Sunday, November 19, 2017

I Am Thankful For...

Around this time last year... I was working my tail off. I was a single lady living with three roommates in Springfield, Missouri, trying desperately to maintain my stamina in my last year of a competitive guard program while completing my final college coursework prior to my internship. I was preparing for student teaching, mentally, emotionally, and physically as I scrambled to plan how I was going to meet my requirements for teacher certification. I was also preparing for my last PRAXIS exams in Missouri, because you have to take five tests to finalize a teaching license.

I found myself in a car, on the way home, ready to help my mother fix Thanksgiving dinner for us, my dad, my grandparents, my aunt, and my uncle (which is actually quite a large gathering for my small family). I was also determined to take an actual break from schoolwork, and not complete any of the preparation work listed previously over the holiday week.

An awful lot can change in a year.

Not only do my aunt and uncle now live in Philadelphia, but I am no longer a single lady, I have no roommates, and I live in Nashville, Tennessee. I have completed student teaching, passed my exams, acquired a degree, and am now a kindergarten teacher who works with at-risk students while I blog my way through the weekends and work my way through graduate school. But I mean... Other than that, everything is pretty much the same.

Every year, I post what I am thankful for. And this year, it's an awful lot. Because I stumbled upon this quote from Grey's Anatomy a few days ago...

So do it. Decide. 
Is this the life you want to live? 
Is this the person you want to love?
Is this the best you can be?
Can you be stronger? 
Kinder? More Compassionate?
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
And decide. 
                              -Meredith Grey

...and for the first time in my life, I realized that all of my answers were a resounding yes. 

This is the life I want to live. 
He is the person that I want to love. 
I am working so hard to be the best I can be. 
Can I always be stronger? Kinder? More compassionate?
Yes. Yes. And yes. 

And I will continue to work on those things every day. But for now, I am thankful and content for so many things.

I am thankful for the people in my life. 
For my students, who give me a reason to get up each morning.
For my school family, who never make me feel as though I'm going at such a thankless job alone.
For my parents, who love and support me every day, in every way.
For my honorary brother and sister, who always make me feel close to their heart even from miles away.
For my best friends, who keep in touch and share their lives with me whether they live in Nashville or South Dakota.
For my boyfriend, who gave me the best reason to start my life out of college the way that I did.
And for my God, who made it all happen.

I am thankful for the place I get to call home. 
For Nashville, my baby New York City; an urban area with good art, good music, good coffee, and good theatre.
For my apartment, which I organized, furnished, and decorated all by myself, to make it a place I could truly call my own.
For Dylan's house, with his roommates, who always make me feel at home from the moment I walk through the door, and for letting me call it home when my apartment has mice, smells of paint, or was under final renovation.
And for my classroom, where I can provide a better environment for my kinders every day than the environment they come from.

I am thankful for my job. 
For its paycheck, no matter how big or small, which lets me provide for myself the things that I need, and enjoy some of the luxuries that I want.
For its flexibility, because I can exercise my creativity in every lesson I plan for.
For its schedule, so I can enjoy long breaks with my friends and family (and collect my overtime... *wink wink*).
For its purpose, since all students need to learn to read and count, but my kiddos also need to learn to love, laugh, and celebrate life.
For its influence, because I am truly making a difference during every second of every day.
And for its fulfillment, because this is what I have wanted to do since I was a little girl.

I am thankful for the internet. 
For without it... I would not be able to go through graduate school on my own time, connect with blog readers all over the world, or experience basic life as a millennial woman.

I am thankful for my health. 
For having to go to the doctor so little.
For having enough food to fuel my body...and a little extra to enjoy some snacks with.
For having clean water to fill up a bottle, like, twelve times each school day.

I am thankful for my self care time.
Which includes everything from my scalding hot showers, to reading books under a blanket, to crafting for the holidays.

I am thankful for you. 
For my blog, which gives me an outlet to write and a mission to build.
For my platform, which allows me to say what I need to say.
And for my readers, who give me a reason to keep this site going.

I'm signing off for the week to eat way too much turkey. I hope you're doing the same! And just a reminder to my mental health warriors this holiday season::

To my anxiety warriors: Don't let the gatherings and the parties and the family / friend endeavors ruin what could be such a magical time of year. Slow down. Take a breath. Take care of yourself.
To my depression warriors: Don't feel guilty for where your head is at. Just do what you gotta do. Do your best, beautiful. That's all anyone could ever ask of you.
To my eating disorder warriors: It doesn't matter how much you ate yesterday. You still need to eat today.

Enjoy your holiday. Be happy. Be joyful. Be thankful.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

#MeToo, But You Already Forgot

Why some women won't share, haven't shared, or think it's too late to share. 

It's been a little over a week since the incredibly serious #MeToo movement mushroomed across social media. Rapidly. And naturally, much like the also-incredibly-serious #NeverForget movement of 9-11... after about five days, all of the posts regarding the awareness had subsided. We went back to videos of celebrity puppies and photos of drunken Halloween parties.

What started as a single response to actress Alyssa Milano's tweet, #MeToo blossomed into a ploy for awareness regarding sexual harassment and assault. Which -to clarify- spans everything from an objectifying cat-call out a sports car window to full fledged rape. #NoMeansNo. Most of us remember that one. It popped up a couple of years ago and lasted about a week.

The intentions of #MeToo were golden. The entire idea was that if everyone (men, women, children, etc.) who had ever been raped, sexually harassed, assaulted, etc., would post #MeToo on their status, then the public would gain a better understanding of how common this issue really is in today's society. And everyone was asking me, "Since you run an entire blog around this subject of objectification and confidence despite hardship, why aren't you saying anything?"

"Just wait," I responded, in order to better prove my point. "Just wait."

And I waited. Waited to see how long the movement would last. The verdict? About a week and a half. Which, I admit, was about five days longer than I thought it would.

It was the talk of the town for nearly two weeks. Women who have been sharing their experiences for years and women who took the opportunity to share for the first time were posting side by side. And it was beautiful. It was brave. It was powerful.

For a week and a half.

The movement will fade. 

The main reason I never posted #MeToo was exactly for that reason. The movement would last for a week. Maybe two. And you're like, "Duh Bethany. It's an awareness movement. It isn't supposed to last forever." I know this. You know this. Everyone knows this.

But it bothers me.

Because these women? Who have actually been sexually assaulted or raped? Their lives are changed forever. It would've seemed like a business strategy. A way to gain traction for my blog to post smack in the middle of the #MeToo movement. And that's not why we're here.

I'm posting now because, like these women, sexual assault has changed my life. Because, whether a sexual harassment victim has been raped in the dead of night and received therapy for seven years or has simply had their butt slapped in the middle of the high school hallway, we are all women who have learned to alter our way of living in order to protect ourselves from this problem. We have learned to cross the street when a man is walking along the same sidewalk. We have learned to park under streetlights, never get gas for the car after dark, and never go in public bathrooms by ourselves. We carry alarms in our purses. Pepper spray on our keychains is so common that they sell them at the grocery store. Some women even carry handbags big enough to hold tazers, guns, and the licenses that accompany these more intense weapons. Self-defense classes are selling out, as well as being offered for a discount at most college recreation centers. The list goes on and on.

It's become a money game! Businesses are thriving on the fact that women need to protect themselves. Pepper spray comes in all sorts of cute colors and shapes. They make cute little taser holsters and they give you a framed certificate when you graduate from a self-defense class. That's an award for the progress made in your 10 classes...and the 180 dollars you paid up front.

The truth is, the movements are important, but any actual progress towards the goal of elimination would "hurt the economy." Because if we didn't need to protect ourselves, these businesses would close, these products would be mostly discontinued, and the entire sex industry stemming from sex trafficking would cease to exist. And we can't have that because we might lose porn. Welcome to the logic of 2017.

"It's too late."
Some women have told me, "It's too late for me to share. The movement is already over."

My darling, if it is your time to be brave, it is your time to be brave. You do not have to share when everyone else tells you to. That literally defeats the purpose of the movement and if they're telling you that you're too late, then they need to remember what the movement is really about.

Some people can't understand that while movements fade, your experience has changed the way you live and breathe. It has changed the way you look at this world. And that does not fade. The crossing the sidewalk, the fear of being alone at night, the flashbacks or the nightmares or the guilt or whatever you experience does not go away. So you share your story when you're good and ready. Don't worry about the ones telling you that it's too late, because they don't get it anyway.

"My story isn't as bad as theirs."
Maybe not. But it's no less valid. Even if some people have it "so much worse than you," your pain is still pain. Your fears are still fears. And your story still has a right to be heard. Even if you just ran to the bathroom crying after someone slapped your butt. Even if it just made you angry that you were objectified out a car window.

You count. And you matter.

"It feels like I'm begging for attention." 
This was reason #2 for me as well. So I totally get it, dear sister. "You're just whining," you will hear, and "You're just blowing this way out of proportion so that you can get someone to tell you you're brave." or "You're just doing this so someone will ask about it and give you an invitation to rant." or "You just want pity."

And while this is usually completely untrue, there are people who genuinely believe this. I won't tell you there aren't. In fact, I've met many of them, and this one came from my own personal facebook.

As if it was all about her. As if she had the right to judge people who felt they should share their story simply because she didn't feel like she needed to. This also happens vice versa, when a person can't understand why others won't share their stories simply because he/she felt called to share hers.

One of my friends countered the comment by saying that she understood where the woman was coming from, but she didn't agree. "Yes, every woman and lots of men have probably experienced it," my friend responded, "so I understand how you would think posting your story is a ploy for attention. But that's the point. To raise awareness. Someone always has it worse than you. And someone always has it easier. But the point of the movement is to show numbers. It's to show how many have been impacted my objectification, harassment, assault, rape, etc."

And, because the woman is an average person in the 21st century, she decided to start a comment fight because my friend didn't agree. "I'm not saying everyone does it for attention," you could practically hear her spat through the font, "but when I see people put it in their status and then someone else comments and then they respond with their story then I feel that is for attention."

Upon reading that, I began to get angry. Basically, she saw someone post "#MeToo" and felt that it was a ploy for attention because someone else asked for the poster's story.

What that sounds like to me... is that a woman posted "#MeToo" but didn't include her story because she wanted to raise awareness for what happened to her but didn't want it to seem like she wanted attention. And then someone else was interested in knowing her story, so she told them. I fail to see how that was a direct ploy for attention.

My friend failed to see it also. "Some people are just more open about their past," my friend responded calmly. "I suppose you'll never know anyone's actual heart behind it... But that's also not for anyone else to judge."

So if you aren't posting for attention, post anyway. The point is to show numbers, not motives. People will always judge you if they think you want attention. But they shouldn't be judging people anyway.

"I'm just not ready to share." 
And that is totally okay.

People who can't understand will try to get you to talk. People who love you and believe that you can influence the world will also try to get you to talk. It doesn't make them bad people, but it's hard to say no when they say something like, "You could change so many lives and reach so many people if you would talk about your story."

Listen closely, beautiful...

It is not your job to heal other people. Especially not before you heal yourself. After all you've been through, you owe yourself a freedom before you set out to free others. It is much smarter to break someone else's handcuffs after you are out of your own cage.

So if you shared a #MeToo statement, thank you. I do not think you were asking for attention. I think you are brave, and strong, and beautiful.

And if you did not share a #MeToo statement, you have no reason to feel any guilt. Or shame. Or fear. No matter how big or small, your pain hurts. Your story is valid. Your life matters.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Tackling the Tennessee DMV

Ahhh, fall break. A week provided by the Metro Nashville Public School district to allow us time to rest, re-cooperate, and rejuvenate.

In my case, however, (you had to see this coming) the only thing I managed to finish with was a valid Tennessee state license. And everyone's heard enough horror stories at the DMV to know they should be prepared. But I was exceptionally prepared. As a human with very little free time and very high anxiety...that's kind of my deal.

I started bright and early on Monday morning with my manilla folder of required documents and applications in hand. But come Wednesday afternoon when I closed down the joint and still didn't have a license, I texted Dylan in absolute rage to which he replied, "Have you started live tweeting yet?" because that's how he got through his 5-day adventure at the DMV when he first moved to Tennessee.

Now, as many of you already know, I completely suck at twitter. It's only 140 characters, and wordy people like myself just can't get everything in. I'm actually impressed by people who can tweet effectively. It's a skill set I clearly did not acquire in my millennial education. Anyway...back to the DMV... (see? wordy.) I couldn't complete my DMV experience in 140 characters. Thus, the blog. 

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

So this all started nearly a month ago, when I came home from Target all happy go lucky and 200 less dollars in the bank from when I left my apartment to go to Target. I was on my way to Dylan's for a movie night. But if you know anything about me, "I'm on my way," doesn't mean I'm in my car and driving his direction. It means I've just finished showering, I'm putting on sweatpants, I'm running a clorox wipe over my counters, I'm loading extra dishes into the dishwasher, I'm turning off lights, oh I need a pillow and a blanket for movie night, now I'm putting on shoes, I'm grabbing my purse, and - oh yeah! - I can take my trash out to the dumpster on the way to my car. Then, I'll be on my way. Efficiency, ya know?

Sometimes my head gets in a little more hurry than my body and it doesn't remind me to go slow and be careful. So when I chucked my trash bag over the top of the dumpster, my wallet went in with it. And by the time Dylan (bless his soul) and I could get back there to dumpster dive, it had already been emptied (which, of course, didn't stop us from trying anyway). So after Dylan had suited up in lavender kitchen gloves, wrapped an old t-shirt around his face like a bandit, and explored the depths of the dumpster with no wallet in hand, it was time to start cancelling credit cards and ordering new insurance cards. ATM cards. AAA cards... Cards, cards, cards.

And so let's just recap for a moment:

  • I have tossed my wallet into a dumpster like an idiot. 
  • I have called my boyfriend to dumpster dive like a desperate idiot. 
  • I have lost my rose gold, champagne Kate Spade wristlet. 
  • I have lost my drivers license, which, by the way, is still an Arkansas issued license so my plans to easily get a Tennessee license over fall break have just been ruined. 
  • I have lost all my access to health insurance. 
  • I have lost all access to any money from any bank or any credit card ever. 
  • I have lost TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS in Starbucks rewards. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. 

To which Dylan says, "Oh hun... You need a drink."

Why yes I do. Let's go get one. Oh wait... I don't have a freaking ID. 

So that was my life for two weeks. Carrying one of Dylan's credit cards and transferring money to it from my bank account until I could regain access to my debit cards. Trying desperately to avoid all possible scenarios where I would need a drivers license or ID while also trying not to get sick or injured because I have no health insurance so my treatment would be at least twice as much and I don't have any money at the present time anyway.

Sub-moral of the story... Don't throw your wallet in a dumpster. It will ruin your life. 

So on week three, it was fall break. I was off work, and I was on a mission. I even had a clearance letter in hand from the Arkansas DMV stating that my license was active and in good standing. I had three forms of identification, legal documents, proof of residency, a newly issued debit card, and I could've sworn I'd be good to go. Of course, we all know where this is going. I wasn't good to go.

So if you ever find yourself in this intensely desperate situation, I've been there, girl. And I'm here to help ya out.

Bethany's Quick-Tips for Tackling the Tennessee DMV

Start early. Be there when they open and allow five business days. You'll probably need them.

Be overly prepared. You will need:

  • a photo ID
  • your original birth certificate
  • your original Social Security card
  • two proofs of identify
  • a proof of residency. (Take mail that is still in the envelope. They don't accept it if there's no envelope.) 
  • an active drivers license in hand (or for those pathetic enough to throw theirs in the dumpster, you need a clearance letter from your original state. But it has to be faxed to them from the original state's DMV. You can't bring one in. You also can't email it to them. You can't even fax it yourself. They think you forged it if you do these things and it wastes two days of your time.) 

Don't go during fall break. The good news is: The DMV is open the same hours as every other working human at a normal business is at work, so if you're a teacher or in some other seasonal occupation, you get awesome time off like fall break to handle these things. The bad news is: every teenager and their dog is there to take their driver's test and it takes for-ever.

Look out for crazies. So this woman comes in and walks up to the check in machine. It asks if she has a Tennessee license, and she clicks no. Then, it asks her to enter her Tennessee license number (which, I agree, is a little messed up considering she just told it she didn't have a Tennessee license, but whatever.). Any normal person would've clicked the I-don't-have-a-Tennessee-license-number in the corner of the screen, but oh no. She walks over the counter, cuts in front of a family of four, and says, "That machine over there needs me to enter my Tennessee license number but I have a license from West Virginia."
"Oh," the DMV woman replies nicely, a rare occurrence at the DMV, "then you can just enter your West Virginia license number."
"But that's not what this says," the woman persists, "It asks for a Tennessee license number."
"Yes ma'am, but if you don't have one, then you need to enter a valid license number from whatever state your license is in."
"But that's not what it says! You need to change the machine!"
"Ma'am, we can't change the machine."
"But you're asking me to lie. I would be putting in a West Virginia license number for a question that asked for a Tennessee number. That's lying. Because I don't have a Tennessee license."
This went on for about twenty minutes before she sat down without a wait ticket number (so who knows if she ever got service or not), and began speaking in tongues. I thought for sure I'd found the perfect significant other for Sheldon Cooper.

Find the eternal optimist. There's always one. In my case, it was a sassy 16 year old who'd just received her first drivers license. "Congratulations!" her grandmother clapped from her seat in the waiting area, "You got your license!"
"Forget that, girl," the girl replied, "it's time to eat!"
They'd obviously been there for awhile.
The girl breezed right past her grandmother and headed for the door, and the grandmother stopped and looked at me just before following the girl.
"Apparently," she said, " you don't have to be a heavy set, 80 year old woman like your grandmother to get excited about food. Learn somethin' new every day!"

Familiarize yourself with the actual process of driver's services. Turns out, the DMV only gives you your license. In Tennessee, there's an entirely separate office in the courthouse that will issue you your car registration and tags, and yes, it is on the other side of town and closes 30 minutes earlier than the DMV. But you can't go there first because you need an active Tennessee license. So don't waste a day trying to do it the other way around like I did. Refer to guideline #1.

If you ever buy a car for your daughter, put her name on the title. I remember looking at my title when my parents first bought me the car at age 16. "I'm a little worried because the car isn't in my name," I told mom. Even at age 16, I was fairly anxiety driven so I worried about things five years in the future like that. "Oh that won't be a problem," she reassured me. Guess what. It was a problem. And we had to email her an entirely separate application that she had to complete before I could finalize my application for Tennessee registration.

Get your car emissions tested, like, yesterday. I'd never even heard of such a thing as required emissions testing but they don't give you any sympathy due to your ignorance. You will need the confirmation page to acquire your car tags after you finish your registration application.

Believe it or not, it could always be worse. "I hate this place," the woman sitting next to me on day five told me.
"Same," I said indifferently at that point in the game, "I've been here five days cause I lost my wallet." (That sounded at least a little better than I-threw-my-wallet-in-the-dumpster.)
"Yeah," she told me, "I've been here for three because my car got hot wired and stolen for a series of bank robberies and my purse was in it."

Just when you think your dramatic tale is the worst...there's always someone who can one-up you. Who knows... Maybe you can search for her blog post on the internet, too.