Tag Archives: Hard Topics

Coming Home

On Saturday, I went to a funeral for one of my mom’s older brothers who I don’t remember. As I sat through the service listening to cousins I barely remember sharing their stories and favorite memories, I tried to reconcile faces and names with my childhood memories. I listened to a cousin say how she was tired of coming home for sad occasions, and was sad that her kids don’t know her aunts and uncles. I’m “home” and my kids don’t know their aunts and uncles. Afterwards, I made my rounds giving hugs and watched as some of my cousins passed me by. One of my cousins demanded I stick around this time, so we obliged and went to the repast. A toddler I’d never seen clung to me and two girls I didn’t know kept talking to me and wanted to be around me. When it came time to eat, I sat with my mom, brother and sister. I spoke only when spoken to and had an awkward exchange with one of my older cousins who thought I didn’t remember her. The cousin that asked me to stay never even said another word to me.

On the car ride home, T-Daddy mentioned he felt out of place. Yup, that’s why I don’t come around. The next morning as we were getting ready for church, I told T-Daddy that we should make more of an effort to be around our families so that the girls can know their family (and not grow up and marry a cousin!). At the rate we’re going, they will only know our parents and siblings and their kids, but that’s it. And seeing that half my parents and siblings live 14 hours away, even that’s questionable.

At church, the pastor preached about how Conflict was handled in the early church. He talked about the misconception that church folk always get along, but in reality the church is full of sin-sick people who disagree and argue all the time. The difference is supposed to be that the church is a family, so even though we argue and get offended, we love each other, work it out, forgive and move on. We’re not supposed to run from conflict or sweep it under the rug just because we don’t want to deal with it.

A lightbulb went off.

Growing up, I was constantly teased for a myriad of reasons. I never really fit in with my family or at school. I’d get along great with my cousins one-on-one but I always seemed to be the odd girl out whenever we all came together. I also found myself on the wrong side of family drama and politics. It became too much to handle and I felt like my time was best spent around people that didn’t make me feel unwanted or uncomfortable. So I started distancing myself from my family about 13-17 years ago. It was a gradual process – some of it deliberate and some not-so-much. But every step of the way, I noticed every time someone didn’t reach out or failed to respond to my attempts to reach out. For me, it was just confirmation that I never really fit in and blood wasn’t thicker than water (no matter how much my mama said it).

After church, I reflected back on the sermon and my uncle’s homegoing services. I’ve never really considered myself as someone that runs from conflict. T-Daddy would even argue that I can be confrontational when someone offends me. Like most people, I don’t like conflict. And I don’t like being uncomfortable. So when someone continuously offends or hurts me, I don’t see the point in continuing to subject myself to that. I just cut that person from my life. That’s been the case with most of my family and ex-friends. But that’s not exactly dealing with conflict. It’s running from it. My cousins may have teased me, but I made no efforts to move on from that. Instead, I just moved away from it.

I realized that in my running, I’m just as much to blame for the awkwardness that transpired on Saturday as my family is. And in running from my conflict, I’ve made it so that, even on sad occasions, I don’t have a home to come back to. I’ve also left a trail of aunts, uncles and cousins that TD1 and TD2 don’t know.

Grannies, Memories and Video Calls to Heaven

TD1 has been asking to see pictures and videos of her great-grandmas. One died two months before she was born. One died seven years before she was born.

TD1: Mommy, why don’t you have a grandma?
T-Mommy: I used to have one. She’s in Heaven now.
TD1: With God? Does Daddy have a grandma?
T-Mommy: He did. She’s in Heaven, too.
TD1: But not me and [TD2’s]?
T-Mommy: No, all of your grandmas are still alive.
TD1: Why do we have grandmas, but not you and Daddy?
T-Mommy: Because God decided He was ready for our grandmas in Heaven.
TD1: Do you miss them?
T-Mommy: All the time, Sweetie.
TD1: Why why don’t you just call them like we do Granny or video them like GMa?
T-Mommy: Because you can’t video call Heaven?
TD1: Well, do you have a video of them? What did they look like?

When T-Daddy and I first started dating, his grandmother was sick. I remember taking him to visit her in the hospital and at her home (which coincidentally, was down the street from the house my family stayed in when ours caught fire). I remember talking to her during my pregnancy about the TD1. I remember thinking how awesome it would be for her to see her great-grandchild. Sadly, I also remember how sad I felt that this was something I could (from a distance – I won’t pretend like I had this sudden deep relationship with T-Daddy’s grandma because I didn’t. We were still getting to know each other) share T-Daddy’s grandma, but not my own. She passed away in July and TD1 was born in September. They never got to meet, although MIL would tell me all the time that she believed their souls met briefly in Heaven. (Ironically, my mom would say the same about both TDs and my own granny.)

My granny died when I was 17. At the time, that seemed like a lot of years to spend with someone that meant so much to me. As I approach 30 this year, I realize that in four years, I will have spent just as many years without my granny as I have with her. When you factor in that I was a baby and have no finite recollection of the early years and that the last four years of her life she was in and out of a cancer treatment center, the scales get tipped in the direction of more without her than with her.

TD1 wants me to share with her things that I never did with my granny and she doesn’t understand why I never did them. It’s hard trying to explain terminal illness and the cycle of life to a five-year-old. It’s even harder to dig up memories and deal with grief that you mistakenly thought was dealt with. It also makes me wonder, “If she could see me now…”

I miss my granny dearly, maybe even more so as the years go by. I always looked at the 17 years I had with her as a blessing. Growing up, I knew so many people whose grandparents had already passed. I was always thankful to have mine around. But as I branch out and meet more people, there seems to be even more people who still have their grandparents around. Some celebrating 80- and 90-something birthdays. I’m happy for them. Grandparents are an awesome gift from God. But, I just can’t seem to feel a little twinge of jealousy. Mine never got to see 60. And that makes me sad.

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A friend posted this on FB around Thanksgiving last year. I’m thinking of creating something similar for the TDs two great-grannies, but maybe just not for Christmas.

I wish she could have lived longer to see TD1 and TD2. I think she would have thoroughly enjoyed their personalities. I wish she could see me. I want to know how she thinks about how I turned out. And I don’t really care for speculation from other family members. I ***need*** to hear it from her, ya know. I wish I had more memories and traditions and passed on rituals to “keep her memory alive.”

I wish I had paid more attention, gotten more wisdom and insight from her. But at 13, I wasn’t really concerned with knowing recipes and interior decorating. I thought I had time. And even as I spent the next four years watching her fight for her life, it never really dawned on me that she wouldn’t be around. I mean I knew she could die. I knew that someday she would. Death was something I always thought I was a pro at. People die, you cry. You bury them. Then you move on, reminiscing and joking about the good times. My senior year of high school, my family had something like 10+ deaths, slightly less than the year I graduated 8th grade. But up until September 2004, I’d never lost someone I lived with, someone that played a big part in raising me. So I never factored that into my death equation.

It never dawned on me that this would be a little harder to move on from. Or that I would see her smile whenever I look at my little sister. Or that I would one day have a child that is so curious about two women she’s never met.

And perhaps, that’s the hardest part. Trying to relive a moment in time that has long since passed for someone that never got to experience it.

Don’t Touch. And Always Ask

Since the Stanford rape case a couple of months ago, I’ve given even more thought than usual to rape, how we handle it and what we tell our children about it. The way that case was handled was absolutely ridiculous. A young lady was violated and the nation read how sad it was that her attacker could no longer enjoy a good steak. I’m sorry, but she can no longer enjoy her body. That beats a good steak any day.

But, this case also reminded me of all the cases I’ve read about where innocent men had their lives ruined because some woman lied about the consensual sex that took place. I’m not saying this to take away from the Stanford victim’s pain and abuse. I’m saying that rarely do I read a rape case and walk away feeling like justice was served. It’s usually not – either an innocent man was framed or a victim was shamed. Both are losses. And it’s disturbing, especially as a mother of two young girls who I have to school on navigating this mess. I’m not just concerned about teaching them not to feel ashamed of their clothes and sexual choices (rape victim respectability politics), but I’m also concerned about teaching them accountability for their own actions and words. As important as it is for me to teach TD1 and TD2 to love and own who they are, it’s also important to me that I teach them to look out for the young men who they will encounter and befriend and not throw them under the bus because of shame or regret.

kidnoI need them to understand the world we live in and the laws that could very innocently ruin all of their lives. I want them to understand that yes women get raped and it’s horrible, but it’s not always men or even strangers that do that raping (and rape won’t always be violent). And yes, less talked about women rape men. And then some women, for whatever reasons, lie about men raping them. And then there are people who find themselves in situations that unfortunately result in criminal charges (here’s looking at you underage sexers and sexters.)

As much as I want my children to wait until marriage to have sex, I know that’s not a decision I can make for them. And if they choose to have consensual sex with someone who is a year or two older than them, I don’t want that someone to go to jail for being a willing participant in something they both wanted. Likewise, I don’t want to see myself or T-Daddy go to jail because the girls were caught with a boy in their room and, for fear of getting in trouble, they lied and said he broke in and was trying to rape them. And because we love our daughters, we reacted in the moment and did something that can’t be undone. All of these situations are real situations that I have read about over the years.

I want them to know that consent is not the same thing as desire. And as much as they may want to have sex, if they have not given the green light, that desire does not matter. They don’t have to “lie there and take it,” just because someone tells them “you know you really want this.” I need them to know that if they’re having a bad day and don’t want to be touched, it’s okay to say that. Their body is their body and no one has the right to force themselves on them, even under the guise of “this will make you feel better.” I want them to know that they can say “No” at any time. It doesn’t matter how far they’ve already gone. They always have the right to change their mind. Even if that someone is their boyfriend or husband. What they shouldn’t do is after they’ve had consensual sex, say “You know what? I really didn’t want to do that and even though I said yes, I didn’t want to, so I’m going to say he assaulted me.” No, that’s not assault. That’s a bad decision, sweetheart. And Mommy and Daddy have made a lot of those.

I want them to know that it’s important to explicitly state their intentions and permission. This is something that I teach them now. As much as I love hugs and kisses from them. We tell them they have to ask Mommy and Daddy for a hug and kiss. They can’t just take it. They have to respect personal space. And if Mommy and Daddy say “Not right now,” they have to respect that as well. AND they have every right to tell Mommy and Daddy, “I don’t want a hug/kiss right now.” We ask them for hugs and kisses. We don’t tell them to hug and kiss us. We don’t take them. And we try really hard to make sure that our family and friends obey these rules. Many of our old school family don’t quite understand it. But you can’t raise a boy or girl in an environment where those they “love” are constantly taking hugs and kisses from them and you tell them it’s okay because this is family, someone they know, someone they love and not expect them to become men and women who think it is okay to touch someone without their permission. To think that if their boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse kisses them when they’re not in the mood, that they have to accept it because of who this person is to them. Also, it’s sick, but let’s not pretend like aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers and fathers aren’t out here molesting kids. They are. And all children need to know that if someone creeps them out, they don’t have to let them place their wet lips on them.

Too often we teach our girls to not be easy and say yes the first time, while teaching our boys that if she says no, they just need to try harder till she says yes. WRONG! We should teach our daughters to say, “I like you, but you need to show me you’re worth my time and you aren’t playing games that I have no time for and am not interested in playing.” We need to teach our boys that if she says no, she means no. Don’t try to wear her down. Respect her enough to respect her decision. If she’s missing out on a great guy, that’s her loss. If we teach our kids to play these cat and mouse games about first dates and kisses, how can we be surprised when they spill over into the realm of sex? (And I won’t even get started on this whole teach our girls to be pure virgins till death while teaching our guys to go out and sow their wild oats BS – that’s a topic for another day.)

I want my children to know that rape and assault are never their fault. Yes, they can do certain things to “help lower their risk,” but it’s no more fool-proof than always wearing your seatbelt, driving the speed limit and never driving intoxicated or distracted. Someone who’s not doing those things can still hit you. You wouldn’t be blamed in that accident and you shouldn’t be blamed if someone violates you. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, how much you’re drinking, how much sex you’ve had or who you’ve had it with. If you didn’t consent to this person, they are wrong. Point. Blank. The End.

But the issue of consent brings up a very touchy subject. Intoxication. Alcohol. Drugs. The law says an intoxicated person can’t give permission to have sex with them. I don’t know very many people that haven’t had consensual sex under the influence. That does not in any way discount the testimonies of the unconscious victims. It just makes it a very sticky situation that I don’t have the answer to. But, I want my daughters to fully understand the ramifications of getting drunk and engaging in sexual activity. This is where I feel torn. On one hand, I wholeheartedly believe every rapist should be punished. On the other hand, I can’t in good conscience say that every intoxicated woman doesn’t know what she’s doing so she can’t consent to sex, but an intoxicated man should know better than to have sex with someone without permission. As a woman, I find offense to that because that’s saying that I’m helpless when I’ve been drinking simply because I’m a woman. It also implies that men should still be in control even when they’re intoxicated. And for male victims of rape, that can be a dangerous implication. Because if I’m a victim (male or female), I wouldn’t want the fact that I’ve been drinking to be used to imply that I wanted sex or that I’m promiscuous.

Sober people get raped. Drunk people get raped. Sober people rape. Drunk people rape. Sober people get together and have consensual sex. Drunk people get together and have consensual sex. Alcohol complicates things because it affects everyone differently. Some people can appear just fine and not remember anything the next day. I’ve dated guys and had friends where I’ve had to explain to them in detail what happened the night before because they didn’t remember it. They didn’t seem pass out drunk at the time either. I also know people that have seemed sloppy drunk and remembered every single detail of everything they did. When you’ve been drinking or the other person has, it can be hard to judge which type of person they are. If you’re young and you think you’re just going to have “awesome, drunk sex” with a consenting person, it can be difficult to think of the ramifications of those actions.

I know plenty of people that love having “drunk sex.” And their partners agree. The difference between them and these campus rapes are that they are in a committed relationship, said drunken sex is probably taking place in a private space with no witnesses, and there is consent. But let’s not pretend like significant others don’t get drunk and rape their partners. They do. Because what was consensual one time can very easily not be the next time. And because rape is having sex with someone without their consent, it’s applied to every instance of sex. So those early morning rollover, wake the other person up with sex sessions can very easily be defined as rape. Particularly if your partner isn’t receptive to it. The problem is that we tend to only look at rape as one way. We tend to only look at rapists and victims under one light. But it’s all very multifaceted and complicated.

I don’t have a solution to rape and the rape culture we live in. I’m sure some of my thoughts might even have been influenced by said culture. What I do have is a desire to talk openly and candidly about sex, consent, rape or any other topics they want and answer any questions they have. To teach my children to respect others and their personal space. Regardless of intoxication, gender, or relationship status. To let them know the other person can always say no, and they can too. Whenever, there’s a question about whether they have consent, just don’t touch. If they’re unsure about if this is what they really want, it’s okay to say “Don’t touch me.” And, if in the off chance they do cross a line, to own up to it, apologize and accept the consequences of their actions. Sometimes, we cross boundaries simply because we didn’t know it was a boundary. Sometimes, we cross boundaries to see if we can get away it. And to never, ever lie on someone else to save face. That’s a person’s life you’re ruining.

Whether you’re accusing someone of a rape they didn’t commit or you’re trying to shame your victim to make you seem less of a predator, it’s wrong. It has real emotional implications beyond the legal ones. And God forbid, if they’re ever the victims of rape, it’s not their fault. EVER! Mommy, Daddy and God still loves them just the same.

I want to teach them all this and more, but right now, we simply start with don’t touch. And always ask.