silence & healing & mr. roboto

There’s something sort of silencing about being in the limelight. To be in the news every week, to have this incredible platform, to be heard – it makes you cautious about the things you say. Because your words have impact. Speaking out about one injustice might lead to some far worse consequence. Being open about feeling burnt out might bring down the energy that you need to keep up for people who are new to the movement and feel optimistic about change.

I always want to be on point. I always want to bring my best self. I always want to be enthusiastic and positive and chipper.

And I know that’s all impossible, but it feels so essential. We were in Upworthy this week and the Huffington Post last week. I’ll be on the radio this weekend and back on the Kojo Nnamdi Show next Wednesday. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, and it’s meaningful. I feel free in a way that I couldn’t have been free when I had more traditional jobs. I was doubted so much that it made me doubt myself. I was silenced so often that I stopped speaking up. And now, I am free, and still finding myself sort of silenced in a way that I didn’t expect. Silent because I have to be responsible. And it’s hard, because I’m an open book. I believe so deeply in transparency. It’s a bad sign if organizers & organizations lack transparency, but we can’t pull down the veil on this broken system until we have a back-up plan, because having some support, however faulty, is better than having no support at all for those who are most vulnerable. I just want better for them, because I have been there, and in a way, making these systems right is healing for me.

It’s a challenge, too, to find the balance between being invested and disconnected in a way that maximizes my ability to be effective. I can’t let myself be overrun by emotion. I can’t put myself and my family at risk every time I want to help someone. I’ve been cautioned about it — about the importance of separating myself from the work, about self-care. But in many ways, it’s this level of investment that makes me effective. I am passionate because I know these problems are real because I have experienced many of them – homelessness, sexual assault, domestic violence, police violence, everyday racism, everyday sexism – and I understand how they’re all so very connected, and how the solutions must take all of these problems into account to be effective. And it’s my passion that gets people excited. And it’s my attitude of invincibility that makes people think that anything is possible. My mania is my greatest resource and my greatest weakness.

But I also don’t want to focus too much on my own healing because I know that makes me less available to help others heal in a way. I want to relate and share, but I am afraid to dominate a space where others should feel comfortable sharing, and so I find myself closing off and keeping things to myself. I have so many stories of trauma, but I am afraid to be remembered for my struggles; I want to be perceived as strong and bright and bubbly and fierce. Strong mostly, I think. And while my survivorship makes me strong, I’m also afraid of the ways that it makes me weak. Weak defined as emotional, defined as someone who may love too deeply and behave irrationally because of it, defined as needing love. It’s scary to think of the qualities that I’ve been socialized to associate with “weakness.”

And when it comes to healing myself, I am still stuck on healing others. I don’t know how to forgive in a way that’s not dependent on changing something that I can’t control. I don’t know how to heal in a way that doesn’t change the systems that failed me before they fail someone else. I don’t know how to heal in a way that doesn’t require those who have hurt me to want to change, to want to be better, to apologize and mean it. I have chosen forgiveness a thousand times, and it hasn’t helped because the people I have sought to forgive aren’t seeking forgiveness or change, and that’s still what I want. I don’t want to demonize you, I don’t want to paint you as some monster who abused me; I want healing and harmony and rainbows. Fucking rainbows.

I keep reading about this kind of reconciliation, and I don’t know how to make it real.

I shared this story last week about my abusive relationship. And I shared the details because I thought, there are probably people at different points of their abusive relationships, and they might not know yet that some behavior constitutes abuse or that it might escalate, and so I wanted to share as much as I could in an effort to reach them wherever they were. But I re-read it, and I worry about the way that it paints my abuser. My abuser. Is it fair to call him that, when he was more than that to me? He was someone I lived with, someone I loved. Someone I saw recently in a completely different light. I was saw him, and my mind had already branded him a monster, and I couldn’t see him as human. And I look back, and I want to see him as human and I want to paint him in a more compassionate light. Because I know that hurt people hurt people.

I wanted to reach out and reform him. I wanted my mother to go to therapy, to seek help. I wanted my father to take anger management seriously, to go not just because it was mandated by the court but because he needed to learn how to better process his emotions and communicate with people. I want real change, and I have enough will to change for all of my abusers, and it pains me that that’s not enough to make them change.

I am here, waiting anxiously because I want so badly to forgive.

Healing is complicated. It’s not linear, and sometimes I feel more healed than other times. Sometimes I heal through listening, through helping others who have faced similar or the same challenges; but I am not objective. I advise them as though I am them and they are me. I am so invested that I don’t see us as separate, and it’s a problem because then I worry that maybe I’m not really seeing them, and if I’m not seeing them then I cannot be truly listening and truly helping. Healing them becomes about healing me.

It feels like I should end this post with something really revelational and wise. I’ve come to feel like I’m supposed to be some source of wisdom, and I fall short. I am still this twenty-six year old single mom figuring out my own life every day and mothering a toddler who keeps growing and changing and saying hilarious things and throwing tantrums and giving me eskimo kisses. There’s a lot on my plate, and sometimes I feel invincible but other times I’m so overwhelmed.

So I’ll leave you with this video of me and Max performing Mr. Roboto (feat. Lucy Raven), my poor sweet child and my poor sweet cat, how did they get stuck with me?

ain’t i a woman

working mom

This photo makes me so happy because it’s a reminder that I can and I do wear so many hats – mom and activist and feminist and coffee lover and sexy lady and twenty-something and nonprofit executive.

I wrote nonprofit executive on about two hundred thank you cards before that title seemed real. I am growing into the role.

I’ll be back tomorrow or Saturday to write about highlights from this year and my resolutions for next year.

In the meantime, gimme your money.

pumpkins and painting

I totally killed work-life balance today, though life for sure gets +1. Bonus points because I barely went outside, except for playing basketball and blowing bubbles in the morning and eating lunch on the patio in the late afternoon.

This morning, CASS’s strategic planning committee came over to strategically plan. I got some work done throughout the day, especially when Max napped, and then I took the rest of the day off to paint and play and make pumpkin things.

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We never got around to carving our pumpkin in time for Halloween, so we tried to paint handprint turkeys in honor of Thanksgiving instead. My handprint came out a lot better than Max’s tbh, but he rubbed paint in it before I could draw any turkey eyes or…beard (beard?).

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We got paint everywhere.

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Even a little on the sheets.

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…because a certain monkey decided he wanted to jump on the bed.

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I roasted pumpkin seeds – it’s super easy, you just wash ’em, season ’em, and bake ’em. And eat ’em.

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I also made pumpkin bread and pumpkin smoothies (not pictured because Max spilled both – possibly on purpose).

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He thinks it’s very funny.

Balancing relationships

Balancing work and parenting came as second nature to me. These are two huge aspects of my life. Working helps me remember that I’m more than a mother – that there’s more to me than caring for someone else, and there will be when he grows up and moves out on his own. I’ll still have myself; I don’t want to lose that. And parenting filled a void for me that had been empty for such a long time: motherhood gave me family. I already have everything.

But balancing relationships has proven to be so much trickier. For me, for whatever reason, it’s been easy to be a single mom. I’ve never had to compromise. My way is always the right way. I’ve never had to worry about how much time I was spending with my son versus with a partner. I’ve never had to share him or share responsibilities. I’ve never felt jealous because he wanted someone else; he always wants me. I’ve never felt overburdened because he only wants me; he always wants me. It is my reality; it has always been this way.

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Now I’m trying to be a mom and an activist, I’m trying to do a job and also have a social life. It’s sometimes hard to have conversations with my peers when the conversations aren’t about work, just because my life outside of work is very much still “Where the Wild Things Are” (and sometimes “Donde Viven Los Monstruos”). My life outside of work is, “Please don’t eat crumbs off the ground; you can have more Cheez its.”

What else is there?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve come to live for the late-night conversations with my lover about our pasts and about the ways we’re broken and the things we want to do in the future, on our own and together. I like brainstorming backyard projects and weekend trips. But I can’t help but feel guilty.

Max and I still have so much quality time together. We have our Spanish classes on Saturdays and our play groups on Fridays. We have dinner together every night. But this week has been hard. He hasn’t been waking up as happy as usual, and I think he senses that he doesn’t have as much of me as he always has.

(He’s also teething and has a canker sore, so it could be all that…)

I honestly don’t know how married people do it.

Finding independence

From the second he was born, Max has been engulfed in the principles of attachment parenting. After his natural Birth Center birth, he was placed on my chest for immediate skin-to-skin contact with his momma, and within minutes I breastfed him for the first time. He had the whole kit and caboodle — babywearing, breastfeeding, bedsharing, even a nightly infant massage with grapeseed oil. I’d pick him up the second I heard him whimper, and I’d rock him for hours on end if it kept him happy. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that he was happiest when he was being held.

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max just living his life, getting his infant massage on

We have grown very close. I’m not only his mother; I’m his caregiver and his friend.

Many people praised me, and some people criticized me — for extended breastfeeding, for allowing him to sleep in my bed, for never letting him just cry.

People suggested that he’d be spoiled, he’d never learn to be independent, and he’d never outgrow breastfeeding. But I’ve trusted my gut and the very many parenting books that I’ve read and the doctors and child care providers that I’ve consulted, and I’ve parented according to his needs and not the advice of people who don’t know him as well.

It’s hard, sometimes, to go with your gut. Especially when you’re a young woman of color. You’re constantly challenged and questioned by backseat drivers who want to tell you how it’s done. There was one time that Max’s daycare closed because there was a petroleum in the water scare, and since we were having a holiday party that day anyway, I decided to bring him to work. The first half of the day was a four-hour staff meeting, which Max (then ten months old) endured pretty patiently (and I’m not just saying that because I’m his mom and think he’s perfect!). There was a point that he was ready for his milk, so I took him back to my desk and breastfed him. I had brought some toys and random items to keep him occupied through the day, but in general, Max was (and still often is) very patient and happy as long as he’s being held. I brought him back to the conference room after the meeting, and he started to groan and whimper — not quite a cry but an expression of discomfort. I wasn’t surprised; it was naptime. I knew that he was going to fall asleep any minute, but he was grumbling because he was still at an age at which he didn’t quite understand the feeling that was overtaking him. Imagine that – being so tired and not knowing what’s happening to you. It’s probably uncomfortable. What did surprise me was the reaction of another mother in the room — a lovely woman who has a daughter just about the same age as Max. She asked me if she could get Max a toy, and I thanked her but declined. He’s just tired, I let her know. It was a kind gesture, and I appreciated it, but then she started to try to amuse him to make him stop crying. He grew increasingly frustrated, and I knew why: In trying to console him and make him laugh when he just wanted to fall asleep, she was telling him, “I don’t understand why you’re crying, so I’m going to try to distract you from what’s upsetting you.” This was upsetting to me because she ignored what I had told her and dismissed the idea that I could know what was wrong with my baby – the child that I was still nursing and closer to than anyone else. She is a white woman, and from my perspective, she was parenting through privilege.

Young mothers of color are constantly questioned and dismissed and challenged; it’s assumed that we do not know what’s best for our babies, how to hold our babies, how to console our babies, how to care for our babies. When a white woman sees another white woman doing something that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, it’s accepted as a different style of parenting; but when a white woman sees a woman of color doing something that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, it’s viewed as being wrong. She feels comfortable intervening and correcting her. It is a microaggression.

But I didn’t come here to talk about racism. I came here to say: My attachment parenting critics were wrong — not because attachment parenting is right for everyone, but because it was right for Max.

Max is more independent than I could’ve ever hoped. He can walk, run, climb, and play independently for long stretches of time. He doesn’t love to hold my hand when we walk down the street, but once we reach the end of the block, he reaches his hand out because he knows that he can’t cross the street on his own. He likes to try to climb off the curb along the way, and sometimes he gets upset when I stop him or guide him back into the direction that we’re going. When I try to hold his hand on the sidewalk, he sometimes throws himself on the ground dramatically. He wants to be independent; he wants to be free. He’s growing up so quickly, and I’m so proud of his growth.

There have been power struggles — the biggest one being that he hates holding my hand when we’re walking, and that makes it really hard to get him to stay the course when we’re on our way to daycare in the mornings. I’ve tried to cheer him on and praise him when he walks in the right direction. I’ve pulled him away from the stairs when he tried to climb them and go back home, and I redirect him. I’ve called him, over and over, in English and Spanish, to come and follow me. I’ve gotten frustrated and said, “Come on, Max, we’re going to be late.” I’ve given up and carried him the whole way.

But now, as I’m continuing to read Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, I’m learning new ways to encourage him to be independent and still do the things that he has to do, like walk to school in the morning without getting too distracted by dandelions.

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ok sometimes you do have to stop and smell the dandelions

I appreciate having spaces like our back patio where he can roam freely, and I don’t have to pull him away from an electronic device or something dangerous every three minutes. And when it comes to walking to school and walking back home, I’m finding ways to make it less of a chore for him. When he doesn’t want to hold my hand, I take both of his hands and turn our walk into a dance while I sing “Pop Goes the Weasel” (swinging him at the “popping” part), and it makes him forget that he’s holding my hand because he’s enjoying the dance. This evening, on the way home, I managed to get him to run in the right direction for a whole block by chasing after him saying “Momma’s gonna get you” and “I’m going to catch up with Max!” and then grabbing him and picking up a few times along the way to make him laugh (and confirm that I could indeed catch up).

The most important lesson I’ve learned from books on positive discipline is that discipline is teaching, not punishment. Even time outs should be used in a positive way that lets both child and parent cool off — it should be future-oriented, not past-dwelling. Power struggles, to me, are a sign that I’m trying to take control in an area that Max is seeking independence, so I need to find better balance to allow him to be independent while setting simple (but fun) guidelines to keep him safe. There’s no point in getting frustrated.

I think the next thing I need to do is learn to apply these principles in other areas of my life.

Please don’t hit kids.

Today I found myself in a heated debate with reasonable, intelligent people over an issue that I previously did not find controversial, and I think that’s an important reason to start a discussion about it: I don’t think you should ever, ever hit kids. And every study that has ever been conducted on the subject agrees with me (with the exception of maybe your personal study of “turning out great”). In general, I think we should leave parents to provide personalized parenting to each child in their care, which means your parenting may look different from my parenting — and that’s okay.

But violence is not okay. Hitting, spanking, beating — it doesn’t work, and it’s wrong.

I don’t say this to criticize you or your parents. I say this because I realize that we may not always know when we’re doing something that’s wrong, and that’s why conversations are important. If I’m doing something that is wrong (and you have scientific evidence to prove it ;)) then I want us to have an open discussion about it so you challenge my views and I can change.

I don’t need to agree with you about everything that you do as a parent, and I don’t need you to agree with me. I realize that some of the things I do as a parent might be atypical (Max is 15 months old, he sleeps in my bed, and I still breastfeed!). But I don’t believe there should be a wide range of opinions on this issue.

I am imperfect. You are imperfect. Kids are imperfect. We make mistakes. If you have resorted to violence then I’m sorry that the communication between you and your child broke down the way it did, and I’m sorry if you felt like you had no other options. I don’t judge you for making this mistake. I am concerned about the people who don’t regard it as a mistake.

Discipline is not spanking or hitting or beating. Discipline is teaching. And there are books and resources that will help you learn to use discipline effectively:

I’m thankful that, as a culture, we’re reaching a point at which we can openly discuss and condemn intimate partner violence, with the intention of ending it. I’m glad that we’re making moves to become a culture in which it’s not ignored or accepted that a spouse hits their spouse. I hope that we can soon reach a point at which we can have an open, candid discussion about violence against children — and we can end it.

I realize that Max is only 15 months old, and maybe you’ll say “but when he’s older, you’ll see!” And maybe it’ll be easier for me to empathize with you then. But I will still know that violence is not the answer, and if I ever do succumb to violence then I’ll regard it as a mistake, and I’ll apologize to him.

Last, but not least: I am making it a point to steer clear of language like “my kids” vs. “your kids.” It doesn’t matter who gave birth to these kids. It doesn’t matter if these kids are in your care or not in your care. Not all kids have parents or designated caregivers. There are 397,122 kids in foster care in the US and up to 1.6 million unaccompanied homeless youth. Kids are all of our responsibility.

Because it may be your choice to parent in some certain way, but kids don’t have much of a choice but to endure it. It’s not easy for kids to leave abusive homes. I ran away, became homeless, and ended up living with a man who later sexually assaulted me. But the physical and sexual violence I experienced on the street could never compare to the hurt and betrayal that I felt in response to abuse at the hands of the person who was supposed to love and protect me.

In case you don’t want to just take my word for it, here are some studies confirming that hitting kids is not effective for improving behavior and rather has negative consequences (quoted directly from this Huffington Post article):

Physical punishment makes kids more aggressive.
Researchers from Tulane University found that children who are spanked frequently at age 3 are more likely to show aggressive behavior by the time they’re 5 than kids who are not.

Physical punishment doesn’t actually work (even if it appears to).
Yes, spanking may stop problematic behavior, says Sandra Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan, but that’s because the child is afraid. In the long term, physical punishment will only make kids’ behavior worse.

Reporting on several studies on the topic for CNN, Sarah Kovac wrote, “The sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have. They learn how to be controlled by external forces (parents, teachers, bosses), but when the boss isn’t looking, then what?”

Physical punishment encourages kids to continue the cycle of abuse.
A 2011 study published in Child Abuse and Neglect confirmed that physical punishment is cyclical — children who are hit are more likely to use the action to solve problems with their peers and siblings.

Later on, they’re at a higher risk for delinquency and criminal behavior, according to a 2013 article, “Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children,” also by Gershoff.

The negative effects of physical punishment are colossal, well into adulthood.
A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that “harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders.”

A review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that same year analyzed 20 years of data and came to similar conclusions regarding those risks — and also found that spanking yields no positive outcome.

Spanking actually alters kids’ brains.
A 2009 study concluded that children who were frequently spanked (defined as at least once a month for more than three years) “had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to depression, addiction and other mental health disorders.”

According to CNN, another study — also looking at how corporal punishment affects the brain — found that children who receive it have a decrease in cognitive ability, compared with other kids.

The bottom line:
Stacy Drury, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Tulane University, told the New Republic, “The goal of discipline, which actually comes from the Latin root meaning ‘to teach,’ is to change behavior. And physical discipline across many, many, many studies is ineffective at changing behavior and it’s ineffective for many reasons … corporal punishment actually teaches children is that aggression is an acceptable method of problem solving.”

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Meanwhile, I’m over here raising the real MVP.

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Maybe we’ll try out next season.