My 9 Reasons Why I’m Not Sure “13 Reasons Why” Should Be Glorified

(Warning: SPOILERS. Stop reading if you haven’t watched this series and intend to.)

Seriously.

Spoilers.

Lots of them.

13 Reasons Why.

Everyone had been buzzing about this show and I admit, I was immediately sucked in and finished the series in just three nights. At first, I praised the show, thinking I gained something from it as a mom, some understanding about how the teenage years work these days.

But the truth is, after I allowed the show to haunt me for two days after completing it, and after I’ve sat with it for over a week now, I now realize that I’m not particularly fond of some of it, and yet, some of it I feel is so necessary to discuss. I’m very torn which means it must be worth discussing. I don’t know that it’s at all helpful for parents or teens to watch… but it does bring up so many fantastic talking points that are so necessary to unpack.

And here are my 9 Reasons Why I think it might, or might not, be a bad idea to watch Hannah Baker’s version of suicide. Here’s what’s right and what’s wrong about it from a novice perspective:

1.) The theme of revenge.

Listen, I am not a suicide expert. I have never been suicidal, thankfully, but I have known a few people that had taken their lives at a very young age; I have been close to suicide professionally as well. And not one of them seemingly did it for revenge alone. They did it because there was so much darkness and hopelessness in their soul. They wanted their pain to end. They felt there was no place in this world for them. But. There was no specific, direct blame implicated.

Based on Hannah’s tapes left for her 13 reasons why she carried out her suicide, she was directly blaming specific incidents, and further more, the individuals behind the incidents, for taking her own life as opposed to the incidents adding to her darkness of depression. I believe those are two very different things. This idea that these 13 people (well, 12 since Justin had 2 tapes) were to blame does not make sense in the grand scheme of an actual act of suicide. It’s about being unable to bear the pain of life any longer for those that commit suicide. Their feelings surrounding certain life shattering events certainly may play into suicidal tendencies, I’m certain, but this message of blame feel dangerous in this series.

A dark, yet somehow cute, endearing way to get a message from beyond the grave using a cassette tape project seems somehow glorifying and intriguing (obviously, to get us to watch), not accurate or preventative. I do not believe a suicidal person would revengefully leave a message of blame, per se.

Suicide is about inner turmoil, it’s about mental health, not revenge alone.

2.) The darkness of depression.

Although I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, I have experienced depression. And it’s so very dark and hallow and isolated. Hannah’s feelings were constantly hurt by her peer interactions, which can certainly contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, but the series seemed to lack that depth and complexity into her soul. It focused far too much on the behaviors of others.

I get it. They were trying to send a message of self-awareness and being kind, but if you want to talk about suicide, you have a responsibility to talk about the dark depression, isolation, and hopelessness that goes hand in hand. It lacked this content. I wanted to see deeper into her. It was left too surface, too shallow.

3.) The graphic nature.

It’s my belief that many suicidal teens watched this show and will now copycat Hannah’s death. The whole scene: the tapes, the razors, the bath…

Suicide does not own a ton of logic because the depression speaks and carries out the act, so suicidal kids might see this as a vehicle, and not exactly as a tool for learning compassion or as a preventative to their own suicide.

It’s my hope that some got the message to be more kind but my fear is that more will use this as a way to send a message within their own execution. Teens just work like that. They’re egocentric. Their mindset is on the now. They don’t see much past tomorrow. And they’re dramatic. I do not think, for one solid second, that it was necessary to see her carry out the act of slicing her wrists and bleeding out.

Why, Netflix, was this at all necessary? If this was to raise suicide awareness, couldn’t it have been assumed? The raw effect had very little bearing on the impact of the message.

4.) Rape culture.

This was a huge theme throughout the series and one of the most crucial talking points for kids and teens. 1 out of 6 women will be raped, or attempted to be raped, in their lifetime. We must talk about it. It’s not getting any better and we actually are getting more desensitized to it. It certainly starts in these tender teenage years.

I believe this series got it mostly right in this realm. I believe the graphic rape scenes were necessary. Rape looks different in many situations. I believe both date rapes in the series show how it’s not as easy as simply saying “no” or fighting back aggressively.

It’s not about the victim, it’s about the rapist. It’s about power. It’s about control. And I believe that was accurately portrayed. The way victims of rape are treated was also accurate. Society loves to immediately victim blame when it comes to rape and we all felt like Hannah lost so much of her soul being in that room during Jessica’s rape and then being raped herself.

I am certain that many that watched this said such things as, “Why did Hannah go to Bryce’s that night if she knew he was a rapist?”, “Why didn’t Hannah fight more during her rape?”, these are important talking points for our kids, important for the directed conversation to be on the rapist, not the victim.

For me, the series could have been based on this rape culture effect alone, without the suicide, and it would have been fabulous. We need to talk about it. We need to talk to our young men about it. We need to make changes, big changes, in this space.

5.) Glorification of the Jocks.

I could write an entire post on my qualms with organized sports, especially male sports, and the adverse effect that it has on our children. So many people praise the positives that come from being “coachable”, and yes, there are some wonderful things that stem from being a part of a team, but one hugely ignored disadvantage is how we glorify these athletes and send them the message from such a young age that if they’re good at this one specific thing, this sport, that their worth immediately increases exponentially. More so than academia, more so than any other activity known to man. They’re paid the most in the professional sector, they’re idolized the most. They can do no wrong, shy of actually being convicted of murder. And it becomes so desirable at such a young age.

Teachers and coaches tend to give athletes special privileges, which is where it begins, where these athletes then don’t have to be as accountable for their actions. Bad grade on a test? Ah, it’s because there was a big game last night. Let’s look past it. Skipped class? Oh, that’s because you have to do some extra batting practice, no worries. All excusable.

This isn’t new. This has been a thing probably since the beginning of time. But does our society see the danger? Do we recognize how it’s contributing to rape culture and violence? We give these boys power when they’re the star of the team, we’re defining their worth by this. When this is the only message they hear, when this is where the importance is focused, this power becomes confusing in a young mind. It becomes too much. That power then tends to be abused by so many. I felt the series did a pretty good job recognizing this but I’m not quite sure that many see this correlation and the danger here.

6.) Bullying.

Bullying is clearly such a hot topic, especially with the horrors of social media’s contribution. The online community has made it brutal to be a teen, more so than it already was. I do not envy our children growing up in a society where they’re constantly looking for a reward when they open their smart phone. How many likes? How many comments? How many followers? So.very.dangerous. to one’s psyche.

It was clear that this was the underlying message of the series. Bullying is bad and terrible and hurtful and damaging.

But I thought they could have done better.

Hannah was well liked, all in all. Even after unfortunate pictures would circulate, Hannah still managed to be in with the “popular” crowd, have boys fawning after her, and had friendships. Many of Hannah’s “reasons” revolved around her sexual reputation, her sexual interactions, her sexual encounters and relationships.

Those that committed suicide when I was young might have been liked by some…but they weren’t noticed by many. They were invisible. Hannah wasn’t invisible. She didn’t shrink down. She never went unnoticed.

Bullying is isolating. Bullying is usually relentless. And bullying doesn’t always have to do with sex. I had a hard time believing Hannah was bullied in the specific sense of the word. She was sexually assaulted and treated unkindly at times, but I don’t know that this series should claim to target bullying. I felt conflicted by the messages.

7.) Hannah.

Hannah’s lack of self awareness bothered me the entire time. She was a victim of a lot of unfortunate circumstances, yes, but she also failed to recognize how she could have owned some responsibility, even within her own suicide. The series gave the ideation that reputation supersedes everything for every single teen in high school. I don’t believe that to be true. And Hannah’s character wanted to fit in, yes, I see that, but she was unapologetic about also being who she was…which was confusing as to how it led her to suicide.

It isn’t lost on me that this might be the aspect of suicide that I just don’t understand, however, Hannah never once mentioned herself in her own demise. She did not seem to be self loathing and I believe that’s an important component of a suicidal person. She seemed to fall more into the stereotype that suicide is a selfish act and that’s definitely problematic if we’re talking about awareness.

8.) Peer pressure.

Peer pressure is still very alive and well, probably more so than ever. Social influences are pressing our kids to grow up much too fast and kids are feeling that pressure to keep up. It’s not just alcohol and drugs anymore. It’s looking a certain way with plump lips, a tiny waist and big boobs at a very young age. It’s having the latest technology and the right hairstyle. It’s so much more than the generation before.

I believe that bullying and peer pressure are easily confused at times and have to be differentiated. However, they are certainly also intertwined at times.

Alex shot himself at the end, which was a bit of a surprise to me and it left me to assume that it was the peer pressure that maxed him out and caused his stress and depression. I believe he was actually the character we should focus on. He was more of the silent bystander of sorts. He was the one that just wanted to fit in, all while being picked on and pressured. I believe he sent the more accurate message of awareness.

9.) Netflix.

I wish you would have done better, Netflix. At the end of the day, I know this was supposed to be entertainment and you had a lot of great components here worthy of some awesome discussions, but where you lacked was the appropriate content to actually bring awareness to suicide and suicide prevention. I think you missed the mark. You did a fabulous job of scaring parents, for sure, and for that, perhaps the goal was achieved. We are aware that teens are scarier than ever before, so thank you. But all in all, I think you failed our teens with an overall conflicting message.

***********

For a far, far better watch with your teens, check out Audrie and Daisy. Real life stories of sexual assault and suicide.

Educate yourself here on suicide statistics.

And for parents, I found this link helpful.

 

 

 

 

Please Don’t Thank Me for Being A Working Mom.

I read this wonderfully sweet post today, thanking us working moms for basically holding down the fort, if you will, in the work force. It was endearing and not at all condescending like some pieces similar to this have been. I felt the author was genuine and all of her words came from a beautiful place. Calling us “true feminist heroes” felt amazing. It really did. I admit, I puffed out my ego for one second. ‘Yeah. Hell yeah. We are feminist heroes. Damn right”.

But listen.

Don’t thank me.

I needed work more than feminism and work needed me.

I am unapologetic for wanting- no, needing- my career.

Yes, I need to work to pay bills, especially as a single mom, but I also need to work to stay sane. I never aspired to be a stay-at-home-mom. I never even aspired to be a mom, if I’m being honest. Not to be confused with not wanting to be a mom at all. I did want a child. It happened, it’s wonderful, and I’m thankful but it wasn’t my sole goal in life. It wasn’t my end all, be all. It wasn’t what would define me. I knew it would probably be a part of my life but I also knew it wouldn’t be my whole life.

And quite frankly, I don’t understand why we shame moms who aren’t fulfilled by motherhood alone. Why we still, in 2017, make moms feel like they should be fulfilled by motherhood alone. Why do we pity working moms?

I cannot tell you how many times I heard, “Ohhhh, you have to work? That must be so hard!”, when my daughter was little. I remember blatantly lying and saying, “yes, yes it is so difficult”. She’s 8 now and I still hear this pity from time to time, especially when I travel for work. I don’t lie anymore.

No. It’s not hard. I mean, yes, motherhood is hard in all of it’s forms, but working is not the hardest part of it. As a matter of a fact, working might be the easiest part of being a mom for me. At least there’s a job description and a manual for my day job. And at times, my job is far easier than being a mom, (especially in the “threenager” years. AmIrite?) It gives me time to myself in some ways. It gives me a break. It gives me my own idenity. It gives my life an additional purpose. It gives me something my child cannot. And, when I travel for work? Hello? Hotels! Alone!

No, It’s not difficult for me to be away from my child while I work. I don’t ache for her during the day, I don’t feel guilt that I’m not with her 24/7. I’m not sad that I’m missing moments. I returned to work at 7 weeks postpartum and I was happy to do so. I was looking forward to having that piece of my life back.

And I don’t feel bad about admitting these things. We, as moms, are sometimes shamed into feeling that we should solely be a mom once we have a child.

Think about this: do we shame and judge fathers this way? Do we hold dads to the same expectations? No. Never have and never will.

Although women have emerged as “bread winners” of families over the last few decades, it’s still far less common and it’s still widely scrutinized. And it’s unfair. The feminist movement fought for equality (and yes, we’re still fighting in so.many.ways.) and I am a proud female business owner, I work my ass off, and I am a mom.

And for those that do choose the path of staying home – wonderful. That is equally as amazing. If some moms are fulfilled by the very, very difficult job of staying at home with their children, kudos. Big fat kudos to them because I wasn’t built for that life. And I’m ok with that. My response when moms say they stay at home is, “Ooohhh, I’m sorry. That must be so hard!”. I am not envious. At all.

I’m certainly not writing this to take sides in any sort “mommy war” of who has the harder position. We are all in the trenches of some tough, tough shit. And that common denominator is simply motherhood. We are all warriors of that same battle, of that same beauty.

The true “thank you” goes out to those feminists who paved the way for women to join the work force, those that gave us a choice in the matter. I am eternally grateful for the pioneers that got us here. I am also grateful for all moms raising amazing, kind-hearted humans, no matter what else they do with their time.

Carry on, warrior mamas. We are all fighting the good fight of raising children the best we know how.

IMG_1955

In Support of Unconventional Relationships

If I had to guess, I would say that those who know me at all would describe me as “unconventional”. It’s definitely been said about me. I’m not sure if that’s a nice way of calling me bat-shit crazy but it’s an adjective that I’ve learned to embrace.

I’ve never liked conventionalism or rules of any kind, really. I remember my dance team coach from high school particularly hated that about me. She would have a certain dances choreographed, coached us in a very methodical way, and if I saw room for improvement or an opportunity to interject an opinion, I wouldn’t let that moment pass. I wanted to do everything different. I’d speak up with my unsolicited opinion and it was usually met with an eye roll and a reprimand. She called me “un-coachable”. I called it “thinking outside of the box”.

And that’s the way I’ve lived my life: outside of the box. Relationships included.

After leaving my first marriage and falling in love with a man who was almost 8 years my junior, (who would later become my second husband), a friend said to me, “You always just do whatever it is you want and things just seem to work out for you”. Well, yes. Things do work out. Because they have to. But I think what she meant was, I don’t play by the relationship rules.

But everyone has their opinions on others’ romantic relationships. Imagine if we didn’t have such opinions. Where would our entertainment and conversations come from? Reality television was solely founded on the premise that we must know, and have intimate details, of others’ romantic relationships. The popularity of soap operas, movies, sitcoms, celebrity gossip shows… you name it, most forms of entertainment are centered around who’s fucking who. Period. We are a species with gross curiosity of how others manage their romantic lives. And it clearly  must be discussed amongst the masses.

I’ve recently noted quite a few headlining relationship changes, and not just because someone of notoriety got divorced from some humdrum marriage. Nope. Unconventional relationships are becoming more the thing these days.

Best selling author, Glennon Doyle-Melton shocked us all after revealing she left her husband and soon entered a romantic relationship with another woman who she will now- gasp- marry! Good for her. I think this is amazing news. Love wins.

More recent news revealed that the founder of Scary Mommy, Jill Smokler, stayed in a marriage after learning of her husband’s homosexuality for more than a decade.  Jaw.Drop. But, guess what? I get it. He was her person. There was love. Love won.

Talk about unconventional.

I mean, I don’t know if I can top these stories but I’ll try, only because it’s all the rage: I’m currently dating my {second} ex-husband and father of my child.

The background: We started dating in late 2002. He was just 18, I was 25. You read that correctly. May-September at it’s finest. Mrs. Robinson. Cougar. Robbing the cradle. Yes. That. Whatever you’d like to call it. It was chemistry and it was tangible and it was real.

We moved in together in 2003, got engaged in 2007, got married in 2008, had a baby in 2009.

I publicly bared my soul in writing about our split in 2014. They were very dark days. We divorced in early 2015.

After I started to rebuild my life and the pain subsided, I still felt as though I was missing a limb. This feeling went deeper than just that of divorce grief. He somehow felt…inevitable to me. The divorce felt more like a hiatus and a time to take a breath, as odd as that sounds. That portion of our relationship needed a finale, an ending point. I had to let go of what it was.

I really searched my soul for my stake in our relationship failures, learned so much about myself, and dug deep for what it was I wanted from someone else, from a partner. The answer was: I wanted him. He is my person. I didn’t want another person. I was fine being alone but also wanted this person. Flaws and all. I wanted all of him. And I didn’t want to change him like I previously thought I did.

It took me awhile to process what this looked like and to make sense out of loving someone, still, who might not have made the best choices in the past. I’ve previously written about being addicted to him, so perhaps some of it is that piece, but it also really comes down to plain, old-fashioned love. It can be difficult to delineate the two, but I digress.

If I’m being honest, it’s very much a work in progress. Old issues don’t die easily. I’m not simplifying it or dismissing our past. None of this happened without thinking and over-thinking and discussing and over-discussing. We are two imperfect people who love each other.

So, we currently date. We do family days at the beach. We take vacations together. We even own a house together in a foreign country with intentions of someday living there. Together.

No, we don’t currently live together, we’re not married, and we really don’t discuss these components of our relationship or what our future looks like. I don’t know that we have a label, which seems to be what outsiders looking in want to make them comfortable and cure their curiosity.

But. We just…are.

We love each other. We raise a child together. We enjoy each other. And when we don’t, we have our own spaces to retreat to. We came back to each other in an unconventional way and had to learn a new path because love persisted for us. It was never lost. We just had to redefine it for ourselves. And it just works for us this way. It might not work forever. But it might.

It’s weird. It’s different. It doesn’t make sense to almost anyone else and, listen- it doesn’t have to.

Everyone’s relationship journey is different but you know what’s the same universal truth? No one likes being judged or ridiculed for their relationship choices. And…everyone loves to be loved.

That love looks different for everyone.

And no love goes without trials and tribulations. Not one person reading these words can say they have a perfect relationship. It doesn’t exist. We all recognize that judging, commenting and ridiculing others’ love does not make sense. Love is not one dimensional. It’s multifaceted and certainly complex. Unless you live it, breathe it, sit with it everyday, you cannot say you know what’s best. You aren’t allowed that opinion, no matter how right you might be as an outsider looking in. It’s not yours to have. We complain to our friends and family about our relationships because we’re looking for support, commonality, an ear, a shoulder, an ally at times. We are not looking for definitive answers because there aren’t any.

Love persists. It ebbs and it flows. It gets messy. Sometimes you can clean up the mess… but it will look different when its put back together. And that’s ok because it might still work. It might get lost but it could be found again. It might have some road blocks but it might create a new path. You just never know.

So, the next time I hear a news story with someone else’s relationship truths or a friend comes to me with relationship woes, I will try to find the amazing in the story. I try to find the why for them; what was- what is– the why of their love? I try to find the love in their story. I will support that love when they want me to and I will hate that love if that’s what they need. No matter what the story is, it isn’t my story to tell so it won’t look the way mine would.

But love is an amazing thing that has a way of working itself out sometimes.

And we should all hope for that for one another.

Love wins. No matter what it looks like to everyone else.

 

 

Being On Both Sides of Infidelity

I hear and read debates on why people cheat so often. How a woman’s reasons for cheating are different from a man’s. How women seek attention and to fill voids and how men look for the physical. The truth is, everyone’s reasons for cheating are different. Everyone’s path to cheating is different. Some couples’ willingness to work through cheating and stay together are all different.

There’s no formula to cheating. No matter how many articles are written to analyze or predict it, no matter how many red flags there are in a relationship, no matter how many lists we read about the signs of cheating, no matter how much justifying is done, it happens and it will continue to happen. It’s terrible but it happens.

I believe the simplified answer as to why it happens is universal: we are selfish beings that want and crave attention. Period. It’s an act of selfishness that begs to be judged, (and trust me, I do still judge when I hear stories of cheating spouses), but few realize, or will admit, that it could be any one of us on either side of infidelity. We want to believe it would never be us or happen to us, yet it is and it does.

I’ve been married twice. I’m now twice divorced. I choke on typing that in solid print. It’s embarrassing to me that I failed at marriage twice.

Many people in my life might not even know about my first marriage. I even tend to forget. I was 24 and was in a rush to be in love, to be loved, to be married, to do what all of my friends were doing.

I met a wonderful man that I was set up on a blind date with. He was kind-hearted, funny, and he adored me. Our relationship moved much too fast. We moved in together after only 4 weeks of dating and we were engaged within months.

If I’m being totally honest, I never loved him. I knew that from the start and I ignored it. I wanted the wedding, I wanted the adoration. I was really good at pretending. We had very little in common but in retrospect, I didn’t even know myself well enough to know what my needs and wants were at the time. He was a good person and he deserved more. I was on a rebound from a long-term love when I met him and he paid the price. It’s unfair and it was shitty but it was the reality.

I made a conscience decision to cheat on him only 3 months into our marriage. Clearly, not to be confused with a premeditated plan to cheat. I don’t know that anyone actually does that. Not many look to outwardly and blatantly lie and live a double life. How many times have you heard, “It just…happened”? And it does, just happen. This is not a dismissive or excusable fact but it is the truth.

I met a guy at work, a much younger guy, that I had a ridiculous amount of chemistry with. Because he was so much younger, I didn’t notice the chemistry immediately but when I finally acknowledged it, it was over. I was involved. I was emotionally cheating from that moment on and physical cheating wasn’t far behind.

Once the physical relationship began, I became a different person, one I didn’t recognize and one I absolutely hated facing in the mirror. I hated myself but not enough to stop the affair. I knew I was in love with the person I chose to cheat with. I knew I had to leave my husband, and I did, after only 5 months of marriage, 2 months into the affair.

It was awful, being on that side of infidelity. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t an adventure, and it didn’t feel good. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and the lies felt like razors punishing my lips each and every time I had to tell a lie. It wasn’t in my DNA to pull this off, nor did I want to. I was too consumed with how people viewed me to be honest with myself, and with him about not being in love, about not wanting to get married, and about what I needed from a relationship.

Love stole all logic from me. That’s not an excuse but it’s what happened. I allowed that to happen. I should have stopped the affair, been honest with my husband, left him, knowing I wasn’t in love, and stayed on my own until I gained complete clarity. But, I didn’t. I was too afraid to lose love.

I left my husband for another man.

I’ve never outwardly admitted this to anyone before. Not to my then husband, not to my friends or family, and not to myself. But that’s the truth. I live with guilt about this every single day, still. I never forgave myself completely. I broke someone’s heart in the worst imaginable way and it was unforgivable.

I married the man in this story. And infidelity came full circle 5 years into our marriage, 12 years into our relationship. Only this time, it was me on the receiving end.

I’ve never been quite sure about the concept of karma. We all speak about it as though it’s real but I’ve, more often than not, thought of it as a coping mechanism. However, my second husband’s infidelity sure did feel like karma. It completely broke me as a person. I allowed it to completely break me and it felt awful. I hated myself. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. My self esteem wouldn’t let me. And I felt like I totally and completely deserved it.

It felt eerily familiar. As much as I wanted to play the victim, and at times I truly did, it was undeniable that this happened for a reason.

My darkest moments lie within both sides of these infidelities. And within dark moments lie truth and learning. I learned what I am capable of. I learned what rock bottom looks like. I learned what complete loneliness feels like.  I learned what self hatred is. On both sides, all of these same lessons took place and looked very similar.

Oddly, this all brought me to a path of self acceptance. It was all within the learning. I just needed to pay attention. Cheating is simply a symptom of much deeper issues and if it happens to you, no matter which side you’re on, you just need to try to pay attention to the message. It won’t be easy, it won’t be pretty, but you.must.listen.

I forgive myself. I forgive him. It was all part of a much bigger process.

IMG_1958

 

Resettling Refugees 101

I haven’t taken the time to write about hot-button topics lately. I just don’t have the energy most days because, if I’m being honest, politics have been totally defeating and exhausting to me and they’ve been a weight on my soul since the election.

I admit that I’m more politically charged than ever before. I think that holds true for many of us due to the passionate nature of this past election year. There were so many polarizing, heated debates and it’s really tested my political knowledge at times. Like many of us, I had to dig deep to find facts and in some cases, I had to research issues that I previously knew little about.

One issue that I’ve really honed in on and have been truly wanting to understand is that of the Syrian refugee crisis.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with the path of this post.

What I do know is that I was recently privileged to an intimate education of the Syrian refugee process and what they go through to get here and more so, what they go through once they’re here in the States. Maybe I just want everyone to be more educated on the subject before spewing off-the-cuff opinions? Maybe I want everyone to help? Maybe I want both but either way, I felt compelled to share the knowledge.

We’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories that have tugged at many of our heart strings. This is a true is crisis. A true world crisis. And it should matter to everyone.

And before you hit me with the take care of our own mentality, I understand that we have debacles, epidemics, and concerns with our own citizens. Certainly, I understand that concept. But this? This is widely discussed and debated because it does affect all of us here, whether you like it or not. And for all of us that claim to love our country so much, you’re also loving the freedom and the hope that we represent as a country, not just to our citizens, but to all. That’s what our country was founded on: freedom and hope and promise.

We have always been, and hopefully always will be, despite the current administration’s stance, a wealthy nation that accepts refugees.  It’s there, in our history books. That’s just who America is. We are not a nation of exclusion. We are a nation of helping others.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”~ inscribed on our Statue of Liberty, symbol of freedom and hope.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-46-06-am

{Photo from Huffington Post article}

And with that said, the debate ensues.

We’ve read the tweets. We’ve heard the fear mongering. But many of us do not know the facts, myself (and apparently the current president of the United States) included.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-53-32-am

 

As we’re all well aware, many people of Muslim faith, are currently not welcomed in our country. We all have an opinion about this issue. Every single one of us do, whether we understand the complexities surrounding this issue or not, we have an opinion. Many of us have formulated our opinions on whether or not we believe it is a safe practice to allow refugees into our country. Although I am not writing to debate this topic of safety, it begs interjecting that of the seven countries the president has halted from entering the U.S., there has never been a terrorist attack executed by an immigrant from any one of these countries.

It must also be stated that the U.S. has had a strict vetting process in place for years. I think it’s so important to understand the facts and there are some great resources to familiarize yourself with the practice of vetting refugees. I’ve recently spent many hours understanding the facts so I can make a well-educated, well-informed opinion on this viral issue. I sincerely hope everyone does the same.

And here’s my {now well-informed} opinion:
1.) I {still} believe the President’s halt on refugees is un-American and horrific.
2.) I also believe, perhaps we shouldn’t allow so many refugees into our country.

Somewhat conflicting thoughts, right?

Here’s why:

A good friend of mine has been assisting a Syrian refugee family and I have been privileged to her up-close-and-personal experience with the process of resettling these refugees. And it isn’t very pretty.

A Syrian family of 4 had been living in Lebanon for two years awaiting their deportation through the refugee lottery system. The family had previously been living in Syria in peril since the father of two children, ages 7 and 9, was captured and beaten due to his political beliefs. He was a working man, a store owner, in Syria. His wife, a stay at home mom. The family had fled to Lebanon where they’re accepted as refugees but not allowed a work visa. They wanted a better life. And they wanted a safe place for their children. So they began the long, tedious process of becoming a refugee immigrant.

This was their home in Syria:

img_7087

This picture took me a minute to digest and comprehend. This.was.their.home. This is what happened to their home because of a belief. This was their reality. This is many realities for many, many families.

My friend Debbie, a devout Christian, met this family through a friend of hers whose son was involved with the Arabic Studies Program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. A program called Bridges assists refugee families with assimilating into the United States. In October 2016, 180 Syrians were a part of this group that came into south Florida via a United Nations sponsored program. A non-government organization (NGO) then assisted these families with settling in their new life.

The Federal Government provided these refugees with $925 per family member, food stamps, and Medicaid enrollment form. The rest of their resources are dependent on these NGOs to connect the dots.

These NGOs are funded privately, obviously, and although I don’t have the proper knowledge and history on which NGOs specifically assisted these 180 people, despite their best efforts, it’s seemingly not enough. Which is why Debbie and several of her friends got involved in helping.

Debbie is now acting as a guardian and liaison for this family, assisting with doctor’s appointments, school registration, parent-teacher conferences, finances, job opportunities, and so on. It became the task of kind, private citizens to assist these families because basically, the system has somewhat abandoned these families. And someone has to help.

This family is Arabic speaking only. They have the desire and the drive to learn English, but little resources to do so. Their kids are now falling behind in their coursework because they don’t speak the language, the teacher cannot communicate with the parents, and translation services for Arabic speaking people are not readily available. The family is housed in a high-priced rental in a very poor neighborhood (most likely due to the landlords that are able to capitalize on these refugee situations). And on top of all of the demographic challenges, Muslims are widely discriminated against, as Debbie can attest to by simply walking down the street with this family.

The system seems so very flawed. The system seems to be failing these refugees.

Debbie’s story of helping this family is fascinating to me. Here I was, thinking I had it all figured out. “Yes! Bring them here! All of them! We can help!”

But never answered the question of, “How are all of these people actually helped once they’re here?”.

The Center for Immigration Studies did a great analysis on the high cost of resettling. If you don’t feel like clicking and reading, the Cliff Notes are that yes, America is wealthy enough to take in refugees but also yes, they’re expensive to resettle and yes, they often do end up on public assistance.

So what can be done if we don’t want our tax dollars being over burdened by the refugees? The only answer I can come up with is privately funded NGOs and they clearly are in need additional funds and resources to help these refugees succeed. (Fun fact: this specific NGO requires the family to pay back the cost of their airfare that got them to freedom. They have six months to do so. Freedom isn’t free.)

Why should we care if they succeed? Shouldn’t they just feel lucky to be here? 

Based on Debbie’s experience, these families are very appreciative, very kind, very in debited. They do feel lucky to be here. They are lucky to have won the human lottery of escaping war and violence, but that doesn’t equate to a great life in their new surroundings, free of stress and frustrations.

Think of how frustrating and stressful it is to move your household. Now imagine living through legit hell, leaving with literally nothing, getting on a plane that you’re unsure where it will land, submerged into a society where you don’t speak the language, don’t have transportation, don’t have any resources, and are discriminated against for your religion. How absolutely terrifying.

And my thought is this on the why should we care piece: if we sit around our dinner tables complaining about people “living off the system” and draining our welfare programs, we must consider if we’re setting refugees up for success. It would be remiss not to because it’s proven that many refugees end up on said public assistance.

We’re taking these people in, giving them a hope and a promise, patting them on the shoulder and metaphorically telling them “good luck”. This may not be news to some but it was eye-opening for me. In my green stage of learning of this process, I’m probably understating when I say that process isn’t working well.

And that’s why I think we should accept fewer refugees, so we can do it better for them. Perhaps we can allow for more funding, more resources, for each of them. Is that too utopian of me? Is the problem more in humanity that there’s just not enough people to help in these NGOs, not enough money to privately sponsor? I’m not sure. I have a lot more to learn.

But.

It motivates me to want to do more. I want to learn. I want to help. I want to find a whole bunch of Debbie’s, form a{nother} non-profit and help correct a flawed system. I want to privately sponsor a family.

When I asked Debbie why, as a Christian woman, she’s helping this family so diligently, her answer was amazing:

“I’m putting feet to my faith”, she said.

Feet to her faith. So, not just saying she’s a good person. Not just saying she’s a Christian. Actually acting on it, looking well beyond religious differences, stereotypes and stigmas. Helping human beings. Because it’s the right thing to do. How inspirational is that?

If you’ve taken nothing more from reading all of this way, I hope you’re a little more educated on this topic. It’s truly not an issue of safety. It’s a human issue.

Being a Champion is Tricky Business. Being a Parent is Even Trickier.

If you’ve been following my writing, you know that I’m an open book, for better or worse. I’ve said it a million times and I will say it again: I write to connect with people. I write on divorce, motherhood, relationships, personal life events, kindness, and acceptance. Nothing new here. Nothing extremely unique. Just another voice amongst the chatter, mostly vying for a better place for my child to grow up in.

I know this platform isn’t for everyone. Not everyone understands why I put myself out there on display, and in some opinion, take my child along with me. I get that it’s not for everyone. I get it.  I respect it.

My post about the possibility of Lily being transgender was published on Scary Mommy in August of 2015. I thought long and hard about publishing it. It was a well thought out decision.

For me, love won. The love that I have for Lily won. Since, at that time, Lily had started to be called out on being different by other children and I had started to be called out on “allowing” her to be different, I not only wanted to connect with others like me but I also wanted to spread a message of kindness, acceptance and love.

It was received with mixed feedback, mostly because I don’t even believe that most people read these entire pieces when they’re published. They read a sensationalized title of, “My Daughter Might be Transgender…and I am Terrified” (a title given by Scary Mommy), and people make assumptions, draw conclusions, just from that one line. Maybe they skim it a little, maybe they do read the whole thing. Of course it’s going to be met with some mixed emotions based off of the title and content. But I felt the message was important. It was raw and it was real.

And I was right. People connected with me. I had dozens of other moms reach out to me to express they’re in the same surprising, challenging (at times) position of parenting a non-gender conforming child. It was shared thousands of times and read by over 40,000 people. I connected with beautiful people that are just as scared for their child as I am mine. That love and nurture their child, just as I do. That try to do the very best goddamn parenting job that they possibly can, just like I do.

It made me feel comforted and so not alone in this unique parenting challenge.

To my surprise thereafter, I was contacted by several other media outlets that wanted to interview me after this piece ran. Some I declined immediately, some I entertained.

I was approached by a media outlet based out of the U.K. in August of this year that wanted to do a 5 minute video interview with Lily and I. I was told it was going to be a part of their “Gender Neutral Parenting” segment on their Youtube channel. They shared some of the other videos within that category, other testimonials by parents like me. Some I loved, some I thought could have been done better, but overall, I liked the idea.

I thought about it for 4 weeks. I actually had turned down the opportunity immediately but then they revisited it with me, convincing me that this is a great way to get a message out there.  I discussed it with family members, carefully weighed the risks, discussed it at a 7 year old level with Lily, and ultimately decided I wanted to be a part of it. I saw it as another opportunity to spread acceptance and kindness. This company sold me on the idea.

When they sent the video to me for approval, I loved it. It was beautifully done. It conveyed my message well, the title was appropriate and the content was great. There were a few things left out that I would have liked added but overall, we came to, what I thought, was an agreement to run it.

Similar to my Scary Mommy piece, it was a message of losing labels, a message of kindness, acceptance, and letting kids explore themselves but also letting them just be kids.I wanted to be a champion for these kids and these parents. I wanted to be a voice of advocacy and normalizing this a bit.

Here’s the link that was sent to me for approval. This is what I want you all to see. (You will have to put a password in: bm_K1dTr4n.)

The part of the filming that I wish they would have included was the question of “How does Lily know about gender reassignment?”. I get scrutinized on this often. Here’s how: Lily has asked several times if she can become a boy. Never wanting to lie to her, I always kept my answers vague by saying “Well, babe. When you’re older, you can be lots of different things”.

And then Caitlyn Jenner came along. Lily saw her on a magazine cover, or possibly on TV, asked if it was a boy dressed as a girl, and I answered honestly”Yes. She was born a boy but decided as an adult she wanted to become a girl”. This came with many questions that I answered to the absolute best of my abilities. This is real shit, friends. These are real conversations with my child who has struggled with gender identity since she was very small.

The video was ran. It was ran with a very different title on a very different segment of this media company’s YouTube channel. The video itself is even narrated differently with things I never said. I don’t want to link it here because I’m not proud of it and the comments under it were absolutely brutal. It’s not the look I was going for.

Unbeknownst to me, our story was also sold to British tabloids and twisted into a bit of a message I didn’t want to send. Something I didn’t even imagine could happen. Rookie mistakes. I didn’t ask the right questions and obviously wasn’t working with the proper media outlet. I now feel like I put my child on display in a negative light. It was never my intention (and no, I didn’t get paid for this filming).

I’m not defending myself here, or explaining myself, for empathy or pity, or even for validation. No. I’m defending my message and my choice to speak out the way I do.

Being a champion of anything is hard work. It takes dedication, vigilance, a strong back bone. I’m learning as I go with social media, writing, and sharing my life with the masses. I’m navigating ways to do this without having a lasting effect on my child. I’m learning. It’s tricky to balance wanting to get a message out there with also doing the right thing. Some of it is absolutely trial and error. This video was an error. I don’t give any fucks if people are chatting behind my back about this. No fucks at all given. If you’re judging me on my parenting, congratulations of being a perfect parent and knowing all of the answers. If you’re judging me on my writing and my openness, I accept that.

I just want Lily to be unscathed. That is all.

So, I guess this is another message of kindness. Remember that not everything you see online is real… but there are real people with real feelings behind the keyboards. Don’t let your keyboard make you brave, hateful, or overly judgmental. The media loves to do this. They love to create a divide.

I’m still proud of my message and even more proud of Lily for simply being her. Who she wants to be. She is leading me into a path of so much learning, I cannot even begin to tell you how lucky I am.

But, my lesson has been learned. I will champion kindness through other ways. No more British media for us. But I will continue to unapologetically write what I feel suitable, share what I feel worth sharing and be a champion for kindness, tolerance, and acceptance.

Thank you for reading my rambling.

 

 

The Distraction Called ‘Election Year’

Is it over? Can I come out yet?

No. Apparently not. My social media feeds are telling me it’s not safe yet.

Hasn’t it all been awful?

Trump.
Clinton.
Racism.
Emails.
Misogyny.
Emails.
Bigotry.
Emails.
Pussy grabbing.
Emails.
Trump University fraud.
Emails.
4000+ law suits.
Emails.
Homophobia.
Emails.

I mean, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, it’s  been awful. Ok, maybe a little bit more on one side than the other, in my opinion. But I digress.

Here’s the thing: it’s over. The election is over. It was terrible and awful and unprecedented. But it’s over. And it’s all been such a huge distraction and many of us are losing sight.

We all picked a side. That’s what it’s about. Our government was designed that way. Republican or Democrat. Conservative or Liberal. We all are categorized and labeled to everyone’s comfort.  We are all then grossly generalized by these respective labels.

The one unique, not so subtle, elephant in the room (no pun intended) with this election is that one of the candidates was more anti-establishment appearing. Anti-policy, perhaps. He went after a silent majority, in large, people that have never voted in their entire lives, promising change, promising a different government, promising big things. How these things will be achieved has yet to be seen, let alone actually discussed or laid out in a plan, put he has promised. People have hung their hat on him since many trust a white business man over a female politician, apparently, and that’s their right to do so.

But, friends. This, this presidential campaigning, is all a distraction from real life and has brought out so much ugliness. This is somewhat like getting caught up in some soap opera that we’re desperately wanting to see unfold. We can’t wait to see the next episode.

All of us were privileged to the kind words of both candidates immediately following the election. Clinton urging Americans to embrace the change as best they can, especially with the eloquence of her concession speech, and Trump commending Clinton in his acceptance speech, thanking her for her years of service to this country, after absolutely ravaging her character for over a year. Paul Ryan now sitting next to Trump, promising the nation great thing, after Ryan vehemently spoke against Trump. And so on. Now everyone in government is suddenly copacetic, sitting in their offices figuring out what’s next on their agendas, collecting their much larger paycheck than mine; business as usual. Funny how that works.

Meanwhile, us, the average Americans are angry. All of us.

The Clinton supporters, in shock that this was the result when it was supposed to be a slam dunk, the fear of what will happen to so many individuals’ rights.The violent protests of some Clinton supporters, even though these might have been some of the same people that were fearful and angry that Trump said he wouldn’t concede if he lost the election. Trust me, I understand what they’re protesting. It isn’t the loss and the display of sore losers. I get it. But is it productive? I’m not so sure.

The Trump supporters bashing the grief of the Clinton supporters, telling them all to “Suck it up! Support democracy!”, although, most didn’t want to do so when the FBI cleared Clinton more than once in supposed email scandal. I’ve also continue to see such hateful memes and bullying on this side of the fence. Social media is one of the biggest culprits of creating divisiveness, and has been this entire election, continuing to pit sides.

Hypocrisy is abounding. Everyone is angry.We all want answers. We’re all turning on one another. Still.

They ignited a fire in us. We’re left to put out the flames.

My pleas to us:

Clinton supporters: take your time and grieve. Please do. Process your fears. I certainly am. But channel it. Channel the grief. Get involved in local government, sign petitions, make safe moves to protect rights. Be proactive. Be the change. I am assuming that I don’t know any of you personally that are violently protesting but please, please stop. Peaceful. Practice what we preach.

Trump supporters: Please, allow your Clinton supporting friends their time to process, be angry, and grieve. Please stop telling them to “move on” or insinuating that they’re a bunch of pussies. Be fair. Assuming that I’m resonating with those Trump supporters that claim themselves to not be racist, sexist, misogynistic, or homophobic, talk to your kids about other cultures, other religions, and not chanting “BUILD THAT WALL!” to their Latino classmates like I saw today on the news. They have fear mongered us over the last year and our kids were listening more than we realized, as evident by racist, violent acts throughout the country as I type.

On the topic of children, like I’ve heard many say over these past few days, morals and values are built at home and not taught by our government directly to our children. I totally agree. But within that moral compass that we’re cultivating within our children, government must be a topic of discussion. It’s imperative that our children understand why we’re so passionate about elections as adults, for them to grasp that these offices make very large decisions about our country, our freedom. We can’t ignore all of the commercials that we’ve seen over the last yet and assume they didn’t impact our children . We can’t fail to explain these to our kids. This election has already proven to have a large, grave impact on our children. Please explain why to them. Help them understand.

If this was your first election ever voting, wonderful, tell your children why. If one candidate spoke to you about issues that were important, resonated with you, talk about it. Take the time to do it. Please. We are privileged to live in a country with this democracy. And we’re a passionate species. It’s unjust if your children are just watching this unfold without having some pretty pointed conversations.

We are a nation divided and we must start to move forward and mend. It is our only choice and our only hope. I’m not asking everyone to “come together”. That’s a unicorn. This election year has made it clear that it’s just not possible at times. Friendships and family relationships have been fractured, some beyond repair. Let that be ok. Find your people and stick with them. But put one foot in front of the other overall. Don’t get distracted from life. We will all be ok. We have to be. Don’t create too much anxiety for yourself no matter who your candidate of choice was. It’s energy wasted. Keep living.

People keep telling me to “give Trump a chance”. I have conceded peacefully. It’s my only option.