The Spice of Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about why we all don’t stand together. Even when we are in the same community of people. Even when we share the same religion. Even when we work together with a common mission. Even when we are family.

I think it must be fear.

I am in a few groups of people who live in fear. Either currently or historically or both. I have witnessed and experienced the effects of feeling excluded in these groups. And I have been outspoken at times about my feelings because it is my way. I am a truth teller and I am a writer. This is how I need to express myself.

My life has been hard lately so my truths are hard. I know that my words land poorly on some of the people I love. I regret that this has caused grief in my circles. It feels awful. Even worse, it hasn’t changed anything. If anything, it has made some of my relationships worse. And I still wish that the people I love would be open to receiving what I need them to know and simply understand that there is no blame and that there is no shame. I’m just asking to be seen and heard. I’m just asking for understanding.

What is a shame is when fear keeps us separated. Keeps us from being the community of people we really are meant to be. Keeps us from being the people we need to be for each other.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling because I talk to people all the time who feel the same way. I know a lot of people who are in groups where they feel they aren’t welcome. Where they don’t belong. But I believe we can all grow and I believe that we can all get along. I’m one of those people who believes that anything is possible. I am an optimist.

I believe there is always potential to live and work together. Even when we disagree. Even when we don’t look exactly the same or talk the same or pray the same. I believe our differences are what makes us valuable. I believe we can always find shared interest and can and should value others. We share family. We celebrate and grieve together. We have the same struggles. We are really all the same.

I was traveling recently and had the chance to spend a day in Springfield, Illinois. Honestly, the day I was in downtown Springfield it appeared as hot and dusty and dead as a city could be, but it was inspiring to me anyway. How could it not be? Springfield is all about Abraham Lincoln.

I spent a few hours taking in Lincoln’s presidential library and museum. His ideas, his thoughts, and his words filled me with fresh hope. One of his quotes has really been percolating since then and has been following me around ever since. In fact, there has been a billboard across the street from my house with the same quote. I am certain it must have been placed there to remind me. It states “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

This is a fundamental truth.

I was born into an historically vulnerable community. I am Jewish. My father is Jewish. His parents were both Jewish. Their parents were both Jewish. They were all Jewish up my father’s line. At least as far as I know. My mother is also Jewish. She converted to the religion after she married my father. There has never been any question in my mind that I am Jewish, yet I have felt for years that I don’t always belong. I have tens of stories beginning in my early childhood about people who told me that they would not consider me to be Jewish or that I’m not the “right kind of Jew.” The different categories in the Jewish world are widely accepted. I was raised reformed. My husband was raised conservative. There is a commonly accepted difference between these two ways of being Jewish. This difference equates to an implied “less than”, but I have never understood why. How can we possibly stand together if we can’t even accept that we are all equally Jewish?

As a result, this concept of being different or less than while being the same has bothered me my whole life and has become even more frustrating as a mother. My children may appear different to some people. They are not. They are just like everyone else. And so am I.

One of my children, Max, is deaf. This fact automatically puts them and our family into a vulnerable, divided, and very diverse group of people. Just like being Jewish. Like most people who have no experience with deafness, I initially assumed that all deaf people were the same and that they must use American Sign Language. I quickly realized that this is not at all true. Unless you are a part of this community of people, you may never know that there are many different ways to live as a deaf person in the world. Signing is one way, but it is not the only way. It’s just the most visible to other people.

Max understands and speaks English. It can take some patience, but mostly it just takes paying close attention when you’re having a conversation. It feels to me the same as having a conversation with my 75 year old parents and neither of them are deaf. Max is also a native cuer, which means that Max understands spoken language most effectively when someone uses a visual mode of communication called Cued Speech, which is what I do. Max also does know how to communicate in sign, but it is not natural and it takes a lot of effort because Max was not raised with that language. In fact, it might come as a bit of a surprise to most people that most deaf kids aren’t. Max was raised and educated using spoken English. That’s because that’s our family’s shared language. It just made the most sense to me when I was trying to figure it all out.

Despite the fact that Max speaks the same language as most people they meet, Max is often feared by hearing people because of their deafness. This is just how it is with hearing people. They are afraid to be around deaf people because they are afraid they won’t be able to understand each other. This is partly because people assume that deaf people all use ASL. Max almost always feels excluded and can sense this fear so it causes them to withdraw from people altogether. Even from people in our own family. Even from people who love Max.

Many hearing people have pushed technology on Max because they think it is the best solution. It’s not. The sound processors that Max uses with their cochlear implants just don’t give Max the hearing that people assume it must. Max misses a lot of what is being said. This fact sometimes gives people the false idea that Max is not smart or capable, which is far from the truth. Max is one of the smartest and most capable people I’ve ever known. Why can’t people just understand that deaf people and hearing people are all created equal?

And then there’s the deaf signing community, in which Max also feels excluded and feared. Despite the fact that Max does sign, sometimes deaf people seem uncomfortable or make assumptions about Max because of the cueing and the speaking. Some people may feel that Max is not the “right kind of deaf”. They may have never been educated about Cued Speech at all and they can’t understand it. They also may not understand people who speak. How could they? The point is that Max does not feel they are welcome in parts of the deaf community. This really breaks my heart and I know this must be confusing to a lot of people, but it’s the truth. Aren’t all deaf people created equal, too?

All of this rambling is to say one thing. Our differences are what make us interesting and they can add value. If we were all the same in every way, life would be so bland. We may all be different, but in the end we are the same and we need one another. People are not meant to do life alone. It’s just too hard. Without the support of our own people, vulnerable communities like mine will continue to be so.

There is no reason to be afraid.

A Job Well Done

I have no doubt that my mom would be surprised to know that I think about her a lot. Certainly I think about her every day. Today is my mom’s birthday so I’m thinking about her a lot today. I want her to know how grateful I am for her. I don’t think she knows that because sometimes our relationship feels complicated. I think mother/child relationships are complicated no matter who you are. That’s just how it goes. It’s the most important relationship, so it’s bound to be complicated sometimes. That’s my working theory anyway. Take it or leave it.

Every year my mom’s birthday falls within days of or exactly on Mother’s Day. I’ve always wondered if that feels to her like kind of a ripoff. Like being born on Christmas Eve. I have a friend who was a Christmas Eve baby. I don’t think it ever bothered him at all. And I have a sense that it never bothered my mom that her birthday and Mother’s Day became merged into one over the years. My mom is not the type of person to want a lot of fuss over her. That’s the way I’ve always seen her anyway. I hope I’m right about that and I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I’m not. My mom is one who speaks her mind. We are a lot more alike than we are different. I’m grateful to be like my mom.

People talk a lot about how being a parent is harder now than it was when we were kids. It’s possible I have even said this, but when I really think about it I have to disagree. I think being a parent is just plain hard. How could we possibly know if it’s harder now? It’s all perspective really. It really is a lot of work and heartache, but that’s what you sign up for when you have kids. Isn’t it?

I remember when I realized that I would accept the job of mom if it was offered to me. That’s truly how I thought about it. I was in my last year of college when I realized that I would accept. At the time I was worrying that my birth control was not going to be 100% effective for me. That’s when I considered the job. Thankfully, I had my mom as a role model when I contemplated the requirements and she is an excellent mom. I am grateful. My mom sees me and accepts me for who I am. My mom always offers her support even when she doesn’t exactly know how she can help. My mom always wants to know what is going on with me even when the things I tell her must scare the hell out of her. Most importantly, my mom has never walked away from me. I’ve learned over the last few years that this is the most important job requirement.

I am truly blessed with a mom who has modeled the most important things about being a mother. My mom has never wavered. Even though we do not live close to one another and we do not talk to each other as often as we could, I think about my mom every day and I am grateful for her daily presence. I love her so much.

The Courage of Conviction

I am feeling grateful right now. So much so that it is overwhelming me. I’m starting to understand that this is a good time for me to write. Thankfully, I have also been ordered by my therapist to find at least thirty to forty-five minutes every day for self care. Otherwise, I might be driving around running errands or reading documents or paying bills or at Target returning the underwear I bought in the wrong size at least two weeks ago. That would have been time well spent and I still hope to get at least one of those things accomplished this afternoon. But first I’m going to write this. That’s much better. My therapist is good.

My life is a lot to handle right now. I can’t imagine anyone would argue that point. My to do list is impossibly long and I am a highly productive person. I am. I’ve been told this by far too many people for this not to be true. But when areas in your life are sometimes on fire or in danger of catching on fire at any moment, you don’t look or feel very productive. Every human being has their limit. It’s called overwhelm and there is not a lot you can do with that. Trust me.

Some days are better than others. All of them are busy. Thankfully, some are energizing, but others feel like I am trying to run through a pool of mud. I think it looks really scary from the outside. I get that. I’m afraid there are people who are just scared of me. If you’re one of those people you needn’t be. I’m just a human being. Everyone needs people who care about them and who accept them for who they are and where they are. This is who I am. This is what my life is like right now. I’m still here. You can still talk to me.

Not that long ago I named my life as if it is a roller coaster. So sometimes now when I’m talking to people I refer to my life as the Flaming Dragon. It works for me. I know other people it works for, too. It seems like I meet more roller coaster enthusiasts every single day. These are my people. The people who can cope with and even enjoy a roller coaster life or who can at least identify with it. I am grateful for you.

I am also grateful for people who keep reaching out. I was taking a walk with one of them yesterday. I haven’t been able to see this friend very much over the last year and we used to see each other almost every day. I know she was happy to see me and that she also wanted to know something. She shared with me that she is having a hard time tolerating something and she knows that I understand that very well right now. She asked me, very honestly, about my superpower. She wanted to know how in the world I am doing what I am doing. How am I enduring what I am enduring and still standing?

I get it. It must be mind boggling. At times, it honestly seems like my family and myself are under attack. It’s as if we have been called to battle and everyone knows how that goes. It takes it out of you. Everyone in my family is exhibiting the effects of stress. It’s hard, but we are standing up for ourselves. I told my friend that courage is my superpower.

Here’s the thing I’m learning. The key is the standing up. It makes you stronger. Honestly, sometimes I feel like someday we are going to rule the world. I think that must be called an empire state of mind. I believe that what I am standing up for is important and when we make it all the way through this to the other side there will be change. That’s why I’m doing it. Otherwise, it would be insane.


Just a Mother


When I was a little girl I didn’t imagine myself being a mother.  I didn’t care to play with dolls.  I didn’t want to babysit.  And I didn’t have little cousins or younger siblings.  That just wasn’t my experience. 

As I got older, I didn’t give much consideration to having kids.  I just knew it wasn’t something I wanted so I didn’t envision myself having them.  Throughout my twenties I recall emphatically declaring to my friends that I would not be having kids. 

Here’s the thing.  I do have kids.  And anyone who knows me now knows how I feel about them. I am in love with them. 

It can be awkward with some people to talk about how my children came to be because I didn’t plan them.  Sometimes people use the word accident to describe how my children were conceived.  It is entirely possible that I have even uttered the word myself, but that’s just not true.  I knew what I was doing when they were conceived.  It was intentional.  By the age of 30 I realized that I really did want to have kids.  Someday.  I didn’t plan to have them right away.  That’s what happened anyway.  I knew I wanted these kids.

Sometimes I wonder at how I seemed to build myself to be the person I am.  How is it that I am so uniquely qualified to be their mother?  I realize this is also not true. Yes my chosen career path really overlaps with my motherhood in some big ways, but I am also keenly aware of my parenting deficiencies.  Why can’t I be better at some things?  Because I’m not.  This is who my kids got.   

What I do know is that I love my kids so much that I can see all of their beauty.  That has opened up my world in ways it never could have been otherwise.  I imagine that some people might only see my life as a parent as hard, but I am grateful.  Seventeen years ago when I became a mother my life finally became directed.  Before that I was on a path, but with nothing I was working toward.  They inspire me.  They are who I dedicate myself to.  They are my purpose. 

J. Warren Welch really puts it into words perfectly. Your children are not your masterpiece that you create. They are their own masterpiece, creating themselves, and you have been given the privilege of watching them be the artist.”

I love watching my kids create themselves.  That’s why I wanted them.  They are incredible.  What an amazing human experience. 

Frequent Flyer Club

Dear Beatrice,

I’ve been thinking about you for a long time now, but these last few years I’ve thought about you more often. I really hope my indifference to you and your child didn’t cause you too much heartache. And if it did I hope you were quick to find forgiveness. I know what it’s like to carry pain around and I’ve only recently truly understood the importance of forgiveness. My kids helped me figure that out.

Sometimes when I need to talk to someone about what I’m going through I talk to you in my head. My family that I live with doesn’t need to hear it. They know all about it because they are living it, too. Others who I know love me can’t really understand because they aren’t living it and I really don’t want to talk about it all the time, but I do need to let it out. I imagine that you felt the same way. I wonder if you still do? I wonder how you and your grown child are doing now? It’s painful and it’s isolating when your kids are neglected by the school system. My circle has become very small. As is the case with any crisis, I am learning painful lessons about the people who I thought were my friends. It’s times like these when you learn who you can count on. It’s hard to stand up by yourself, but that’s what I do.

 

I’m sorry I didn’t realize how hard it was when I knew you, but I just didn’t understand. I wasn’t a mother yet and I’ve come to realize that people without kids like ours have no way of truly understanding. Sometimes they even blame us. I don’t understand why life is that way, but it is. It’s always up to us to stand up for ourselves. Our kids deserve the highest respect and so do we.

Twenty years ago I became a lawyer because I was born to stand up for what was right and I was called to civil rights work.  I thought that being a lawyer was the only way to do this work. I was mistaken, but I didn’t have any experience standing up for myself because I was born into a life of privilege.  Much of my time has been spent practicing in the area of special education or navigating that system myself. Your case for your child was my very first.  Regrettably, I don’t actually recall anything about your case or your child. I only remember you. That’s because my focus was off. I was focused on doing my job rather than focusing on your child.  That was my mistake. What I remember about you was that you were a force and I also assumed you were crazy. I’m sorry for that. After I had my own kids I realized that you weren’t crazy and that you were just a mom like me.  I’ve carried that with me every day and I want you to know that I bring it up every time I teach others about special education law.

I know now firsthand what the education system can do to mothers like us. I have been told sometimes that I am too emotional. That’s just another word for crazy mother and it is offensive. I have three children who are all incredible human beings. They were all on track educationally until all of a sudden they weren’t. My children have all been harmed by the inequity and the dysfunction of our education system. I’ve concluded that the system is simply not focused on children at all. All three of my kids are identified in the educational world as twice exceptional. That means that they are highly gifted and that they also have disabilities. Trying to get my kids educated in our public school system has taken over every part of my life. I am a frequent flyer now. That’s what the education system calls parents like us who continue to stand up for our kids.

What I want you to know is that I am grateful for you. We parents all stand on the shoulders of giants and you are one of them. You are a leader in every sense of the word. Thank you for leading the way with your determination and your passion. I am sure you never gave up. It made me a better lawyer, a better advocate, and a better mother. I am proud of myself in all of those aspects of my life.

My best to you always,

Lisa

 

Serenity Now

Most days now when I wake up I have a panicky feeling in my chest and racing thoughts in my mind.  I don’t always write, but I know that I need to express all of these overwhelming thoughts and feelings.  I never know what is going to come out, but it is images of my family running through my mind almost all the time.  We are all impacted by stress in our collective lives. That’s just how families work. We absorb all of it.

Something that is a constant in our home right now is depression. I am beginning to understand that this one word generates strong feelings and images based on one’s own personal experiences with it. I’ve found that there are people who don’t understand it at all. I also know that sometimes when people don’t understand something they are afraid of it. This makes people scared to name depression in their own lives, but I find it hard to believe that I know anyone who has not been touched by it. Maybe that’s just me though. I always try to stand firmly in reality.

Whatever name people put on the symptoms they are experiencing in their bodies, I believe it really does often come down to depression. From my perspective, it can look like a lot of different things because we are all just wired differently. But we are all human so we are the same. Depression is a slog.

Mackenzie is one of my 16 year old twins.  She is deaf and she has been deeply wounded. She is also very resilient.  She doesn’t talk much with people outside of our house, so most people can’t really know her and few people may realize the extraordinary human being they see before them.  But I do. She is a warrior. And she is a leader in every sense of the word.

Mackenzie is in the thick of it right now. There are things that are affecting her over which she has no control. No doubt this is an important life lesson. We all have things we cannot control. Personally, I try to live by the serenity prayer and I sense that she does, too. But she is in an incredibly tough position right now. The thing she doesn’t have control over is her education and that is a place where she excels. At least she did before last year.

Because she is deaf she cannot go to school without an interpreter to provide her with access to communication. She is now a junior in high school and in her second year without access. When she is in school, it has become a warzone for Mackenzie. That’s how I know she is a warrior. She has fought, but it is not without deep wounding that comes with battle. She is also battling depression.

Mackenzie is keenly aware that she must keep pushing through.  I am in awe of her resilience.

This morning as I opened up my google docs to begin writing, I came across a speech that Mackenzie wrote last year for a communication competition.  As it turned out, she never gave this speech, but I think what she wrote speaks to the core of her resilience. Her speech was about optimism. I think she will not mind if I publish it here.

Mackenzie wrote these words at a time when she was going to school advocating for herself every single day and not understanding a anything that was going on because she had no access to communication at all. She asked me the other day if I could imagine what it was like to not understand anything that is going on around you all the time. She describes the feelings of isolation. I can imagine, but I do not know. All I know is that it hurts her deeply and it hurts me deeply, as well. I am grateful that Mackenzie is resilient. I pray that we are all as resilient.

Serenity now.  

“Where does my optimism come from?” by Mackenzie Tucker  

So, the actual question is, where do I get my optimism from? Where is it from? Where is it “created”? Well, I do personally believe that optimism or determination (which is also partly the term of being optimistic) is from a life lesson or another. From a past experience or another. According to “past experience,” I have a story to share with you guys, since you’re all here with me. When I was younger, a lot younger, it started in elementary school. I was bullied, teased and manipulated so bad. People just call me names, like dumb, useless, stupid, retarded, clueless, idiot, pea-brain, confused… And every time that happens, I would come home Know why? –Because I can’t hear. Because I don’t sometimes understand information very clearly, and my brain mix things up and it was so frustrating. Because people just don’t understand, since I was so different and described by many people as “abnormal” or “weird” or “strange,” or something absurd and silly like that. This past memory of mine made me want to become stronger and more self-aware, and to make a difference, since I am different. And I think you all should, too. Everyone can be different, but they’re still the same. And I feel like everyone should show people that we are just the same, like them.

When I had this feeling of being different, I was only two years and nine months old. It was at the time of when I lost my hearing. I feel like I’m not being understood and left out, because all of my family members are hearing, and I’m the only deaf person in the family. There are also a lot of hearing people in the world, and that is part of the reason of why I feel different.

The feeling of being different can make me feel isolated, because for years, being different can make me have a really hard time to fit into society and the world. It made me feel bad when hearing people just treat me like I’m different, like I seem to them as a pushover. Or a doormat.

There are a lot of hearing people who have bullied, manipulated and harassed me a lot all over the years. And it have caused me to feel low and low, every time they do that. They don’t do that, but since I’ve started high school, there was a lot of insecurity and drama in school. It got me very depressed and anxious. It made me so afraid every time I go to that school, enter the door, go into my homeroom period, sit down and be with all of the hearing people that I’m with. And that made me nervous.

What made me feel good, is when a person understands me for who I am. Like my mother. My mother is the only person, in most of my life, who understands me. She knows how to communicate with me. My brothers don’t. My step-dad didn’t, really. And we got into a lot of fights,because of that. They’re still learning, though.

I feel like my greatest purpose of my life, is to make a great difference. To share all of what I have. To share my story. To be bold and fast, rather than suffering in silence. And I promised myself to do it, starting at sixteen years old. I want to do all of the things that I’ve been wanting to do all my entire life. My interests and passions. My story. Everything. And I’m going to do it.

My optimism comes from my life.  Thank you for listening to what I am trying to say.

Hope

Hope has been on my mind a lot over the last week as I think about what it must feel like to be my 16 year old, Mackenzie.  Despite everything that has happened to her over the last few years at school, she has practiced forgiveness and patience and has continued to hold out hope that people will do what they promise and what is right. I have always been patient and I realize that I tend to be a hopeful person, too. I think I’ve always been that way and maybe that has rubbed off on Mackenzie or maybe we were both just born that way.  I don’t really know how that works. What I do know is that we are both people who can be patient and who look for hope. The way I see it, these are qualities that weigh heavily in our favor.

People are very curious about Mackenzie, but they don’t always seem interested in the ways she needs them to be.  Right now they’re more interested in her gender identity. It’s the question I am most often asked. Even when I am in the middle of a conversation about what is most affecting her.  Her deafness. I get it. Not everyone has a transgender person in the family and it must seem like the biggest deal in the world to a lot of people. I guess it is a big deal, but not to me.  Not right now. Mackenzie is almost 17 years old. I’ve known that she didn’t fit quite right into the gender role she was assigned at birth since she was as young as six years old and I found her in one of my formal dresses adoring herself in a full length mirror in my bathroom.  I have a whole photo shoot of that moment. I need to find those images on my computer. She knew she was and she still is beautiful. It doesn’t matter whether she is called Max or Mackenzie or whether she wants to be called a boy or a girl. She is the same exact person she has always been.  I’m not here to tell her who to be and I never would. People praise me for this attitude and tell me how lucky Mackenzie is to have me as her mother. I appreciate that and I know that is true because I know that not everyone accepts their children for who they are. I just feel like her mother.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad that there are people who are curious about Mackenzie and who support her and accept her, but what I truly wish is that people would take an interest in the fact that Mackenzie is deaf and she is being discriminated against.  It’s a big deal. It makes her really expensive to educate because she needs an interpreter at school. She is entitled to it under the law, but we have to fight for it ourselves. The discrimination against Mackenzie as a deaf person permeates every single crevice of our lives.  She has been traumatized. It hurts every person in our family. It’s hard when hope falls out from under you and you feel hopeless. It wipes you out and makes you feel depressed. That’s just what hopelessness does. That’s why hope is so important to me.

Mackenzie wrote something the other day about what it feels like to be discriminated against.  I read it. Yesterday she asked me if I know what it feels like. I don’t. But I know what it feels like to be the mother of someone who has been discriminated against.  It is hurting me deeply. I can only imagine what it feels like to be her. Now at a time when she is most vulnerable, she has been betrayed again by the same people who have been hurting her all along.  She just hoped they would fix the problem. It stands to reason since that’s their job. So far hope and patience haven’t worked out in this situation at all. Not for either of us. Mackenzie has been an educational refugee all year because she doesn’t have an interpreter.  It is a struggle to find any benefit for her at all in our schools. And she’s certainly not alone. The people who have hurt Mackenzie were supposed to teach her. It turns out she is doing the teaching. Mackenzie speaks up for herself. She doesn’t hesitate to speak publicly about how she has been mistreated because she is deaf.  She wants to call the police. She doesn’t understand how discrimination, especially against a child, isn’t a criminal offense. Why doesn’t the law work that way? She filed her own complaint about how she’s been discriminated against by the school system because it’s just plain wrong.

I was texting with Mackenzie the other day and she said that she was glad that it was happening to her instead of someone else.  I actually know that’s not exactly true. I’m certain that there are other deaf kids who are suffering in the same way, but I didn’t say that to her.  She feels like the only one right now. Instead I asked her why she was glad it was her. She said that it has to happen to someone for things to change and that she knows not everyone can handle it.  She said she knows she can because she has become so used to it. It felt like an arrow was shot straight into my heart.

I am amazed at her resiliency and so thankful for her.  She hugged me and thanked me yesterday for always being her rock.  I am thankful that I am strong and that she knows that, too. But it is the kids who are going to have to lead us out of this mess because the adults are just failing.  We live in an adult world where we have to navigate through lawyers. I am in awe of Mackenzie’s simplistic power.

And there it is again. There is always more hope when I look for it.  I love that about hope.

MeToo

September 27, 2018

My heart is pounding as I write about this thing that happened more than thirty years ago. It has caused me so much stress, so much shame, embarrassment, sadness, and anger. I have shared this story with few people and I only told my own mother about it when women started sharing their own #metoo stories. I am writing this as Christine Blasey Ford bravely testifies about her sexual assault experience with Brett Kavanaugh in front of the whole world.

It was in the fall of 1987. I was a senior in high school. I had no reason not to trust him. He was my friend. In fact, he is my facebook friend, and he will surely read this post. I have never talked to him about what happened or told him how much he hurt me. We went to the same high school and still have friends in the same social circle. We had just come back from a six week trip through Israel with a large group of high school students. We were all friends. I had fallen in love with a boy on our trip who ended our relationship when we got home. I was heartbroken. I began spending time with this friend. He was always there to listen and I confided my heartbreak to him. We played tennis together. He took me to homecoming. He was running for student council and he convinced me to run, too. He helped me with my campaign (He won. I lost.) I appreciated his friendship and his support. When he invited me over to his house for dinner on a weekend night I didn’t think twice. When I got to his house his family wasn’t there and he had made a really nice meal for us, including a bottle of wine. He kept topping off my glass of wine while we were eating and I became very drunk really quickly. The next thing I knew I woke up to him trying to take off my pants. I was lying on a bed and had no awareness of leaving the table. I got myself up as quickly as I could, I got out of his house, and I went home and went to bed. Our houses were only a few blocks apart, but I don’t remember if I drove or if I walked over to his house and I also don’t remember how I got home.

I blamed myself for being stupid enough to go over to his house and for letting him get me so drunk. I was afraid that my parents would be upset with me. I blamed myself for trusting him. There was no upside to telling anyone and I intended to bury it, but it still was not over. On Monday while I was sitting in a class filled with my classmates and friends, another boy who had been my friend since elementary school “served me” with a handwritten bill from my assailant. The bill detailed all of the money he had spent on homecoming, on the dinner he had made me and the alcohol he had used to get me so drunk, and the value of his time he had spent with me. There was no question that he believed he was entitled to sex and he wanted to publicly shame me for refusing to consent. I have no idea why he would do that, but it was cruel and deeply affected me. It was a painful and daily reminder for the rest of my senior year and is something I still cannot completely escape. I assume that people from high school thought that serving me with that bill was a funny joke and I am still asked about it, especially when he and I are at the same event, which was most recently at our 30th high school reunion.

Third time’s a charm

Respect for our choices about how we want to live and acceptance for who we are or who we want to become are things I think about a lot these days. When I reflect back on some of the life choices I’ve made I realize that it is a recurring theme in my life. I just haven’t always been true to myself.

The other day I found myself engaged in a very personal conversation with an open minded and very kind hearted woman at work. As we were exchanging personal stories, we both verbalized how cultural norms have played into some very important decisions we have both made in our lives. Specifically, our decisions to marry. I have been very aware over the years how the pressure to conform to expectations, both spoken and unspoken, have played into my decisions to marry. I have learned some really hard lessons. I hope I’ve learned enough to model courage to live my life on my own terms so that my children will be better able to face similar challenges as they become who they want to be in this world.

From a fairly young age, I was resistant to the idea of marriage. Not the idea of spending the rest of my life committed to a partnership with another person, but to marriage. It has just never felt right for me. I certainly never dreamed of walking down the aisle in a beautiful white gown with bridesmaids and flowers and the whole nine yards. Never. Not once do I recall having that vision of myself. It’s still incredible to me that I have ever been married at all. But what I’ve realized is that my sensitivity, combined with my need for acceptance and belonging, led me to make important decisions about relationships that were just not right for me. It has also caused me and others in my life a lot of heartache. I’m sorry about that.

I married my first husband in 1994 when I only 24 because I could sense that my commitment to living with him and even buying a condo together was never going to sit well with people in my family. They just didn’t think it looked right. I remember overhearing people say that we were living in sin more than once. I was constantly asked when we were going to get married. Not if, but when. We might as well since we were living together, right? We loved each other and I quickly tired of the pressure, so we decided to get married. That was almost 25 years ago. I remember having very little enthusiasm while making wedding plans. It just wasn’t what I really wanted. Our marriage lasted less than two years. I left Colorado for law school in New York as if I was fleeing a crime scene. I swore I would never get married again. I was so sorry for hurting him and everyone else.

I got married again in 2002. My boyfriend and I had been dating for five years and had been living together for two. We moved in together after I graduated from law school. It made sense. He wanted me to stay in New York and could afford the apartment while I was a young lawyer in debt working in public service. I couldn’t afford to live alone any longer. Not in New York City. I knew I wanted to have kids at some point in my life, but I still didn’t feel right about marriage. Then I unexpectedly became pregnant a month after September 11. Because it was unplanned and we were were both in shock from the events of September 11, I did not even realize I was pregnant until I was already through my first trimester. My boyfriend was opposed to the idea of having children without being married. One of the first questions I heard from my family was whether we could go get married immediately. I sensed their shame. I didn’t want to cause anyone to feel shame and I wasn’t strong enough at that moment in time to pay attention to what I needed. We decided to get married. Again, I had no interest in the wedding. He planned the whole thing himself. Our relationship produced three beautiful human beings and for that I am grateful, but our marriage was a disaster. I didn’t mean to hurt him or anyone else.

In the last several years, I have found myself wrestling with the marriage choice again. My feelings about it have not changed. I see no need to marry in order to prove my commitment. But it has affected my life again. It has been brought to my attention recently that my husband (yes, my husband) and I need to make an announcement to let people know that we are committed to one another so that people will understand that we are a family. Why? We are clearly committed to one another. Around six years ago we decided that we could live without each other, but we didn’t really want to. Why would we want to live apart when we are so much happier and stronger together? We adore one another. We accept everything about each other. We committed fully. Come hell or high water. And people who know us know that our family has had our fair share of those things. My roller coaster has always been a wild ride.

We decided to live our lives together and to try to blend our families. I felt like we have always been pretty clear about this fact. We announced it the best way we knew how. We have presented ourselves as a family to the world. We said it outright. We sent out holiday cards from our family to everyone we knew. Yet, we have recently been told that people don’t understand that we are all a family. There has been no wedding ceremony, there are no adoption papers, no commonly recognizable formality to seal the deal in everyone else’s minds. It pains us that we are not accepted for the way we have chosen to live. It has thrown some rocks in our blender. It separates us. We do not feel respected. We do not feel we all belong.

We have also been told by people in our family who have now found out that we are married that they are hurt because we have not specifically told them this fact ourselves. I can accept that they are hurt, but I cannot say that I really understand it. Our marriage has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s our personal business. In fact, we would not be married if it were not out of a need for security for our family. Jason and my stepchildren needed health insurance that I could provide. I didn’t think twice about it when the state of Colorado would not recognize us as domestic partners and required us to be married. We are a family. Honestly, it is hurtful to us that we would even need to announce this to anyone and we never planned on doing so until our children found out because they saw the date written on my calendar. Luckily, I believe knowing this gave them some sense of security, as well. I’m glad for that, but it also saddens me that they needed that. How is it still this way in a world filled with different kinds of families?

It all comes back to the need for acceptance and belonging. Our truth is that for the last six years some people in our own family have not recognized us as one. So I am taking the advice we have been given. Please consider this a formal announcement. We are a family. All of us. Established in 2013. Dysfunctional as we may appear to be. Our marriage is a legal fact and we do refer to one another as husband and wife. It’s been easier for people to understand. Saying partner left people wondering if I was a lesbian. Lover cracked us both up, but made most people feel uncomfortable. I hope that no one is hurt by only now learning that we are married. It is a legal fact that we did not feel was necessary to share. We assumed that we would belong simply because we are, in fact, a family.

Forgiveness

On September 27, 2018, the day that Christine Blasey Ford testified on national television about her sexual assault, I was called to write about my own experience. The emotions I had bottled up came pouring out of me as I related to what she was doing so publicly and with such courage. My heart was aching for her while she was being interrogated about her memories of that event that happened to her so long ago. There was no question in my mind that what she remembered was true.

I so strongly identified with what was happening to her at that moment that I could not stop myself from writing. I had to for my own sake. It was not planned. It just happened. It was personal. It was about me. It was only my experience. My perspective. My truth. My focus was not on my friend, but about how the experience had affected me. It was cathartic. I had a physical response while I was writing.

I hope that my vulnerability somehow helped people who read it to think about the larger lesson about consent and what that means. It is something that I feel strongly about. I believe that it is a lesson that our society needs to learn immediately and completely. One of my high school friends beautifully put words to this in her comment on my facebook post that day. I don’t think I could write it any better.

Lisa, I want you to know I had no idea this happened, nor can I even imagine who you are talking about. (I don’t want to know!) Not everyone has this memory of you. I remember you as a brilliant tennis player and a soft-spoken, smart and beautiful person. I’m sure your friend who hurt you this way remembers you the same way, and he’s probably embarrassed too. I’m so very sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing. We will only make progress when everyone – including those who don’t see themselves as perpetrators – listens to these stories and talks to their sons and daughters about consent. Peace. 💙

What I hoped to express in my writing was that he was my friend and I felt betrayed by him. These things might not have affected another girl like they did me and they may not have lasted as long if I were a different person. We are all unique and I suppose that I am more sensitive than others in some ways. I wish that I had had the strength and sense of self at that time to confront my friend. I wish I would have been able to explain to him that what he had done to me was wrong and that he had hurt me. But I did not. I struggled with the shame of it and that is what continued to cause my pain, even though I now know that was not his intention.

We live in a society where girls are shamed for how they dress and how they behave. Our culture still subscribes to the belief that boys will be boys. We have to take responsibility for the space we hold here. This is the lesson I had hoped people would take away from my story. I like to think that some did and I know that others have not. Some of my friends who are men felt vulnerable and maybe they still do. Some were angry with me and some were angry with him. This was not a battle call, so I am sorry for that. It is never my intention to cause people to feel vulnerable or afraid. That’s not who I am.

Since writing about my experience, I have met with my friend and we have talked. He was shocked. He was upset about being portrayed as an assailant. He felt vulnerable. He was hurt. I listened as he shared with me his memories and his perspective of that night and of our relationship. He recalls things differently than I do. And I believe him. I believe that he did not mean to hurt me that night. I believe that he thought a sexual relationship between us was consensual because of how he felt about me and about our relationship. We both remembered that he stopped as soon as I asked him to.

I also believe that he did not mean to cause me shame that lasted for all these years. He explained that he had felt rejected and ashamed and that the bill he sent was sent for another reason altogether. It was a reaction to his pain after he found out that I had kissed another boy. We were two kids who had both been hurt and I very much believe that he was sorry for any pain he caused me. I know I am sorry I hurt him.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned through this experience is about the power of forgiveness. My own teenagers have also been critical in learning about forgiveness. They have experienced so much hurt and yet they understand that the people who have hurt them have not done so intentionally and that many still do not even understand when they cause them harm. It’s a hard lesson that we have all learned. Forgiveness has been important for us to move forward. Forgiveness allows us to move through the anger, the resentment, and the blame. Forgiveness allows us to find peace in our pain.

My friend and I both hurt each other. Neither of us intended to, but it happened nonetheless. Forgiveness has allowed me to find peace and move past the pain. I hope that my friend can do the same.

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