What I wish I could say

Not too long ago I was perusing social media, reading everyone’s different posts quickly. One stuck out to me, where an acquaintance of mine had shared a photo of them with their ex. The caption said something about parents needing to be mature and put their differences aside for the good of the children. I could feel myself react, not because I felt it was directed at me but in a sense, the shoe sure as hell fits.

A few days later I see an article pop up on my feed on scarymommy.com. It was an almost love-letter penned by a mom to a step-mom thanking her for being her ally and maybe even her best friend. I’m going to be honest here, as I usually am. I skimmed it loosely. Not because the author’s words had no meaning to me, but because the letter didn’t apply to me. Yes, there are Bruce Willis’ and Demi Moore’s out there who can remain friends and co-parent successfully. They can do blended family dinners and respectfully shuttle the involved children back and forth like angels. I think that is beautiful and un-normal and amazing. For them.

That doesn’t work for me.

I refuse to allow people to make me feel bad for not harboring feelings of goodwill and grace for my ex-husband. Whether they do or say something that alludes to this in one way, shape, or form, I defend myself. Perhaps aggressively, perhaps coyly, but undoubtedly. In the past seven years since I left that abusive marriage, I have learned how important it is to set boundaries, remain steadfast in what I know is best for me and then best for the children (because I have to put my own oxygen mask on before I help them, just like those sweet flight attendants remind us every time we fly), and to disregard anyone’s idea of how I should behave if I know it isn’t healthy for my well-being. <–that’s my nice way of saying, Thank u, next, just like Ariana. That is okay.

I can be mature and not nice at the same time.

Lately I’ve done some leadership development at work with different groups of management and one thing I always stress is that we can say anything to our colleagues that we want, as long as we say it respectfully and with tact. I use this same advice in how I communicate with the boys’ father. I will use tact. I will be respectful. But I do not have to be nice. And if setting boundaries is a new concept to you, sometimes it can feel like you’re being mean. I don’t think so. I think it feels like you’re being clear and as my soon-to-be-bestie, Brene Brown likes to point out, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boom. If that goddess believes it, then this goddess believes it. We are a society very used to sugarcoating words then calling people names if they say something straightforward and to-the-point to us. Say it anyway, if it needs to be. That is okay.

I get to decide who I trust.

Kulia often calls me a Mama Bear. I do my best to make INCREDULOUS face when she says it but she’s pretty accurate in calling me that. For a whole lot of reasons, I have  majority custody of my children. I think back to the letter from the mom to step-mom and how she says she trusts her wholeheartedly. That’s fantastic for them but unrealistic for so many of us. I cannot trust my counterparts and since I cannot trust them, every time we communicate or interact together, it is forced, strained, and awkward. That is okay.

Oil and water.

I spent the majority of my decade-long marriage hating the company (I don’t mean job-wise) I was with. His parents didn’t mesh with mine, his siblings didn’t jive with me, we didn’t share friendships. Every.single.aspect. of who we were together didn’t mix. It should be no surprise that apart we continue to be the same. Once Abraham asked if for his birthday he could have a dinner where we all joined together and without hesitation I let him know I couldn’t do that because I wouldn’t feel safe. When we share things with the boys, perhaps not with as many words or deep detail, I continue to tell them that I have to keep my safety at the forefront of anything I agree to. For a long time that meant I couldn’t be a part of pick-up and drop-off or even the communication to make that happen.  I have to say no sometimes but I am always honest. That is okay.

Parallel Parenting is not for the weak of heart.

Washington state (and I’m sure many others) have this bananas rule that when you file for divorce, if children are involved, both parents must attend a parenting class before the custody plan will be approved. I remember walking in to it thinking there wasn’t anything they would teach me in that class that I didn’t already know. I was pleasantly surprised. In that class I learned about co-parenting and parallel parenting, what ex-couples fight the most about, and the most important things your child(ren) need to hear right now. Co-parenting means parenting together, as implied in the name. Parallel parenting means each parent decides and does what they think is best while they have the child(ren). There isn’t any collaboration. To each his own. And the minute I heard it, I wrote it down and knew that is what I would be doing from here until eternity. That is okay.

**Side note, most parents fight over clothes. And children need to hear you give them verbal permission to love the other parent.**

I suppose that mother wrote that letter because ugly breakups are expected but not the only option. Just remember, if you find yourself reading something that gets you fired up, that it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person because you can’t emulate that same feeling or behavior. It isn’t apples to apples, no matter what some people would have you believe. Set your boundaries, live your life, and be safe, always, friends. That is okay.

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I couldn’t stop gushing over how handsome Sam was for Prom

 

Surviving

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I am almost 37 years old.

I am still at a point where the majority of my adult years were spent in fight, flight or freeze.

I have a lot of nightmares. Even when I am doing well and not getting bombarded with ugly memories, I will wake up drenched in sweat from trying to run away from him.

Ku and I watch movies or shows sometimes where there is a character in an abusive relationship. I’m usually shaking my head as it happens, both as a reminder that I am not that character and that I am okay, and also because I don’t get it. I lived that life for over a decade and I still can’t comprehend WHY. I’m not just saying why it happens. I’ve read plenty of articles and attended events where phrases like toxic masculinity and gender norms and rape culture are explained. They make sense and I can see where the change needs to happen. I always leave thinking YES, we can FIX THIS, TEACH THE BOYS! Except, it is deeper than that, right?

Why me, though?

Not to say it should have happened to someone else, anyone else, as long as I was spared. No. Not at all. I’m saying why did I allow it happen? Why didn’t I know better? Why didn’t I walk away? I can’t think of any situation where domestic violence makes sense. I also cannot think of one where it made sense that I would fall victim. You see, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA, honor roll, Honor Society, accepted to my first university of choice. I guess when I think about circumstances that people find themselves in, I think that education and book smarts should help play a role in how they handle themselves.

My book smarts didn’t save me.

My Dad taught me when I was young that I had to walk on the inside of the sidewalk and him on the outside because if it was reversed than guys would think I was for sale. This seems to be a pretty universal understanding, judging from popular culture. We have been taught to buy in to this belief that boys will be boys and consent isn’t always clear, and boys who are mean to you on the playground like you. That locker room talk is just that, and should be excused. Yet somehow, guys have a basic, universal understanding that if I’m closest to the curb than I am open for business.

Early on I learned that if a man behaves inappropriately to me than it is my fault. If I’m standing on a beach in Puerto Vallarta when I’m thirteen in a one-piece swimsuit and some male walks by and ogles me, I share the blame between myself and puberty. If I’m standing in a bar, chatting with the people I walked in with, and a guy walks up to me and inappropriately puts his hand on my shoulder to say things that I don’t want him telling me, I can’t make a scene because it would be rude. What I learned when I was growing up was that if a grown man did anything disgusting to me, such as rub his erect penis against my leg even when I was fifteen, it was my fault and that if I said something, I would be blamed. That easily translated to me being responsible if I was hit by my other half. We have been taught, as young girls, to be meek, quiet, accepting and to not embarrass our parents.

Before I got pregnant with Abraham, my ex and I were living in my hometown. It was a calm, beautiful summer day and my friend Yesenia had stopped by to make flour tortillas with me. My meanager, Sammy, was only two or three years old and playing in the living room. Everything was great that day, because it wasn’t always terrible. Except, my ex-husband didn’t like Yesenia and I hadn’t told him she stopped by. Of course his mom did, though and he came home from work so angry. I don’t remember the argument but I remember I got in my car and left. I drove to Yesenia’s house because I needed space. I couldn’t stay there one more second and I didn’t feel safe. I could always tell when he was going to get physical.

When I drove up to her house, I thought briefly about how he would probably guess where I was but I knocked anyway. I remember the wind blowing gently through my hair as she answered the door with a worried look and I distinctly recall sitting on her couch feeling calmer. What I can’t conjure no matter how hard I try is what he said when he called her house and made her reluctantly hand me the phone, my drive back because he threatened banging on her door until I left if I didn’t, or walking in to my house. And somewhere between the door shutting and me turning towards both him and his mom, he hit me. Hard.

She came in to the bedroom a short while later, and as I cried in to my pillow, she told me I should never have driven away, that I should never have gone to Yesenia’s, and that I should have stopped arguing before he got to that point.

I was blamed. And I spent many years thinking it was all my fault.

I’m still so hesitant to share my story. I would be lying if I said it was because I don’t want to be blamed. I didn’t deserve it then, when someone who witnessed it firsthand was quick to place it on me or by anyone who would continue to do it today.

We become a mean type of human when we use stories of survivors’ trauma to apply irrational justification. I hear a lot (usually as a joke lobbed at trying to ease the discomfort of a terrible truth that was just shared) of comments about how embarrassed my ex must be to have lost me to a woman. What I wouldn’t give for this to not be someone’s first response when we talk about something very painful for me, still.

In reality, his manhood was gone the second he hit me. The moment he dismissed my love and loyalty to manipulate me into staying. When he decided to use my feelings to make himself feel bigger. <–That is what is really embarrassing.

Bravery is an action that is hard to muster up.

I was a great student. I graduated in the top 10% of my class with a set determination to make something of myself. What took me a long time to realize was that even though I stepped back and chose to start a family over my education, I was still smart. Even though I fell into an abusive relationship, I was still strong. And when I got away, in those first few steps of freedom, I found the road lonely. I lost friendships. I fought with family. I was scared yet I was without quit in me. I was judged, sometimes to my face, even. I sat in my car and cried because I couldn’t immediately fix everything.

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I rebuilt, brick by brick, my insides. Somewhere in all the mess I had made, I began to see the beauty again. One of the best discoveries was that I could use my scared, shaking voice to recount my stories, share them publicly, and discover that I was encouraging women to stand up and leave. I don’t blog as often as I initially meant to about surviving domestic violence, but every single post brings at least ONE woman forward, who chooses to disclose to me a trauma she is currently or has gone through.

That fuels my fire. Telling someone your deepest secret is a big kind of scary. To each of you who has found the strength to break your silence to me, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And know I don’t judge you.

 

What is happening?

You might wonder why I took a hiatus from writing. No, that’s not quite true. See, I don’t think much about what exactly I’m going to write and rather I let the words come to me. Many a posts were written lately, all in my head, where most of them begin. They just never made it on my blog, because they were either too much of one thing or another. I wanted to write about love on Valentine’s Day but then there was a school shooting and I was heartbroken, unable to find words that would do any of the seventeen lost souls justice, except there were many, all strung together in my head in a jumble of sadness and anger. I read so many calls to action, so beautifully written yet I felt paralyzed because I don’t know what to do or how.

And then there were the conversations about the shooting, with friends and family and our boys. How could I share some of the most raw, irritating, frustrating conversations with all of you, who are out there having your own? And then when fun things happened, how do you share that, when our nation (well, most of us) is mourning all the children who didn’t come home after school because of other children who took a weapon into their own hands and made a safe place a nightmare?

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The #meanager, who we remind daily that he has much to learn

Alex, a trombonist, who could have been my Sam. Sam, who didn’t participate in any of the walkouts for reasons I can’t understand. Sam, who spouted second amendment words to me that made me want to scream. He has been so mature of late and then we disagree on this, on the issue of gun control and I wonder if we picked the right town to live in. Except, whose town is really safe? Are any?

I read this book years back by Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone, which is a memoir of this poor boy’s time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Little babes stolen from their families and told horrible things to make them angry, given drugs and forced to shoot their friends to see who is toughest. They are handed rifles and in my mind they are AK-15s because that makes sense to me. He doesn’t want to kill. He knows it’s wrong. Yet his is a story of survival in a country going through civil war, where adults are using every resource they have, which is an abundance of children.

I read an interview by Suzanne Collins on where her inspiration came from for The Hunger Games and she spoke of not being able to sleep one night and flipping through the channels and landing on a documentary  about child soldiers. I imagined she was learning of Ishmael and the horrors he went through. The effects of war on children is where THG began. Young boys and girls, forced to do unspeakable things. Forced.

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Moose, who we remind daily to be kind and show love to people

My mind flashes back to a regular morning with Moose. I’m driving him to school and it’s the morning after the Parkland shooting. I ask him what he does if there’s an active shooter at his school and he answers me so casually. It was as if I’m asking him if he enjoys math over science.

“I would hide. We learned to hide,” my son replies in all his nine years of age. “Where would you hide?” I have to ask this. I have to make sure it makes sense. He spouts out different places, mostly supply closets. That doesn’t feel safe enough to me, but you know what? Neither does school, in general, now. I question him about where he would hide if he’s on the playground, expecting him to have to think about it for a minute or two. He doesn’t, though. They’ve gone over this, too. I don’t find that comforting, friends. Except, I do in a way. A guilty way.

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Abraham, who is so brave and learning to do him, regardless

A heartfelt conversation with Abraham, the 11 year old, wise beyond his years. He is a lover, more emotional than we knew how to handle for a while there, who participated in the sit-downs (they weren’t allowed to walkout in middle school, but were allowed to go to the gym). “What made you want to join in?” we asked him, because we didn’t expect it. “I want to be safe in school and I feel bad for the students who went through that. I don’t want to be bullied or afraid.” Me, too, boo. I don’t want any of those things for you, either. We applauded him. Gave him some high-fives. I’m not saying I was more proud of him than Sam, because they are equal but not the same. Abraham identifies with some of these concepts, as he has been bullied and made fun of. He beats his drum to a different beat, regardless, but it hasn’t always been easy for him. Sam is challenging us and forcing us to think harder and longer about our words and our expectations.

What are we expecting of our children? What are we teaching them with our words and our actions? How are we raising our boys, who see violence glorified in so many ways, with so many avenues? The #meanager mentioned he didn’t feel the need to walkout and demand gun control because it didn’t apply to him. “That won’t happen in Ferndale,” he has the gall to tell me. Except, a few short weeks later an email from his school district was sent to the parents to explain that a student had been arrested two days prior (which has me all kinds of fired up in a totally different way), because that student had brought a firearm to school and waived it around at another student as school was being released. That won’t happen here, MY ASS. I would be naïve, we all would be, to think any of us are safe.

DVSAS had it’s annual Victory Over Violence luncheon last month, where an informative, engaging conversation was had about gender norms, roles, and expectations. Many times, without meaning to, any one of us is perpetuating it. Ever since that lunch I have been thinking about my words and how I speak to my boys, because talking about it and being aware is how change happens. And you know what I think the most? That no one has to agree with me. But we can all listen, regardless. Just in case we learn something.

This is how I feel about where we are right now. Even if we don’t agree. Even if you have the strongest opinions about guns and your amendments, which ironically, includes the first. I mean, I’ll listen, too. And work on little things, like not telling your boys that dolls or the color pink are only for girls. Or gifting play kitchen-stuff to the little ladies in your life, because they are more than soon-to-be housewives. All I’m saying is think about your ideas of gender roles and consciously make an effort to disrupt that thinking and begin spreading that change. Show your mini-men love and kindness, show their boy pals the same, because we don’t know what happens behind any closed doors and you might be the catalyst for them to grow up better.

We can do this, friends. We owe it to our littles.

Jackets and Ten Steps

beginningsThe other day (I really mean it this time, because more often than not it could mean two days ago or twenty years ago, and that is just how I roll) I was hanging up some laundry and my eyes lingered on our coats/jackets/hoodies section. I mean, everyone has one of these in their closet, right? Outerwear to the outer-max, just busting at the seams. And that is what my heart was doing. It was muffin-topping out of my chest, as silly as that seems.

Six years ago, when I moved back to the mainland without my main squeeze (that would be Ku, don’t get confused there) I was in an in-between phase. No job to dive into, no money, and only two-thirds of my children. <– Yeah, you read that right. I was about to begin the divorce process and my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough had flown back with my baby-Moose three weeks before me. He was convinced I would get off the plane and into his grasp again, promising not to use my little as leverage, except I wasn’t born yesterday and I am not naïve.

Leaving Ku behind, as I boarded a plane with my two oldest, two suitcases and a carry-on heavy with anxiety, was hard. Not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely top ten. After almost two years on Oahu, we were coming back with less than what got us there. That’s practically zilch, friends. We went straight to my parents house and I tried to navigate how to file for divorce, how to draft a parenting plan, how to feel safe again, and how to keep the law on my side. I’m lucky in that I was Aria throughout so much of my decade-long marriage, going to sleep each night throughout those 3,650-ish days reciting the times he had hit me, remembering practically verbatim the times he made threats against my person, screenshotting as many texts as I could, especially in those last months. Not that I had to try hard because none of that is easy to forget. What I’m saying is I had no troubles establishing a case.

As I searched for a home for the five of us, this duplex in Lynden presented itself. I called and made an appointment to see it, being lucky in that the landlord had barely posted it on Craigslist five minutes before. I drove straight there with a gas tank full of hope. I told him the truth about starting over and not having much, that my deposit would come courtesy of my Mom, who also was the reason why Moose was back in my arms. I even pleaded with him. Said please over and over. I don’t know what made him say yes but all I know is Mercury was most definitely not in retrograde, all the planets were aligned and two plus two equaled four.

We got the place.

We moved in so fast, and I’m not trying to be funny here. I mean, how long does it take to pack up two suitcases and drive over to your new spot and then unload two suitcases? But it was ours and I was sitting there trying not to cry in front of my mini-men, because now I had a place I would never worry about moving out of again, unless I wanted to. I remember sitting on the floor that first day and just looking around. And then I recall the doorbell ringing and it was a furniture company with a surprise delivery of a set of bunk beds with mattresses and two couches, because my Mom is an angel and didn’t want us to sleep on the floor. I took the boys to Safeway and we got groceries for the new place, courtesy of food stamps (I’m never going to be ashamed of that, mmkay?) and I almost cried when Sam asked if we had enough to get cereal. I don’t care what anyone says, but when you talk about money for two months straight, it ends up giving your kids anxiety about food and that’s a sad place to be in, but we were and we worked through it. I’m 99% certain Sam doesn’t remember that moment like I do.

We loved in that home for almost three years. <–See, that is a feel good sentence, but it’s incomplete. We called that spot the “Ten Step” because it was T-I-N-Y. Anywhere you were in the house you could get anywhere else within ten steps. It was probably 700 square feet, which is INSANELY small for five bodies, three of which hadn’t figured out how to aim properly into the toilet. The one toilet. ONE.

Shortly after Ku moved in with us, and as we began rebuilding, together, she turned to me and said, “We need coats.” The closet in the living room, meant just for that, was so empty. We laughed about it and then promptly got to it, filling that closet to overflowing, and filling our home in general, but more importantly, filling our hearts. We stayed longer than we should have, mostly because it was never the right size for us, but also because we had plans and we aren’t above sacrificing. Now we have an abundance of jackets.

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Ten year old Sam, in the Ten Step kitchen

It is not lost upon me that Ten Steps sounds like a rehab program, but in a way, that little home was. For me, at least. I had to learn how to stop attending every argument my ex tried to invite me to, and how to stop self-sabotaging my love with Kulia. That’s all just honest truth. Sometimes it was too good for me and she saw right through (and still does) all the fights I tried to start with her for no reason. I had to learn to not expect certain things when we argued and that I could lean on her to support me in all things my life. It was the first time I had to handle the boys being away and me being at home without them. The ten step helped my heart grow back it’s feeling every day we were there.

Sometimes, when people talk about their circumstances, they look at my chapter 10 and compare it to their chapter three. “You have so much going for you, you wouldn’t understand.” Or, “Look at all you have! I need to get there before I can (insert whatever it is they are holding back from).” The thing is, I freaking get it. So hard. Change is hard and rewriting your shitty first draft is hard, but the thing is, you can’t change what you won’t change. And you most certainly can’t change anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I held back from leaving him. I gave myself all the excuses, so don’t think there is judgement here from me. There most definitely is not one drop coming from me. I took a long time to get the courage up to leave and he said a lot of lies to me that I started to believe over time, but let me tell you this, and listen closely:

As long as there is air in your lungs and your heart pumps blood, you can do it. You can start over and have nothing but the clothes on your back and you can make it. Everything can be replaced. Everything, except for the air in your lungs and the blood pumping through your arteries.

I promise.

So if you are sitting there, single-momming it, wondering how you’ll all eat and not still feel hungry but also keep the lights on, or if you hate your job and don’t know how you’ll handle being back in school while working full-time, or if you are living in a hell-hole and have zero dollars to your name, LIFT YOUR CHIN UP. You can abhor your circumstances but you can also turn them around.

Mmmmkmay?

 

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Abraham, Sam and Moose reppin Hawaii in the Ten Step

A bonus-ing we will go!

It’s Christmas time! And you know what that means…eggnog, presents under gloriously decorated trees, and perhaps a little extra in your direct deposit. Wait, is that still a thing?

I honestly can’t remember what it feels like to be a part of a company that does bonuses, being as I’ve been out of the banking game for about six years now <– and those were based on performance, mostly, so you had to do things to get em. And not to get all National Lampoon-y on you, even though ’tis the season and all, but Clark was on to something when he yelled at his boss. He really was!

We are entering an era where employee engagement and retention of top notch worker bees is becoming cruuuuuucial. And not to get all HR on you, because dat’s my liiiiiife, but in the time of Google and Facebook and Starbucks, upping your boss game is more than just with moola. But, let’s say you do get a fatty little bump at the end of the year, in the form of the ever-sought-after B-O-N-U-S. What then?

See, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I do with my monies. Maybe it’s because I sit on the board of DVSAS and it stays active and changes lives in our community because of the generosity of the upper crust and the medium crust and you know what, the whole damn pie. I think about how there was a time my boys were only unwrapping gifts from family because there wasn’t enough to feed them AND get them a toy. I know that now, where we are in our lives, we can reach out and  help in so many ways. Except, it can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have three zeros after your first number in whatever check you may be writing and that makes you feel bad. Maybe you don’t even know where to start because you want to help ALL the peoples.

Is that you? Do you feel like you just don’t know when or how? Well, you’re in luck, because I haven’t had much luck in sleeping lately, so my mind did most of the work for my friends. Here’s what I came up with, with hopefully something for those who maybe just have $5 to give.

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Idea #1: A charity that speaks to your heart

Now, this will take a little work on your end, so I apologize in advance, but here’s what I recommend: Sit down, take some deep breaths, and think about the valleys of your life. The low times, the hard times, the I-would-rather-not-think-about-that-time-of-my-life times. It might make you emotional, it might even make you mad, but take that energy and GET OUT THE GOOGLE. Mad-type your problem into the search bar and hit freakin ENTER like you’re lighting something on fire. Because you are. It could be a time when you were homeless or close to it, battling an addiction or watching someone battle one, domestic violence (oh, there are my heartstrings, alive and well), it could be you wanting to play a youth sport but your parents couldn’t afford it, maybe it was a puppy you begged for every year but never received, or how about if you just didn’t have healthy meals on the daily because you could barely afford food. Now, if you’re in Whatcom County, that could look like this:

Lydia Place, DVSAS, The Lighthouse Mission, Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County, Whatcom Humane Society, Bellingham Food Bank, Northwest Youth Services , etc.

You could literally donate $5 and begin making a difference.

Idea #2: Support Political Action

It’s no surprise that for so many 2017 has been a let-down of a year. If you aren’t in that boat and you don’t feel any sort of ill-feelings toward the political state of our country, go ahead and skip on down to idea #3, because this one won’t speak to you. It’s been a trying set of months of who is a pre-existing condition, what women can or can’t say about their bodies, #metoo, and so on. Use your dollars like you would your voice because even your George Washington can come in hot, yelling like a CRAAAAAZY, just like you. Some great places to start are: Planned Parenthood (and please do so in Mike Pence’s name), DACA (because I’m not up for squashing anybody’s dreams, most certainly not those of the innocent), American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Org, National Assoc for the Advancement of Colored People, GLAAD, and so on. We cannot let those who don’t look like us, think like us, pee like us, etc get the better of us.

Idea #3: Education is going to change a world <– yours or whoever else’s. Someone’s world. It’s going to be changed. Let it be because of you.

If you can read this, thank a damn teacher. I mean it. Send a huge effin round of applause to the ladies and men who are there with our kiddos on the daily, listening to them drone on about whatever is important to them at the time. Who were also there for you. Yes, they aren’t perfect but neither are we and so they still deserve it. You can do any of the following and I’m sure tears would be shed: Donate to a PTO, whichever is closest to you, or at the school you went to, or stop in to a school one day and ask to pay some money on a student’s lunch bill. Because everyone needs to eat to be able to focus in class and some kids are in NEED OF FUNDS. I hope you all clapped that out with me, because I typed it HARD as if I was clapping. This is essential. Just take a Jackson in and find the office, ask where you can pay money on lunch accounts and hand it over. It will feel INCREDIBLE. Or you could buy a gift card at a store like the Dollar Store so the teachers, who make so little and still use their OWN MONIES to supply whatever is needed in their classroom and hand it to your kiddos educator. Or your neighbor’s kiddos educator. They are in abundance but their account balances are not. Again, even $10 could change someone’s world.

Idea #4: Listen

One day I was in Safeway and I did what every normal person does when I was ready to checkout. I scanned all the lines and picked the shortest one because #duh. I put all my items on the belt and waited patiently. I think I may have even texted Kulia something, because phones distract me from boring moments. I noticed I wasn’t moving even though I was next in line and I looked up to see the gentleman in front of me digging in his pockets and then choose an item to return. He nervous laughed and said he wasn’t sure how much his debit card would allow and so he asked the cashier to key in $20 and see if it would take. It did but he had a balance of $4.50 and all he had was milk, eggs, bacon and some other staple items. He was about to pick another item to put back when I handed a $5 bill to the kind lady and said, “Here. Please use this.” When he realized what had happened, he turned beet red because he was embarrassed. I felt bad for him when he turned to thank me over and over. It was such a small amount of help and he was so grateful and what I’m trying to say is, if I would have been stuck on my phone and not paying attention, I couldn’t have said yes to helping someone. Often times we hear of people paying it forward in coffee lines or things of the sort, but you can do it almost anywhere and I encourage you to be open and ready for it. I especially would like to throw out there that helping an elderly person at a store is monumental. They almost all live on set incomes that aren’t increasing with inflation. Help them out, friends.

Well, peeps, there you have it. Four but really 100 ways (because what’s life without a little exaggeration) to do something with your bonus. Or your fiver that you may or may not just spend on a coffee for yourself. Every little bit helps and I do mean every little bit. Don’t do what I did for so many years and think that because I don’t have thousands to hand out that I couldn’t partake in giving. And if you truly don’t have even $1 to help, I believe you but I ask this: Give your smiles. Show kindness to your fellow Earth-mates. Connect eyes and show some care. Genuine care. Even to the people panhandling on the streets and most especially to them.

Merry Christmas, you jolly bunch of non-a-holes. I love you all. And if you decide to buy yourself a pool, I won’t hold it against you.

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Meandering with Meanagers

I have gotten better at sharing my herstory of domestic violence but it wasn’t until recently that I really started to think about what it means to my boys. While it was never physical in front of them, they definitely witnessed verbal and emotional. The meanager and I had a deep discussion about it recently and with his permission, I’m sharing Sam’s perspective on domestic violence (these are his words, undoctored):

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Sometimes my Dad loses his temper. If you make him mad, he’ll probably spank you or tell you to stop talking to him or he’ll say hurtful things. It’s not always bad, though. The thing is, some kids might really disrespect his parents and someone seeing it might say things like, “That kid really needs a beating/spanking, etc” but I don’t think hitting is the answer because that kid will grow up thinking violence is okay and then probably hit his kids and the cycle keeps on going.

If he would have hit you in front of us when we were growing up, I think we would have grown up thinking hitting women is okay. About two months ago I talked privately with my Dad and asked him to not yell or say hurtful things to my stepmom. I asked him to try harder to not be so angry or disrespectful towards her. I think he’s working on it, not perfectly, but trying, I would say.

I’ve never physically hit anyone in my life. Well, except for my brothers. We do wrestle sometimes and it gets out of hand but at the end of the day, I would never want to punch someone or hurt someone. When I get mad I want to smash something or punch a punching bag or break something. I’ve been trying not to play certain games on Xbox because they make me the most frustrated but when I do get to that level of mad, listening to music helps me or watching dumb things on YouTube.

When it all came down to my Dad leaving Hawaii with Moose, I didn’t know what was happening. I thought we were moving back to continue living as a family. When you shared some stuff that had happened the night you left, I felt betrayed by him. When you marry someone, you promise to always have a good time, to not hurt each other in a physical way, and I felt like he broke that promise. The first year you guys were separated, I didn’t understand everything because it wasn’t until about two years ago that you shared A LOT MORE of the story. It was hard because I couldn’t see him as much. Because I didn’t know what had happened, I didn’t know if I should be upset with him or with you so I just felt neutral. I’m not upset with either one of you now, because that is the past, and I know that you won’t ever forget that whole thing, but even thinking about it makes me frustrated.

My Dad knows it’s not right to hit someone, especially a woman, and I don’t know where he learned that because one day my Grandma told me my Grandpa had never laid a finger on her, so it’s not like he saw that growing up. They [his dad and stepmom] were arguing one day and that’s when my Grandma said that. Sometimes I worry about [my stepmom]. I hope she doesn’t get put in a situation where she worries about her life, like you did.

I hope my Dad has learned from his past mistakes. I’ll probably ask him questions when I’m older and have a bigger perspective of things, but I try not to say too much now because he gets mad easy. I do plan on it, though. My big worry is Moose might become like him because he hits when he’s upset and I worry about Abraham because when he gets mad he calls people names and I don’t want him to get beat up. It’s stressful and I can see those things happening.

I’m 100% happy, right along with my brothers and I know that hitting is wrong. I think my Dad and I are completely different because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings on purpose. I don’t like that. I’m not saying he tries to hurt people’s feelings on purposeI don’t like it when he says terrible things to me so I don’t want to be that way. In a way I know things happen for a reason because if you would have left him sooner, we wouldn’t have gone to Hawaii and you wouldn’t have met Ku. I just know that I still love my Dad and I think he’s happy and I KNOW you are. And I’m proud of you, Mom, for being strong enough to leave and figure out how to be happy.

**Insert crying mom face, because sometimes this young man-cub just blows me out of the water with his maturity and depth of understanding. It can’t be easy being my oldest boy, but maaaaaan, he makes us so effin proud. This reads as he speaks and while I could have changed the layout, I wanted to stay true to him and his heart.

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15 Ways I knew I was in an Abusive Relationship

15 Ways to Recognize Abuse

October is fast approaching, which just so happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness month, but in all honesty, I feel like every month is it for me. I never lose that awareness. I never lose sight of what I’ve fought so hard to survive. When I think about my previous marriage and the things I went through with my ex-husband, all the red flags stick out. I recognize them now and wish my blinders handn’t kept me from acting on them during that long ten year period, but I want to speak them now, share them, give them a voice. It’s easy to call physical altercations abuse, because it’s so obvious, but it can be more than that. It’s also harder to acknowledge…

1 – He always wanted to know where I was

While we were dating, I thought it was understandable. We weren’t together 24/7 and so he just missed me so much that he had to message me constantly and would get upset when I didn’t immediately text right back. When I was pregnant, I made excuses for it. Of course, he had to know where I was because you never know when an emergency might happen, right? It took years for me to recognize this was his way of keeping control of me.

2 – He wasn’t nice to the waiter

I see this quote making its way around the web every now and then and I can instantly think of four handfuls of occassions when I witnessed my ex being extraordinarily rude to the waiter. You can’t be nice to some people and not others. Life doesn’t work that way. This in and of itself doesn’t spell abuser, but throw it in with a few more and it’s clear why I put it in here.

3 – He constantly judged my friends

Sure, we all have a crazy friend or two that might make your significant other wonder if they’re the best person to have around. We know why they’re our friends, but it’s not always easy to explain to someone you’re trying to keep around. My ex didn’t just like one person. He disliked all of my friends and he would nitpick each of them. It didn’t take me long to figure out it was easier to stop hanging out. When I wasn’t with them I wasn’t constantly answering texts on my phone regarding where I was or what we were doing, I wasn’t leaving early because he wanted me home for one reason or another, I wasn’t defending what I was up to, or explaining who all was there. The jealousy was overwhelming.

4 – He started making me skip school/work

I was a freshman at the University of Washington when we started dating. Yeah, it was cute to be convinced to skip one or two classes here or there, but it became a constant. One time he waited outside my Socioeconomics class until it was over, to make sure I came straight home after. I called out of work a bunch because “me being gone made him sick.” It was the worst kind of manipulation and I just kept giving in because his anger scared me.

5 – His anger scared me

This is the biggest red flag. I remember sitting with a friend recently, who was adamant she wasn’t in an abusive relationship and I asked her why she was certain she couldn’t go back home. She responded that it wasn’t safe, she wouldn’t be safe because she didn’t trust his anger. It was a sort of ah-ha moment that took me right back to the first time my ex got upset with me. He yelled so terrifyingly at me that I was legitimately scared. After that incident, anytime I could see his temper rising, I went into survival mode.

6 – He put me down in front of others

Whenever I did something commendable, he found something to be negative about. Sometimes it was obvious but more often than not, he found a way to say it in a way that made it sound constructive, helpful, or even right. Not everything we do will always be amazing, but constantly criticizing your significant other in front of people is deplorable. It’s no show of love, in my opinion.

7 – He kept trying to “teach me”

For some reason he had it in his head that I was a country bumpkin that hadn’t somehow gotten herself accepted to UW, which is not an easy task. Aside from putting me down, he would mansplain what I was doing wrong, no matter what it was. He would say things like, “I guess nobody taught you this, or nobody showed you how to be respectful.” Constant mansplaining. I am not stupid.

8 – He hit me

One day, after a major argument, his sister called as we were arriving at Target in North Seattle. He pretended as if everything was okay, as if he didn’t just yell at me until I was crying and felt two inches tall. He then had the audacity to hand his sister the phone so I could say hi and be “respectful” to her. When she asked me how everything was going, I said it could be better, if only he could be nicer to me. I said, “Tell him to be nice to me.” We never made it inside Target. We left right after the phone call, drove home in complete silence and as soon as we walked in the house, he exploded. It was the first time he actually hit me.

9 – He convinced me it was my fault

“If you hadn’t disrespected me to my sister, if you would have just done as you were told, if you hadn’t kept making me upset….” Two seconds after he struck me, I was apologizing. To him. The list of what I could do to deserve him losing his cool was neverending. NEVER.ENDING. For ten years. I could have written a 20,000 word book over all of the things that I DID to justify his rage. He always successfully made me think it was my fault. It was not my fault.

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10 – He monitored my phone

It wasn’t blatant, but rather sneaky. He was always reading through my text messages. He had the passwords to my emails. Not giving him the codes to stuff caused a fight. Made him accuse me of hiding stuff. While I almost never saw him reading my conversations, he would bring them casually up in arguments.

11- He took me away from everyone I knew

Right after we were married, he moved us to Southern California on the pretense we would be by family that wanted  us in their life. That was something he always threw in my face. My family isn’t like most. There isn’t this close Sunday-night-dinners and we-are-always-there-for-you feel like some people are so lucky to have. He did have that, to a fault if you ask me, and I could not have forgotten it if I wanted to. Eight years later he moved us to Hawaii because it was his last ditch effort to try to keep control over me. Moving away isn’t what makes it wrong, it’s making contact with those you need in your life impossible that is not okay.

12 – He corrected me in front of our children

I’m a firm believer in united fronts, as difficult as they may be with the undestanding that sometimes that won’t happen. In our case, whenever one of the boys asked me a question or if they could do something, he would override my answer or decision in front of them. It took away my credibility, which I feel like we still deal with sometimes, even now.

13 – He took away my method of communications

Things got especially heinous the year we moved to Hawaii. His answer to some mistakes on my end was to disconnect my phone, take away my car, deactivate my social media and monitor me even moreso. It was like living with the FBI. Both my Mother and my BFF at the time called the police to have them come check on me, which made matters worse.

13 – He allowed his parents to disrespect me

Whatever problems couples have in marriages, there should be some semblance of respect from either family. The thing is, even though we stayed together a whole decade, he always shared my downfalls to his mother, from the word go, so she constantly put me down. He allowed it.

14 – I always defended him

When my friends, family or anyone mentioned his behavior was questionable, I immediately defended him. I was about to type that I never understood why, but that’s not true. It’s because I took it personal, as proof that I had made the wrong decision in marrying him and desperately wanted to prove everyone wrong.

15 – He threatened me

Whether it was in regards to our children and leaving to Mexico with them, to “never be seen again,” or how if I left he would make sure everyone would know what a piece of shit I was, or that he would prove that I was an unfit mother, he would find the threat necessary to keep me from dialing 911, to keep me from seeking help, to stop me from leaving and to make me stay.

 

I haven’t even mentioned money. It’s a trigger for me. Yes, all of the above can be at any time, but finances and feeling like I have none will send me into a tail spin panic attack faster than you can say moola. Money stresses me out. Still. To this day. The thing is, domestic violence, which one in four women experience severe physical violence from their significant other, is a systematic pattern of power and control. It is not always physical. In all my reminiscing above, only one bullet point is about him putting his hands on me. The one constant component in each of my examples, is the constant effort to maintain both of those over me. Power and control.

My wish is that none of my friends have this in their relationships, but if you do, there is help. There is always help. Leaving isn’t easy. God, I know that is absolute truth. It doesn’t even end what was going on, because then, being “out of control” they become even more unpredictable, begin to harass and stalk and text ugly ish to you. Leaving is not easy, but it’s doable. And whether you’ve dealt with this for one day, month, year or decade, you can save yourself.

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.