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 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.

Monday, October 9, 2017

"You're Too Pretty To Cry," & Other Lies We Learn Young

I was speeding down the kindergarten lunch line, handing out student ID cards. It doesn't matter how much I organize that stack in the morning... They're never in the correct order by lunchtime. And since I was trying not to drop my lunch, spill my water, tip our class ticket cup, and scatter the cards all over the floor, I hardly looked at my students at all.

"Sweetie, what's wrong?" I heard the lunch lady ask at the other end of the line. And I must say... Even though I hadn't seen the little girl silently crying, I couldn't say I was really surprised. We have a meltdown at least twice a day, so it's best to take care of the problem quickly and move on. And because of this knowledge I gained on the third day of school, my teacher brain tuned in to the little girl's voice as she said, "My momma couldn't send me a dollar for lunch today."

Poor thing. I recognized the underlying problem immediately, for I work at a crisis school, where it is not uncommon for students to show up without a trace of lunch money. And somewhere along the line, someone told my kindergarteners that if they didn't have their dollar, they couldn't eat that day. Which, by the way, might have reminded two of them to bring their money, but told the other fifteen of them that if they didn't have money that day, they better steal someone else's or they won't get to eat.

Because the underlying problem is never really about the dollar. It's that my kids come from high poverty families and they are starving, because school is the only time of day they get to eat, and without their dollar, there is no food until they return the next day.

And so, I expected the lunch lady to say something like, That's alright, baby, you can still eat today! Or Don't worry sweetie, we'll get you something anyway. Perhaps even, You can eat today, just make sure you remember your dollar tomorrow. 

But no. Instead she said, "Oh sweetheart, wipe up those tears. You're too pretty to cry."

I was pretty sure the steam was about to explode from my ears. That didn't take care of the problem at all! I wanted to scream, In fact... You created ANOTHER ONE because you didn't want to deal with it!!! 

I dropped everything in my hands. I don't think I've ever crusaded down my line faster. I reached the little girl just as she was attempting to dry her cheeks. Her eyes were still watering, still full of tears that would have been shed. Her lip continued to quiver, and she could not breathe steadily. She still had a few scattered huffs. But she was fighting it. She was fighting hard.

I wrapped her in a hug and said, "Listen, honey. Just remember your dollar tomorrow okay? You have to pay for food at cafeterias, just like if you were at the grocery store, but they'll let you eat today. I promise."

She stood taller, rolled her shoulders back, and raised her head up. Had her lip not been quivering, and her eyes not been watering, her posture might have fooled you into thinking she was okay. But she wasn't.

"Do you need to take a break for a second?" I asked her softly. She nodded.

"Okay, just come right over here and take a minute for yourself," I told her, placing some tissues on the table in front of her, "You can get back in line when you're ready to eat."

She maintained her posture until she reached the table I had designated for her. She folded her arms out, lay her head down, and let it all loose. She cried / heaved / sobbed for a good ten minutes.

And then, it was the strangest thing. She sat up, dried her tears, blew her nose, smiled, and got right back in line. Not another sign of those tears all day.

"What on Earth!" the lunch lady exclaimed, "That little one of yours cries almost every day in here!"

"Because she needs to cry," I snapped a little too quickly, "And she's not too pretty to take care of herself."

She was lucky I stopped there and didn't launch into my soap box. That, however, is what my blog is for.

So here I am, friends! Hello, and welcome! To my readers, parents, teachers, coaches, and friends: It doesn't matter if you have a kid, are expecting one, or never want one in your life. It doesn't matter if you work with kindergarteners or work with teenagers. It doesn't even matter if you work in a cubicle and haven't encountered a child since your third cousin twice removed brought her baby to Christmas dinner five years ago.

We all have emotions. Adults, teens, and kids. I think that much is self-explanatory. I don't think anyone would dare to argue that statement. But adults and (for the most part) teenagers have learned ways to handle these emotions. Sometimes, our coping mechanisms are healthy, and sometimes they are not. That much is usually up for debate. But nonetheless, we have ways of handling these emotions we experience on a regular basis.

And some of us are more emotional than others. Some people can blow things off instantly. Others need a five minute "vent time" and then they're good to go. And then there's the friends (and we all have at least one) who will dwell on one scenario and emotion for several days straight.

Children don't know any of this. Not only do they not have a single clue on how to handle their emotions, they don't even know what emotions are! Feelings and emotions are very complex topics for a group of kindergarteners. They usually know whether or not they are sad, mad, or happy. But that's about it. They can rarely even tell you why they feel a certain way, unless they're angry. "I hit him because he called me names!" you might hear. But if you ask them why they are happy, they say, "I don't know. I just am." And if you ask them why they're sad? Yep. "I don't know. I just am."

What about emotions like excited? Nervous? Anxious? Stressed? Or what about i'm-too-poor-for-food-but-it's-a-monday-and-i-haven't-eaten-in-three-days?

They have no idea what these emotions are; what they feel like, or how to handle them. My little sweetheart in the front of my lunch line was nervous. Anxious. And scared out of her mind. Would she get to eat lunch that day? Would the lunch lady be mad at her for not having her dollar? Would anyone help her to make sure this never happened again? She didn't know. And she didn't know how to ask.

All she knew was that she needed to cry. Which is a perfectly healthy and recommended coping mechanism, by the way. Contrary to suppression as she was told she should do in order to "preserve her beauty." Forget that.

My little sweetheart knew her self-care coping mechanism (it was intrinsic and obvious to her), and she was beginning to use it. And then she was told that she was too pretty to cry, implying that she would not remain pretty if she let those tears slip. That she would no longer be pretty if she took care of herself. She knew how to meet her own needs, and she even knew how to meet them without the help of someone else, a feat not often conquered by a kindergartener. She knew that she needed to cry; and yet, she felt that she could not both take care of her needs and also remain a beautiful little girl.

This is not an uncommon statement for girls to hear. Boys, too. Boys, especially. Tears are weak. Tears are ugly. And you're either supposed to be a tough man or a strong, independent woman. This leaves no room for tears.

I feel that this is a good time to let you know that I probably cry at least once every other day. Sometimes daily. Because I have to admit, I cry as a coping mechanism for everything. 

Sad? I cry.

Happy? I cry.

Mad? I yell while I'm crying.

Stressed? You bet I'm cryin'!

Anxious? Hyperventilating and crying.

Scared? Overheating and crying.

When I was heartbroken from the worse breakup I ever had? Crying.

When I accidentally floored it backwards into a concrete pillar in a parking garage? Crying.

Crying, crying, crying. But it never lasts very long. Unless I'm trying to suppress it. 

As a little girl, I'm not sure where I got the notion that crying was bad. No lunch lady ever told me I was too pretty to cry (thank god, or I likely wouldn't have ever learned differently). Perhaps it was because my mom was a crier, too, but I rarely saw it. (I, too, now tend to hide my tears if I am in public or in the presence of people who do not know about my need for tears.) Or maybe it was because my dad was a real fix-it kind of guy, and he couldn't fix tears so I tried not to cry so he wouldn't feel bad. (He has since learned to leave the room until I'm finished and then crack a joke upon return.)

But recently, I began expressing this need vocally. "Seriously, guys, sometimes I just cry. It's my way of dealing with basically everything. If you can handle it, great. If not, just leave me alone for like five minutes and I'll come back out after and everything will be normal again." And though there was some skepticism at first, it didn't take people long to figure this out.

Now, after a long day, I can expect Dylan to ask how I am feeling. And if it was anything other than "fine," he usually sits with me for five minutes while I cry and vent about it and then we fix dinner. Or go to the park. Or go right on about our evening. He doesn't think a single thing of those self-care tears, anymore. And neither do I.

You are not too pretty to cry. You're not too strong to cry. You aren't too tough, or too independent, or too manly to cry. Whatever lie you've been told about tears is not true. In fact, if you let those tears go when you need them to, you are strong enough to take care of your hurting mind when the rest of the world seems to think less of you for doing so. And that is something to be admired.

And if you made it all the way to this point in the post and you're thinking to yourself, "Okay... I feel like I should feel more empowered by this, but I'm just not really a crier..." then good for you! Perhaps you know someone who is and you can encourage them. But even if that's not the case...

The point is, we are taught in some form or fashion that allowing ourselves to care for our mind is something we are to be ashamed of doing. Or we should at least be ashamed to do it in public. Because god forbid we offend anyone (because that never happens...) or make anyone uncomfortable. After all, to cry in front of others and make them slightly more uncomfortable might imply that we are inconsiderate; that it is our job to make sure others are more secure in this world than we are. That their comfort should be preserved at our expense. That because a lunch lady might not want to deal with us when we are hurting, it is somehow our duty to make sure our pain is sacrificed for their convenience.

You are not required to set yourself on fire in order to keep others warm. 

And we are not too pretty, too independent, too anything to lose composure for thirty seconds in order to let off a bit of whatever burden we are shouldering. But we are taught the opposite of this from such an early age.

And that's just one of the reasons we're so screwed up by the time we turn twenty. Because we learn the opposite of self care before we even complete our first semester of kindergarten.