A Happy Nonna Moment

So I called my daughter, Julia, the other day, and Lucia was willing to “talk” to me – unusual enough, because phone conversations are not really that much fun for a two year old. Or for the other party, for that matter. Lately, Lucia’s been saying she’s too busy to talk – “Playing,” she says, or “Eating,” as if anyone would understand that she couldn’t be interrupted.

But this time, she readily takes the phone and, with prompting from her mama, tells me that they are “Buying car,” and yes, she goes for a ride in it and yes she likes it. We run out of conversational material, and I say “Ok, sweet pea, you wanna give the phone to your Mommy?”


And I hear a little grunt that sounds like, “No,” and I can hear her mama laughing and taking to someone in the background. So I say, “Ok, well, um, you want me to sing you a song?” and I think maybe I get a grunt of assent, so I do a quick verse or two of Old McDonald and then I hear her Mommy say, “Can I have the phone? Are you through?”

And Lucia says firmly, “No. Talking.”

I’m tickled pink – now I’m the important activity!! So I sing her another song, (not that I can really sing, you know) and her Mommy says, “Can I have the phone now?’ and she says ~

“No. Talking!”

So I sing “Little Bunny Foo-Foo”

and she’s excited ~ I hear her say to her Mommy, “Singing!” ~ and she actually kind of almost sings along!! How cool is that?

Then she’s done and I’m done too, but now I’m looking forward to our next phone call!

Exploring Father’s Day Quotes

Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, taps into a well of intense feelings.  I can imagine families where those feelings are simple love and appreciation, but for those of us who have some ambivalence about our fathers, it can be a more painful celebration.  I imagine that fathers who have difficult relationships with their children also struggle.

So it’s not surprising that I couldn’t find just one quote to use on Facebook in honor of Father’s Day.  No, I found a bunch of quotes that each capture some aspect of the relationship.

“Dads are like chocolate chip cookies; they may have chips or be totally nutty, but they are sweet and make the world a better place, especially for their children.”
― Hillary Lytle

I love that image of Dad – so much warmth.  It makes me think of the old TV show with Patty Duke – the one where she played both cousins, Patty and Cathy.  Her father was, for me, the epitome of a great father.   Martin Lane.  He was always kind and reasonable.  Sometimes stern, but still loving.  He seemed to hit this perfect medium:

“Fathers…it’s vital to exhibit a thoughtful balance between being a tough as nails disciplinarian and compassionate gentle patriarch to our families. Too much of one devastates relationships and too much of the other emasculates our ability to effectively lead. Our wives and children need the security and assurance of knowing that we can be both tough and tender. One side steel…the other side velvet.
― Jason Versey, A Walk with Prudence

That was the Dad I wanted.   But I liked the idea of this one too:

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

I picture some absent-minded professor of a father, intent on his daily work, with his young daughter or son following behind him to catch the pearls of wisdom that he would drop… the occasional story, a proverb here or there…

Yeah, I didn’t quite have that dad either.  My dad was closer to this one:

“Fathers never have exactly the daughters they want because they invent a notion of them that the daughters have to conform to.”
― Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

And of course all of those fathers reflect the archetype of Father more than the reality of most of our Dads. Larger than life – Father as leader and protecter, Father as mediator between the home and the outside world, Father who teaches their sons how to be men, and their daughters how to relate to men.  Not to mention all the shadow sides of those roles.  It’s not surprising that we confuse the archetype of Father with the human reality of Dad, whether’s it’s biological Dad, step-Dad, or an uncle or big brother that takes this role.

“That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. It was when my father was a hero and not a human.”
― Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger

When I was younger, there was so much angst in my thoughts and feelings about my Dad.  As I’ve gotten older, thank goodness, I am better able to see him as a person who did the best he knew how to do.  But this quote still resonates with me – and for many years, I think it fit me.

“Someone once said that every man is trying to live up to his father’s expectations or make up for their father’s mistakes….”
― Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Certainly, my Dad’s expectations formed much of who I am, whether I strived to live up to them or pushed back against and rejected them.

So when I read Facebook threads about Father’s Day, I’m not surprised by the intensity of feeling the day elicits, or the conflicting ideas that arise.  One friend is concerned about people wishing single moms a “Happy father’s day,” concerned that it shortchanges the actual male fathers out there parenting.  A few people still think biological fathers trump the man who raises you, but others are sure “being there” trumps genetics.  Some folks struggle with defining the roles and titles of a transgender parent.  Another is upset because people treat single dads like they’re special miracles while single moms are looked down on and stigmatized.

I don’t really have an opinion about any of those things – well, I do, but I don’t think my opinions matter when it comes to fathers and their children.  Mostly I think that Fathers Day can be difficult for us in all kinds of ways, and whatever we do to manage it is the right thing to do.  I understand people feeling strongly about it, but at least today, I just don’t think it matters.

If it makes people feel better to recognize their mom as being both mother and father to them, why would I object?  And if your uncle took the father role and you still want to send a card to your biological dad, why not?  If we want to encourage single dads by exaggerating their wonderfulness a bit, I’m ok with that too.  {I am, however, passionately against stigmatizing single mothers.  Just for the record.}

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who has filled the “father” role in your life is worthy of whatever love and appreciation you have for them.

I almost posted this quote today, it says so much to me, in such a lovely understated way:

I got my dad a great father’s day present. He called to say: ‘Ach. Zis present is so good I now think it vas almost vorth having children.
― Johann Hari

That made me laugh, but there is some deep truth there.  Because ultimately, isn’t that what we all want?  To believe that the gifts we bring our father makes him see us as worthwhile?  Ok, so we probably want it to be the gift of our love, or some such intangible thing, and maybe some kids grow up just knowing that already.  But for those of us who don’t, that may still be a goal.

This is a powerful scene about fatherhood from the old sitcom, The Fresh Prince of BelAir.   I’m 57 – no, 58 – years old, and the darn thing still makes me cry.  And makes me appreciate Uncle Phil sooooo much.

“We never get over our fathers, and we’re not required to. (Irish Proverb)”
― Martin Sheen, Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son

On the other hand, we can, and do, “get over” the pain of a father who wasn’t there – whether he was physically absent or emotionally withdrawn, abusive or neglectful – we can recover.  Part of that process is separating the person from the archetype.  Part of it is learning from the men around us who are there for us.  And part of it is developing the skill to parent ourselves.

So when I read this…

“The monsters are gone.”
“Really?” Doubtful.
“I killed the monsters. That’s what fathers do.”
― Fiona Wallace

…I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about the person promising to kill the monsters, I am doubtful about that too.  But I remind myself that I’m pretty good at managing some monsters myself.

So I was finishing this blog post today, looking for just the right words to wrap it up, when I see my friend’s latest Facebook post.  And there it is – two simple sentences that pretty much says it all:

“Dad’s Day can be awesome and it can be tough. Sending love to those that need it for a variety of reasons.

~~ Christine Bowman

Exactly.  Thanks, Christine.











Quest for a Quote

Mother’s Day is wonderful for some people and super uncomfortable or downright painful for others.  I have some mixed feelings about it.  I think it’s a Hallmark holiday (even though I know it didn’t start that way.)  But I often struggled to figure out what to do for my Mother on Mother’s Day, and I was dismayed to discover that – even though I think it’s a Hallmark holiday – the ways my kids acknowledged me on Mother’s Day mattered a lot.

For years, there was also my mother-in-law, who needed to be taken into account, and my stepdaughter’s biological mother, and it was a complex and frustrating holiday.  I used to promise myself that once my girls became mothers, I would leave town for the weekend so they could enjoy the day themselves.

So it’s not surprising that I often have trouble finding a quote I really like for my daily Facebook post.  I want to find something that applies to people who have great relationships with their mothers, and those who don’t speak to their mothers. I want it to make sense to the mothers whose kids live with them forever and the mothers of those kids who don’t speak to them.

I want a quote that applies to biological mothers, foster mothers, step-mothers, stay-at-home mothers, career mothers, and the mothers who left.  It has to work for the “you’re like a second mother to me,” mothers, and of course for the men who mothered some of us.  Plus, of course, it has to fit my own socio-political ideas about motherhood.

It is not easy.

Part of the difficulty is that Mother’s Day has become a celebration of the archetype of Mother – the all-loving archetype of warmth, nurturance and creativity, growth and love. Mother Earth – sunshine, gentle rains, crops and harvest. Mother with a baby at her breast – holding, rocking, soothing, nurturing, maybe with a toddler playing contentedly at her feet, an older child doing homework nearby.

This aspect of the archetypes gives us these kinds of quotes:

“I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”
~~ Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Or this one:

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”
~~ Washington Irving

Those are far too cloying sweet for me.  Here’s the archetype described through the lens of patriarchy:

“It is a fundamental truth that the responsibilities of motherhood cannot be successfully delegated. No, not to day-care centers, not to schools, not to nurseries, not to babysitters. We become enamored with men’s theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother’s influence Too often the pressure for popularity, on children and teens, places an economic burden on the income of the father, so mother feels she must go to work to satisfy her children’s needs. That decision can be most shortsighted. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother’s loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother’s influence and teaching in the home—and how apparent when neglected!”
― Ezra Taft Benson

That quote could be subtitled “Instilling guilt in women who think they should have a career outside of motherhood.”  Clearly, that quote is not going up on my Facebook page!

In response to that patriarchal and limiting view of mother, we get quotes like this:

“I wasn’t put on this earth to be housekeeper to my own child or to anyone else for that matter.”
― Lynn Freed

Or this one:

“And really, how insulting is it that to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.”
― Jessica Valenti, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness

The flip side – the “shadow” side – of the archetype for “mother” is Mother Nature, with her tsunamis and hurricanes, floods and drought.  Mommie Dearest and evil step-mothers are aspects of the archetype.   Some quotes reflect that.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to get over having had Nikki for a mother, and I have to say that from day one after she died, I liked having a dead mother much more than having an impossible one. ”
~~ Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Or this one:

“You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams, and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I let her say what she wanted about me, and what was worse, for a long time I believed her.”
~~ Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Those reflect the shadow side of “mother” as intensely as the cloying sweet ones reflect the all-good mother.  Way too harsh for Mother’s Day. I would be more likely to use this one, which at least recognizes different aspects of “mother.”

“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”

― N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


 In real life, moving away from archetypes and polarized aspects of mothers, I find quotes like these, which reflect real people who mother us, who struggle to come to terms with what it means to be “mother.”

“Mom’s eyes held yours for a moment. ‘I don’t like or dislike the kitchen. I cooked because I had to. I had to stay in the kitchen so you could all eat and go to school. How could you only do what you like? There are things you have to do whether you like it or not.’ Mom’s expression asked, What kind of question is that? And then she murmured, ‘If you only do what you like, who’s going to do what you don’t like?”
― Shin Kyung-sook, Please Look After Mom

Or this one:

“But will you not have a house to care for? Meals to cook? Children whining for this or that? Will you have time for the work?” “I’ll make time,” I promised. “The house will not always be so clean, the cooking may be a little hasty, and the whining children will sit on my lap and I’ll sing to them while I work.”
― Gloria Whelan

In real life, we get quotes like this:

“Maybe a mother wasn’t what she seemed to be on the surface.”
― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

Or this one:

Maybe it’s just a daughter’s job to piss off her mother.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

Or – a personal favorite:

“Of course mothers and daughters with strong personalities might see the world from very different points of view.”
― Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

If we’re lucky, we grow into being able to distinguish our mothers from the archetype of mother.  We learn to recognize our own mother’s strengths and failings, and recognize that she was just a person, not really a goddess at all.

Ok, maybe there is a bit of goddess in all of us, but we are mostly human.  And as we find ourselves cast in the role of “mother” we may feel as conflicted as this quote suggests:

“I want to mother the world, I thought. I have so much love.
Then—I have no business being a mother. I am a selfish woman.
Then—I can do this. Millions of women have been mothers.
Then—I feel very alone. I do not know what I’m capable of.”
― Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories


Economic Disparities – Moving toward solutions

Dr. David Williams is a Harvard Professor.  He has a list of accomplishments that takes several minutes to read through.   I know this because I saw him speak at the Muhammad Ali Center last week, and it took Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt about 5 minutes just to introduce him.

What most resonated with me though was not the papers Dr. Williams has published, the degrees he has, the awards he’s gotten, or the policies he’s helped develop, but that he was a key scientific advisor for the award-winning PBS film series, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?  I loved that series, which changed the way I was able to think and talk about inequities related to race and class, and which gave me data to support some of my experience in mental health.  So I was excited to get to hear Dr. Williams in person.

The presentation started with a lot of depressing, discouraging statistics.  You can read more about them here.  The article, from the Courier-Journal, starts out:

For every dollar of income a white household earns, an African-American household earns only 63 cents — and the gap is even starker when it comes to wealth.

“For every dollar of wealth that whites have, blacks and Latinos have only six pennies,” Harvard University professor David R. Williams told more than 50 people Sunday at the Muhammad Ali Center, where he spoke about racial inequities that shape our lives, businesses and society.

The article reported some research on job-seeking and race:

{Dr Williams} cited a study in which two black men and two white men with identical resumes sought jobs in person. One man from each race said he had served a prison sentence. The study found that the white man with the criminal record was more likely to get a call back (17 percent) than black man without a record (14 percent).

Did you get that?  The white man with a felony on his record was more likely to get a call-back for the job than the black man with a clean record.

Discouraging.  Depressing.

And – maybe even more upsetting – when patients presented at a hospital ER with a broken arm or leg, white people were significantly more likely to get pain medication than people of color.  Seriously.

The article in the C-J ends with that kind of disheartening information.  Fortunately, Dr. Williams had a lot more to say.  First, he talked about why we need to make change – from a business perspective.

And I’m going to do the really brief version of this.  Three factors:

~  America is aging.  By 2056, there will be more people 65 and older than 18 and younger.

~  By 2060, the Hispanic and Asian populations will have doubled, and white people will be the numerical minority, while people of color will be the majority.  Already, among children under 1 year old, people of color are the majority.

~  Youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II. There are millions of “disconnected” youth – young people between 16 and 24 years old who are not in school and not working.   Each “disconnected” 16 year old will cost taxpayers about $258,040 through a variety of expenses, including, often, jail or prison.  The total anticipated cost for all disconnected youth age 16-24 is $1.56 trillion dollars.

So there will be more people of color – who will be impacted by racism – and more of us old(er) people, who will rely on fewer young people for support.  The question is:

How do we sustain and enhance our stature as a nation of opportunity with pathways to upward mobility that would ensure that our children and grandchildren have the tools and skills to succeed?

We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.  The well-documented racial disparities and inequities won’t help create a strong, stable middle class, which we desperately need.   Dr. Williams suggests a number of steps we can take.

~  Recognize our own bias and how that works

~  Understand how to begin to change the impact of our own bias.

~  Identify and implement evidence based strategies for change.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to focus on recognizing our own bias.

I’ve gotten used to talking about privilege, especially white privilege and the need to call people out when they say/do things that are racist, regardless of whether they “meant it that way” or not.   For well meaning white folks who think racism is bad and don’t want to be racist, being called out can trigger tremendous shame.  Sometimes, just those words – called out – can trigger a strong reaction.

So I struggle to figure out how we let people know when they’re expressing racist viewpoints,  without just increasing their defensiveness.   I know that when I am called out ~ when I am on the receiving end of that message that what I’ve said reflected my white privilege and was racist ~ I sometimes struggle to manage my own shame so that I can hear the feedback.

Dr. Williams took a slightly different perspective.  He talked about prejudice and discrimination in a very non-judgmental way, using a couple of examples to illustrate what he meant.  Gently, casually, he said something like, “Of course we discriminate.  And we show favoritism for our own group.  We all do it.  It’s part of being human.”

He continued, “If I divide you into two groups right now, and I put half of you in blue shirts,” gesturing to the left side of the auditorium, “and half of you in red shirts,” gesturing to the right, “very quickly, those of you in the red shirts will begin to prefer others in red shirts and those of you in the blue shirts will prefer other blue shirts.  And you will try to get the best resources for your in-group.  That’s just how we are, that’s how we function.”

Those words, and the way he said them, were illuminating, without triggering shame or defensiveness.  Normalizing the thoughts and feelings reduces the shame.

Then there was this slide:

Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles

*  Visitors to museum see two doors. One door is labeled “prejudiced.” The other door is marked “unprejudiced.”

•  If one tries to enter the “unprejudiced” door, you find that the door is locked and it is not possible to enter the museum through that door.

•  The following message is then projected on the unprejudiced door: THINK… NOW USE THE OTHER DOOR.

•  Reflects the museum’s attempt to communicate, in dramatic fashion, that to a greater degree than we normally acknowledge, that we are all prejudiced.

•  We have all been affected by the culture in which we were raised, and to some degree, we have been affected by the larger stereotypes of our culture

Unless we are willing to own our prejudice, we can’t take the first step toward resolving the problems created by the legacy of slavery and ongoing racism.   Normalizing prejudice reduces defensiveness and makes us better able to hear feedback.

Of course, we still need to recognize that the power structure in our society is over-represented with white people, and designed to support white privilege, which is why it is systemically racist.  But the tendency to favor and protect your own group is not an individual fault, it’s just the way people are.  If prejudice is a natural part of being human, then there’s no need to feel shame about it.



Community leaders/organizations need to play a leadership role in raising awareness levels of the deeply embedded, subtle forms of prejudice that are pervasive and unrecognized.

Currently, we don’t even know we have a problem 

If you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, but how will we get people to do this?” then you’ve forgotten the first part of this discussion.  If we don’t remedy the inequities that result from racial disparities, we will end up with a population that is not prepared to maintain a solid, stable society.  If we are not motivated by a sense of fairness and a desire for justice,  we need to recognize that it is in our own best interest to work toward a society that supports success for everyone.

So, the problem is not that we tend to be prejudiced.  The problem is that we unthinkingly act on the underlying prejudice  – and we can’t begin to make changes until we recognize the problem.   Only after we’ve recognized it in ourselves can we begin to remedy the problem.

To summarize, changes in the demographics of our population will lead to a minority of older people who are white and a majority of younger people of color.  Currently, there are millions of people between the ages of 16 and 24, White, African-American, and Hispanic, who are “disconnected” – neither working nor in school.  This group of youth will ultimately cost our society about 1.56 trillion dollars.

We need a society that will be healthy and productive, but in order to achieve that, we need to eliminate racial disparities. The first step to doing this, is recognizing the impact our own natural prejudice and in-group favoritism has on how we behave.

Dr. Williams had lots more to say, and specific steps we can take to reduce the impact of our own prejudices.  I’ll talk about that in my next post, and then move on to other steps we can take as a community to reduce racial disparities.

{Note:  Dr. Williams generously shared his power point slides with me, so the slides are all from his presentation, and being used with permission.  He also has a number of talks on youtube if you want to hear some of this information from the source.  But I don’t think the particular talk he did here in Louisville is on youtube.}




Look Out Mexico…

…here we come.

Found this poem this morning, and it made me smile.

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

E. E. Cummings
Love this part:  may came home with a smooth round stone
                        as small as a world and as large as alone.


It’s All About the Shoes…

My granddaughter has clearly inherited my shoe “thing” – I won’t call it an obsession, that would be excessive, but I do kind of have a shoe thing.  And so does she.

She’s not exclusive or particular about her interest in shoes – she’s just as fascinated with Dee’s shoes


as she is by my (much cuter) selection.  She likes to carry his around and try to put them on – today, she discovered she can get both of her feet in one of his shoes.  It makes walking a little tricky, but that’s beside the point.

She is, however, apparently developing her own ideas on fashion.  I was getting ready for work yesterday morning, wearing these shoes:


when she came running to me, saying, “Oooh, Ooooh,” with great urgency, clutching another shoe in one hand.  By dint of pointing and her favorite monosyllabic word – “uh,” she made it clear that I was to put on the shoe she’d brought me.

Obediently, I did.


We both admired it for a minute – it was, I have to admit, probably a better selection for my outfit.  Unfortunately, I had to explain to Lucia, I haven’t been able to find the match to that shoe for a while, and I can’t wear just one shoe to work, no matter how cute it is.

She accepted the bad news, with only a reproachful glance or two at me.   I hope my shoe selection today meets with more approval.

She is clearly my granddaughter.

What I Was Trying to Say about Rape and Blame and Teachers and Teens

I got into a discussion that became an argument yesterday, on Facebook.  I know, I know, that’s a bit ridiculous in itself.    A Facebook argument with people I don’t really know, who don’t know me and don’t have any context for the things I say, is probably not all that productive.   But I began clarifying my thoughts, and that led me to this post today, so maybe it was helpful

It started with this article by Betsy Karasik entitled “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students.”   But the more popular reference to it was “Sex between students and teachers should not be a crime.”

Background.  Earlier in the week, a judge had released the teacher who raped a 14 year old girl.  The girl killed herself, the rapist served 30 days in jail.  Even when he violated the requirements of the treatment program he was attending, the rapist was not held accountable.   The judge’s comments blamed the victim and revealed a total lack of understanding of how rapists function.    There was a huge outcry against the judge, and, as I write this, it seems possible that both the rapist and the judge may experience some strong consequences.

Then comes Betsy Karasik’s article, suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t criminalize rape when it’s an adolescent and a teacher, that maybe teenage girls aren’t completely victims, that maybe men can’t really help themselves and we’re being unrealistic to expect them to.

Let me be perfectly clear.  I do not agree with her.  Do NOT agree.  Do NOT AGREE.  DO NOT AGREE with her.

Background.  I’m a therapist – mental health – and I work primarily with people who have experienced abuse, particularly sexual abuse.    One in four, or maybe one in three, women experience some kind of sexual assault or molestation.  One in six men.  That’s not always the issue my clients come to therapy to address, and it’s not always *the problem,* but it’s often part of the story.

So I’ve spent a lot of time listening to people talk about their experience of abuse.  What happened, what they thought at the time, what they think now, and how they feel.  I’ve got extensive training in a number of approaches to working with trauma, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.   I can talk all day about trauma and survivors and healing and moving to thriving ~ and will if you get me started.  But I’m going to try to really stay on track here, which means I’m leaving out a lot more than I’m saying.

I believe that when people are abused, two things that happen that contribute greatly to long-term emotional suffering afterwards.   First, we don’t experience our feelings when the trauma is happening.  We’re focused on surviving.  It’s not safe to feel our feelings, we just need to get through the trauma.  And that’s protective.  Numbing out or dissociating protects us from feeling the full impact of what’s happening.

That’s really helpful at the time, and helps us survive.  But.  It creates a whole new set of problems if we’re not able to reclaim the feelings and process them later – and really, who wants to do that??

The second thing that happens, typically, is that the victim ends up feeling like it was their own fault the trauma or abuse happened.   Perpetrators of sexual abuse ~ and our culture in general ~ have a real talent for victim blaming in a way that often completely convinces the victim.   From “I shouldn’t have gone to Walmart at night” to “I should have known better than to go with him,” to “But I wanted it ~ it’s totally my fault ~ I actually started flirting with him!” the victim is convinced something they did caused the abuse.

I don’t believe the victim is ever responsible for getting raped.   People get raped because they cross paths with a rapist at a time when they’re vulnerable.   It is always the rapist’s fault.

But believing that we had some control over the situation sometimes helps people believe that we can keep it from happening again.  It feels protective.  The desire to believe we can keep ourselves safe is really at the heart of lots of victim blaming.

So ~  when I first start working with a client,  often, they’ll say, “Here’s what happened.  I know it wasn’t my fault.”  Then they tell me 35 other things that suggest they’re living their life like they totally think it was their fault.

And at some point, they say, “I know in my head that it wasn’t my fault ~ and that’s what everyone tells me ~ so I don’t know why I still feel like it’s my fault.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

That’s a powerful moment.  The confession “I still feel like it’s my fault” carries a load of shame.

Carl Jung says, “Shame is a soul eating emotion.”  Brené Brown says,  “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

If I try to convince my client that it wasn’t their fault, that they shouldn’t feel like it was, I am adding to the shame they already carry.  I’m dis-validating their feelings, telling them they’re wrong to feel the way they feel ~ which is part of what helps create the shame in the first place.

It’s more helpful to point out that of course they feel that way, it makes perfect sense, and then begin to look at how that works.

So that’s what I heard when I read Betsy Krasik’s article.  I heard the same thing my clients often say ~ particularly ones who were teenagers when the abuse happened.  “Men can’t control themselves,” “I was mature for my age,” and “I wanted it.  I asked for it.”

I have no idea if Betsy Krasik was speaking from her own experience or other people’s  ~ and I don’t think it matters.   She’s not my client, and I’m not particularly concerned about changing her mind.  But.

It seems like people are responding to Ms. Karasik the same way they dd to the judge who made the victim-blaming comments and the poor decision in sentencing.  As if she should never have voiced the opinion, as if just saying her thoughts out loud was wrong.

Ms. Karasik got the “Asshole of the Day,” award.  Someone said she had “just given a free pass to pedophiles,” as if her article would allow pedophiles to feel justified.    Just for the record, pedophiles don’t need a free pass ~ they act based on their own motivations and already feel justified.

But I think our response to Ms. Karasik adds another layer of shame for people who have those thoughts.  She isn’t a judge; she isn’t making decisions that affect sexual offenders.  She said something that lots of people secretly believe.  If we yell at her and act like she’s awful for saying those things, we pass that shame on to people who have the same questions, carry the same doubt.

We need to refute what Ms. Karasik says.  We need to explain why she’s wrong.  But  we don’t need to act like she’s wrong for saying it.  Lots of people won’t speak up because they *know* it’s *wrong* to feel that way.  But if we can’t talk about it, how do we process those thoughts?  How do we find “the facts of the matter”?

I think Ms. Krasik did us a service by speaking her mind.  She opens the door to having a real conversation about it with people who secretly think she’s right.  I don’t want to vilify her and shame her for speaking up.  I want to thank her for putting her ideas out there. That’s what I was trying to say on Facebook yesterday.

“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of *what we’re supposed to be* is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
― Brené Brown

The Steubenville Video

It’s a 12 minute video.  I don’t suggest you watch it.  HUGE trauma trigger warnings.

I’m going to talk about it because I did watch it, and now I’m a little traumatized.  And one of the things I do when I’ve been traumatized is tell someone else about it.  The therory is that the farther removed you are from the event, the less it will traumatize you and it will make me feel better and eventually the trauma will just ripple away like the waves in a pond and disappear.

So really, I don’t suggest you read this either.  I’ll feel better just for writing it.

Adolescent males, drunk I assume, laughing.  Talking about how “dead” she is.  They know she’s “dead” because she didn’t move with a wank in the butt, and that usually gets a reaction.  They know she’s “dead” because she didn’t move when they peed on her in the street.

Periodically, they talk about just how dead she is.  And laugh.

“Deader than Obi wan Kenobi”

“Deader than JFK.”

“Deader than Trayvon Martin”

Laughter and more laughter.

“Deader than O. J. Simpson’s wife.”

And finally, 12 minutes into the video, “As dead as she can be.”

“This is the funniest thing ever,” he chortles.

They talk about how hard and how fast they raped her.

“Harder than the cop raped Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction.”

“Faster than Mike Tyson raped that one girl.”

Laughter.  Like a sitcom laugh track, not quite real.

They talk about how dry she is.

More laughter.

Towards the end, you can hear someone trying to talk them out of it.  “What if that were your daughter?” he says.

“If it was my daughter, I wouldn’t care, I’d just let her be dead,” the response comes back.

They defend their actions.  “This isn’t rape cause she might have wanted it.  It might have been her final wish.”


These are the punch lines, that’s what I’m telling you here, these are the punch lines in the comedy they’re starring in about the dead girl getting raped.

I’ve probably got more to say about this, but not right now.  I’m sick.

I don’t suggest you watch it, but here it is, because this is real, and turning away from it isn’t an answer either.

Shopping at Walmart?

I was with some friends the other night, and Dee, my partner, was “confessing” that he’d gone to Walmart on Thanksgiving Day to buy a tool for the yard work he was doing that morning.  He was a bit apologetic.  I looked around the room and realized that this particular group of friends would not have any hesitation about shopping at Walmart, not on Thanksgiving Day, not on Black Friday, not any day of the week.

I, on the other hand, consider Walmart the epitome of what’s wrong with consumerism and only half-jokingly refer to it as “The Evil Empire.”  I’ve shopped there twice in my life, and still feel a twinge of guilt about it.

I’ve been quick to explain that Walmart is worse than other stores like that because their Board of Directors supports racism and sexism in promoting people.   I’m convinced of that because I know the Board recommended that  stockholders vote not to release data on the percentages of women and African-Americans in management.

But mostly I’ve felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, tilting at windmills.  By not shopping at Walmart, I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing.  It felt right to me, but was pretty futile.

Lately, with Walmart workers striking, and a bunch of people stepping up in support of that, I’m feeling like there might be the possible hope that someday, something might actually change.  And ~ it’s making me think about where I stand and how it makes sense in my world view.  It is not simple.

Walmart employs lots of people.  The Board of Directors has the right to run the company any way they choose.  Lots of other employers don’t pay some of their employees a living wage.  Those things are true.

I’ve heard people say that Walmart was designed to hire college students, who would work there for brief stints and then move on, rather than people trying to support families.  (Yes there are a lot of assumptions there about college students and families and  the worth of an employee.)  That may have been true ~ it’s certainly not true anymore.

Here are the facts that shape my thinking.

The average salary for a Walmart associate is $15,600.  NOT the starting salary, the average.  Poverty level for a family of four is $22,000.  Poverty level for one person is $11,170.

Walmart has more employees eligible for Medicaid and Food Stamps than any other employer.

Six members of the Walton family have wealth totaling the wealth of the bottom 30% of Americans.  NOTE:  This doesn’t mean income.  It means net worth.   This is important.

At Forbes, source of the richest 400 list, Tim Worstall wrote a response to the Waltons wealth claim. He did not dispute the accuracy of the statistic but offered some broader perspective.

“Wealth is always more unequally distributed than income,” Worstall wrote. “By the way, it isn’t even true that all of those households with zero or negative wealth are what we would call poor, either. It’s entirely possible to have no net assets while having a good income, even a high income. All you need to have is debts higher than your assets: something that will almost certainly be true of anyone with student debt and fresh out of college, for example.”

He added: “If you’ve no debts and have $10 in your pocket you have more wealth than 25 percent of Americans.”

“Bivens, for good measure, calculated the comparison of the Waltons vs. all Americans after removing households with a negative net worth — those that drag down the overall average and make the Waltons’ advantage look greater. He found that the Walmart heirs’ $89.5 billion “is still equal to the combined net worth of the bottom 33.2 million families (about 28.2 percent of the total).”

There’s nothing wrong with the Waltons being wealthy.  Nothing wrong with them running Walmart any way they want to.

But let’s be clear.  If we believe that, then we must also say:

There’s nothing wrong with people being on food stamps and having Medicaid for their health insurance.   Nothing wrong with it.  We need to recognize that people who work for companies like Walmart DESERVE those benefits, that we choose to provide them.

Not everyone can get a “better job.”  Not everyone can work two jobs.  People have children,  people have elderly parents they’re caring for, people go to school.

People need food, and they need health care.  That’s not optional.  Unless we’re prepared to watch people die in the streets, people need food and health care.

So maybe the taxpayers need to help support the Waltons by subsidizing their employees’ salaries.  Maybe that’s fine.  But then we need to quit acting like people who get food stamps or Medicaid are less hardworking than the rest of us.  We need to just accept that some companies need to make more profit than others, and we need to pay for that.

Or maybe we need to hold the company accountable for paying a living wage.

When Papa John’s CEO said he would close stores, cut jobs and make workers part-time because of the new health insurance laws, we reacted with outrage and promises of a Papa John’s boycott.  Now, the CEO is saying he was misquoted, that he didn’t say that at all.

People need food.  We need healthcare.   Now is the time for us to hold companies accountable.

Yes, they can choose to do anything they want to.  And we can choose whether or not to shop there.

Part III ~ A Fable ~ {just for fun}

{If you’re just now joining the story, Part I is here.  Part II is right here.

God looked around ~ well, in a manner of speaking to humans, that’s what we’d say.  God was, of course, not actually like anything we can imagine.  Neither black nor white, not male or female.  Not like anything we can imagine.

But we’ll say that ~ “God looked around.”   From the God chair, everything was revealed.  The little pockets of humans conferring about where they wanted to go to spend eternity, worrying about making the wrong choice.

God smiled.

Poor humans.  They were so sure there was a right choice and a wrong choice.  It was almost cruel to trick them that way.   Of course both the “entrances” led to the same place.

The “friends” they saw at the “bottom of the stairs” were their own projections, well, with maybe a little bit of help from God.   Kind of like holograms.

Of course, the humans couldn’t remember what it was like up here.  When you’ve wrenched yourself away from the celestial souls to become human, you forget where you’ve been. All the wisdom of the ages fades away so you can be born fresh and innocent.  And if the humans had some vague memory, some sense of oneness with the universe, the world soon taught them not to trust that.

The Buddhists were as close to having it right as anyone.   We are all one with the universe, and the sum of us all is ~ well, God, you could maybe call it that.  It is a joyful presence.  Not like the humans.

Divisions.  That’s what people were all about. Classifying and dividing.  And judging.  Judging themselves and other people, and doing it all in the name of God.

God shook his head, or her head ~ well, figuratively speaking.   Part of the process of coming home was giving up one’s ego.  You could either do it voluntarily, chosing to let go of something you had thought was important, or it would be stripped away as you went down the stairs.

But once they got through the entrance, all of that would disappear.  The outer trappings of personality would fade away, and only the essence of each soul would be left.   Each soul, uniquely wonderful, taking its place in the vast union of souls, becoming one with the universe, at home again.  Feeling the joy of finding that bliss once again.

God smiled.  Yes, they were still down there, trying to figure out what they should do, weighing the pros and cons in human terms.  Poor things.  Fussing about fetuses and protesters and who knew what else. Things that just weren’t important any more.

Once they had rejoined with the other souls, the lessons they learned on earth would be absorbed by them all, taken in and processed.

The returning souls would stay in the oneness of celestial being for as long as they chose to.  Someday, they might decide to return to the earth, or one of the other planets.  Just like “God”  had separated out to play the role of “greeter” to the returning souls.

God watched them struggling with themselves at the “Gates of Heaven”.  What petty, self-righteous creatures they could be.  So hard for them to let go of their own beliefs and come home.  But this was their last chance to learn anything from this trip to heaven.  No point in rushing them, they could take all the time they needed.

And God waited.


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