“OK. So what’s a blow job?” She forced herself to ask as soon as she opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat without even so much as a glance in the direction of my face. The question didn’t particularly alarm me considering my adolescent clients keep me well informed on the milieu of current middle school culture. Oral sex is certainly a popular enough category for me to have estimated this type of conversation at some point.
“Well, I’m happy to unpack that with you, but can you first help me understand the context and why you’re asking?” I responded and watched her entire body sink into her seat as though she had been waiting for permission to wave her white flag and surrender all that she had been containing throughout the day.
She proceeded to share the details of a narrative involving a new friend being propositioned to perform oral sex on a male classmate in exchange for money, a school suspension, and perhaps even an expulsion. I could see her initially fighting back tears and then with another exhalation she let go of any remaining composure. The tears began to stream down her cheeks and eventually found their way into her lap.
I imagine those tears tasted of confusion, of the experience of indirect shame as she bore and divulged this narrative, of grief at the sense of her childhood innocence dissipating. These are often the most painful conversations I have with my girls. How can I explain sexual exploitation in a way that doesn’t frighten them? How do I name the horror of a world that has a long history of sexualizing and objectifying women and girls while buttressing their own capacity for agency and empowerment? How do I talk about the ways our culture has deprived boys and men from believing that they were made for so much more while keeping hope alive that there are boys and men who understand what it means to honor themselves and the women they know and love?
With courage. That’s what I’ve come to rely on heavily in these recent years of navigating the terrain of mothering adolescents. I have transitioned from being a mother of strictly little girls into a mother of little women rising. So with each step, with each conversation, I grab hold of the courage to just show up, to open up, to talk about the things no one ever talked about with me. We sit in the messiness of it all together so at the very least, these little women rising are not left to sort it all out on their own.
I am not a huge fan of the month of love. I have nothing against chocolate or flowers or sentimental cards. I’m actually kind of a reluctant sucker for all three if they are offered out of a heart rooted in desire rather than obligation. So yes, the contrived and constructed nature of Valentine’s Day certainly leads to some major cynicism. But that’s not why February is on the bottom half of my descending list of favorite months of the year. I think it has something to do with the momentum of January with all of its energy and newness beginning to stall, but it may also have to do with the bitter cold and amount of snow we tend to get this time of year in Colorado. I am only a fan of snow when I get to play in it or watch it from my window while sipping on Chai and reading a book, not when I must drive through it or shovel it or scrape it off my car. Lest I begin to sound like a whiner, I must confess that even my irritation with Colorado winters does not fully explain my less than fond attitude toward the month of February. If I’m truly honest with myself, I must name that there is a narrative component to this negative energy.
February 12, 1994 was the date of my first Sadie Hawkins dance. I was 14. The same age that my oldest daughter is currently. I had attended my first high school dance with a group of friends, my date being a dear and kind friend of my older brother. But I actually had a boyfriend for this dance which made it feel more significant. Or at least I thought he was becoming my boyfriend, hence the late night flirty phone calls that led up to this first date of sorts. He was only a couple months shy of his 18th birthday and I was still a rather naive freshman. He picked me up from my house that night with a corsage in hand, but as soon as we walked out the door he informed me that the day before he had been busted for having alcohol in his car while parked on school grounds. He was suspended so we would be unable to attend the actual school dance. As a grown woman, and a therapist who has now worked with a number of abuse victims, it is painfully easy for me to identify all of the red flags indicating the course of events that would transpire that night and the predictable path the “relationship” would take for the next couple of months. But there was no way for me to understand the trap I was walking into back then. There was no way for me to understand how my story leading up to that moment in time had left me vulnerable, characteristic of easy prey, and without the capacity to protect myself.
Faith, my oldest daughter, attended her first high school dance at the end of January this year. She went with a group of friends and had what she considered to be a fantastic time. After a full day of playing beauty salon and prepping her for the dance, her dad and I dropped her off with her friends, took a few photos, told her how much we adored her and then departed for the evening. Brian had to head to an event at his school for the evening (Assistant Principal duties) so I had a rather lonesome car ride home. It was enough space and time for the tears to emerge and trickle down my face in a way that felt cleansing, redeeming parts of me I didn’t know were still longing for redemption. I couldn’t protect or equip myself back then, but by the grace of God…truly by the grace of God, this child of mine has had a very different story than my own. I know that we do not live in a bubble, which means that a culture bent toward the objectification of women and girls has been woven into her narrative in ways that are seen and unseen. Just recently, the hype and buzz around 50 Shades of Grey necessitated a lengthy conversation around the disturbing content of the books and movie introducing categories I wish her mind did not need to hold. Heck! We returned from a weekend in Vegas for a soccer tournament only a few weeks ago, where each of my girls were exposed to the horror of strip club adds littering the streets. We were ALL literally walking all over the nude bodies of women. Images of their bodies, their beautiful and miraculous bodies- meant for SO MUCH more than being used as objects of pleasure for others – were being discarded like trash. I kept telling myself that each of these women have a story. They have a story. They have a being. They are not just a body. It’s the very same thing I keep trying so hard to instill in the hearts and minds of my daughters. Each of us are marked by this culture, there is no way entirely around that reality. But on that evening drive home, I saw the fruit of our efforts of resistance. At 14, Faith has more of a self than I was afforded at her age. And she continues to grow day-by-day in that direction.
February will likely always remind me that the battle against a culture of objectification, a culture obsessed with the sexualization of women and girls, must continue to be waged. It will likely always bring me back to the violation and darkness of that evening when I was 14, but perhaps facing death is the way toward life. Goodbye February of 2015, I am glad you’ve come and gone. Hello March. Hello Lent.
The night of Faith’s first high school dance. Woman becoming, a piece of my heart that lives and moves outside of my body, beyond my story and into her own. I love this child of mine fiercly.
Since we’ve wrapped up the first month of 2015, I thought it was time to post some of the good reads I’ve been pondering lately and a few other goodies. And since yesterday was the Superbowl (why not a running play???) and my whole family has been trying to survive FLUmageddon, I’m posting the Sunday Specials today.
We repent of how we ignore you, of how we turn a blind eye to your suffering and your brilliance, of how the nations of the world continue to look on with only empty words and threats, of how our compassion has yet to turn to action. Your massacres, your sufferings, are forgotten, it seems.
The thing about shame is that it doesn’t so much live in your brain, as it inhabits your heart. It is a parasite that takes up lodging in your soul. I have been host to my shame for so long that it is hard to imagine my life without it. Shame was always my baseline. Shame has always felt a lot like home to me. What’s so deeply insidious about that particular type of abuse is that it fundamentally changes how a child feels about who they are, how they see the world, and how they believe the world sees them. I used to think everyone knew. In fact, I used to think they could smell it on me. Literally. I was obviously bad. I was the type of girl boys wanted, but not for their girlfriend. I never thought I was beautiful, but I always knew I had that thing- whatever it is. That’s another thing about shame- you wear it. Every day. You just assume it’s visible.
Since we cannot simply get over fear and anxiety, we must enter both through our narrative by familiarizing ourselves with how our bodies, pain and voices were regarded in our stories. We all have many accounts to which we’ve experienced harm, neglect and parental anxiety. Whether it was a mother who was constantly worried about your pain and safety or a family member who sexually abused you and manipulated silence or parents who didn’t ever speak or consider their bodies’ health and needs. Of course there are a myriad of other stories that could be told, ones I’ve heard, ones I’ve experienced and stories so subtle and insidious, it requires a practitioner of some kind to name them. Simply put, our bodies carry, conceal and cleverly disclose the tragedies of our past.
If you’re like me and often on the road, you may enjoy a few of these podcasts as well.
And lastly, have you heard The Lone Bellow’s newly released album yet??? Here’s a teaser for your inticement:
That’s it for now folks. What has caught your eye…or ear this year so far?
Something extraordinary happened last weekend. It was the 2015 Women’s World Cup Draw. I stood behind our couch ironing clothes as my 14 year old sat before me glued to the television. The broadcast opened with a panel of former and current female soccer elites. Their anticipation and excitement for the draw matched our own. We were within minutes of knowing how the first round of matches would line-up when I felt an all-too-familiar lump in my chest. It’s a physiological sensation I tend to get when an unexpected emotion is about to surge through my body and being. I couldn’t completely discern the emotion in those moments that tears began to well up in my smiling eyes. Was it gratitude? Anticipation? Joy? I wasn’t quite sure…but I know what you’re thinking- Really? All of this emotion over the Women’s World Cup? And the answer is YES. And not exactly.
I must disclose that I did not really grow up loving soccer. I was an athlete in my early years, no question about that. I spent most of my time in dance studios, including the one my mom owned for a period of time. As I approached middle school, I discovered I was fast and strong and tall and determined on both the basketball court and the soccer field. My father had a brief basketball career extending beyond college to the professional realm of European sports. My mother was a dancer, turned aerobic instructor in the eighties before beginning her career in nursing (I should mentioned she competed in Rebok’s National Aerobic Championship when I was still in elementary school). So it was sort of in my blood, but I never really landed and settled onto either the dance floor, the soccer field or the basketball court. Looking back, I was probably most physically suited for soccer, but by the end of my eighth grade year, when it was time to anticipate athletics in High School, one of my girlfriends asked if I’d tryout for cheerleading with her. With little personal direction and having an adolescent-hormone-bathed-brain that already identified the amount of attention the cheerleaders received from the male athletes, I hopped right on that train heading no where good. Thus marking the end of my athletic opportunities. Though, I should mention (or brag) that I did later play on an adult co-ed soccer league in the beginning of my marriage and also went on to fulfill a bucket-list item when I danced for a hip-hop company after having my first two babies.
I promise there was a point to that personal narrative detour. As I stood at my ironing board that morning, peering at the screen that was showcasing such strong, talented and beautiful female athletes, it dawned on me that I couldn’t recall a single strong female role model from my childhood memory. I’m not suggesting that there weren’t women worth admiring and looking up to when I was a developing girl, but I don’t recall being exposed to any that awakened my heart, strengthened my hope or focused my dreams. I pondered for a moment how my life may have taken a very different path had I been witness to more female narratives of greatness back then. In a split-second I was overwhelmed with the importance for girls to WITNESS the possiblities for their lives. We need more women in the pulpit. We need women in governement…yes, we need a female president. We need women’s voices to be present in the media. We need women’s sports to be televised. We need coming-of-age stories that showcase a female narrative. We need Oprah. We need Katniss Everdeen. We all need more women.
Nearly three years ago, my husband drove our three older girls to Utah so they could watch the US Women play in a friendly against Canada prior to the Olympics. Alex Morgan was being interviewed just before the game was about to begin directly in front of where my girls were all sitting. It was a moment they will never forget. We realized then that we would need to be intentional about exposing them to the narratives of a multitude of strong, determined and talented women, but my heart aches for a time when such intentionality is no longer necessary. I long for the day that women’s narratives hold equal weight in a world where they carry half the sky.
My 3 loves taking a photo of one of their heroes (standing behind a fan with a ridiculously large hat)!
Friendlies! We are finally ready to release our first ever 3 Therapists Chat it Up Video Blog! It’s a little lengthy (a whole 28 minutes)…but we invite you to join us for an evening discussion about our blog name, the books we’re currently enjoying and our thoughts on community. Please excuse our technical glitches and our silliness (clearly we amuse ourselves and one another). Let us know what you think and what you’d like us to discuss in our next video chat.