Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I want to give back. Where do I begin?

As the holiday season approaches and we as a society enter a time where gratitude is on our minds, I'd like to give you something to think about. Did you know that each and every day volunteer organizations are meeting the needs of our community in a quiet but vital undercurrent? These organizations serve food, provide companionship, give transportation, care for animals, assist school kids, coach sports teams, provide medical assitance...the list goes on and on. While many of these organizations have limited numbers paid staff, most would not run without those vital people who are willing to give up an hour, a day, a week of their time. The cost to society if these needs were not met would be great on all levels.

 You probably knew this already. I find that people often do recognize the importance of volunteering and the critical role volunteers play in our communities. The trouble they run in to is knowing where to start. And that is where I believe I can help.

 See, volunteering should work for everyone. It can be hard to find the extra time in our schedules to work for free. Believe me, I get it! So think of it like an exercise class. Me personally? I'm not in to running. No offense to those of you who are; but if you see me running you should assume a dinosaur is chasing me because it will never be my go-to activity. At the same time, I love yoga. I can find time in my schedule to hit the mat now and then- because I love it. It fits.

 A volunteer job is the same way. If dogs scare you and traffic gives you anxiety you probably won't be able to pencil in volunteer time at an animal rescue or a Meals On Wheels route for long. Most likely you will start with a great enthusiasm for making the world a better place but that will taper off as your work schedule gets busy and your family needs increase. On the other hand, if you love reading and choose to volunteer at your local library, those hours you committed to the job can become your respite from a hectic schedule.

Now the question is this: how do you know what will be a good fit? If you haven't volunteered before or don't know what opportunities are available, where do you start?
For that, I give you this advice: think about 4 people in your life who have helped you form your worldview. These doesn't need to be mentors or people you have spent long hours with. Though loved ones and mentors certainly can be your inspiration, also think of people who have formed your "postcard" memories. A stranger who lent you a blanket or umbrella during a particularly rainy soccer game; a lady down the street who gave you tips on gardening when you were young; a veteran whose experience gave you glimpse in to what it really takes to live in "the land of the free". Once you have those influential people and moments in mind, consider what they all have in common. Were you grateful to be warm and dry? Glad of the companionship or happy to know more about growing food? Humbled by the experience of a soldier or moved by the need for more advocacy? The answers to these questions will tell you where to begin your volunteer search.

 For me one of those postcard moments was a childhood friend named Frank. I was 4 years old and lived across the cul-de-sac from an apartment building that housed senior citizens. Frank was a senior who acted as caregiver for his ailing wife. I don't remember what Frank looked like. I think he was tall, but at 4 years old everyone seemed tall to me. All I remember is that he would meet me at the mailbox with a smile and ask me how my day was. I loved talking to Frank. He was an adult that I wasn't related to who valued me as a person. He also lent me baking supplies when my mom was short for a recipe and I wanted cookies. And he made me a quilt that is still in my family's possession to this day.

 Fast forward 30 years. Today I manage two Meals On Wheels People sites. People often ask me what my motivation is in doing this work. Frank remains a big part of that motivation. Frank made me feel validated when I was younger. I'd like to make people Frank's age feel validated now. At the same time my work with Meals On Wheels has made me really appreciate food safety- so when it comes my turn to volunteer for a sports team, I am totally on it with the snack shack. I even enjoy it. Heck, I'll do it an extra time or two. But ask me to count plays and I will probably have a hard time making that work.

  The world has many helpers and yet there is never a shortage in need. Filling those needs can seem overwhelming. So as you approach the holidays with thoughts of gratitude and giving back, consider this: you can't fill all those needs. You can, however, fill the needs that you were called to fill. Start there and the whole world will be better (yours included).

Know how you want to help? Here are some links to get you started.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

It's more than "no means no".

This week I came across the letter written by Brock Turner's father to the courts, pleading for leniency in sentencing.  Like so many others I was upset and disgusted by it in such a way that I found myself speechless and struggling to put words to my feelings.  I read opinion pieces by others and Facebook statuses from friends.  While I agreed with many of them- nothing summed up my specific thoughts.
This morning the words just formed.  I've been chewing on them all day to determine wether or not to share them.  But I think I have to, because I think I bring a perspective to this that others may not have the experience to  see.
As the mother of a teenage son, I have had the "rape is not ok" talk.  I'm quite proud of myself for getting over my aversion of talking birds and bees enough to say this rather explicitly and with no loopholes.  I also don't believe this was a one time conversation. This is a conversation I will repeat though out the years.  It's a conversation that will begin with the little dude soon as well.

What bothered me most about the Brock Turner case was reading the letter written by his victim.  Specifically when she writes that she still isn't sure that he knows he did anything wrong, even now.

Warning: this post gets pretty personal from here on out.

I don't often think of myself as a rape survivor.  Not that I don't feel I belong in the category, but more that after many years and lots of healing I no longer feel that it defines me in the way it once did.  If this post is a shock to you, it isn't because I didn't find you worthy of sharing with- it's because for a long time it was private, and then I had to face it, and when I did face it,  it healed in a way that allowed me to move on enough to not talk about much.  
My rapist was a kid very much like Brock Turner.  Hard working parents, solid family, good in school, well accomplished in his chosen sport, on track to get a scholarship from a school that I knew I'd probably never even get accepted in.  All of his teachers would have said he was exemplary.  His parents were justifiably proud of his accomplishments.  I certainly think everyone assumed  he knew right from wrong.
Here's the thing: the one part that still haunts me almost 20 years later is that in most cases he DID know right from wrong.  And to this day I don't know if he knows he was wrong.  I often wonder if I ran in to him at the store would he shy away, knowing the years of damage he caused me and not wanting to make a scene?  Or would he approach it like a meeting with any high school girlfriend and be shocked when I struggled to keep my composure while getting away as fast as I could?
This probably seems crazy, right?  How could he not know? In a day and age where you can find awesome YouTube videos about consent and victims are speaking out more than ever- and coming from the place on an empowered 30something and not the teen who struggled with feelings of inadequacy at most turns- it seems crazy. But the truth is, he may not have known because I didn't know.
It was a really confusing time.  I had reluctantly but with full consent given this boy a special part of me.  The first time, and all the emotions that came with it.  But after that first time I felt regret.  I knew I couldn't magically take back my virginity but I figured God would at least appreciate if I didn't continue making the same choices.  So I decided not to do it again.  Since I was sure this boy loved and respected me I was sure he would understand.
That night I went to his house like I had many times but when I got there he was home alone.  I was immediately nervous because, like most girls had learned, it isn't a good idea to put yourself at risk by being home alone with a boy who you don't want to have sex with.  I honestly don't remember much beyond my initial feeling that this wasn't a good idea and later staring up at the ceiling, crying, saying "I don't want to" in a quiet voice with no power behind it because I didn't feel empowered at all.  I do remember that afterwards I was in so much pain that he gave me a pill of some sort and I lay on his couch in a daze worrying that I would be out too late and get in trouble.  On my way home it started snowing lightly and I was scared because I didn't know how to drive in the snow.  When I got home my mom was upset because I was out too late and she was worried I wouldn't get home safely.
I never saw him again because he went out of state for a tournament over the winter break and found someone new.  When he called to break up with me he was surprised at how hostile I was.  For that matter, I was surprised at how hostile I was.  I was sick and angry in so many ways.  That something special had been lost, that I allowed it to be lost, that I gave it to someone who would dump me over the phone on Christmas Eve and that I still wasn't feeling ok about the last time I saw him.  
He went to a school far away so I never had to see him again.  We both worked as lifeguards but there are lots of pools and I simply made sure he wasn't on staff before taking hours at a new pool. It wasn't unusual for teens to date and break up and not want to work together so nobody really questioned it.
In the spring I met a guy who I fell for.  I had a panic attack while we were kissing that made it obvious there was a reason, so I ended up telling him about the last time I'd had sex and how awful it was.  And he said "that's rape".  And I swear to you, it was like a lightbulb went off.  I had never put those words to it.  Instead I had berated myself for thinking that the tears and the obvious lack of enjoyment and feeble cries of "I don't want to" were enough to get the message across.  I had been thinking that because I never got up and shouted "NO!", and because I had already done it consentually, and because I had placed myself in the position to be alone with him, it was my fault.  And here was someone else saying with actual matter of factness that I was raped.  
It changed my life.  I didn't immediately get past the hurt, but I had words for it.  And I had acknowledgement that it wasn't all my fault.
And that's why Brock Turner sticks out to me.  Because not only does he not seem to realize what he did but his father also comes across as not getting it.  And since he was basically the golden child, and she wasn't screaming "I don't consent" at the top of her lungs, they seem stunned that he is labeled as a rapist.  After all, he just made one bad decision.
And that's why I am sharing this.  Because it hit me this morning that as the mother of sons I have a big job to do.  I have to be sure they know rape isn't ok.  And I have to make sure they know that rape sometimes looks like it does in the movies, where a girl is running in horror as a monster chases her down the alley before ripping her clothes off.  And sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes it looks a lot quieter.  A lot less violent.  But it still leaves a victim with years of turmoil that feels like water too deep to stand in.  And sometimes rapists don't look like the big, bulky guy leering in the shadows but the guy who everyone thinks is going places.  And that just because the voice is quieter or the act is one of selfishness rather than outright malice, it still isn't ok.  
I don't really know how to end this post.  I guess I'll just end it by saying that I respect the hell out of Brock Turner's victim, and wish her healing and strength.