What’s Wrong With Me?

(Reblogged this from my website at http://faustaluchini.com )

Several times lately, in mid therapy session, I’ve suddenly realized that my client’s biggest problem may be the that there’s nothing wrong with them.

No, I don’t mean the problems are “just in their head.” And I don’t mean they don’t have problems. But they’re struggling to figure out “what’s wrong with me” – what diagnosis, what deep-seated flaw, what horrible defect needs to be cured – because if they could just figure that out, then they’d know what medication, what therapy, what correct course of action would fix them.

But – what if they don’t actually need to be fixed? What if there’s not actually anything dreadfully wrong with them? What if the real problem is that they believe there’s something dreadfully wrong with them, and they’re putting their energy into trying to figure out what it is? What if that’s the wrong question?

There are a dozen ways I can talk about this from a clinical perspective. I can talk about schemas and core beliefs. I can talk about negative self-talk. I can talk about mindfulness and moving toward radical acceptance. I can talk about the just world theory and the existential challenge of answering the question “Why do bad things happen to me? And all those things apply. But what if we can make it simpler. Consider this.

If I believe that the problems I’m having and the anxiety and depression I feel are because there’s something inherently wrong with me, then of course I want to know what it is. But in looking for the answer, every uncomfortable feeling and every painful event become just more evidence of my failings.

Like this:

My husband said something mean to me. It’s my fault because I should set limits with him. My first husband was like that too – I just attract the wrong people. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My 14 year old daughter feels like she doesn’t fit in. I never felt like I fit in, it’s probably my fault she doesn’t either. If I knew how to fit in, I could help her. My boss said something the other day and I think it means she thinks this new guy is doing a better job than I am. I’ve been there 10 years, why doesn’t she respect me more? I must be awful. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

And then they torture themselves, trying to figure out “what’s wrong with me.” What if that’s the wrong question? What if the husband is having an existential life crisis and just feeling irritable? And what if the daughter doesn’t “fit in” because she’s super creative and bright? What if “fitting in” isn’t actually the goal? What if it’s ok for the boss to praise someone else and it doesn’t mean anything about her other employees?

What if “What’s Wrong With Me?” is just the wrong question?

???

???

Making Sense of the Duggars – Why It’s Not About Josh or His Sisters

I’ve read dozens of articles about Josh Duggar and his family – lots of people with lots to say.  They agree that Josh, starting when he was 14, molested at least 4 or 5 younger children, some of whom were his sisters.  They agree that he “confessed” and his parents responded by sending him for “treatment.” Apparently, the victims forgave him.

Some articles condemn Josh and his family, some defend them, some seem to delight in the fall from grace of this family that was quick to judge others.   Some worry about the victims.  Some condemn other people for judging the Duggars!  None of that is particularly helpful.

But just ignoring it isn’t a helpful response either.  When abuse happens and it’s hidden away, it will, eventually, tumble back out of the closet. When it does, the most effective response is not to shove it back in the closet, or to ignore the skeletons dancing in the living room.

When it became public knowledge that Catholic priests had been molesting children, and we realized the Church hierarchy had been carefully covering it up, we needed to talk about that.  We needed to pull the problem into the light so people could identify ways to stop it.  It was important to determine the factors that had allowed so many people to turn their heads and let it continue.

The problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church went beyond individual priests who abused individual children – it was a systemic problem that supported the abusive priests at the expense of the children.  It was a system that encouraged secrecy and shame, and that had to be exposed before it could be remedied.  (Not to imply that the process is complete.)

The Duggars promoted themselves as an ideal family system, and we need to understand what happened.  Not the details of the abuse, or information about the victims.  And not just wringing our hands and talking about how awful-horrible-terrible it is.  That may be satisfying, but isn’t helpful.

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, and Feminism offers helpful information.   In What Did Josh Duggars Counseling Look Like, she introduces us to the material used in seminars offered by Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute – which is where they sent Josh for counseling.  The whole article is worth reading, but at the heart of it is this outline for “Counseling Sexual Abuse.”

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I work with many adults who’ve been sexually abused as children.  If I wanted them to feel responsible for the abuse, I would start with this outline.  Then, after I’d thoroughly doused them in guilt and self-blame, I could encourage them to seek forgiveness and find redemption in their spiritual growth.  For the victim this is a cruel perversion of the actual process of healing from abuse.   For the perpetrator, it’s an opportunity to blame the victim and feel forgiven without much effort.

This model of understanding sexual abuse explains a lot about why the situation in the Duggar family was handled the way it was.  But ~ but ~ HOW can they think that’s how it works?  For example, their emphasis on modesty as abuse prevention is applied to very young children – even three and four year olds.   How can that be?  It’s as if they’re living in a different reality.

And in a way they are.   Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes shifted my understanding.  People with progressive sexual ethics and people with conservative sexual ethics don’t share a paradigm for sexuality in general.  Suddenly, lots of confusing difference clicked into place.  Compare the two:

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When you break it down that way, it makes perfect sense.  Consent is not a biblical principal.  Consent can’t be a biblical principle because the Bible is patriarchal, and consent implies equality.  In the Duggar family, for sure, women are not on a par with men.  Women are considered inherently different and naturally submissive to male leadership.  This creates an artificial power differential based on gender.

As a therapist, I know that children who are abused by their parents often blame themselves.  Because they depend on their parents for survival, it’s safer to believe that their parents are good and that the abuse was somehow their fault than to believe that their parent is unfair and cruel.  I can speculate that women in a severely patriarchal household are motivated to consider their male head of household in the same light.  If the family leader appointed by God is not basically good and trustworthy, then where does that leave those who are dependent on him for guidance and direction?

Nope.  It’s much safer to follow blindly with your eyes closed.  Easier to accept logical contortions than to  break away.   And I don’t say that lightly – Libby Anne provides dozens of links to “survivor blogs” – leaving this kind of family is incredibly difficult and painful.

For those of us not bound by such extremes, it’s tempting to believe we are somehow better than the Duggars.  Smarter, maybe.  After all, we know better than that.  It couldn’t happen to us.  But before we settle too deep in that comfortable space, let’s remember that we live in a patriarchal culture too.  It’s easy to see the traps other people are caught in, harder to see when we’re tied up in traps of our own.

The challenge is to move beyond “that’s awful-horrible-terrible” – even when it is.  The goal is not to demonize others and not to be “better than them.”  The goal is a world rooted in equality – regardless of gender, race, class, or ability –  a world where victims’ voices are heard, and oppression is not the norm.    And that movement – that change – has to start inside each of us.

After 50 – Another View

I’ve been pondering on a couple of articles I read lately.  In Aging while female is not your worst nightmare,  Lori Day poignantly describes the impact of ageism – summing it up in these words:

“The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.”

I remember my mother talking about feeling like she wasn’t heard, at meetings,  interacting with sales clerks, and even in groups of friends.  She was much older than 50 when it happened to her, but she was frustrated and indignant.  Often, it was that thing that happens to all women sometimes – Mom would be in a meeting, she’d suggest something, and no one would say anything.  Five minutes later, someone younger, or male, would suggest it and suddenly everyone thinks it’s a great idea.  It used to drive her crazy.

But at least Mom gave me advance notice.  I knew this was coming someday.  Day, who is 51 or 52, bemoans the fact that no one warned her.

“I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street.”

She ends the article with a call to action:

“Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped.”

Good advice.

Then I read this article.  Women Over 50 are Invisible? I Must Have Missed the Memo.  Erica Jagger challenges the narrative that aging brings a new level of discrimination.  She says:

“I could look at myself and see a middle-aged, cash-strapped, over-worked, and occasionally overwrought single mom. OR I could see a survivor who shed her Stepford Wife shell and now isn’t letting anyone dictate how she should live, who she should date, or what kind of sex she should have.”

She attributes her sense of well-being, despite being 52, to her attitude.

“Shrugging off society’s death knell to mature women takes audacity, something every 50-plus woman needs if she doesn’t want to go gently into that good night. Feeling invisible stems less from one’s appearance, and more from the value we put on other people’s often shallow judgments of middle-aged women. I think it’s my refusal to listen to the messages telling me I’ve passed my expiration date, and my determination to create a brilliant second act, that makes me seem younger than my years.”

So I’ve been pondering these articles and my own experience, thinking about the women I know, and trying to figure out where I stand.  I think…

Fifty is not actually old.  It may be the beginning of the crone stage of life, but just barely.  At 50, I began to celebrate life.  I realized that I really could do anything I wanted, without seeking anyone’s approval or permission.  I took risks and made life changing decisions.

In my 50’s, I grew into myself.  If something didn’t work out, I quit doing it and tried something different.  I spoke up and spoke out (not that I was exactly shy and inhibited before) and I expanded my world.

But I also remember being 35 and in graduate school.   In the middle of class, some older woman would raise her hand and I would roll my eyes, thinking, ‘Here we go again,” as she started a long and slightly off-topic tale of her experiences.    I felt bad for doing it.  I did.  But sheesh.  This woman (and there was more than one of her) had a story for every single situation, you know?   Being old doesn’t automatically confer wisdom or make all your words golden and not every occasion has to be a sharing opportunity.

I’m almost 60.  Well, just turned 59 – same thing.  My life is super good – I have a career I love, with enough variety to keep me happy.   I live with my partner, who I love.  He’s fun and interesting, and we’re comfortable with each other.   We have enough money to cover all our needs and many of our wants.   I have delightful friends, who I enjoy; activities that keep me busy and are rewarding.  I have amazing grandchildren, and even though one of my daughters lives very far away, we’re still close, and thank goodness, we live in the age of Skype and air travel.

I would not trade any part of my life for a chance to be younger.  It took me 59 years to get here, and I have no desire to go back to being 40 or 30 or 20 – and, absolutely-no-way-in-hell, not a teenager.

So I’m not young.  I’m a crone, and proud of it, but just beginning to come to terms with it.  I don’t quite know what it means yet, or how I will grow into it.

Some thoughts I consider:

1.  It’s ok to need help.  (I know, of course it is.  Particularly if it’s you that needs help, and not me – it’s totally ok for you.)

2.  Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.

3.  It’s ok for other people to figure things out for themselves.  Even if I already “know” the answer.

4.  Sometimes, my right answer is not actually the right answer.

5.  No matter how wise I am, not everyone is obliged to listen to me or agree with me.  It’s up to me to say the things I think need to be said.  I don’t have to make anyone hear me.

6.  It’s ok if someone explains something to me that I already know.  Even if I learned it the hard way, before they were born.   It’s ok to just agree with them.  I don’t always “already know,” and they can’t read my mind.

8.  I am headed toward death.  Seriously.  People my age die all the time and only old people say, “But they were so young!”  If I get to die without a long layover in dementia, I’ll consider myself lucky.

I’ve noticed that as we age, often, we simplify.  We move to smaller places, strip our homes of everything except the most necessary or treasured belongings.

Maybe we strip our egos too, gradually scale down from strong active leader to wise consultant.  From star to supporting character.  Maybe our voices need to become softer so that other people can find their own voices, so they’ll be ready to carry on without us.

I’m not there yet – let me be clear – I’m not stepping aside right now.  Life still has plenty of challenges and surprises for me.  But I am letting go of some things, and feeling ok about it.  Working on figuring out how the “growing old” thing works.

I can almost envision a time of being truly retired.  Maybe not til I’m 80, but someday.  I’ll take a leisurely walk on the beach every morning, read for sheer pleasure, and enjoy all the small moments.   I won’t have a long to-do list to put off doing.  If anyone wants my advice, they’ll have to email me, or call, or come visit.  They’ll have to ask me what I think.

I’ll spend time with loved ones, family and friends.  Maybe I’ll write, or volunteer to read at a nursing home or kindergarten.   I’ll have little projects that will enrich my life without any effort to change the world – and do it content in the knowledge that y’all young people are out there working hard at all the things that matter.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

 

More Airport Adventures

The morning we have to leave Puerto {which we don’t much want to do} I’m talking to the women at the front desk of our hotel, Natalie and that-other-blonde-woman, whose name I don’t know.  One of them says, “You’re leaving today?? Ohhhh, hmmmm, well, you might want to go very soon.”  They exchange looks, nodding seriously.  “Yes, I wouldn’t wait too long.”

“What?  Why?  What? Our plane doesn’t leave til 4…” I am baffled.  Natalie is German and occasionally I have trouble understanding her English, maybe I’ve misunderstood?

“Well, we heard – I don’t know if it’s true or not – we heard they are trying to shut down the airport.  You may not be able to leave if you wait.”  It takes me a minute to process this.  Seriously?  Then – “‘They’ who?” I say.

“The teachers, the teachers are protesting.  Usually they shut down the road to the airport.”  With a shrug, “Then you cannot ride all the way in, you have to walk with your suitcases, but you can still get there.  This time they say they are shutting down the airport and no one will be able to leave.  But I’m not sure.  I heard this, but I don’t know if it’s true or not.  I will tell you when I find out more.”

“Ok, great, that would be helpful,” I say.   I’m trying to decide whether  to panic, and then I shrug too, “I guess if we can’t fly out, we’ll take a bus to Mexico City.  Our plane doesn’t leave there til 9 tomorrow morning.  No point in worrying about it.”

But it feels a bit like I’m in a bad novel, you know?  The kind that makes me anxious because I think they won’t “get out” and bad things will happen and all that.  But here in real life, I’m just not too worried  I go back to our room and pass this information on to Dee, who is also not too worried.  Whatever.

When Conan gets to the hotel, we share this possibility with him, and he says he’ll call his cousin and find out more, but no one really knows.

So we get packed, and load up the car, pick up my daughter from work and have lunch.  Lunch is in a small, non-touristy restaurant near the Mercado- the same restaurant we had lunch in when people were leaving after the wedding in February, so it may become our traditional farewell lunch place.  Paulina, Conan’s mother, insists on paying the tab, which is nice of her.  Lucia is cranky, which may also be a tradition, she was cranky at lunch that day in February, and I remember Holly or somebody taking her out and walking up and down the street with her.

Memorable lunch moment this time – Julia has distracted Lucia with some delicious rice water, and Lucia is playing with the empty glass.   She offers her Mommy some pretend rice water.  Julia “drinks” from the glass, and says “Ahhhh.”

Lucia smiles and asks, “Good?”

Julia, “Yes.  Delicious.”

Just a moment’s pause, and Lucia says, “Say ‘thank you,'” in the Exact Same Tone of gentle prompting that her mother uses.

And what can Julia say but, “Thank you!”

I’m trying to hide my laughter, but omg, I’m cracking up, it’s so perfect.  Timing and tone, Lucia captures pure Julia.

Anyhow.  Lovely lunch.  Then on to the airport.  We take a cab as well as the car – Julia and Lucia and Paulina and I are in the cab, Conan and Dee in the car with the luggage.   Conan asks the cab driver about the protest and the airport, and the driver is reassuring, “O, si,” he’s sure we’ll be able to leave, but we might have to park and walk.

As we get closer to the entrance, there’s a line of traffic.  Some cabs and cars have pulled over, stopped, just sitting on the side of the road.  A couple have turned around and are coming back on the wrong side of the road.  We make our way through them for a bit, and then we can’t go any further.  We get out of the cab, Conan and Dee pull the luggage out of the car.  Fortunately, we’ve crammed our carry-ons into the larger suitcases, so at least we only have two bags and our backpacks.

We can see now ~ It is a protest.  Not a huge protest, and it’s very calm, but there are a bunch of people – kind of like a loose picket line – that we’ll have to pass through, and the gate to the road – a huge metal gate – is closed.  The road is definitely blocked.

So Conan goes to park the car somewhere; the rest of us get the luggage and start walking.  We don’t really have far to go, and I’m relieved to see a small gate on one side of the entrance, with guards on the other side.  As people approach it, they’re opening it and letting some people through.

The guards are armed of course and the protesters aren’t teachers.    “We always just assume it’s the teachers,” Julia says, but it isn’t this time.  Googling it now, I find this story:

9-hour blockade by Popular Revolutionary Front

It is ~ just a little bit scary.  Not dreadfully scary.  Just a little bit.  Ok, the armed guards scare me.  They always do a little bit, even thought they’re super polite.  And the line of people protesting is peaceful, but there’s tension in the air.  Anyhow.   We walk through without any problem.

When we get to the gate, the guard has a list, they ask for our names,  and – good news – Dee and I are on the list.   They open the gate ~~ there’s a van waiting, we won’t even have to walk the rest of the way ~~ we hand our luggage through, they put it on the van ~~  and i realize ~~ we’re going to have to say to good-bye right here, right now.  This is it.   No, oh, wait, no ~~

I turn to Julia ~ she’s looking panicky too ~ holding Lucia, and pregnant, ~~ and I start to say good-by and hug her, only I start crying, and she starts crying, which we had both planned on not doing ~ and Lucia looks worried ~~

and I say to the guard, “Can’t she come back? with us?” and Julia says it in Spanish, and ~~

~~ then the guard says, “Si, yes, si, come on,come on, you can back go too,” and Julia says, “Really?” and her face lights up and  I quit crying.  They assure her, yes, yes, she can go, and she says, “But m’esposo?” and they assure her that he can come too, when he gets here, and then we get on the van and go on up to the airport.

Whew.

I don’t even quite know why that’s such a big deal, but it was.  We still don’t want to leave, but it’s somehow better saying good-bye after we check in rather than having to let her go right there at the gate in the heat and in the middle of the protest and all.  Paulina waits for Conan and they join us just a few minutes later.

Sadly, we do our good-byes and then Dee and I are on to the next stage of our adventure.

When I look back, it seems a bit surreal.  I wish I had pictures of what it was like, the protesters and the gate and the guards and all, but you know, it was not really a photo op.   I can’t do it justice with words though.  You really had to be there.

Nonna Stories – The Lucia Show

Lucia loves, loves, loves the monkey her Paw Paw and Gamma sent her.   Abel the Space Monkey.  Here, her Mommy is putting lotion on Lucia ~ she holds out Abel ~ “Mommy, lotion on Abel!” she orders.

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But this video really shows their developing relationship.

{That’s the toy box I brought her.}

I’m not sure what my favorite part of this is ~ when she blows on Abel’s belly, or when she puts the shoe carefully next to him.  I think she’s using it to keep him from rolling off the box, but I’m not sure about that.  Anyhow, she loves Abel, and he goes everywhere with us.

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He goes to Super Che with us.

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We have a small adventure at Super Che.  We get to the grocery, which is the one Kroger-Meiers type store in Puerto – and we can’t find a parking place.  As we circle the small lot for a second time, Julia notices a sign.  “Conan!” she says.  “Back there!  It’s a parking place reserved for pregnant women!”

“Really?”  Conan is a bit skeptical, but we head back.  Sure enough, right next to the handicapped space, there’s the sign.

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How cool is that?  Unfortunately, before we can pull in, some van ~ with out a pregnant passenger ~ pulls into it.  We pause, dismayed.  Julia says, “I’m going to make un escándalo.”  I’m pretty sure I know what that means, and sure enough, she sticks her head out the window and begins to scold them for taking a parking place for pregnant women when she’s pregnant and needs that space.

Much to my delight, they slowly back out of the space and cede it to us.

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Ok, not a great picture, but you get the point.

Lucia and Abel head into the grocery.

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She has to attach Abel around her neck so he can ride on the back of the cart with her.

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Shopping accomplished, we head on to our next stop.

IMG_4060I ‘m not sure what she’s looking so appalled about.  IMG_4061IMG_4062

But it seems to me that being the mother of a space monkey like Abel is a big responsibility, and one that she takes pretty seriously.  Also remember that she’s clutching this monkey to her when it’s at least 89 degrees…

Of course, Lucia’s life is not all about being a mother.  Sometimes, she works.   Here, she’s selling pizzas and enchiladas.

IMG_4063I’m not sure what she’s selling here, but the box {which she loved} used to have bourbon balls in it.

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And sometimes, at the end of the day, she’s not the mommy of Abel the space monkey, or a working mother, but a little girl who wants to be held. Fortunately, there are plenty of us willing to do that.

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Nonna Stories – The Pied Piper

We go out for dinner.  As we’re finishing the meal, a young man with a recorder appears.  He begins to play.

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My granddaughter is mesmerized.

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Her mother and I are amused.

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I take a video of him, and of her watching him.

But when he comes over to talk to her, she’s in seventh heaven.

Now, almost a week later, she still watches those videos on my phone a zillion times, often with almost the same intent interest as the first time.  She prefers the first one, the one of him playing, which she calls “jumping video.”  She likes it almost as much as listening to “My Girl {aka Where Did You Sleep Last Night.}

And I’m glad he’s not really the Pied Piper and she can’t get out of her highchair to follow him!

Nonna Stories – Every Picture…

Of course there is lots of picture-taking going on.  Pictures on my phone, with my ipad, videos, there seems to be  no end to the flurry of photo ops that I can’t miss.  I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy the moment.

So it’s no surprise when Lucia starts pretending to take pictures with her Papi’s ipod.  image

But I am surprised when she walks over to stand very close to me.  She puts her hands up toward my head, and says in a very soft voice, “Putting on dress,” while she mimes putting an invisible dress over my head.  Then, “Button, button, button,” fastening the imaginary buttons down the front.  She pauses, looks at me with an apprasing eye,   “Cute,” she says, still in this very soft voice.  “Take picture.”  And she holds up the ipod and snaps me.

She has a lot of fun playing on the furniture in the front room at our hotel.

Lucia’s Paw-Paw and Gamma had sent her one of those super cool monkeys that wraps its arms and legs around you.  Luica’s in love with it.   I’ll post some other pictures later of her and that monkey, but in the meantime –it makes perfect sense that she would want the monkey to have as much fun as she does.

This child is just too much fun.

And Here We Are!

After the race to make our connecting flight in Houston, I’m sure we can do anything.  Three hours to make the connection in Mexico City feels like sheer luxury.

And it actually is!  We glide through Customs {only one form needs to be filled out again}; our big suitcases are waiting for us at the #16  carousel.   A porter and cart are right there to transport the bags to the re-check-iin place and – best of all – when the attendant there says “Push the button,” Dee pushes and we get the green light!   When you get the green light, they don’t search your luggage.  Last time through, we got the red light, and that always makes me super nervous,  but this time, it’s a piece of cake.  Onward.

We don’t have our boarding passes yet, but the electronic ticket on my iphone gives us access to the train.  Unlike The Link, which runs about once a minute, there’s a five minute wait for the train.  It winds its way across the airport, which is larger than some small cities.  It all feels familiar these days.

Terminal 2. Last security check.  In Mexico, you get to keep your shoes on, which is a treat, and Dee’s shoulder doesn’t set off the metal detector as it sometimes does.   And then we’re there – Gate 75.   Getting through all that in under an hour is a personal record, for sure.

So we eat again — Starbucks salad for me — drink more coffee – and wait.  Finally, finally, it’s time.  Ok, it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon, not so late, but I’ve been up almost 12 hours.

On the shuttle bus to the plane, a group with several adults and a bunch of kids gets on too, the youngest child complaining that he wants to “get on the plane, not a bus!!”  Someone assures him the bus is just for a few minutes, and one of the women musters a cheery smile and says, “It’s an adventure, right?  We’re having an adventure!”  which makes me smile to myself.

The plane is so tiny.  It always makes me feel like it might be powered by batteries and remote control.  You can see the type of plane here, if you’re into that kind of thing:   http://www.airliners.net/photo/Aeromar/ATR-ATR-42-500/2542375/&sid=b49d49f2e978504042f8b33d0ffd63ce

Sitting behind us are two of the adults from the large group, and a couple of the younger children are across from them.  The flight attendant makes the usual announcement, but then she has to come over to the man behind me to ask him to turn off his electronic device.  He does, grumbling about it a bit, but  when she askes the three-year-old to turn off his ipod, the child explodes in wails of “WHY??? WHY WHY WHY WHY???”

This goes on way too long with some ineffectual attempts to calm him (without ever explaining why.)  He finally subsides a bit when the flight attendant assures him it’s just for a few minutes, but you can still hear him plaintatively asking “Why?”  I’m trying not to have some judgemental and unkind thoughts about the kid and the parents when Dee turns to the adults behind us and says, “Would he like some gum?”

“Oh, thank you so much, I’m sure he would,” says the woman, and the child is distracted and delighted enough with the unexpected treat that he’s smiling again.  The maybe-six-year-old next to him is even more surprised and delighted when Dee offers him gum too, and says, with exquisite politeness, “Thank you so much.”  And when Dee asks them to offer the gum to the other four kids in the party, the whole atmosphere on the plane changes.  Whew.

And we’re off.  YAY!

In almost no time, maybe an hour, we’re landing again, yes, yes, yes — and waiting for the luggage on the conveyor belt in the tiny Puerto Airport, peering around the corner where Lucia and Conan will appear.  And then – then – then — there they are!

I’m not sure how Lucia will react when she sees me, it’s been months since we saw each other off Facetime.   And we’re separated by an invisible line, security guard there to ensure we don’t cross the line.  But she sees me and — I am not making this up — she starts jumping up and down, screaming, “Nonna!  Nonna!”

What’s a Nonna to do – I scream back – “Lucia!!  Lucia!!”

“Nonna!  Nonna!”  Jumping up and down.

“Lucia!  Lucia!!”

And then at last we are free to cross the lline, and she holds up her arms for a big hug.

Here at last.

On the Way to Puerto – November, 2014

Our bags are packed.  We’re ready to go.

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Weeks of preparation and suddenly it’s too late for “what have I forgotten now?”  Two 50 lbs suitcases, 2 carry-ons weighing at least 25 pounds each, and two backpacks.  175 pounds to schlep through the airport in Mexico City.  But lots of fun things for Julila and Conan and Lucia at the other end of the trip.

This is the first trip that we’re doing in one day.  Our first plane is scheduled to leave at 6:30 a.m., so we leave the house at 3:45, take the car to Crown Plaza Hotel (which will keep the car for half the price of the airport and shuttle you over.)   It’s 20 degrees outside.  20.  We’re wearing hoodies.

But all goes well and we make it to the airport with enough time for coffee and breakfast.   Which is lovely, because we ony have 50 minutes to change planes in Houston.  50 minutes.  And no, our gate isn’t going to be close.  We’re going from domestic to international.  United Air staff assures me, when I buy the tickets, that even half an hour will be enough time.  Ok.  We’ll see.

The plane from Louisville runs late – we land at 8:15.  Our plane leaves at 8:50.  We ask the flight attendant if we can get a cart to the gate — she says, “No, we don’t do that.”  Ok, we can make it on our own.  From Terminal B to almost the other end of the universe – Terminal E.  Tick, tock, tick, tock.  8:21, waiting for our carry-on luggage.

8:28.  Back packs on, pulling carry-ons behind, moving fast, down the hall, up the escalator, to the left, down the hall, up the escalator – heading for The Link.  8:31.  Tick tock.   Here it comes — jump on The Link and we’re whooshing through the air – Terminal C, Terminal D – oh, yes, D and E are together!  Ok.  We might make it.

8:33 – now for the gate.  But omg, it’ll take forever, no way, no way we’re gonna make it.  We can’t possibly get there in time, not in this lifetme, we’re going to be spending the night here and heading out the next morning.

But WAIT – there’s one of those carts!  We flag the guy down — Gate 21, please!  “Come on,” he says.  And off we go.  We’re going so fast, I can feel the wind in my hair.  Seriously.  Down a hall, turn, down another hall, people leaping out of our path and then – THERE IT IS!!  Gate 21  Going to Mexico City!!

I jump off, while Dee tips our rescuer, and the gate attendant says, “Are you on this plane?  Hurry!  They’re ready to go!!”

So we dash onto the plane, and fight our way back toward our seats — we were not actually the last ones on baord, but there is hardly anywhere to stow our carry-ons and people are jostling each other trying to find space —  but at last — somehow miraculously — we are on and buckled in and ready to go!  Woohoo.  I barely have time to email Julia “made it” before they tell us to put our devices on airplane mode — and we’re off.

Good times ahead.

Consent?

I just read a terrific article – 5 Lies that Distort Male Sexuality and Hurt Everybody. You can read it here. It really made me think about how things have changed in my lifetime. The author says that conversations about sex with his father never mentioned consent.

The author says:

This absence reinforced another aspect of sexuality that is “normal” within patriarchal masculinity: “Consent means go until they say stop.”

This statement made me realize how much things really are changing.  “Consent means go until they say stop.”   That absolutely is the way things were in my youth – let’s say 40 to 45 years ago.

“How far did you go?  Did he get to second base?  Did you let him go to third base?”

Yes.  We really talked about it like that.  Rather than seeking consent, we played a frigging baseball game.  His goal was to make a home run.  Starting with kissing – so innocuous it didn’t even count as a base, though maybe not on a first date  – he could move to first base (tits,) second base (between the legs – or “down there”) and on to HOME – going all the way.

Of course it wasn’t really that direct, there were degrees of progress.  There was first base over your clothes and first base under your clothes, and so on.  There was “not all the way, but I touched his you-know,” and countless variations of that.

It was also very clear.  His aim was to go all the way, my job was to stop him at the appropriate point.  Defining “appropriate” was up for grabs.  So if I said “no,” in a soft voice, shook my head or pushed his hand away as it slid up under my shirt, it was ok for him to come back and try again a few minutes later.  Too much of that, and we said he was “like an octopus, all hands,” disparagingly, and there probably wouldn’t be another date. Unless he apologized and promised not to act like that again.

Sigh.

It was complicated.  Even if you wanted to “go further,” it was good form to put up some resistance.  To allow yourself to be persuaded to let him touch you *there*.  Or there.  That resistance showed that you really were “a nice girl.”  If you just wanted to enjoy it, and “let him” do it without the proper amount of resistance, then you were clearly a slut, and nothing good would come of that.

Seriously, that’s what it was like.  A sexual world in which his goal was to convince you to do it and your goal was to resist long enough that he’d still respect you.  Ok, that’s an over-simplification on all kinds of levels, but I promise you there was very little of this “enthusiastic consent” stuff that we’re talking about now.  Unless you were engaged, maybe.  Or a slut.  And it was pretty acceptable for a boy to try to convince you to “put out” more than you’d planned.  Not to force you, but to persuade, cajole, beg, and at some point even demand.

That proved you were attractive, and that he liked you.  If you kept dating him, then you were subtly agreeing to continue on this steady path of moving around the bases, and it was up to him to see how far he could go on each date.

I’m not saying that was good, or even ok.  After all, people used to drink and drive back then too.  I am saying that our understanding of how things work and how they’re supposed to work can change radically in a relatively short time.

I love the “enthusiastic consent” framework, and look forward to seeing the impact on relationships that involve sexual attraction.  But I think it’s helpful to remember that this is a change.   We’re creating a new path, and that’s seldom easy.  Worthwhile, important, and powerful, but seldom easy.