What I’d Do

I was taken aback this morning by an Op Ed authored by Angelina Jolie on her double mastectomy. She has a gene, BRCA1 which radically increases her chance of developing breast cancer, the disease that took her own mother.

I was pleased that she was able to go through the surgeries without the press poking and prodding at her, because after all it’s a very private thing, deciding to have that level of surgery. I was also unsurprised (but disheartened) to see so many people immediately piling on the complaint band wagon. Everything from cynicism about her privilege (which she acknowledged) to her looks was up for grabs like a feeding frenzy for the 24/7 social media set. Which I suppose I am a part of, since here I am writing a post.

Here’s the thing. If I could afford the tests to determine what parts of me would go wrong and then I could fix them? I’d spend the money and the time and the pain to fix them. For me, for my husband, for my kids. Watching someone die, like Jolie did, and seeing that future as a real possibility, leaves a deep mark.

My mother has some form of dementia. It could be Vascular, Lewy Body Disorder or Alzheimer’s. The only way to find out would be to do an expensive autopsy after she died and then it might tell me what is possibly in store for me as I age.

I’ve watched her diminish, rage, forget, and melt away into a human puddle. It’s damaged our family, frightened the kids, and I won’t begin to tell you what it’s done to me personally. I’d do pretty much anything to avoid that, both for me and especially for my children. Hell, if the docs came back and said, “We’ve discovered that it’s all about teeth and hair, get em pulled and shave your head and you’ll never get Alzheimer’s!” I’d be bald and wearing dentures right now.

I’m glad she had the resources to find out and to take care of herself. I hope she takes this path and helps other people do the same thing. I bet a foundation would do a damn lot of good, at least for lowered cost testing.

I think that sharing her story was really brave, especially because she as a woman (considered a beautiful one) has so much to lose by publicizing it.

But really, she has so much more to gain, and in the way that counts. And that matters.

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Kids and Bullying-Prevention and Protection

There has been ample information in the news the past few years (and months) about bullying in schools. I follow those links and articles and often wind up feeling a little hopeless, at least at first.

As a parent, I want to raise my children to look out for others, to stand up for their friends, and to step in when they see things going wrong. I also want them to be strong and confident and to have resilience in the case that someone bullies them. It feels like a conundrum. How do we raise children to be peaceable, kind, and supportive of their friends, while also making sure they don’t have a “victim” target plastered to their forehead.

Here are my thoughts on both raising a child not to bully, and how to help them NOT be bullied as well, plus some resources at the bottom of the page.

On Raising Kids Not To Bully-

Empathy is, for me, the most important tool in teaching children not to bully, to recognize dynamics of bullying, and helping them feel confident in stepping up when they see bullying happening.

If you are a spiritual or religious person you are probably familiar with the passage, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” There are other versions of this edict across spiritual paths, but it’s empathy in a nutshell. Think about how you might feel and how you’d like to be treated, and then treat people that way.

How do you teach this?

Mirroring-
—-If you are in the car and someone cuts you off, do you yell nasty words at the driver, honking your horn and blaming them for your feelings or do you take a breathe, wonder why they were in such a hurry and hope that they start driving more safely?
—-How do you and your partner/spouse/co-parent interact? Little eyes and little ears pay close attention. If you push each other around, try to score points, or “win” at household dynamics, that will sink in and your kids may mimic that behavior at school
—-Seek opportunities to help others through volunteering, church or spiritual institutions, schools and neighborhoods. Lots of neighborhoods have gardens that need tending, or residents that might need chores done.
—-When you see a person in need, whether at the store or on a walk, stop and ask if they need help. Simple to do, sends a huge message to kids.
—-When you are watching a movie or tv program and you see an instance of bullying, it’s a great time to ask your child what they think about that moment, and really listen. Your child telling you about their experience, and you really paying attention is a huge meta/micro exercise in empathy and connection. Letting them pick out what the dynamics of bullying is helps them see it in real life and avoid it, get help, or intervene.
—-Have pets-any pet is awesome from a turtle to a big dog. Taking care of pets teaches children that they have to notice and think about others. This teaches empathy and compassion along with responsibility.

I also am a big fan of calling out negative dynamics when I see them and discussing them. Kids truly want to understand systems. Mine ask me “why” all the time. So we talk about the whys of bullying.

I ask them to imagine why someone would want to hurt others and then we talk about what they think. I ask if they ever feel that way about other people, but I don’t shame them if they admit to wanting to push others around. We talk about times I’ve felt that way and how I moved my thinking and actions into more productive forms.

I also think it’s important to admit to your kids that you’ve been on one side or the other of that dynamic. Let them hear about what hurt, what didn’t. What you did or didn’t do, choices you would have made differently. It helps them feel less alone and like they aren’t the only child this is happening to, no matter if it is bullying or being bullied.

On Not Being Bullied:

So it’s all well and good to teach these empathic skills, but what happens if it is your child that is on the “being bullied” side of things. Sometimes this happens for no good reason at all, the bullies of a class might shift their targets based on random issues or specific dynamics.

Confidence:

It goes without saying that confidence inspires others. Confident kids can weather difficulties and keep thriving. How is confidence instilled?

—-Make sure your kids have ample access to good friends. Never underestimate the power of a core group of friends for increasing the inner confidence of kids. Even if those kids live across town, make sure they can hang out, have spend the nights, create and play together.
—-If your child has something he or she LOVES to do, make doing that a huge priority. Rock climbing? Ballet? Art? Get that kid the resources he or she needs to be awesome at that skill. Get them the opportunities to shine and be seen as competent and in control.
—-Listen when they talk about difficulties at school. Don’t immediately tell them how to handle the problem but ask them what they think will help. Believe their emotions and really listen to them.
—Practical skills like karate classes, running, comedy, self defense of all kinds—seems like a strange thing to say, but knowing they have some power (physically or otherwise) in some way gives a huge boost of confidence.
—Help your child learn who his or her allies are in a school. Favorite teachers? Kids in older grades? Help your child maximize those alliances so he or she doesn’t feel alone.
—Teach children how to pick battles wisely. In the first section, we talked about not bullying and also standing up for kids when things are going wrong. Your children need to know how to discern which situations are for them to fight back against, or which are ones to get a teacher or another adult.

What else can you do?

—Let them know that you’ll listen, that you’ll believe them, and that you’ll help them if they can’t help themselves.
—Be willing and ready to go work with the school if there is a situation that is getting difficult for them.
—Help them write or create or tell their story. Help them find new endings to those stories if they are stuck in a victim role.
—Be willing to critically examine what strength means to you and to your family. There is more strength in vulnerability then most of us know and it’s easy to get caught up in victim blaming when really, it’s the bully who should be called out.
—Find local groups to help promote peaceful environments in your schools. Here in Austin, we have Creative Action which creates courageous leaders in schools.

Avail yourself of resources because none of us know how to make these changes on our own. There are loads out there, but here are some links to help you get started.

Bully Free
Stop Bullying
It’s My Life
Safe Schools Initiative (Texas)
The Bully Project

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Props To Pflugerville

» Pflugerville: Best little town in Texas! jimrigby.org.

Says Reverend Jim:

So Plfugerville was not only the first little town (or city) in Texas to offer equal benefits to same sex couples working in their school district, now they become the first Texas municipality where the citizens themselves stood up for equal rights for everyone in town. When two courageous school board members ran for re-election this weekend against an organized opposition, this little town smack dab in the heart of Texas rose to its full stature and demonstrated what it means to offer equal treatment before the law to everyone. A majority voted not let their school board be targeted because it had offered benefits to GLBT couples and domestic partnerships. Not to take anything away from Hutto and it’s hippo, Port Isabel and its lighthouse from the 1800′s, Marfa and its lights, or Luckenbach and its music, but today Pflugerville stands tallest in the Lone Star State.

May we all rise to that example and follow in your leadership.

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Mothers

Hera, Demeter, Hestia, Gaia, Dana, Anu, Ala, Mawu, Anatu, Isis, Cybele, Shakti, Kuan Yin.

Mary.

Eve.

Lilith.

Mothers are many and they are influential.

It is mother’s day, the day for mothers. A day of Hallmark cards and piss poor ads on the teevee extolling blood diamonds and spa getaways, overpriced buffets and brunches.

It’s a day that is confusing to me for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I don’t aways know what mothering means, or how to relate to being a mother myself, but I do know that mothering can come from people other than your mother, and you can give it to those not your children.

“Mother” is powerful. Breast, skin, vulva, womb, root like cord connecting us to them inextricably, even after it is cut, whether we want it to or not.

They birth us, love us, harm us, frighten us, achieve for us, fail us. Mothering is hard work no doubt about that. Being mothered is a challenge at times, a desperate need at others. Sometimes in the very same breath. Mother me please, go away do not touch me.

This day is a fraught day, a magic day, a day for those with mothers and no children, those who are mothers with no mothering for them, those with both and those with neither.

I don’t want cards or flowers. My own relationship with my mother, lost now to Alzheimer’s, is fraught, but it always was, a mother who decided early she wanted no children but got one anyway.

I don’t want a reminder one time per year of the magic inherent in the word “mother” rather I’d want the ongoing reminder that mothers are people and fallible, and most certainly not sacred or better, but that we all have that holiness in us to mother, to father, to be connected to some divine spark of passage into and out of this world.

I”m going to drink my tea, brought to me by my boys, watch Dr. Who, and do the dishes. I’m going to visit my own mother, though she won’t know me. I’m going to know how important it is that we all find ways to love each other in the ways that matter most, no matter the role, and that if someone needs me to be their mother, and I can be, I will.

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Heartcrackingly Beautiful

I’d never seen this.

It made me cry out of a recognition of truth. This is empathy, right here.

David Foster Wallace’s, This Is Water

Full transcript, here which is truly worth reading.

“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

Hunger while gorging ourselves and ignoring the real sustenance around us.

Thanks to Angeliska, for linking this today.

Have a wonderful weekend filled with connection and compassion. And fun, if you can find it.

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