Ever wondered if teachers really make a difference? This one did

In grad school, I had a professor who made a big impact on my life. Michele Weldon was publishing her first book during the quarter that she was my writing teacher. I Closed My Eyes: Revelations of a Battered Woman is memoir of her life in an abusive marriage.

Her most recent book, Escape Points, was just published. I can’t wait to read it.

Michelle Weldon

Michele Weldon

Michele is not the first person I ever knew who survived an abusive relationship. But she was the person who changed how I understood domestic violence. I came to realize it could happen to anyone at any socioeconomic level. Then as I began to read and learn more, I realized how common it is. The statistics are horrifying.

Just last year 10 people died in Arkansas as a result of domestic violence. That doesn’t even come close to the number of people who suffer from violence in their most personal relationships each day.

One of the great parts about this season in my life is that I get to spend time on issues that matter to me. Michelle’s influence really inspired me to try to make a change in this area. Earlier this year, I joined the board of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence. We are the umbrella group for the domestic violence shelters in the state of Arkansas.

But not all abuse is physical. Survivors often emerge from abusive situation with no money, no credit, wrecked credit and/or very low financial literacy.

PurplePurse2015HeaderThis year the Coalition has once again been selected to participate in the Purple Purse campaign. This campaign is sponsored by Allstate Insurance Foundation. Allstate provides resources for survivors who need financial literacy assistance to build new lives away from an abuser.

Allstate also provides some matching funds for what we raise through this program. I know that everyone has a particular cause or issue that matters to them. Please consider supporting this very worthy organization.

Your donation will directly benefit victims in Arkansas and stay in the state to help survivors build new lives. It goes to food, shelter, transportation, counseling, and any number of other things that survivors may need.

$10, $25, $50 or whatever you can do. We are grateful for any and all support.

Michele Weldon spoke out and told her truth. In doing so, she taught me to be a better writer. She also inspired me to do what I can to help people who cannot yet tell their own stories. You can help too.

There’s No Wisdom at 40…Just Tired

Love this Kate Spade notebook from Belle & Blush. You can get one too! (or other cute stuff on their website)

Love this Kate Spade notebook from Belle & Blush. You can get one too! (or other cute stuff on their website)

I keep hearing that Turning 40 will somehow endow me with some great wisdom. There are about 4,867 posts shared on Facebook explaining this to me. (I’m estimating.) Allegedly, it’s magical.

So far though, no magic. I’m not wise. I still have about 6 weeks until the big day, but I’m seriously doubting this happens.

You know what I am? I’m tired. I’m pretty sure I’ve been tired since graduate school, but now, I’m not willing to drink massive amounts of Mountain Dew to compensate. I like my Pumpkin Spice lattes, like any good basic white girl. But those leave me still too tired to care about certain things anymore. I do not have the righteous indignation (or metabolism) of my youth.

I hope that I will go to my grave willing to get appropriately fired up on behalf of the outcasts and misfits. But I cannot care about some of the dumb shit I used to care a LOT about.

For example, here are the things I’m totally over:

  1. Pride – My body is doing some odd things related to hormones. I can’t even pretend anymore. I’ve called more than one friend who is 40+ with questions that begin, “You could have mentioned ______ was about to happen to me. What am I going to do?!?!” I need help, and I’m not afraid anymore to ask for it.
  2. The Perfect Liquid Line – I spent hours, months, years of my life dedicated to liquid eyeliner. I was on some sort of holy grail-type quest for the perfect liquid line. And I won’t lie, when it happened, my makeup was FABULOUS! Gay men would compliment me. These days, when I get eyeliner on my face, I use a crayon with a little smudging and call it good.
  3. Balanced Meals – I have counted calories, grams of fat, sugar, salt, carbs and protein. I have weighed meat. I have used monitors to clock my steps per day and sleep at night. I have obsessed to the point of psychosis over what went on every plate in this house. I’m not resigned to fast food dinners every night or anything, but I’m putting some reasonably healthy food on the table and calling it done.
  4. Coolness – It’s possible I was just fooling myself, but for a small window of time, I believe I was kinda cool. I knew who the celebrities were. I kept on pop culture. Now… I didn’t realize until after it had already been released that some guy name RYAN Adams recorded a version of Taylor Swift’s albumin 1989. I totally thought all the hype was about BRYAN Adams, which was really odd to me. But hey, what do I know about the kids and their music? Does this have something to do with what’s on fleek? I really can’t say.

So here’s my working theory: 40 doesn’t make you wise. Exhaustion just cuts out certain things. What gets cut is different for different people. And there’s no real right or wrong to it. Most of this stuff, I didn’t really decide to ax. It just sorta happened.

This is all just a code… people are calling it “wisdom” because that sounds way more positive than, “Oh hey. You’re never going to catch on your sleep. Let go of that dream.”

Community and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

310059_503875789664459_1775590294_n

Bunheads: ABC Family

This is not one of those posts with a clear point. But these thoughts have been rattling around in my head for weeks, and sometimes if I just get things written down, then I can be like Dumbledore in Harry Potter, when he puts his thoughts in the Pensieve so he can look at them from a distance to figure out connections and make sense of things.

Over the past few weeks, there are two main themes that keep emerging through conversations I’ve had with friends and pieces of I’ve read: 1. intentional community and 2. the stories we tell ourselves.

FB_IMG_1440298053542

Bunheads: ABC Family

Intentional Community

We have this notion in American culture of individualism and expectionalism. It’s born of philosophers in Western thought dating to before our country was even formed. And I submit these old thoughts are killing us.

The idea that any of us makes it through life alone is really laughable when you stop and think about it. I went to public schools in my small town, which paid a reasonably high mileage rate so our schools would be very good. My college education was paid in part through scholarships and federal grants. The rest was paid in government-backed loans. I went to public universities for undergraduate work, funded in part by the tax payers of Arkansas and Oklahoma. I got an FHA loan for my first home.

So my life foundation was built on the adults who went before me. They paid part of my way. I’ve been able to live a comfortable life as an grown up because of the investment my community made in me. In return, I donate to charity; I volunteer for community projects; I pay all of my taxes; I recycle; I got my pets spayed and neutered. I pay forward into some other kids’ futures.

So when I hear people talk about how they shouldn’t have to pay taxes for other people’s kids, I seriously don’t understand. When people want to continue to defund public education, food programs and other social programs, I am appalled. Was I (and the millions of other kids like me) such a bad investment?

When people deride millennials who are eyeball deep in college debt and underemployed as lazy or entitled, I am baffled. We set up a system, yanked the rug out from under them and then blamed them for the fall. Lord have mercy.

We all need each other: professionally, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. But the structures that we used to revere to give us intentional community, we now deride: government, unions, churches, schools.

It has become increasingly clear to me that we have to find our way back to one another. We must become intentional about our communities, both big and small. We need each other.

Through unions, we used to have apprenticeship programs to mentor and educate workers.  Churches used to be a safe refuge. The word “sanctuary” comes from the medieval church law that made fugitives immune from persecution within the confines of the church. Public schools were begun with the idea that our entire community was better off if everyone, no matter the education level of their parents, were given a solid education to begin life.

None of that happened by accident. All of it was deliberate and intentional. We have to stop talking and making policies about what we’re against and who we exclude and start focusing on who is being left out and find ways to bring them in.

We have to create mentorships and roundtables to help one another. We must contribute our strengths to others weaknesses. We must also be willing to raise our hands and ask for help when we need it.

Networking isn’t about knowing successful people to get you ahead in life. Networking is creating a group who all help each other so that everyone’s lot is improved.

486630_432057910179581_779323703_n

Bunheads: ABC Family

The stories we tell ourselves

We all tell ourselves some kind of story about who we are and how we fit into this world. Most of us tell ourselves stories that are completely true. But they may or may not be focused on anything productive.

There are a lot of things about myself that are true: I’ve had spectacular failures; I’ve said the wrong things; My family can be kind of mess; My faith falters; I can be mean; I’m a little bit crazy. But focusing exclusively on those truths doesn’t really help me much. In fact, it pulls me into a deep spiral. It doesn’t serve me well at all.

So I’m working on a new narrative. Things that are also true, but move to more a productive place, rather than let me wallow in self-doubt: I’ve been successful at some things; I can be a good friend; I work hard; I have good intentions; I can organize like nobody’s business (95% of the time); I root for the underdog; My family has loved me well; I keep holding on to some piece of faith, against all obvious signs; I’m not as crazy as I used to be.

Maybe the way to build a community and find our way back to one another is to start by telling ourselves a new story. Yes, some people game the system, and at the same time, a lot more build productive lives with a springboard underneath them. Yes, there are some lazy people at work, and there are also many more who do their jobs well and honorably. Yes, there are places who say they have a line to God but heap more judgement than love, and there are also places of broken people who are honestly doing their very best to be the hands and feet of God in a grace-filled way.

This is where I’d write a kicky conclusion if I had one. But I don’t. Sometimes it helps to write it all down. Maybe it’s helpful to you to read it. Either way, it’s not in my head any more. So now we can all look at it together. Maybe there’s some connection and conclusion in there after all.

Even among the INSANE, I’m the crazy one

It’s no secret that I’m basically your garden variety neurotic. I’m pretty anxious. Periodically, I have bouts of depression. But I manage to keep things between the ditches, in part, with some medication. This means I have to see a doctor for check-ups.

I don’t really mind going to the psychiatrist’s office. I get to feel superior in there. I like the office for the same reason other people like the state fair or Wal-Mart. I look really good… comparatively speaking.

I mean, seriously. There are some crazy people in there. I’ve never brought a possum into the waiting room. Or a rooster. (Both of which have happened.) I brush my hair. I usually wear makeup. I’m a great patient.

What’s the old verse about pride and falls? Yeah.

So this week I went in for my regular check-up. No big deal. The nurse called me back to check my blood pressure and weigh me. (Side note: if they would weigh me after they take my blood pressure, the BP readout would be much better.)

As I got up to walk back, the sole of my shoe came dislodged.

I was wearing super cute wedges. And the heel just let go of the cork. It was still attached at the toe, so it became a high-heeled flip flop of sorts. The only way to walk at that point was to pull my knee up to my waist with every other step.

ker-flop

The hanging wedge made this loud flopping sound every time I picked up my foot. So it created this horse clomping sound along with the strange gate.

ker-flop

To make matters worse, I was about 3 inches off the ground, and suddenly that seemed really.high. I instinctively threw my arms out like a tight rope walker to balance myself.

ker-flop

The nurse had already turned for me to follow her when this happened, so when she heard the commotion behind her, she turned back around to see me doing some kind of weird rooster strut, running my hand along the wall to balance myself while ramming my right knee into my chest on alternate steps to make it down the hall.

ker-flop

“My shoe just broke,” was all I could manage.

ker-flop

“Um, ok.” She was using the same voice she used when she told Possum Woman that the animal would have to wait in her vehicle. No one believed that varmint was a service animal.

ker-flop

But she is a nurse, and her profession demands some degree of empathy, or at least scientific verification. She checked my shoe when we arrived at her station to determine that it was indeed busted.

shoeApparently, being a nurse requires McGuiver-esque supplies, so she quickly produced super glue, a paper clip and rubber bands to mend the shoe temporarily. But I had to take both shoes off while the glue dried to prevent gluing my foot to the wedge.

But the doc wasn’t ready for me yet, so she sent me back into the waiting room. Back out with the crazy people, she deposited me like that.

And that is why I was sitting at in the waiting room of my psychiatrist’s office in Arkansas barefoot, holding my shoes with rubber bands around the heel.

Because even among the INSANE, I couldn’t seem to manage to be vaguely normal. Even there, I made a scene. Some days, I should not be let out.

The Thing About Raising Teenagers No One Wants to Say Out Loud

In the category of poor decisions, please don't ask me to explain that hair.

In the category of poor decisions, please don’t ask me to explain that hair.

During the past few of years, I’ve noticed a trend. As more of my friends’ children are becoming teenagers, the parents begin to feel more isolated. It’s a concerning situation.

It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with location. Friends from every part of the country are expressing this. It doesn’t seem to have to do with gender. Parents of boys and girls feel the same. It doesn’t seem to have to do with religion. Those of every faith and no faith at all say similar things.

It seems that when you have young children, you get to confess openly your mistakes, your struggles, your fears, all of it. When you search your toddler’s pockets for contraband, that’s funny. Everyone giggles about the odd things sticky fingers managed to pick up and squirrel away when no one was looking. You get support. You get reassurance. You get the magical words, “Me too.”

When you search your teen’s room for contraband, people may or may not judge you as a parent, or more importantly, think your kid has some sort of moral failing. No one is laughing. No is reassuring you. Everyone one is uncomfortable and averting their eyes.

I don’t know if there is any objective evidence on this, but it feels like the stakes for teenagers are much, much higher than when I was younger. Some say the record social media leaves creates a longer memory for what would have been otherwise forgotten moments. Maybe there’s some validity to that. Others think we are in a time and culture with very little grace. I think that’s definitely a piece of it.

I don’t know about you, but I am not even close to the same person I was at 17. Thank God for that. But I didn’t feel like adults around me thought I was fully formed. I got the message that there was still a lot of time in front of me to grow up.

Today, I’m not sure that’s true. I hear the sentiment a lot that teenagers are “old enough to know better.” And yes, they are. But they may not always be grown up enough to choose better.

No matter what you think about the age of accountability, we trade in a judgement economy. We’re practically required to have an opinion on everything and everyone. And that creates a culture of silence among teen parents.

Who’s gonna raise their hands and say, “I tossed my kid’s room looking for drugs because he was acting strange.” or “My kid bought prescription drugs from another kid at school so he could stay awake to study.” or “My kid was out till 2am. I’m pretty sure I believe the perfectly innocent story she told, but I’m not really sure.”

NO ONE. Because if you tell another parent at the PTA that you’re not sure if you’re making that right choices or if the values you taught your kid are sticking, exactly how long do you think it’s gonna take for your child to get labeled in a way they don’t come back from?

But this silence breeds paranoia. Everyone else seems to be doing just fine. Even though exactly no one is doing ok. Everyone is second guessing and worried and holding on as tight as possible to survive. And I don’t care what you believe about God, everyone is praying to some kind of higher power to just get their kid to adulthood without needing more therapy than insurance will cover.

Since I’m not in any of this yet, I’ve become the “safe” friend to tell these stories to. Because parents of teens don’t seem to really talk to each other much, and they have to talk to someone. So I’m breaking the confessional seal to tell you all this much:

This is happening to everyone. Yes, even that “good family” you’re thinking about right now. Everyone feels scared and unsure and worried. No one is confident. Everybody is just doing the best that they can.

What I hope more than anything for the next few years is more grace for our kids. I feel bad for high school students right now. This is really hard. It always has been. But the expectations today seem unattainable, and there is just no room for error.

As I recall, that’s when I made a lot of mistakes. That’s when I was supposed to make mistakes. I was shown grace for those screw-ups because people seemed to understand that. I hope to see that understanding, that so important mercy, return.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep rumor mongering, like a good high school girl would. My big piece of juicy gossip: You are not alone. 

Full Lime and then this tiny bit of rage

Toes in the sand. #BasicWhiteGirl

Toes in the sand. #BasicWhiteGirl

He was looking at bird. He swears.

He was looking at bird. He swears.

We rode those boogie boards hundreds of times. During breaks, he would stand there and look so very sad. Who wants to boogie board with me? And now you know why no grandparent has ever said no to him.

We rode those boogie boards hundreds of times. During breaks, he would stand there and look so very sad. Who wants to boogie board with me?
And now you know why no grandparent has ever said no to him.

This guy. He'll do.

This guy. He’ll do.

We caught crabs. {Insert you own joke here.}

We caught crabs. {Insert you own joke here.}

The girls next door. The only time he genuinely smiled in a photo the whole time we were there.

The girls next door. The only time he genuinely smiled in a photo the whole time we were there.

Father son talk. It was something like, "Stop driving your mother crazy!"

Father son talk. It was something like, “Stop driving your mother crazy!”

Take my picture on my bike, Mom!

Take my picture on my bike, Mom!

Riding a bike. It's just like riding a bike.

Riding a bike. It’s just like riding a bike.

Charlie told him that if he ate meat off the bone it would put hair on his chest. So he ate chicken legs. And while he was pretty sure the hairy chest claim was bogus, he had to check to be sure.

Charlie told him that if he ate meat off the bone it would put hair on his chest. So he ate chicken legs. And while he was pretty sure the hairy chest claim was bogus, he had to check to be sure.

Go ahead. YOU get him to smile like a normal person.

Go ahead. YOU get him to smile like a normal person.

We're tourists, after all.

We’re tourists, after all.

That moment when you realize your kid is totally on to you.

That moment when you realize your kid is totally on to you.

Stay golden, Pony Boy!

Stay golden, Pony Boy!

That's my whole world. Right there.

That’s my whole world. Right there.

We went on vacation. I would like to say it was sublime. But I can’t. I can’t because while we were there, we rode our bikes past a house every day with a rental sign declaring it is a “sublime cottage.”

My smart mouth husband declared he wouldn’t want to rent a sub-lime cottage. If he’s renting a cottage, he wants the full lime. I know, if I’d stop laughing, it wouldn’t encourage him so much.

We slept late. We played at the beach. We hunted crabs. We played cards. We rode bikes. We ate at fun places. It was the full lime. It was wonderful.

But vacations end. Sadly, we couldn’t live the beach bum life forever.

When we got home, Charlie went back to work. I had a week to get Jackson ready for third grade. There were no limes at all. The shift was fast and dramatic.

It was heinous. Maybe it was that we weren’t at the beach any more. Maybe August in Arkansas is just too hot to have to think or breathe or talk to people. But nothing seemed to break my way.

My phone broke, the internet went down, the monogramming on the kid’s backpack was wrong, appointments that should have taken 30 minutes took 2.5 hours. I accomplished approximately 25% of the work I needed to get done. They were First World problems of the highest magnitude, but after awhile, it started to pile up and make me the tiniest bit rage-ish.

The low point was shopping for new school clothes for Jackson. He’s outgrown everything from last year. I went to the store three times and brought things home for him to try on. I had to take it all back. There was nothing left for him to do but go to the store with me and try things on. It was roughly 2,349 degrees with a heat index of 3,000. We had to get in and out of a hot car. It was miserable. For everyone involved.

To the clerk at Old Navy, I’m just really sorry about all of it.

11888055_10207417733984054_3973845373275371196_n

Outta MyMind

But then a miracle happened… a blessing from Jesus, if you will.

Another dramatic shift happened on Monday morning when school started. Saints be praised! We are on our way back to a routine. It’s supposed to cool down later in the week. Finally.

It would be nice to be able to write something pithy about limes and limeade or how good Sonic ice is or that I learned some valuable lesson. I guess I learned I need better child care for the last week of summer.

But the only moral I’ve got to this story is that some weeks are great, and some weeks aren’t. So just hold on. And use whatever limes you can find for cocktails with lots of vodka. That’s the best I can do with weeks like that.

As for my kid, he loves his teacher. He thinks it’s gonna be an amazing year. I predict all the best limes are coming his way in third grade.

11891070_10207444253767032_5157319881647730521_n

Stop freaking out about participation trophies

11880578_917285475025716_3560632474789373122_nI’m supposed to be outraged by participation trophies. My Gen X credibility sort of depends on it. Here’s a dirty little secret: I don’t care. I mean I just don’t give a shit.

I would like less plastic crap in my house. But other than that, whatever.

This week, NFL player James Harrison made a big splash because he gave back participation trophies his kids brought home.

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise to boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues”

-James Harrison

I will not spend a lot of time breaking down how the wealthy children of a pro football player don’t “earn” anything in their lives, nor should they. No children “earn” their lives, good or bad. They are provided to them by parents they have no way of selecting, so the “earn” thing is just stupid. Nor will I question why a bunch of people suddenly raised up a confessed domestic abuser as a role model for parenting. We’ll focus only on the matter at hand.

Contrary to what Mr. Harrison would like to assert, in kids’ sports, it does matter if you try your best. When you’re nine, if you try your best is the only thing that matters. Here’s why:

  1. Strictly from an athletic perspective, any coach worth anything will tell you that it is impossible to know in elementary school who will be a good athlete later. There are kids you are just sure are going to be all-stars. Third grade is as good as it gets for them. There are kids you cannot imagine will ever amount to anything. They end up in the pros. There is no way to know what anyone will be right now. So learning to work hard, to push yourself, to go back to practice, even if it didn’t go well last time is the only way to ever see if you’ve got anything in you. That’s why they have to play everyone. Because you never know. Only playing the best players now can get you short-term success. But it can kill you down the road when your amazing players plateau. 
  2. There is a work ethic and a team commitment kids should learn from sports. You go to every practice and game, barring obvious sickness or family obligation exceptions. You’re part of a team. You made the commitment. You show up. You go all in, every time. You try your best. You can’t only try your best when you think you can win. You have to try your best, even when you know you’re going to lose. That’s how you walk around with dignity.
  3. My son swims. He’s on a team, but he’s not only competing against other kids, he’s mostly competing against himself. By pushing himself to do better today than he did last time, he learns to set personal goals and achieve them. It doesn’t matter if he’s never an Olympic swimmer. It matters that learns how to accomplish big things…a little bit at a time.

We have to stop putting adult expectation on children. If you don’t think they know whether or not they’re any good, you have never been on the bench of the losing team after a soccer game. They know, ok. They know.

But they’re not supposed to be good…yet. They’re not supposed to be an expert at anything…yet. They’re not supposed to have mastered skills…yet. They’re not supposed to have “earned” it…yet. THAT’S WHY THEY’RE PLAYING SPORTS AND GOING TO SCHOOL. They’re still learning!!

It does not make them entitled to acknowledge personal accomplishments along the way to big successes or no success at all. 

“There comes a day in every man’s life — and it’s a hard day but there comes a day — when he realizes he’s never going to play professional baseball.”

~Josh Lyman, The West Wing

The guy down the hall at your office who watches British comedies Netflix all day and then writes reports about his overwhelming work load is not the same thing as a kid who hasn’t yet mastered the hand-eye coordination of making contact with a ball and bat. Stop acting like they are. And a participation trophy didn’t make him like that. He made himself like that.

So when these kids who have tried their best (whatever that looks like) come to the end of a season, if the people running the league want to give them a certificate, a ribbon, a trophy or something to acknowledge that they completed year/season/camp, fine. It’s a way to mark the time.

When the vast majority of these kids realize that sports is not going to be their thing, hopefully they will be left with some lessons on work ethic, being part of a team, staying active, setting goals and trying your best. Beyond that, I hope they have memories of having fun. They’re games, for crying out loud.

And when they find their old plastic trophies in a box in the attic, I hope they laugh about the time their friend did that thing or the odd way that one coach yelled or some other memory. Because it was something they did before they used the lessons they learned in kids’ sports to go on to do what they were meant to do.