Saturday, January 9, 2016

Children's Hobbies: Contemplating When Passion Might Not be Possible

My sixth-grader, Ari, is a competitive gymnast. She grew up with a musical prodigy for an older sister, but Ari never really had a burning passion for anything.

When she started asking for gymnastics lessons, we signed her up. Ari has always been a free spirit, just sort of floating through life with a smile on her face and sharing her beautiful heart with the masses.

Weeks after her first gymnastics lesson, Ari was moved into the advanced beginner class. A week after that, she broke the growth plate in her foot hopping on the colored tiles at Hannaford and was out of commission. We sort of figured that would be it, that her unreliable attention span would flit onto something else, but we were mistaken.

When Ari was able to return to gymnastics, she was put on the pre-team class. Then she had to have her tonsils and adenoids out, which meant being out of gymnastics for several months.

Despite the setbacks, she quickly became an accomplished gymnast with a sweet and natural form. She competes well (she qualified for the state championship at her second meet of the year), and the discipline she puts into gymnastics has given her an impressive work ethic. Without gymnastics, she would not be a straight-A student or endlessly patient with her younger sisters or understanding about certain financial sacrifices we've all had to make.

Gymnastics has made my sweet, dippy, empathetic, kind, funny, sassy girl into a truly amazing young woman.

At a mid-November meet, Ari tore her Achilles' tendon during warmups. She competed anyway, choosing not to tell either her coach or her family that she was in serious pain. She won first all-around, but it came at a cost--no gymnastics until her injury healed.

This week, almost two months (and lots of doctor visits and physical therapy), she has returned to her gym. She is still going easy, but I haven't seen her smiling like this in months.

                                                     Ari goofing around on the tumble track.
                                              First back walkover on the high beam since the injury.

What scares me is what will happen if there is another injury, one that is not as possible to recover from. What would that do to this little girl, to whom being a gymnast has become so much of her identity?

She has two hour classes with her competition team three days a week and goes to open gym on the weekends she does not have competitions. She spends countless hours in the basement practicing on her panel mat and the balance beam her aunt acquired for her in a sketchy CraigsList deal.

Ironically, physical therapy to rehab her ankle and strengthening exercises helped take up some of the time while she recovered, but what if there was an injury that did not allow this?

Gymnastics is a physically grueling activity, and my Ari is tiny and breakable. With this recent injury, I find myself wondering if I should try to downplay the sport's status as the center of my daughter's universe.

I want Ari to see herself as more than a gymnast, talented as she may be. I want her to be able to say, "I am a smart, beautiful, kind, funny, thoughtful young lady".  That she focuses her energy on moving onto the next level of gymnastics instead of loving the zillions of other amazing things about herself hurts me a little.

I love the happiness that Ari has found through gymnastics and the self-confidence and direction it has given a girl who was once kind of a drifter. I love watching her compete, and, yes, I like it when she places.

Sometimes I just wish she'd discover a safer passion.

I never had to worry about Emily breaking her neck on sheet music or falling off of her piano or dropping her bassoon on her head.

What gymnastics has given to Ari is priceless. I just fear that it is temporary, and the cost of that on my little girl would be even higher.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Nightmares, my 20-Year-Old-Rape, and Bill Clinton

In January of 1998, I was raped at a Maine ski resort at a friend's condo where a small party was going on following  a bit of barhopping. The story isn't particularly original (it's here if you're interested in reading it), and it's certainly not why I'm writing about this long-ago event at this late date.

I should mention that I've written about the repercussions before as well, here and here, but that's also not what has me in a a bad place right now.

No, it's like it's coming back, and I am just a hot mess.

I had the rape nightmare last night...and the night before. Not a random mosaic of images obviously symbolizing the rape in some way that I'm hopefully smart enough to figure out, not an "anxiety attack", but what was essentially a reenactment.

I've been a disaster for days.

You'd think that after all these years, I would stop doing this to myself, that my brain would just say, "Geez, Katie, it's been almost twenty years, let it go already!"

Yeah, not so easy...

It usually happens a lot in January, because that's when the event itself happened, but it has not ever been quite like this.

It took me a bit to figure out why I'm going through this, why I am again ripped apart by the smart, sassy, feisty little girl who died in January of 1998 to be replaced by the woman typing this. 

Me, brother Mike, sister Meghan 

In the old neighborhood (I'm on the right, holding a play I'd written for the neighbor kids to perform, I think)

With another childhood friend.

A woman who put on a lot of weight, because I was pretty the night I was raped and I do not want to be pretty anymore.

A woman who struggles with virtually every relationship, from family to friendships and everywhere in between, because she trusts nobody.

A woman who cowers with fear at bullies, injustice, and those who habitually do the wrong thing.

A woman who almost lost her passion for her profession because of the pain she lived with, pain she lives with to this day.

A woman who apologizes all the time, to the point where it's annoying and she knows it is, but she can't help it.

It took me years to share that this had happened to me, years. I'd buried it down deep, and while it shaped the adult I ultimately became, I do not think I experienced direct emotional pain on a regular basis. And once I shared, of course, everyone said, "Get help."

So I tried to get help, from a variety of sources using a variety of techniques. I think about the rape and my rapist more since trying to "get help" then I ever did before, largely because I had a huge flashback brought about by the bloody trauma of my daughter Gabrielle's birth that led to what was eventually diagnosed as PTSD and Postpartum Depression.

The last treatment I tried involved the therapist forcing me to relive every detail. Remember and retell and relive every single freaking detail. Blood sticky on my legs. Having my face forced into a pillow, smelling laundry detergent and tasting cotton. The pain getting ever worse. Blood, everywhere. The laughter of my rapist, which echos in my nightmares. He thought it was funny.

After that, I figured I'd just deal on my own, and I've been doing okay.

Until this year.

I couldn't figure out what had changed, why the rape has been on my mind constantly, marring any happiness I should be enjoying.

And then it hit me ...

The so-called "liberal media" has gone crazy posting pieces implying that Bill Clinton is guilty of sexual assaults (which I read to be "rapes") in order to knock down Hillary Clinton's chances of breaking the glass elevator and becoming the first female president.

It was the terminology "sexual assault", not "sexual inappropriateness" that got me going, I think.

Women had affairs with Bill Clinton, and they were paid handsomely in cash or favors to keep quiet about it (I've had bosses imply that my future with a company would improve with sexual favors). Women were sexually harassed by Bill Clinton at the workplace (I have been sexually harassed at the workplace, more than once).

Those women, women who were certainly victims but took bribes to keep quiet about it, don't know anything about being sodomized and screaming and unable to keep your mouth open because it is literally cracking at the edges, about being gagged with their own bloody panties, about having pieces bitten out of their skin. They don't know what it is like to have these images flash every time a man kisses you, even if it is a man you know and trust. They don't know what it is to scream for help knowing that everyone upstairs is passed out and the music is too loud.

And yet they are putting themselves out there as victims for political gain.

I would not ever intentionally cheapen the sexual assault of another human being, but it seems that this is being done to me ... and I can't possibly be the only one.

So I guess I can blame Bill Clinton for my nightmares, a sleazeball who was a sexual predator but by most accounts lacks the violent, sadistic streak that killed the finest parts of me on a cold winter night.

Or, I could politely ask the right-wing, anti-Hillary people to just shut up about it. My wounds are salty enough, and every time I read about Bill's dalliances and sexual misappropriations, they burn more and more.

Most recent pics: still shooting for unpretty...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

On The Oregon Militia Stand-off, Guns, and Terrorism

Although the big media outlets have been slow to pick up on it, you've probably heard about the current situation going on in Oregon right now. The bottom line is, a militia group has taken over a federal government building and are refusing to leave. (While they are not calling themselves a militia group, it fits the parameters)

Their ostensible reason for their actions is that father and son Dwight and Steve Hammond have been ordered back to court tomorrow (Monday, 1/4) to serve out the remainder of their sentence. The Hammonds were jailed on arson charges following them allegedly burning many acres of land to cover up evidence of deer poaching (The Hammonds, of course, are offering a different explanation for the fires, but they were tried in a court of law by a jury of their peers, as is their constitutional right).

It's important to note that both Hammonds have made very clear that they have not asked for not do not wish any sort of "help" or "publicity" from this group, led by the well-known Bundy group (father Cliven and son Ammon, not Ted). Noteworthy is that the so-called Bundy group has received accolades from candidates ranging from Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee. Other Republican candidates, such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have spoken out against this dangerous group.

Perhaps most frighteningly, the Bundy group and their terrorist militia are also refusing to give terms for what they want, for what would make them leave, which makes the whole thing even stranger.

                                                  Cliven Bundy

When asked what it would take for the protesters to leave, Bundy did not offer specifics. He said he and those with him are prepared to stay put for days or weeks.
"We feel that we will occupy this as long as necessary," he said.
"We are using the wildlife refuge as a place for individuals across the United States to come and assist in helping the people of Harney County claim back their lands and resources," he said.
"The people will need to be able to use the land and resources without fear as free men and women. We know it will take some time."

Oh, and then there's the fact, also reported by CNN, that "After the march Saturday, the armed protesters broke into the refuge's unoccupied building and refused to leave. Officials have said there are no government employees in the building."

It is my understanding that, with that action, these people crossed the "T-Line" and are now officially terrorists. Merriam-Webster defines a terrorist as, "The use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal." Neighbors have spoken out about being frightened, and obviously these yahoos have a political goal.

They are terrorists.

This country is in a uproar right now, with hysteria about Syrian refugees and violence against African-Americans leading to cries of "Terrorism". 

And yet ... nobody wants to call this impending mess in Oregon, this collection of white right-wingers toting automatic weapons as they take over a federal building, terrorists. 

I think it comes down to two things, really ...
1. We all have that crazy uncle that you never know how far he is willing to go. I see a crazy relative in the face of these guys ... makes it a bit less scary.
2. There are many people, a silent militia of frighteningly large numbers, with a gun collection that claims to keep it "just in case it's ever needed".

So, yeah, perhaps it really is as simple as guns, that this is going to be the second amendment showdown that these people have long been spoiling for. 

I have never shot a gun in my life. I'm pretty sure I've never even held one. I'm a little bit fuzzy on the actual process of firing a gun, and honestly I don't even know whether you load bullets or clips or what.

My dad owned guns when I was growing up, but I didn't realize it at the time because he kept them hidden. I'm sure many of the houses I went to as a kid also had guns, but it never really came up in conversation.

Simply put, guns were never really part of my life beyond books, movies, and the city of Dover's police department.

Why they are suddenly such a hot button issue blows my mind, and I'm trying to figure out if my lack of personal experience with guns makes me a voice of reason or a clueless dolt. Please let me know in the comments ...

I have no problem with owning guns for hunting. While I would never be able to hunt myself, I understand that there are people that rely on the food they hunt. Go, hunters!

Okay, onto the next thing: home protection.

If you want to have a gun to feel safe at home, more power to you. Make sure you are trained in how to use it and make sure you're never going to be hyped up enough to accidentally shoot your husband when he comes in through the back door or something.

I also strongly believe that these guns (intended for home protection) should be locked, always. I'm a mother and a teacher, and the idea of guns running amok makes my blood run cold. (I'm going to pretend not to mention that the odds are that you would struggle, during a home invasion by a stranger, to get your hands on your own secured gun).

The other contingency of gunowners, and by far the largest, are those that have many guns, at least some of them automatic weapons. Their argument for this level of stockpile is that they are preparing to protect their property should anyone try to take it away. 

These, my friends, have the mindset that they are essentially part of a militia, and the Bundy group fits into this category like a glove.

So the people in Oregon (I read comments following an article earlier today, and one line resonated with me: "If the right-wing is going to invite these yahoos to their parties, they cannot be shocked when they want to dance.") are perhaps unknowingly setting up quite the interesting situation in our country. I pray it's not another Waco or Ruby Ridge, but with the current political situation, it could be something equally disastrous.

Take Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, for example. If he speaks out in support of this latest action, he is ultimately condoning the fact that militia movements are going to be America's new domestic terrorism. If he speaks out against the Oregon nuts, he will potentially lose a huge percentage of his supporters. As of this writing, Trump has (wisely, in my humble opinion) said nothing about the takeover of a federal building in Oregon. 

While some people are confident that these are people that will give up and go home if ignored long enough, I'm truly frightened. These gun-waving white men scare me more than Syrian refugees, more than the recent spike in African-American violence. 

There are these underground militias everywhere, in all fifty states if I had to guess. Will this nonsense from the Bundy group (who are brave enough to express outrage in the names of people who asked him to keep his outrage to himself, brave enough to take over an unoccupied government building) lead to militia outings all over America ... and a further split over how the approach is different when the "terrorists" have white skin.

What are your thoughts on this debacle?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Exploring the Concept of "Smart" in 2016

Just to get this out there, I come from an educated family.

The question was never, "Are you going to college?" but "Where are you going to college?"  My sister has a PhD in Microbiology. My mother is a nurse practitioner. My father is a lawyer. As merely a teacher, I'm in fact under-educated for my family.

I'm sure you've all heard of "book smart" versus "street smart" ... virtually everyone in my family falls in the "book smart" category, high on analyzing Shakespeare but low on common sense.

I used to buy into that line, that you were either smart at learning or smart at learning how to do stuff. Instead, I've come to believe, both as a teacher and as a person, that we all have a combination of these basic intelligence slants, some higher than others but some combination thereof.

Much of my changed thinking on the nature of intelligence is based on someone near and dear to my heart, a friendship that goes back to high school.

Let me introduce you to "Will" (obviously not his real name), an ironworker and a musician. Will graduated from high school in 1995 and has had almost exclusively labor-intensive jobs since then. (He took one college course along the way and, of course, earned an A.)

Will is gifted at working with machines and metals, often coming up with innovative solutions to problems that seem insurmountable. He does this at work all the time, and he does it in other facets of his life as well. He has done lots of work on various cars I own over the years, sometimes a simple brake job, sometimes greater challenges (one of my headlights did not work on low beam; it was not the bulb, and the mechanic couldn't figure out the problem. I kept getting pulled over for having a headlight out, but I'd take it to the mechanic and it would suddenly be working. In desperation, I called Will; he simply cross-wired the low beams and the high beams, and everything worked just fine).

I said to him just yesterday, "One of these days, something is going to come up that you will not be able to fix."

He shrugged (he's kind of cocky about his skills) and mentioned a couple of failures he's had.

Will is often on fire (literally) at his job, so he is usually dressed in dirty jeans with burns in them and t-shirts stained with steel dust. His hands are permanently discolored despite the fact that he washes them regularly. He is tall and big, wears glasses, and the overall effect upon first glance is, "Laborer. Good at his job. Not smart enough for anything more, but he looks like he works hard."

But I have known this man since we were fourteen-year-old kids. I know that he took college-prep classes and got As and Bs with pretty much no effort, that he is a bookworm that can understand and discuss literature that I studied in college (I was an English major, too), that he reads informational magazines, that he watches the History Channel, Discovery, Nat Geo, and so on obsessively.

While Will never went to college (for financial reasons, not because he didn't get a much higher SAT score the one time he took it than I did in my five attempts), I would argue that he is educated because he takes the time to educate himself--through books, through documentaries, through conversations with experts.

And then, of course, there's Will's other passion--music. He has been playing with live bands, guitar and bass guitar, since we were in high school. Music is an art, but it is one that requires strict discipline and regular daily practice. He is a gifted musician, can tune a guitar in minutes (and tell if it's out of tune in a nanosecond or two), and is able to think on his feet quickly enough to stay in synch with other band members.

When ice fishing or boating or hiking or fixing cars or replacing drywall or rebuilding a garage, Will keeps us a running commentary on what is happening or why. He's taught me, among other things, that you can see where stripers are running by watching the seabirds flocking; that setting up a tent requires a lot of concentration (but not a manual); that you need to hold a nail gun flat and squeeze the trigger quickly; that you should be absolutely sure that you got the right oil filter before asking someone to change the oil on your car; that you should take the cover off the brake fluid reservoir when doing brakes; that getting your mom's Jeep stuck in a mudhole isn't totally insurmountable (but it will not be clean); that there is one person in the world that I have never beaten at chess (Will, of course); that meals should always begin with onions, mushrooms, and garlic and almost always include beer; that Lord of the Flies was a depressing book because the boat that came and stopped the massacre of Ralph just in time was itself on its way to massacre human beings; and about a million other things over the years.

Both in terms of learning (book smart) and in terms of learning by doing things (street smart), Will is the smartest person I know.

If you met Will, though, I doubt that you'd share my opinion on that. He often looks like a big dumb dirty ironworker (and will, in fact, often say, "What do I know? I'm just a stupid ironworker". The idea that he could be not just street-smart but book-smart might appear ludicrous. I stand by what I said, though.

Will might be the only person I know that is incredibly "smart" both innately and by education, but I have recently started to notice the different combinations that make up people I know.

My father, a lawyer, has always enjoyed building stuff. He used to be terrible at it, but he has improved greatly over the years. Carpentry is a learned skill for my father, not an innate one, but he is good at it.

A family member was recently hanging a TV and needed some help. I am married to a highly educated man with some innate intelligence, and he went and mounted the TV for my family member. I could not have done that as I have no knowledge whatsoever of wall studs and such, yet I have a beautiful college transcript (both undergrad and graduate) that contains more As than other letters.

In 2016, "smart" means something different different than it has traditionally. I am convinced that we have to focus not on book smart vs. street smart but on knowing and understanding the checks and balances necessary to maximize our own innate potential with education.

What are your thoughts?

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...