Weenie Wagging

You ever hear the one about the 7 year old boy that sexually assaulted the 37 year old woman?  No?  Me neither, which is why I was determined to shrug it off and leave it alone when I left my newest babysitting house on Friday afternoon.

The boys I was working with were seven and nine, and by mom’s own admission, watching their parents go through a nasty divorce.  Understanding at least part of what that’s like, I decided to take the job anyways.  The morning was perfectly fine.  We traded snark about some things we found mutually stupid, colored Halloween decorations, and went to the park.  After lunch a switch flipped.  Within minutes these boys were screaming, chasing each other around, and kicking each other where, many men tell me, the sun does not shine once you are kicked there.

I was doing my best to prevent bloodshed and not feed into or escalate what was happening, even though I could tell from how they watched me, that was just what they were hoping for.  Finally, after running from me and hiding in the closet with lots of whispers and giggles, the seven year old emerged with his penis pulled out, waving it at me.  I kept my eyes to the sky, not wanting someone to hear from their child “she looked at it”, and barked off something about that being inappropriate.  Even in the moment however, I knew that “inappropriate” wasn’t really what I wanted to say.

In the next half hour he pulled it our three more times, each time getting closer to me and more determined with his wagging.  I noticed, as I sat stock still, that all my muscles were engaged to get up and run away.  There was no rapid breathing or heartbeat, this was a child with little to no conscious conception of what he was doing, and even less ability to actually hurt me, but when the mother seemed unsurprised at the news, my heart did skip a beat.  I didn’t want the children to get beaten with a shoe, or even really punished at all, but I wanted her to seem less tired, to care more outwardly that her boys were seething with little outlet.  I told her later outside the door that having a kid expose themselves to me was really “no big deal.”  Also, really not what I wanted to say.

So, why am I still bothered by this a few days later, bothered enough to sit and write?  First and foremost, it’s that HE KNEW.  Somewhere in this little boy, because he’s absorbed the culture we’ve allowed and created, he knew that something about his male anatomy could be threatening enough to get what he wanted from me.  He knew that a crude joke wasn’t just a crude joke, but rather one of many points on a spectrum of aggression.  He knew.  And his brother, who was cheering him along and finding the whole thing hilarious, knew too.

I know so many mothers and fathers of boys (and girls) who are working their asses off trying to help mold non-Trumpesque humans.  But it strikes me that for every one of those families, there is a family like this, who for lack of tools or time or energy, doesn’t know or care what to do anymore.  I don’t think they are bad people.  In fact, they are many of the same parents who asked me in tears, as their child’s teacher, what to do with their children who had gone off the rails.  Then and now, I don’t have any answers for them.  But how do we move towards balance as a society if the efforts of some are cancelled out by the efforts of others?  What do we do if masculinity (and femininity) keep being seen by some as weapons and not gifts?

The other thing bothering me?  I felt the same sense of powerlessness that day and willingness to shrug it off that I always do.  I felt the same powerlessness as when I was 12; my first stepdad stuck his arm through a crack in the chained door, and slapped my mother in the face.  At almost 30 I felt that powerlessness again, when after a wonderful mutual booty call and nap, I told my slightly sleepy paramour it was almost time for him to go.  He started screaming about how women were always using him and I found myself wondering if I could get to the knives in my kitchen if I had to.  Months later he was in my neighborhood and came up behind me while I was at the mailbox and grabbed me by the hips, laughing at how badly scared I was.  At 32, a man who had been my best friend for almost ten years stopped speaking to me when I began dating someone seriously, and my sense of powerless rage came flooding back.  These are only a few stories, only a few times I’ve been harassed or manipulated, and they are by far tamer than what many women I know went through.  But this seven year old boy brought that all back.

There’s no real conclusion to this post.  Maybe I wouldn’t have written it at all had I not seen Michelle Obama’s speech recently.  Watching her voice shake and her heart pound, but seeing her call out the truth anyways, as best she could, was mesmerizing and very much stuck in me.  Maybe I am feeling into the nervousness surrounding my upcoming embodiment workshop, where we will feel into what it is like to stand up for ourselves, for others, and to be with whatever is happening in a way that keeps us in integrity.  Historically, standing up for myself has been difficult.  It’s a little easier when others need me, but I still am not as consistent as I would like to be.  I imagine I will be facing a lot of fears this weekend, none of them related to Halloween.  Maybe it’s time to start thinking more about how to resource single parents so they can better tackle their doubly difficult job.  This is a thought that’s played at the corner of my mind more than once over the years.  It’s never large enough to get action, but always big enough to be noticed.  My siblings and I were also angry children, ill equipped for divorce, many years ago.  I found outlets for enough of my anger that I didn’t self destruct.  My siblings did not.

Notes from the Field: the Mechanics of Fake it Till You Make it

It’s a saying we’ve all heard.  Whether clothed in the language of religious or secular faith, every hungry community I’ve ever been a part of has believed that your thoughts play some role in shaping your reality.  I believe it as well to some degree, mostly because I have seen it in action beyond rational explanations.  My Walkabout year has already been filled with returns on investments I’ve made into uncovering, “What else?”  Like monkey bars I’m swinging, terrified and exhilarated, from one to the other.  What I realize however is that I don’t know the difference between fake it till you make it, and lying.  Maybe no one does.  There are just simply times I can not fake my way into something being true.

Most recently I was exhorted to fake it till you make it at my regular conscious movement class (I know, seems ironic).  The teacher subbing for the evening had instructed us at the start of the lesson to dance the next few songs as if we were in love with everybody in the room, and that everybody in the room was in love with us in return.  I think the purpose was to be able to base our actions and decisions in something other than approval seeking, but it’s hard to tell with excited newbie teachers sometimes.  What I can tell you is that my internal landscape said a big, “Hell no, fuck you very much.  Everyone in this room is most definitely NOT in love with me.”  The idea seemed fake and energetically overwhelming.  No amount of pretending was actually getting me there, and it felt icky to try so I stopped.  Only when I stopped trying to fake it did I find my way into some dances that were truly meaningful, and as of yet, really without explanation.

Fast forward to tonight, the full moon, and I had planned as usual to be out immersed in a creative ritual of my own making.  The idea had come to me simply and forcefully when talking to a friend at the end of September.  We were discussing relationships and the vulnerability of expressing your needs, wants, and desires to your significant other.  “Yes, but it’s also such a gift,” came tumbling out of my mouth, “to trust someone with your vision for your life.”  And there it was.  I have been able to release parts of my life that no longer serve me, even those that aren’t quite gone yet, but I have not yet made firm declarations of what I want and need.  I could write them out and decorate them like wrapping paper, wrap a box with them, and set it to float somewhere on Stevens Creek.  I envisioned lots of markers and potentially, glitter.

I sat in a garden at midnight, less than 36 hours later, and wrote out my list to present to my boyfriend, the Universe.  There were some specifics–I need a car, I want to work less than I did teaching and still be able to support myself.  There were some broad outlines–I want to share the stories of myself and others.  I then proceeded to do absolutely nothing with that list for the next three weeks, unless of course you count avoiding doing something, as something.  “I’ve just been busy,” I kept rationalizing.  And then last night I finally said it plain–you. are. scared. to get that public, that bold, that intentional.  I already have SO much skin in the game that I’m running out of bandaids some days, and monkey bar blisters hurt like hell if you don’t remember.  “What if you just do it anyways?” I asked myself plaintively.  “Hell no, fuck you very much.  No one is seeing that damn list but me.”

As usual, I’d love to speed the process up, whatever it is, but instead I still feel the call to be aware of this place; between old passings and new beginnings (guess it’s lucky I’m in Fall, isn’t it).  I’ve been in this place for about a year now, but clearly I have not explored all of it.  And although I groan inwardly at my own slowness, part of me is glad.  One of my major lessons in the last three years has been how rich and alive transitions are if you will let them take their own pace and stay to feel all of it.

I’m not ready to set out declaring yet, it would be a lie.  I expect that by the time I realize I feel “ready”, many of the declarations will have already happened.  Some have already been said, indirectly, under my breath, to friends and passing trees.  Some bubble through my writing, looking for voice that my conscious mind won’t yet give.  And this week a picture of myself when I was five started popping up in my mind’s eye, following me around.  Some days little me dances like a maniac to whatever music I’m listening to, tonight she encouraged me to smell the lemon zest before putting it in the faro salad.  I can’t say how yet, but I think she’s here for this season of old and new, fear and courage, and fake it till you make it, when it’s time.

Regular People…

I like writing when I’m sick.  Just like driving when you are sleepy, shopping when you are hungry, or texting when you’re drunk, you know you’re going to arrive somewhere, but not quite know how you got there.  The destination may be questionable or amazing, but either way it’s going to be an adventure.  Thus, without further ado, we’re off!

A couple of weeks ago I was Uber’ing to work.  The driver was sporting a fantastically awful, 3/4 length sleeve, Miami Vice pink jacket with shoulder pads.  He had a Latin accent that would have been wildly sexy had he not been suffocating me in the back seat with his cologne.  I pushed through the pain to make driver-passenger small talk, and we landed on Uber’s rates in different places.  “It’s not a problem to live in a surge zone for some people, but for regular people like you and me, it’s a lot,”he said.  I assume he’d gleaned my “regular people” status because I’d told him I was going to a babysitting job, but as the words came out of his mouth…I LOVED THEM!  I wanted him to say them again and again “regular people like you and me, regular people, regular people, regular people!”

I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with the presumptions and role playing that surround the title of “teacher.”  For the record, I’m sure many of us are to one degree or another.  In non-teacher gatherings, when I told someone what I did for the first time, there was always a quarter second of silence, as if the person was checking back through all the things they’d just said.  Were they serious enough?  Were they smart enough?  And dear holy bejesus, sometimes when I knew I probably wouldn’t encounter someone again, I’d tell them I was a math teacher just so I didn’t have to hear self-deprecating remarks about how bad their grammar was.

Teachers hold the same fake mystique for parents, although they show it many different ways.  I understand that a little more.  Parents know that anyone who is doing what they are doing on a regular basis–keeping these weird, magical, frustrating mini-humans alive and developing–must be of a different breed.  But I still remember the first time a parent cried in front of me and asked what I thought they should do with their child.  I was twenty-three, just ten years older than their eighth grader, and although I wasn’t as free with the swearing then, my internal response was something along the lines of, “How the fuck should I know?”

Now that I don’t hold a fancy schmancy title anymore, the distance between me and other people feels smaller.  Part of that is changes happening in me, and part of that is carrying around fewer expectations of others.  I quit my job at the flower shop a few days ago, and when I came in the next day (I agreed to stay a few more weeks since my boss was taking off to see to an ailing father in Taiwan), the people I worked with put their questions to me straight up: “Why are you quitting?  We like you.”  Or, “Is it true you’re quitting?”  And there was no malice, no passive aggressiveness, no judgement of motives, no secret emotional content of any kind in the questions.  They just wanted to know, and they felt no need to hold back that desire to know.  Even though my current cold was building steam that day, I felt invigorated by the interchanges.  And they didn’t make me nervous as they did when people were trying to support me/figure out why I was leaving teaching.  As I come more into alignment with myself, my own definition of integrity, I don’t have to try so hard.

And I want to make clear that this is not a self-esteem issue.  It’s not that I feel unworthy to carry the title of teacher.  I was a good teacher with moments of greatness.  In fact, when I set my mind to do something, I get as good as I possibly can at it, as quickly as I possibly can.  But I don’t want those titles, those accomplishments, to separate me from myself and others anymore.  So why don’t I go back since I’ve now had all these insights?  Not only have I been offered subbing, but an actual ELA position already at my old school.  The simple answer is that it’s not that easy.  I can hold this understanding now, but could I do it in the midst of multiple layers of spoken and unspoken expectations?  Could I refuse to be a “teacher” even though I’m teaching? I refuse to call myself a nanny since I’m really just babysitting, so maybe it’s possible.  But I don’t know yet.

What I do know is that feeling into my regular peopleness seems to be having an interesting side effect of bringing up all sorts of foundational beliefs I didn’t know were hiding.  I can’t quite articulate the cause effect relationship here, except for to say that I know there is one.  I’ve already written a little on here about dealing with a scarcity mindset.  I’m now starting to look at things like my belief that I can’t fully take care of myself and my belief, although it’s already shifting, that I should be stressed and things should be difficult.  This is some major breakthrough stuff, and it’s just gently floating to the top of the pool all falalalala, no big deal but here I am, decide what, if anything, you’d like to do now that you can see me.

Being regular people is both exciting and terrifying.  By the end of tomorrow I will have lost money on a day of work and three different sitting jobs by being sick, roughly 300$.  I can’t really afford that, but I need to rest.  Yet at the same time, I’m getting the rare privilege of remodeling my internal landscape without the prompting of death or other major losses.  I know not everyone gets to do that.  I hope to get even closer to the original hardwood floors and tiles before I’m all done, for this round anyways.