The contraction “let’s”

One of my 4th grade groups is learning about contractions. They all know what they are, but one very rigid, very anxious student refuses to use them in writing (and often in speaking), just because he likes saying both words better. And another misuses them, saying “I’m” instead of “I’ve”. So it was time for a re-teach and review.

We went through what each contraction stands for, we practiced taking each one apart and putting it together, and everyone was getting the hang of things (despite my anxious little guy, constantly checking, “But I do not have to use contractions, right???”). Then we got to the contraction let’s. We talked about how it stands for let us, but how most people say Let’s because Let us go play on the swings or Let us play a game sounds kind of strange, and it sounds more regular to say Let’s go play on the swings or Let’s play a game.

One of the students raised his hand. “This is kind of off topic, but…. [the number of times I hear that statement in a day…!] well, it’s kind of on topic. It’s about the contraction let’s.” I told him to go ahead and share.

“Well, you know how we just learned that it stands for let us?” he began. “So that means it’s what more than one person is doing, not just one person. But sometimes people use it wrong. And, I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful. But teachers use it wrong all of the time.”

I was intrigued and asked him what he meant.

“Well, when a kid forgets to take out a pencil, teachers always say Let’s get out pencils now when it’s not the teacher that has to get one out, it’s just the kid. Or if a kid is having a hard time, the teacher says Let’s take some deep breaths even though the teacher doesn’t need to take deep breaths. You guys always say stuff like that. And I think I know why. It’s because it makes a kid feel better. If you tell them You need to get a pencil out or You need to take a deep breath it can sound kind of rude, you know? Like you’re singling the kid out. But when you use let’s, it makes everyone feel better, cause it makes them feel like they’re not the only one. It’s like everyone’s on a team and all working on things together. And so I think it’s a good thing you do that. Because it’s much nicer.”

I was speechless. “Wow,” I told him. “You are so right. Teachers absolutely do that, and I am so impressed that you were able to figure out why. I’m so glad it makes you feel better when teachers say that.”

“And,” he continued. “Well, you know how I love Minecraft and I have my own server? Well, sometimes players break the rules or something. They might swear or do something not good. So I tried using that. And I tell them Let’s not use swears. And it works! And I think they listen way better than they would if I told them You can’t swear.”

At that point I had to move on, because one student had started singing a Maroon 5 song, another one was humming the Mario theme song, and the third was increasingly unhappy that we were slightly off topic. You know, the usual.

But three days later, I can’t stop thinking about that incredible, amazing exchange.

Stop the glorification of busy

stop the glorification

I saw this on elephant journal’s Facebook today, and shared it. And then the words came, from my heart and my head and my core and they tumbled out and here they are:

Yet one more effed-up societal belief that has been instilled in our culture is that the busier you are, the more admirable it is. Think about it. You admire your coworker who works a full day, and got up at 4:30am to go to the gym, and picks up her kids after work and brings them to their after-school activities, and still cooks a family dinner, and cleans the house, and spends time with her husband. Wow, you think. I don’t know how she does it all! And you tell her that. And you realize, or maybe you don’t, that it’s making you feel worse and worse. Because, you slept until 5:45. You went to work, and had a busy day, the kind with about 10 free minutes to gobble down your lunch. And then you were spent. You went home, deciding to ditch the gym that afternoon because you needed some down time. You sit on the couch with a book and end up napping for half an hour. You wake up and manage to get dinner together for you and your fiance. The two of you eat dinner, you do the dishes, make your lunch, preset the coffee pot for the next morning, straighten up the living room, and then when it’s 8:30pm and he asks, Do you want to get in bed and read?” you happily say yes, and you two happily read in bed together for an hour and then at 9:30 he turns the light off, curls his body around you, and you both fall asleep.

And you judge yourself for it. You think, That’s ALL I could do today? I barely did anything. My friend/coworker/neighbor/sister did so much more than I did. She’s better than I am. I’m unproductive, I didn’t accomplish anything. And then you feel worse and worse about yourself. Because we know, or we think we know, that busier = better.

But if I reframe this, if I take a step back from it and look at it with fresh eyes? There’s nothing unproductive about my day. I worked hard at work. I put my all into all of my therapy sessions with my kids. I listened to my body and didn’t push it. I let myself relax, renew, restore. I fed and nourished myself. I spent time with my love. Yes, I could’ve gone to the gym. I could’ve cooked something more elaborate. I could’ve vacuumed or cleaned the bathroom. I could’ve sent a few emails to friends. But I didn’t, and that’s actually okay. That doesn’t make me lazier or less worthy than others, though that may be the whisper into my mind.

Some people thrive on being busy. Some don’t. Some people need structure and some don’t. For me currently, I am operating best with a balance of structure and unstructure. I need a good amount of down time to sit, to read, to have quiet, to write, to nap, to recharge. And I get to not feel guilty for that. There were times in my life, mostly in college, where I wanted and needed to be busy. I needed to be doing something (usually studying or working) most moments of the day because being busy kept my brain from thinking about things I didn’t want it to, kept it from ruminating on topics that were detrimental to my health and well-being. During college, being very busy was something I needed. Now? Not as much.

We worry we are perceived as something other than outstanding and admirable and perfect. We worry we aren’t worthy of rest, of complaint, of frustration. I bet at least one of you reading this has thought, How can I complain about being exhausted when my coworker was up all night with her 3 year old and my friend is going to her second job at 4pm and I slept through the night and can go home after work? But therein lies the problem. It’s not a contest. It’s not a hierarchy. We get to feel however we feel independent of others. So if you’re tired, you’re tired. If you’re frustrated, you’re frustrated. Nobody has to give you permission to feel how you feel.

And as for what’s admirable? I think deep down, in my core, where all of my truths are, I believe that what’s admirable is not being busy. And it’s not doing nothing. It’s listening to yourself. It’s giving yourself what you need – whatever that may be.

but this is not poetry

there are no words.
there are feelings and sounds and aches and pulses and colors and sights
but how do i put those into words?
the same way that i still can’t capture the wind
or the smell of fresh air
or the feeling of joy
i can’t turn….this, all of this
into words, into sentences, into coherence.

Vanderbilt rape trial charges

[Ed note: this post, as you may have gathered, is about the Vanderbilt rape trial. It’s a little graphic. If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to read it – then just don’t read it.]

——-

First, there was this article. The headline: Accused Vanderbilt football player blames gang rape on university’s culture of ‘sexual freedom’. A tough article to read, one that evoked anger and sadness and despair – but necessary to see that this is our reality. This is rape culture. It’s real and it exists. And I have friends, dear loved ones, who have suffered because of it.

Then, a few days later, this article. The headline: Vanderbilt rape trial: Defendants found guilty on all charges. Finally, I thought. A bit of good news. A glimmer of hope for survivors. A step in the right direction, away from rape culture, and towards justice and empowerment. 

I read through various articles highlighting it all, how the rapists’ families cried when they heard the verdict (and I must wonder….did they cry because they truly believed in their innocence? Or did they cry because the guilty verdict erased the last trace of doubt that their sons were not rapists?). And then I found the greatest, most empowering part of this article. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the article, it lists all of the counts with which the rapists were charged.

And I am going to post them here, for all to see. Because it’s important that people see them. Both men and women. Especially survivors. Especially individuals who have had one of these awful events done to them. And I’m going to talk about them. And it’s graphic, and maybe upsetting. But it’s necessary.

The charges:

Charges against Cory Batey:

Count 1: Guilty of aggravated rape, anal penetration with fingers

Count 2: Guilty of aggravated rape, vaginal penetration with fingers

Count 3: Guilty of aggravated rape, mouth penetration with penis

Count 4: Guilty of attempted aggravated rape, vaginal penetration with penis

Count 5: Guilty of aggravated rape, criminal responsibility for anal penetration with water bottle by Brandon Banks

Count 6: Guilty of aggravated sexual battery, contact with private areas

Count 7: Guilty of aggravated sexual battery, slapping of buttocks

 Charges for Brandon Vandenburg:

Count 1: Guilty of aggravated rape, criminal responsibility for Batey’s anal penetration with fingers

Count 2: Guilty of aggravated rape, criminal responsibility for Batey’s vaginal penetration with fingers

Count 3: Guilty of aggravated rape, criminal responsibility for Batey’s mouth penetration with penis

Count 4: Guilty of attempted aggravated rape, criminal responsibility for Batey’s vaginal penetration with penis

Count 5: Guilty of aggravated rape, criminal responsibility for anal penetration with water bottle by Banks

Count 6: Guilty of aggravated sexual battery, criminal responsibility for contact with private areas

Count 7: Guilty of aggravated sexual battery, slapping of buttocks

Count 8: Guilty of tampering with evidence by destruction of condoms after rape

Count 9: Guilty of unlawful photography, by sending images to other men

I teared up reading that. Our culture has taught us to believe that IF something is considered rape (which culture usually tries to make us think it isn’t), it’s ONLY rape if it is violent penis-in-vagina penetration. Anything else? It gets dismissed. And consequently, individuals dismiss their experiences. Which I can attest to – I know too many women who dismiss their experience because it doesn’t fit society’s definitions. This changes all of that. Look at those charges. It says it right there: aggravated rape is anal penetration, vaginal penetration, and mouth penetration. With penis, and with fingers, and with objects. Someone forcing you to perform oral sex on them is rape. Someone performing oral sex on you without your consent is rape. Someone penetrating you with fingers is rape. Does anyone else see how powerful that is? It’s right there. These men were found guilty for those charges. This was not “vaginal penetration by penis” rape, but it was still rape. And the world sees that.

The other aspect that seems validating were the counts issued against the second man. Despite the fact that he did not physically perform all of the same acts as the Batey, he was found guilty due to criminal responsibility for Batey’s actions. Which basically means: Vandenburg was there, he knew what was happening, he could’ve stopped what was happening, or at least refused to participate, so despite the fact that he might not have physically penetrated in the same way as Batey, he is still responsible.

I can guarantee you that at least one person reading this blog right now has had a similar experience of some sort. So, to you: maybe you doubt it was rape. Maybe you think, “it wasn’t violent, it wasn’t penis-in-vagina penetration.” It doesn’t have to be. And no longer am I just saying that, but there is an actual case now, actual charges, an actual verdict and actual jurors, saying otherwise. If you were penetrated in any way, without your consent, it was rape. It doesn’t matter if it was penetration with an object, a finger, a mouth, or a penis. It’s rape. And if you’re telling yourself it wasn’t a big deal because there was no penetration, but there was butt-slapping, fondling, touching without consent? Look at the charges. They were convicted for those counts of aggravated sexual battery. It’s not “nothing” and it’s not “no big deal.”

I think this case is significant. I think it’s monumental. I think it could be a step toward a cultural shift. But almost more importantly? I think it’s validating, I think it’s reassuring, I think it allows anyone out there who is a survivor to let out the breath they’ve been holding for years.

I hope that one of you, reading this, has been able to let out that breath.

Last week’s IEP meeting

Last week we had an annual review IEP meeting for one of our 8th grade students. Because he is now 14, he came to the meeting for a few minutes, to discuss his transition plan. This boy is one of the most empathetic students I have. He carries a tremendous amount of anxiety, which I am willing to bet has to do with his diagnoses and learning challenges, but also with trying to figure out how to be such a sensitive soul in this world.

He walked into the room, and took a seat. He looked around the table and said “hi” to his mom, and then quickly addressed every single person at the table and said “hi” to them, too. Our IEP team facilitator greeted him, told him that we would all love to hear a bit about what’s going well for him.

“So, maybe tell us, what’s your favorite class?” she asked him.

“Oh, uh…Science.” he replied. Then, scanning the room, realizing that several of his teachers were there, but not his science teacher, he quickly added, “But, uh, I love Math too. And Reading is okay. And Language Arts. And hey Jen, I like Speech, too.” There were a few smiles, but I felt myself getting teary. I totally got what he was doing. He was terrified of offending one of us. So much so, that, his math teacher responded, “It’s okay. I know you don’t love math. And I would never be upset with you for saying so.”

Our team facilitator moved on. “You and your counselor met to talk about what you’d like to do in the future. You mentioned that you would love to stay at [our school] for high school, and that after high school maybe you would work with computers or animals.”

His counselor jumped in. “Yup, and we talked about way down the road, where you might like to live. Remember, you told me that one day you would like to live on your own, and not with your parents?” he nodded, agreeing with her, and then caught his mom’s eye and froze. Oh no, I could imagine him thinking. What is Mom going to think to hear that I don’t want to live with her? 

“Uh, Mom…” he tried to explain. “I was just thinking that one day I’d like to have an apartment. But, uh, it’s not that I don’t love you. Because I do. You and Dad have been really good to me. But it’s just…” his voice trailed off as his eyes quickly darted from person to person.

His mom smiled, and gave a kind laugh. “It’s okay, buddy. I would hope you want to live on your own some day!”

After talking a bit about his career aspirations, and his love for computers and cartoons, his counselor sensed his mounting anxiety and backed up a little bit. “Now, all of this is going to be a long time from now. And we’re talking about things that might happen. But is it okay if your ideas change?”

“Uh…I guess so…” he said.

“Will anyone be upset with you if you change your mind about what you want to do or where you want to live?”

“Uh…I guess not…”

“Right. Because we’re just thinking. None of these are decisions that we have to follow. We’re just imagining. But just because we’re imagining does it mean you have to do these things?”

“Uh…no?”

“No, it doesn’t. And we don’t even have to worry about those things. Those are your long-term plans, but right now, our main focus is that you’re going to finish 8th grade and then go to 9th grade.”

“Um. Okay. Yes.”

He headed out of the meeting then, after saying goodbye to every single one of us, and giving his mom a hug.

I think we were all overcome with emotion. And I totally got it – I understand that desperate need to please everyone, the fear of what people will think of you if you don’t give equal attention or love or praise. For the rest of the meeting, we talked through his IEP goals, but we kept coming back to his sensitivities and anxieties. Because among his autism, among his language and learning disabilities, sensitivity and anxiety are at his core. They affect every part of what he does every day. And the same is true for so many of our kids. I truly believe – there are times when noncompliance or overreactions, or other behaviors, are just a mask for that panic inside. And I am not autistic. I don’t have a language disorder. And it’s taken a long time for me to be able to identify my anxiety and sensitivity and put it into words. So I can only imagine what it’s like for our kids. And I feel really blessed to get to help them do just that.

“I’m confusing”

One night while we were in Florida, we went to dinner at an old favorite restaurant. It’s buffet style, and I was at the dessert station. After thinking of the greatest dessert idea ever, I put vanilla ice cream in my bowl and waited in line to top it with apple cobbler. In front of me in line was a boy, probably about 9 years old. He was attempting to scoop apple cobbler onto his already overflowing bowl of ice cream. After a few minutes of determination, he noticed me waiting, gave me a huge grin, and said, “Sorry!”

“That’s okay,” I replied. “I had the same idea as you.”

“My mom makes apple cobbler!” he informed me.

“Cool. My mom makes blueberry crisp.”

He continued scooping cobbler, and as he tried to use his hand to get the cobbler from the spoon to his bowl, his finger touched the ice cream and he squealed.

“It just felt hot and cold at the same time!” he exclaimed. “The ice cream was cold and the cobbler was hot! That was confusing!” He thought for a moment, and then added, “Just like me. I’m confusing.”

“I’m confusing, too.” I told him.

He smiled at me, got his spoonful of cobbler, and went back to his family. And I got my cobbler, went back to my family, smiling all the way.

Shame

When I discovered Brené Brown’s work on shame, specifically her most recent book, I grabbed hold of it (literally!), thinking, this is IT. This is what I’ve been trying to put into words. This is what I’ve been trying to understand. And it was almost a sigh of relief; I don’t have to spend my life figuring it out, because she did the research and put it to words.

And so over the last however many months, or maybe a year, I’ve been thinking about shame and compassion even more than ever. I’ve tried to express my own thoughts on the subject. I’ve written a poem about it. I’ve jotted down notes. I’ve tried to briefly explain that the fear of shame is what makes us lack compassion for ourselves.

During this time, a friend and I have had countless conversations on this topic. Over and over again, we wonder: why do we think the worst about ourselves, but highly of each other? Why do we feel nothing but deep compassion for each other’s experiences and thoughts, but feel shame for our own? Why do we think we are the outlier or the exception?

And after thinking a lot, (I know, you’re shocked), I have a tentative conclusion: shame is (sometimes) somewhat of a self-protective mechanism.

I always used to say that I was pessimistic and didn’t get my hopes up about things, because that way I didn’t have to worry about disappointment. The fall is a lot less painful when you never left the ground, versus when you’ve climbed to the top of the tree. I think shame is similar. We preemptively shame ourselves so that if others shame us, it hurts less.

Have you ever gotten up the courage to share something with someone, something that was important to you, for whatever reason? And have you ever had their response be to tell you that you’re being dramatic, exaggerating, or just looking for attention? Boom. The shame response is born. From that moment on, we expect that the next time we share something, we will face the same response, which we can’t bear to experience. So we protect ourselves. We pre-shame ourselves, if you will. We preface our stories with, “I know it’s not a big deal, but….” or “I’m sure this isn’t what you want to hear, but…” or “This is really f***** up, but….” It’s protection. It’s setting the bar low, so if we are met there, no harm done.

(By the way? Even if we were being dramatic or exaggerating or whatever. The first thing we learn in our fields of work is that behavior=communication. It’s a principle we are taught to apply to all of our kiddos. And it applies to us, too. So there was a reason we once said or did what we did. We needed something from it; we were trying to express something, trying to release something. Even if at the time we weren’t sure what. And in the same way that we help our kids learn to express what it is that they truly are trying to say, we need to help ourselves. It’s a process.)

The interesting thing is, we expect to be shamed, but we would never shame others in that same way. Which is why we preface our stories that way, but if a friend were to tell the exact same story, or share the exact same idea, and preface it that same way, we would say things like, “Of course it’s a big deal” or “I do want to hear anything you want to say” or “It’s not messed up, tell me.”

If we were to tell our stories, to share our thoughts, without that preface, we’d be putting ourselves at risk. Which isn’t inherently something we want to do. We’d be standing on the edge of a cliff and trusting we aren’t going to fall. Which is terrifying. Even just writing this post, I want to put a whole long list of disclaimers, like, Feel free to disagree with this and I’m probably wrong but I’m just trying to share my thoughts and it’s fine if you think it’s stupid…..etc. But I won’t, not this time.

Part of it, I believe, is our culture. We live in a shame-filled society. If you think about the news, there is stigma placed on so many things, so it’s no wonder why we expect shame as anyone’s response.

I think the solution is to practice little bits at a time. And it’s HARD. A friend and I have a rule that we never apologize for texting the other. We’ve established that if the other person is busy, or not in a place to text or chat, they won’t until they’re ready; so we never need to apologize. But we find it funny that without a doubt, when we’re in a vulnerable place and text the other, we apologize. We say, “Sorry, I’m sure you’re busy, but….” and “Ugh I’m probably stressing you out more.” And then the other person says, “No apologizing!” So I’m certainly not saying it’s always doable. Especially when we’re vulnerable, or spinny, or anxious, or just out of balance.

But find that person with whom you’ve been vulnerable, with whom you’ve shared something, something that you worried would have a shame response, and didn’t. And the next time you talk with this person, try not to preface your stories. Just say them. Trust that you will not be shamed. Trust that this person is not going to suddenly think less of you. Trust that you trust this person for a reason. Trust that you’ll be met with compassion. Oh, it’s hard. But I’ve done it before, with a handful of people. And the feeling of just talking, just sharing, without those self-shaming or self-deprecating comments, is so liberating.

You deserve to release shame into the wind and breathe compassion in.