's not the same kid. I mean, he is the same kid, but he doesn't look like the kid I know. Recently, he came back wearing these super-douchey brown leather Sperry boat shoes, and while he didn't seem to mind them being on his feet, I had to hide my absolute and utter disgust. I mean, first, leather... y'all know my personal convictions on animal-based products, so I really don't have to go into that here.

Second, and probably most importantly, I didn't feel like they were who he was. I felt like those shoes were a reflection of his father's side of the family, who are all gender normative and do shit like make fun of a family member for being vegan. (Who makes fun of family for something that literally does them no harm?!) When I saw those shoes, I felt a sting similar to when I was pregnant with Tycho and his father questioned how he would feel about his son if he turned out gay, or to when he saw the Elsa dress that Tycho asked for as a Christmas present and he made a snide comment about taking me to court if my boy ends up in a talent show in a dress and nail polish and dancing to Anaconda.

I was secretly delighted when I asked Tycho the next day to put on his shoes and, though those douchey Sperrys were also in his shoe cubby, he went for his sparkly white ones with the elastic rainbow no-tie laces, which are getting fairly beat up after daily wear. I was even more ecstatic when Alden and I brought the boys to Target for new shoes for the school year and he scoured the rows for rainbow shoes, which we had to special order since they didn't have his size.

They also don't carry them in adult sizes, like wtf, these shoes are AMAZING.

Seriously, Target, I need these in a women's size 8, plz and tyvm.

But while I can allow Tycho to express himself at our house ("Mommy-Tycho's house," as we call it) and wax gothic poetry about his father, I can't protect him from societal and peer pressure, or even from gender stereotypes, hard as we try. There's only so much I can do if we go to the store and, because his friend either has a similar pair or because he's been picked on for his previous choices in footwear, he chooses a pair of Sperry-like shoes. Or changes his favorite color from rainbow to a "boy color." Or decides his glittery bedroom walls aren't a reflection of who he's become, just of who he was, and he wants to paint over it all.

I have to admit, I'm a little terrified of losing my rainbow child. I'm so scared of losing the creative, inventive, trendy, unique boy that I have to social pressure.

Let's be real, though; as our counselor pointed out, there's definitely incentive and motivation to succumbing to peer pressure, including becoming an accepted member of a group. He's going to do some things that I simply can't control because he wants to be accepted by his peers, and I can only hope that those things are, like... changing his favorite color or choosing knockoff Sperrys instead of drugs or alcohol or unprotected sex. I should probably be counting my blessings if that's all I (and he) had to "deal with"!

The best and most I can do is give his teachers and the administration a heads-up on who Tycho is and how he expresses himself, and aside from mitigating any bullying, pretty much let it go from there. I can't control every choice he makes, but I can at least set the groundwork for more positive interactions.

And in the meantime, Alden and I are committed to making our home his sanctuary, the place where he can truly be himself. With any luck, his school will follow suit.

20 August 2018

My Rainbow Son's Going to Kindergarten

He sleeps in a room painted with yellow (or "golden") and sparkle paints. His nightlights are a pink  lava lamp with gold glitter and a rainbow projector across his ceiling. The blanket that keeps him warm boldly carries all the colors of the rainbow, and he repeats them with a Rain Man-like vigor like he does everything else in his favorite color: "Red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple!"

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Like every night before last night, I snuggled my son to sleep last night, waiting until his breathing deepened and his muscles twitched slightly as they relaxed before getting up. Like every night before last night, I brushed his hair back from his face, marveled at his eyelashes and his sweet pink cheeks, and kissed his forehead before slowly retreating and closing the door behind me.

But unlike every night before, it was the last night he would be with me as a preschooler. Next Tuesday, he starts Kindergarten at a new school.

And I'm admittedly scared shitless.

It's not the hours spent away from him; I work a 9-to-5 and he spends a majority of his day in a classroom setting, anyway, so aside from the teary-eyed proclamations of "my baby boy is growing up so fast!" as his dad and I guide him to his classroom, there really won't be a difference in time spent away from him.

But my son is... unique. Delightfully and beautifully and wondrously so, but not necessarily "societally acceptably" so.

In pretty much every case where it literally harms not a single other soul, whatever is acceptable by society's standards can fuck right off. To this point, my husband (Tycho's stepdad) and I have lived this for both our sons: They're entirely their own unique individuals, and that means doing things that may be atypical of boys in general, much less their age.

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I've also had numerous discussions with my son's preschool about toning down the gender-specific talk, especially since Tycho loves bucking it all: nail polish, glitter, rainbows (and especially colors like pink and purple), all loved by my son and all of which have been conversations with teachers about how they approach it with him and his peers. It's taken a couple years, but now none of these are designated "girl things." They're things everyone can enjoy.

This year, we're starting a new school with new teachers and peers and community, and I feel like we're about to start all over again. Add to that the stress that comes with knowing the older kids get, the more ruthless they become; I've managed to talk down preschoolers who insist that nail polish is "for girls" by simply saying Tycho likes it and so does his stepdaddy, and there's no rule that anything is only "for girls," but I know the older he gets, the less likely I am to convince his classmates... or, worse (and sometime more irritatingly stubbornly), their parents.

No doubt Tycho will walk confidently into his new school, adorned with his bold rainbow backpack and shiny rainbow shoes and nails likely painted a colorful gradient, with a swagger only a Kindergartner who was top dog of his entire daycare could possess. And I'll be right behind him every step of the way, ready to ward off naysayers and welcome with open arms the chance to talk about gender nonconformity and enjoying everything for all its beauty, not for society's gender specificity.

I just hope no one dulls his sparkle.

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27 June 2018

Fakers gonna fake fake fake fake fake...

(First, you're welcome for the earworm!)

I wrapped up my most recent graduate class a few weeks ago with a few pieces under my belt, hopeful chapters to what will eventually become my "thesis," an actual memoir that I want to publish if not while in school, then definitely soon after. I was happy to have taken my first class in my specialization, not just because I'm pretty damn good at it ("How can you bang out a six-page paper in half a day? Without editing?!"), but because I finally found the path I'd like to go down, the part of my life I'd like to write about.

I can't help but feel like a fraud, though. Like I don't know enough about my own life, have enough ownership over my experiences and my reckonings, to write about them with any kind of authority. I've been listening to Down at the Crossroads recently, whittling my one-way, hour-plus commute away with intriguing interviews from various Pagan and witchy authors, and I can't help but think...

How are they so confident with what they write about?

First, go check out that podcast. It's seriously fun, and I've been introduced to so many new authors and music (they play new music every episode!) and ways of seeing witchcraft from just the five or so episodes I've had the time to binge on.

Along with that thought is an accompanied feeling of... dis-ease, I suppose. This part is difficult to put to words, the uncomfortable undercurrent I get when I listen to these authors talk about their books. It's not that I dislike the topics; in fact, I recently bought Jason Miller's Elements of Spellcrafting because I finally found a magickal practitioner who viewed spellwork as I do. And even if I didn't quite connect with the topic -- Deborah Castellano's interview on her book Glamour Magic comes to mind, though I have to admit, I've thought of her work more often since getting a bright red lipstick and actually liking it -- I enjoyed hearing about it and learning a new perspective.

These people were subject matter experts in their particular magickal practice, and eloquent, intelligent, and aware of themselves, to boot.

It occurred to me a few days later what that undercurrent was: I feel like a fraud for writing a memoir on witchcraft. Or anything, really, but what makes me a subject matter expert in witchcraft. Even if it's my journey, my experiences, my practice that I'm sharing, I feel they're not good enough to share with even my closest friends (witchy or not), much less an audience and certainly not in such a permanent fixture as the written word.

Impostor syndrome is a bitch, y'all. I get that writers suffer from it, so in that regard, I'm by no means special or unique. But oh my god, just imagining -- and pardon me for a second while my shit brain runs wild with *probably-not-going-to-happen-but-anxiety-is-an-asshole-like-that* scenarios for a second -- DatC calling me and asking me all these questions like these other authors makes me shake in my fuckin' pointy hat.

I'm also equally terrified of being the center of attention from a widely read book and the book totally bombing, two polar opposites that literally can't happen in conjunction unless that attention is all negative (which feeds back into the previous fear... you know that's exactly what's going to happen if you publish it, right? Nobody likes you, everybody hates you, guess you'll eat... the pages of your book you STARVING ARTIST). Kinda tied to impostor syndrome, but a fear of its own volition, too.

Which is fucking great when you want to be a writer. Like, I want to be published and read and shared around the magickal community, but I don't want to be paraded in front of other people or depended on to shape someone else's craft. That's a fuck-ton of responsibility. A friend of mine put it best:

I don't like the idea that I'll be paraded in front of people for that same knowledge. I hate pedestals. I hate receiving that type of attention for something that I'm good at or have specific knowledge of. I don't need to be celebrated like that. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to be put on display like that.

That is, in a nutshell, exactly how I feel about being the "center of attention."

Think about it, though... in order to have any chance at a successful book, you need to market and promote not only the book, but yourself. You have to pretend you're someone on the outside looking at you and your work, and going, "Hey, I just read this awesome thing by this pretty cool chick; we should add it to our reading list at the book club!" Basically, you're peddling not just your written work, but who you are, what makes up you.

Sometimes, I'm worried I'm not good enough to market like that. Am I really worth that kind of effort, those accolades? Worth even giving a chance?

Before writing this, I Googled "impostor syndrome when writing a book" (as I'm wont to do) and came across this post from Neil Gaiman. Yes, that Neil Gaiman. I've always been impressed by his ability to weave mythology into compelling tales appropriate for this century, and I instantly became a fan after reading American Gods. (Who didn't, though.) Anyway, I was surprised to come across this post, in which he answers a question from a reader about impostor syndrome and asking about his experience with it. You can read the post in full here, but in pertinent part:

Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” 
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.” 
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

And he's right. What more could we really ask for but just the chance? To do our best and to be recognized for that hard work and effort, no matter what came with it?

So, with that, I'm still going to give it the ol' college try (ha, funny, since I'm in grad school... *faint "boos" in the distance*) and work on this memoir. I need to suck it up, write this damn thing, get it edited, and work on publication. It's not a guarantee that DatC or anywhere else will ever reach out after it hits bookshelves or Amazon, and it's not a guarantee that anyone will even buy the damn thing or think it's worth its while...

... but I have to try. Because who knows, I just might get lucky.

21 December 2017

When you can't stop trash-talking your ex, or "How to Really Fuck Up Your Kids"

A month or so ago, Tycho accused me of stealing pants from his dad's house. "You're taking all the pants and Daddy doesn't have any of my pants at his house!"

Now, the weather had been all over the place that month (yay "fall" in Maryland), but considering how few pairs of pants I had in his drawer, I knew what he was telling me wasn't necessarily the truth. But how do you explain that to a four-year-old?

Fortunately, Matt and I have a good enough relationship that we can talk about these kinds of things and sort them out. I told Tycho I was sorry he felt that way and that must have been confusing to hear, I'm sure he has enough pants, but let me text Daddy just in case. And that was that.

After a quick back-and-forth, including me telling him to "cut the shit" (yes, verbatim -- have I mentioned we have a good enough relationship?) with saying things like that, even by accident, the problem was solved.

And yes, he had enough pants.

I give this example not because I want to get that story off my chest (well, okay, a little... thanks for vindicating me, Internet!), but because it shows the importance of not trash-talking your ex. I could have just as easily retorted, "Daddy's lying, I didn't steal any pants!" or otherwise accused Matt of myriad things. In fact, in some ways, it would have been easier to give into the "fuck him!" mentality in front of my son than empathizing with him and saying we'd take care of it.

I know it's not that easy for others to just keep their lips zipped, even if opening their mouth is ultimately at the expense of their children's well being. It's sometimes difficult to stop the word vomit, especially if your ex pushes a particular button or, despite the passage of time, you're still not over the fact that the relationship is, well... over. You want to screw him over just one last time, get that final word in, to the nearest audience available... and that happens to be your kids.

Of course, the best advice would be "just be an adult." In case you needed reasons to do that, though, here are some ways trash-talking your ex can really fuck up your kids -- and your relationship with them -- in the long run:

  • Sure, you'd probably love if your ex was never born (or suffered from cancer or a fatal car crash or something equally disgusting and disturbing what is wrong with you) so you wouldn't have to deal with their crap anymore. But the long and short of it is, and as much as you may not want to say it: Your children are half you and half your ex. Trash-talking the other parent ultimately means talking down about half of who your children are... and if you don't think they're internalizing that message, you're wrong.

  • You're setting a really bad example for them. If you're constantly calling your ex names or regularly insulting them, your children will likely take after you. And would you want to be known as the parent with the foul-mouthed or condescending kid? Hating or fearing another parent doesn't come naturally; it's a learned behavior, and if your child is learning that from you, that makes you a pretty shit parent.

  • You're legit abusing your child. You may think you're getting them on "your side" (whatever the hell that means), but ultimately, so long as there's no sufficient justification for it, denying visitation, trash-talking, and other forms of manipulation are all forms of child abuse. You're playing with their heads and, ultimately, their lives. Don't fucking do it.

  • You could lose your child.* I can't stress this enough... if you're trash-talking your ex so frequently that you start to alienate your child from their other parent, or if you're doing anything else to accomplish the same goal, you could lose your child. Be smart, motherfucker. Perpetual shit-talk may be grounds for reducing your custody, and in extreme cases, may leave you with no custody. Do you really want to give up your child because you can't stop being petty?

* I am not a lawyer, BTW.

Okay, so you've resolved to do better, to be better. Still feeling that vomit rising in your throat? Here are some alternatives that won't have you hugging a toilet:

  • Just don't talk about your ex in front of the kids! You have friends or family, I assume, right? Fellow adults in your life? Bitch to them about your ex. Sure, they may get tired of it after a while, but at least they won't go through the emotional turmoil your children undoubtedly would.

  • Related: Don't talk to others about your ex when your children are home. Ever say a cuss word when you thought you were out of your kids' earshot, only to have them repeat it days (or seconds...) later? While they may have a hard time hearing when you ask them to pick up their toys, children tune in when you least expect (and want) it. Tell others not to talk about your ex when your kids are with you, too.

  • Related x2: Talk to a neutral third party. Divorce sucks, even if you really want it and you're happier in the end. When you have kids with your ex, divorce sucks that much more because you can't just ignore them into nonexistence. Consider getting yourself (and maybe your children, too) a therapist to vent to and help you come to terms with the trials of divorce and its effect on children.

  • Validate your child's feelings. This goes for when they challenge you by bringing shit from your ex into your home, too. Be positive about the time they spend with their other parent. You don't need to put them on a pedestal or even say anything nice about them. Too difficult? Focus on the activities they did ("Oh, it sounds like the park was fun!").

  • Support their contact with their other parent. Just because they want to talk to Daddy on the phone doesn't mean they love you less. Chances are, they miss YOU when they're with Daddy, too. Don't punish them for wanting contact with their other parent; instead, encourage it by dialing their number and giving your kid the phone. Then go to another room, across the house, and punch a pillow or something, idk.

  • Remind your children that the divorce was NOT their fault. I'm not a child of divorce, but my son is, and I often reassure him that Mommy and Daddy love and care for him very much and that we are better parents for him when we're apart. If you're trash-talking your ex, they're going to believe they were part of the problem and even carry that shit into their adult lives. Imagine telling your kids that their other parent is a "liar," only for those kids to grow up believing they may be liars, too, or that the other parent never told them a truthful thing in their entire lives? Or if you slip and call your child a "liar"...

  • If you ever find it in your heart to do this -- or, simply, if you want to exercise some empathy -- do the exact opposite of trash talk. Not only will you kill your ex with kindness (and that would drive them crazy!), but it's a message your kids CAN internalize. After all, you purportedly loved your ex at some point, or you wouldn't have made such a beautiful child together. Tell them the positive qualities they inherited from your ex: Their creative eye, their compassion, their soccer skills, even their left-handedness. Even if it's simple, it humanizes your ex, and your kids hear the compliments just as, if not more, readily than the positive message that their other half is important, too.

This April, both Matt and I will be celebrating our son's fifth birthday together, in the same room, with no fighting or anything. Can you even imagine?! Not only is there no drama, but our son sees two parents who, despite any reason why they divorced, love him unconditionally and are willing to put aside their own shit for his best interest.

Yes, this may take time to accomplish, but while you're waiting for the magical day when you can be within a few feet of your ex without stabbing their eyeballs out of their skull, you can at least quit the shit. For your kids' sake.

Mommy, Tycho, and Daddy on Tycho's Third Birthday
<3 Divorced parents coming together for their son <3

07 December 2017

Me, Too: Breaking the silence

This post is full of triggers. Please read at your own discretion.

TIME Magazine just came out with its Person of the Year 2017, and I have to say, y'all... I'm speechless.

The Silence Breakers

But now, I'm speechless for the right reasons. Finally, after all this time, we are finding our voices and speaking out against boundaries crossed, opportunities lost, lives shattered. We're telling our stories, not meekly behind computer screens or stealthily to our dearest friends, but with gigantic fucking megaphones.

And finally, there are repercussions.

Sure, we still have a long way to go; after all, Bill Cosby still admitted to his crimes and walked away, Brock Allen Turner still only served a paltry sentence for rape (and is now fighting that ruling because of course he is), and we have a shameless sexual predator occupying the highest office in the land.

Still, there's a palpable shift going on, and TIME recognized it. Sought it. And if #MeToo brought these truths to the world stage, TIME just flicked on the floodlights.

And begrudgingly, it's my turn to step into the spotlight. This is the first time I've ever told my entire story, and while it's one of many I could tell, it's the one that stands out most clearly, was the most egregious of them all.

I was eighteen when I was raped.

He has a name, but he's not famous. He could be anyone; in fact, he's been everyone since.

I barely knew him. He worked stock, I was in the photo lab, so we didn't interact very often. He was twice my age, too, so when there was opportunity to talk, there weren't a lot of common interests. But it's not like he was a stranger.

It started at a Fort Lauderdale nightclub. I was invited by a friend of his, another coworker who had about seven years on me and who thought it was a great idea to doll me up to go out (she told me later, because this guy had a thing for me). Not only was I grossly uncomfortable in the short skirt and the makeup, but the attention at the club was disconcerting, too: Men of all shapes and sizes and colors and ages grinding up against you, touching you wherever your skin was exposed, and in some places where it was not. I left the dance floor a number of times, only to be dragged out again and again, finally by him.

I guess he thought I was "his." One hand on my lower back, pulling me closer, the other steadily pushing other men away. I didn't know you could feel simultaneously thankful (only one guy was grabbing my ass now) and disgusted (someone still has my ass in his hand). He forced a few kisses, too, on my neck and my face and my lips, even as I turned away and tried leaving the floor again.

Blissfully, 2am came and the club closed for the night. Since my female colleague had already left -- no doubt because she was hoping something would happen for his friend, if you know what I mean -- he offered to drive me home. I was already past my curfew, so calling my parents was a no-go... so I accepted.

I don't remember the drive home, only when he dropped me off and how his hand felt on my thigh and the alcohol on his breath as he tried to kiss me again. I got in quite a bit of trouble last night, but I should have known my parents were the least of my concerns.

I avoided him pretty well after that night, only going to the stock room, where the printer paper and ink and all other supplies I needed to do my job were stored, when absolutely necessary and always when I saw him on the floor. Of course, him being occupied by something else didn't stop him from dropping whatever he was doing and pressing me between his body and boxes of merchandise. Cardboard still give me anxiety for the way it feels against my bare hands.

I couldn't say anything, though. He had been working there for several years and I was only a teenager -- an adult in the eyes of the law, yes, but a child in every other aspect. I was terrified that saying anything would cast doubt, get me fired, or worse. So I kept quiet and away as much as possible.

Where it went from "what a gross guy" to "what have I done" was summer of 2003. My workplace was less than a mile from my parents' house, so I often walked to work. One hot July afternoon, as I made my way to work, a car pulled up beside me and he called out, "Do you need a ride?"

It was hot. I had on layers (regular clothes plus my work smock). Things had been relatively calm for the preceding month, so maybe he had changed. Whatever excuse I had, I took him up on the offer and climbed in.

"Oh, I just need to grab something from my apartment." Sure... oh, your apartment is a ways away...

"This might take a second, do you want to come up?" Um... yeah, you have a balcony, I'll just stand there and out of the hot sun.

"Do you want some water?" No, thanks... hey, why are you grabbing my hand...

I remember the layout of his apartment. Not really much inside it, just that a tiny kitchen was immediately to my left, a dining area as you step inside, a living room just beyond that, and a bedroom and attached bath the next left, just past the kitchen.

I remember thinking it weird that he had such a huge mirror over his bed. I still can't look at myself naked in a full-length mirror.

I remember his eyes looking around my entire body as he took away the fun of undressing. Looking up as he took away the fun of oral sex. Looking down to my chest as he took away the fun of penetrative sex. Looking away, not with shame but a grin, after he came and pointed me to the bathroom.

I remember the shower stall was like a black hole. There was a pattern on the tile, but I couldn't make it out past the blurriness welling up in my eyes. I hated that I had to use his soap, had to smell like him the rest of the day. Bar soap. Like he was rubbing himself against me again.

I don't remember much else, a small blessing. I did go to work that day, a hazy, lazy Sunday. The walk home after closing up felt like an eternity as he followed me slowly in his car, his voice echoing my name. I don't remember responding. Or sleeping, or any of the days that followed.

I eventually left that job and that city to attend college almost 500 miles away. I had new friends, went to class, started dating. It was a warm fall evening and I was walking with my boyfriend to the cafeteria for dinner when I heard it: A wolf whistle.

And there he was, down the street, walking towards me with purpose. I guess he thought I was "his."

He had followed me across the length of the state of Florida to find me. There was no social media at the time, no digital means of tracking my movement, but on a campus of almost 25,000 students, he managed to find me.

I don't remember what I said then, either, but my words were harsh, biting. He asked for privacy; I told him no. He asked for another kiss; I told him no. He asked me to take a ride with him; I told him no. He asked me to keep this between us;

I told him no.

Within an hour, campus police knew of his whereabouts and had him escorted off the premises. Still, I locked myself in my dorm for the rest of the evening, told the front desk not to let anyone in without their student ID, and stayed inside, almost cowering, for the rest of the week.

I sought no legal recourse; after all, though they did their job and found him, their reaction when I told them I was being stalked and harassed was far from encouraging. Why would city police believe me.

It's been 15 years since, and while writing this out still spikes my anxiety, I feel these stories need to be told. #MeToo isn't just a social movement, it's personal empowerment, and not only for those who share their personal experiences.

I've shared aspects of my story several times in the last 10 years, after I bucked up the courage to say, "Yes, I've been sexually assaulted." Of course, the story just gets new layers year after year, since some men never learn and insist women are objects and treat them accordingly. My story isn't the only one adding layers, either. But by sharing my experience, I've had several friends and family share theirs with me, too, either publicly or privately.

TIME recently revealed that their photo features an elbow. At first glance, it appears surreptitiously cropped from the rest of the photo, like someone just didn't make the cut, or perhaps a result of sloppy editing. Instead, they reveal it was "an anonymous woman who is a hospital worker who was experiencing harassment and didn't feel that she could come forward."

These are the women helped when we reveal our stories. Who truly benefit from the #MeToo campaign. If those in power (or who, like me, feel confident enough to) share their experiences, we may see the true "trickle down" effect and dole out consequences to other men and justice to those who have suffered at their hands.

Including my rapist. He with a name, he who could be anyone... and he who always has been everyone.

10 November 2017

My son's gender-nonconformance does challenge me.

I'm going to start this post off with a paragraph I read on another blog:

Before anyone asks, no, I’m not some sort of new age, millennial, hipster chic parent living in a commune, attempting to raise genderless, nameless offspring who will one day grow up and decide these things independent of their father and me.

(Okay, so maybe I am that parent, perhaps even worse. But I think this should be prefaced with, "I never intended to raise my child as my son... it's just, he had other plans for me.)

My son was just shy of two when he started wearing nail polish. I have a ton of colors, and he picked a shiny blue to decorate his tiny nails, little jellybeans dancing on the ends of his fingertips. I thought very little of it at the time, thinking it was cute and, shoot, blue. He babied those nails and showed them off to everyone he could.

He's about four and a half now, and today, he wanted to wear sparkly press-on nails to go with his pink button-down shirt. For picture day.

And ya damn right, that's what he's wearing.

I always believed myself a progressive mom who refused to let gender norms dictate what her son did or wanted. To this point, it's been relatively simple, even adorable: The female-centered Paw Patrol shirts from the girls' section, the rainbow tutu and pink galoshes (two sizes too big but worn every day for over a week), and the manicures -- we've upgraded from simple nail polish to the full-on at-home salon experience.

But recently, I've been tested. My little gender-creative child recently asked me for a dress. And not just any dress, but one with sequins and glitter and entirely white.

It may have something to do with recently marrying my soulmate, an experience and a subject that deserves a post all of its own. I bought two dresses off Amazon, one lace and form-fitting, the other adorned with silver details and tulle. A few weeks ago, Tycho wanted me to try both of them on, and though his preference was for the latter, in each instance, he gasped and said, "Mommy, you look like a princess."

It took me a while for the stars in my eyes to dissipate, I won't lie!

A couple days later, he asked me for a dress. "A princess dress, like what you have for when you get married!" I paused for a second... did he want a dress because he wanted to be more like Mommy, or did he sincerely want a dress? I told him sure, I'll look around for one, and that was pretty much that.

I've already had to go through the painstaking effort to get both his classmates and his preschool teachers on board with his penchant for polish and glitter and all things whimsical. Kids have come up to me asking why Tycho is wearing nail polish, and most of the time, it was averted by saying, "He likes to wear it." And I've had to correct a teacher for saying pink is a "girl color" by noting every color is for every kid, and please don't make my son feel ashamed or wrong for liking pink. 

Now that they've known him for a few years, literally no one bats an eye at the polish or the pink or anything else wild he comes up with.

But a dress? I admit, this one is even difficult for me to wrangle. Guess there's more gender normative behavior engrained in me than I like to admit, especially since it's now personal. But maybe he dropped the matter entirely, right...?

As Tycho examined and admired his glittering pastel fingertips on the way to preschool, I asked if he still wanted a dress for maybe Christmas or Thanksgiving. He misunderstood me at first, thinking I was asking if he wanted to wear one: "For both!" I clarified it'd be for a present, and he was still insistent on wanting one. "Umm... white, and sparkles, and poofy."

I simply can't deny this is who my son is. Shoot, at Target yesterday, he quickly and almost recklessly abandoned a set of Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas for a two-set of footie jammies, one gray background with colorful birds and one pink and white polka dot with a large pink fox face. The disappointment in his eyes when I told him they were 5T and he still fits in 3T was palpable, and we hunted that damn clearance rack until we found his size. The moment we got home, he had those jammies on.

Before he was born, Matt and I had a few discussions about what we would do if Tycho was gay. Obviously, we'll love him no matter what; that's not at all predicated on who or what he is. At this point, I don't think Tycho is gay, or trans, or potentially anything else on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (though it wouldn't surprise me if he was!), but it's very clear that he's gender-nonconforming (or, as another beautiful article put it and how I'll always consider it, gender creative).

And I never thought I'd be challenged by it, but here we are. His happiness, though, far outweighs my desire to be comfortable, so this Christmas, he'll be getting a white dress. I'll be a bit anxious about it, I totally admit that; this is more pushing my boundaries than it is his, since he's clearly comfortable with his decision.

We owe it to our children to let them make their own decisions and, so long as it doesn't harm others (and I don't mean their delicate sensibilities!), to not force them to conform to whatever society deems "appropriate." Tycho knows himself, far more than I ever will, even with the privilege of being his mom. I owe my trust to him, and he deserves every ounce of unconditional love I have.

So he'll have that. And his little white dress. And all the love and support he could ever want.

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