Friday, May 30, 2014

My examples #yesallwomen

I am departing from my usual posting style to dive into the fray of all women.

I will give three examples from my own life to demonstrate what girls and women deal with.

1. I spend most of my 8th grade English class being harassed by a boy who, thanks to the luck of the alphabet, sat next to me in the back of the room. Pretty much every day, he would show me his penis, try to get me to touch it, rub his foot on my butt, tell me the state of his erection, and tell me he was going to follow me and rape me. All year.

Why didn't I speak up? Because I was an 8th grader, going through a lot of bodily changes, and was extremely awkward at this point in my life. Plus, my teacher was a man. I could not bring this up. I was brought up with the belief that the body is shameful, and that girls are worse than boys. I never really had sex education that taught me to respect my body. I don't remember any sex ed at all, beyond a biology class and a primer on feminine hygiene project. My social desirability was in high gear, and my level of embarrassment about the situation was HUGE. I don't know if I told anyone at all ever.

In 9th grade, I had the same guy alphabetically near me. The classroom was set up differently so he couldn't harass me without being seen. He started up with me one movie day, but my absolute heroine of a teacher caught on quickly and told us to knock it off. She assumed consent, but still, just calling out the behavior made it stop. He never bothered anyplace other than the classroom.

2. I was out cruising (yes, it was a thing in the 80s still) with my sister. She needed to talk to this guy, and he was a passenger in this other guy's car. I swapped passenger seats, so now I was in the car with some guy I didn't know, and the other guy was in my sister's car. I was 16.

The guy took me for a drive, and we "ended up" behind the football stadium. We started making out, and we moved to the back seat. I didn't want to have sex with him, and I told him no. He tried to explain why we should, I tried to talk my way out of it. He was quite a bit larger than me, and we were in a really dark and desolate area of the world. I told him I didn't want to do this, and he ignored me. I tried scratching his back, and he just said, "Hey now" I quickly realized that he had me outweighed and outmaneuvered, and that if I didn't fight him, he wouldn't hurt me anymore than taking my virginity, my pride, and my sense of safety. I let him do what he was going to do.

He took me back to meet my sister and it was all pretty civilized. I had talked myself down from it, explained to myself that it wasn't really rape.

I called my best friend the next day and she assured me that it was indeed rape. I told my parents, and they were awesome. I was given a rape kit and it was determined that I wouldn't have enough evidence to prove anything but consensual sex.

In the following weeks, I found out that two people I knew had been raped by this same guy. 1 of them had been gang raped by him. But this was after the fact and the police told me I couldn't bring it into evidence, since it might have just been me getting friends to make up stories. The case was dead in the water.

I got revenge in the only way I knew how-I threw a Coke on his car. When he accused me of it later, I told him he couldn't prove it was me, he had no evidence.

3. I was 18. My roommate had a boyfriend, the boy from back home. He seemed like a nice guy. My roommate invited me to a party at the boyfriend's apartment. I think there were 5 guys living there. I had hung out with them a bit. They were boisterous, but nice.

I had no concerns going to to this party. We were drinking rum drinks. People were lighting them and sucking them through straws, or drinking them mixed with fruit. Only later did I discover this was 151 proof rum.

One of the roommates was super hot. I started talking to him. I was really really drunk. He took me to his room. This was 25 years ago and I was really drunk, so I don't remember now if I wanted to have sex with him or not. But I think I might have tried to turn him down, and he was persistent. I had learned from the last time that guys that are bigger than me don't always take no for an answer. So, we did the deed.

And then things got weird. I rolled over to get out of the bed, and one of the roommates was lying there on the floor, listening and who knows what else. His bedroom had a bit of a hallway. I walked through that hallway to to leave his bedroom, and there were two more roommates, standing in the doorway making out. Just to be clear, they were in the bedroom. So there were 3 other people in this bedroom in addition to me and the d'bag.

I left the room and went to wake up my roommate's boyfriend to ask for a ride home. He reached out and started kissing me. This was like a grotesque house of mirrors, with no clean break to freedom and safety! I reminded him that he was my roommate's boyfriend, and that I just wanted a ride home. He took me home.

Oddly enough, I chose to go back into that den of iniquity one more time. I was so foggy headed about everything that happened, and whether I had said no or not, that I needed to know for sure. I got in touch with the guy and went over to his apartment. This time it was just me and him. We played chess.

It was nice, and he was being decent. We were sober. Then I suggested we wrestle.  He pinned me down on the bed. I told him strongly, loudly and clearly no. He continued. I said NO again. He was quite a few inches taller than me, and obviously worked out. He had me pinned. It was terrifying. He took my wrists, held them above my hand, restraining both wrists just one of his hands. He was still on top of me. He held me like that for a few seconds, applied a little extra pressure on my wrists, said, "Its not worth it" climbed off of me, got up and went to the bathroom. He didn't not engage me again.

So, just to clarify the timeline and events for you: I went to his house, and spent about an hour playing a couple of games of chess and having a really nice time with him. I then spent about 5-15 minutes engaging in some fully clothed wrestling with him. I know that might sound weird, but it was the late 80s, pro-wrestling was big. And as soon as I said No to him (again, at this point, we were clothed, and I said No at the first sign of escalation towards sex) he immediately turned on me, displayed his power over me and then refused to talk to me ever again. I told my roommate about it the next day, and she would not talk to me about it. At all. It was very important that her narrative remain intact, I suppose.

There you have it. A peek into my young adult years. There are many more horrible, and some wonderful stories. But this is all I want to share. I was watching the wonderful documentary about Kathleen Hanna that is currently available on Netflix. She and I are about the same age, and she and her band and her friends were trying to do something in the late 80s and early 90s, to change things. To make the world safer and more accessible for girls and women. But it seems like we are still right where we were. The sense of entitlement that some men have, their right to have sex, is still alive and well.

I was very very very lucky. I had a lot of twists and turns between the ages of 16 and 20. However, when I was 20 I found a man who has always treated me with respect and as a partner. Luckily I was smart enough to see what a gem I had.

This was a very hard post to write and a very hard post to share. I am sad that I went through it, and I am sad that I don't always feel like I can freely share the traumas I have experienced. And I am heartbroken that so many girls and women are still experiencing shit like this.

 I will end it in the only way I can think of. One of the bad little dogs wearing a paper cup hat.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why we can't have nice things!!

I am plodding away in the home decoration department. I promise I will post pictures when it is done. However, I had something happen on Friday that fired me up for a blog post. Caution, this may cover a lot of territory!!

See those dogs? Cute, no? Well...let me tell you a story. 

I am doing the front room in aqua and orange accents. I love these colors. So cheerful. Our walls are white, and the colors really pop. When we moved in, i had no idea what I wanted to do, but our carpets were either new or at least nicely cleaned. So, I bought some rugs to throw down. Sadly, the rugs were ugly. I have been trying to replace them as I go. I was at Ross and saw this lovely aqua rug there. Good for the front entry area. 4 X 6 and only $20!! Sold. I brought it home, wrestled with whether or not it was too much aqua, decided no, and laid it out. It is soft and colorful. Purchasing something new is always a big deal for me. 
It looks something like this:

Felt good about my decision, and went out for a while. I came home, and one of those cute little monsters pictured above had puked up a hairball on it! Wait, you are saying, those look like dogs! Well, they are, and they are not known for their hairball skills, but this time? Oh yes. Hairball. On the very white part of the rug. Not even 3 hours after installation. I cleaned it, and it was still stained. A second go-over seems to have taken care of the stain. But now they are obsessed with stretching on it, and digging their claws into it. Again, I promise that these are NOT cats, they have simply turned cat-like with the introduction of this rug.

This is symptomatic of a larger problem. I know that "they" say nice things and kids (or pets) don't go together, but it seems like a lot of people figure it out. It mystifies me. I think I am getting better, but for years I have never been able to figure out what my decorating style is, how to pull rooms together, how to keep things tidy, and how to pay for it all. I remember once standing in line at Lowe's, and there was a lady in front of me spending $400 on flowers for her yard. It was mind boggling to me. $400 just pretty things for the yard. Even when I see DIY-on a budget stuff, there is still a significant chunk of change spent. We had a brief period of home ownership, and we were so strapped that even buying paint was a luxury. 

We will never look like this

I am always amazed that people buy homes and immediately start redoing rooms-painting, decorating, adding bathrooms. Even apart from the cost of it, I don't get the time factor, and just knowing how to decorate and what a person wants. I have been spending quite a bit of time decorating our house, and I feel so guilty about spending time and money on "frivolity." I am also concerned that I am taking time away from my work. How do people survive that for months or even years? I am not pointing fingers or holding myself up as morally superior. I WISH that I had the patience and talent for nice things. But at least I have cute dogs. I guess I must take some solace in that.

When I look deeper and wider into my life, I must admit that this is widespread with me. I am plagued by feelings of frivolity. It happens in stupid places. When I walk out of a bathroom stall, I will see women grooming-fixing hair, reapplying makeup. 

Me? I feel so sill and vain so I might give my hair a swipe after I wash my hands. I don't judge the women who do it, I just see it as normal. But I can't bring myself to do it. I sometimes go through three or four outfits before going out, but it is only because the others look stupid or bad. I swear I have no idea how to dress or do my hair. And I am a very messy eater. 

I fall into this habit with events as well. When living life to the fullest, people can often be found on mountaintops during the day and in bars at night. 

I do both of these things sometimes. But more often, I am consumed with guilt, and it drives me away from the activities. The guilt stems from concerns about money or about time, or both. I feel like I should be spending the money on something else, or I should be using the time to be working. So instead I stay home and read news on the computer. I read a lot of news.

These patterns are so engrained in me that I am not sure if I can change them. But I am going to try. It is time to start convincing myself that it is okay to have and do nice things.

Friday, May 9, 2014


You know how on TV, people tend to have a close knit group of friends who are like family, and/or a close knit family?
Friends, New Girl, How I Met Your Mother all revolve around friendships and romantic relationships. Brothers & Sisters and Parenthood are based on big families that love and like each other. We can see this trend back to the beginning of television, with the Ricardos and Mertzes on I Love Lucy and the Honeymooners' Kramers and Nortons enjoying deep and abiding friendships.

If only life were like tv. It is not, at least not for me. My hair has never been bouncy and shiny. My kids are adorable but do not come with a laugh track. And my family and friends have always been more complicated than I thought they would be.

I grew up as the youngest of 9. My mother came from a family with 6 kids and my father from a family of 11 kids. I should be the most connected person in the world!! But instead, we moved to a small town when I was a baby. The town was at least an hour away from any family, and this made us special occasion visits instead of drop-ins. My grandparents were all dead by the time I was 1. My father worked an hour away and my mom never drove, so we were pretty stationary. We lived in a small town, but as I said we moved there when I was a baby, so we were never fully integrated. We went to church, but it never felt like community, at least not to me. I remember playing outside, and my neighbors' would all stand outside gabbing for a long time. I felt jealous that my own mother wasn't participating. She was plenty social, but never made strong inroads with the ladies in the neighborhood. I never had the experience of running in and out of neighbors' houses, each mother or father accepting us as their own, and families vacationing together.

When I was growing up, I felt quite close to several of my siblings, but one by one, they left, most of them moving across the country or across the world.

I attended a variety of schools growing up, thanks to some moves back and forth between public and private school. I was pretty awkward in school, and never had a big group of friends. I would have a friend or two, but never a clan. In high school, we moved to the southwest, another jolt. It was a city, so easier to break in, but getting there for sophomore year did not leave a long time to get comfortable.

Right after high school I moved far away from my parents. I had a brief stint with one of my sisters, but for the most part was on my own. I did not do college right after high school and I think that is one way that I really missed out. I think that college is a time to learn to navigate roommates and friendships, and also a time to build a tribe. I went into the workforce instead, and it was a workforce with heavy turnover. I remember once being invited to a friend's house for dinner. I thought it was going to be some event, but it was literally just dinner, and a chance to hang out. That was so foreign to me. Unfortunately, she was a good friend but a terrible employee who pilfered just about one of every item from the store where we worked.

During my early 20s, I worked and had work friends, but no true strong bonds that have stood the test of time, or even spilled over very much outside of work. I was fortunate to have a very close and loving mother-in-law that filled many gaps for me. However, one person does not a tribe make. I continually tried churches as a way to find community and feel accepted,  but it never worked out.  Throughout the year, I have stumbled into some bad groups, and tried to create some bad groups myself. 

I have had some off and on success with parenting groups, and I did eventually find a community, although I was never as active and involved as I wanted to be. Then I moved onto new adventures: grad school. Grad school was wonderful for community, even if it is short term. We were all thrown together, with similar work schedules and interests. I had coffee dates, parties to attend, people to drink with, and hiking buddies. It was great. But it was still tricky to balance because I had kids and most people didn't. I like spending lots of time with my husband, and I need uninterrupted study times. But I found a balance I was satisfied with, and it was good.

And then I moved again, this time to an area with very few graduate students. I do have a few friends here, but still lacking real community. I think one problem is that community takes time. I know we probably won't be here for longer than 5 years, if that. But there is also the question of how to meet people. I am homeschooling two boys, so we need to spend a lot of time at home, doing schoolwork (theirs and mine). We are trying to save money, so taking them to things that cost money or will involve buying lunch is tricky. And I am trying to figure out what my interests are so that I can find people who share them. And I still really like spending time with my family. So I am at a place now where I have friends, but no community. Once again we have tried church and, for various reasons, it is not working out. I have friends here in my town, and I have lots of friends spread out around the world that I keep in touch with on Facebook. 

My husband, sons, and I are very close and we spend a lot of time together. But I am still far from all of my family, sitting up here in the corner of the country. My awesome mother-in-law resides in the opposite corner. The amazing relationships I used to have with my silbings have eroded over time, due to distance and time constraints. It is at the point now where I can track one-on-one family conversations in terms of years, not weeks or months. Why has it gotten to this point? Busyness on my part and on their part, and fear of rejection. I have been a full-time student for the past 9 years. And I have been a full-time mother for 17 years. For a lot of folks, either of these occupations would create a level of dependence on those around them, strengthening their bonds. For me, it has led me to pull away more, or place people in one box or another-these are my parenting friends and support group, these are my school friends and support group. Family (as in my parents and brothers and sisters) should span the range, but in my reality, it hasn't happened. I am working at rebuilding the bonds, but it takes time. 

I think one major hindrance for me has been mobility. Community takes trust, and trust is built over time. I grew up in a town where I was a newbie. I went to K-2 with one group of kids, 3-6 with another, and 7-9 with another. In 10th grade, we moved across the country and I had to start over. Then I graduated and moved and moved and moved again. I had finally found the community where we could lay down roots and settle in, and we moved for grad school. We had pretty good success in our grad school community, but then moved again. And I know there will be another move in the next few years. What I hate about it most is that I am setting my boys up for the same existence-far from extended family, little ties, and high mobility interfering with their groups and friendships. 

I know that there are people who can move to a new place and immediately find community. At the same time, I had three separate posts on my facebook wall in the past few days, each addressing a loss or lack of community, and loneliness. I know I am not alone in my loneliness. 

Putting on my sociologist's hat and looking at this from a societal point of view: I think there are two major contributors to the lack of community, besides our increased mobility. The first is television.

TV brought us into our homes and entertained us. There are many positive social aspects that come from TV. We are alerted to news quickly, and we have a subject of conversation among strangers and across generations. We have been watching Mad Men as a family. This has spurred so many conversations about history, advertising, sexism, alcoholism, and filmmaking. However, TV is also a device that allows us to feel a part of a community without having to reach out. I think that without TVs, the suburbs would have been a lot more social.

The Internet is another contributor, I believe. Internet connections are odd things. On the one hand, message boards and social media has given us the opportunity to meet people we would never meet, and connect with old friends and family in ways never before possible. We can keep a running Words with Friends game going, just like yesteryear's bridge nights. We know about babies as soon as they are born, and can see their videos almost instantly. People who have social anxiety or different opinions/interests than is the norm in their community can reach out to likeminded people, and feel a little less alone. These are positives of the Internet.

And yet.

The Internet has also reduced incentives for reaching out to the lady next door, or even talking to the person sitting at the table with you. Why ask for info when you can Google it? I think it reduces are feeling of loneliness, which leads us to reach out less, which ultimately leaves us lonely for real, physically present contact. 

Of course, anyone reading my story can see that my issues are not caused by television or the Internet, although I think each one exacerbates my condition. And of course I have chosen a career that is solitary and focused for big chunks of time.

How do we get beyond it and start building real, meaningful community? I have no idea. I am just flailing about it in the dark. Like this, but in the dark:

Monday, May 5, 2014

Out damn spot: On the drudgery of housework

Can we talk about housework? I am truly terrible at it. Here is the thing. I go on this epic cleaning binges, and will put a full week into getting the house top to bottom clean. And then I forget. Just for the longest time. If the Dude didn't do laundry and dishes, then they might not get done. You know all the wives that complain about their husbands' apparent blindness to dirt? yeah, that is me, the blind one.  And it isn't because I am lazy or I think a task is beneath me. Sometimes I am too tired, and sometimes I am too busy, but often it is because I forget.

This is not me.

I am fortunate to have a husband who doesn't think twice about jumping into the fray. I suppose that is one of the perks of spending his teen years with a single dad who travelled a lot. They both lived a bachelor lifestyle, and so for him, tidying the kitchen and folding laundry is a norm. Some women talk about "training their husbands" to get them to pitch in. My husband has always embraced the idea that he lives here and the mess needs to be cleaned.

I have never been a scheduler. And without external pressure, schedules fly out the window anyway. But I am going to try again. 

What is working:

A few months back, I handed down a rule that every time a person uses a dish, they must wash it immediately and put it in the dishwasher to dry. I know a lot of people simply fill their dishwasher as they go, but this didn't work for us. First of all, putting clean dishes away is a challenge for us, so then the dirty dishes would back up because the clean dishes were in the dishwasher. Second, it can lead to a back up where we would have no clean bowls, but the dishwasher isn't yet full. Third, we would get the backwash that hits the clean dishes and so we would often have to run them again. My family did not like to rinse the dishes before dishwashing them, because at that point, you might as well wash them. When we started washing all the dishes, we didn't want the counters to get full, and if we asked people to wash, dry, and put away every time they ate, that wouldn't happen. It turns out that right next to our sink is a GIANT drying rack:
(Note: ours is NOT this cool)
So now people wash a dish when they use it and then put it in the dishwasher to dry. This is actually working! Yes there is still some spillover, sometimes people are busy or lazy, and so sometimes things get backed up. But by and large, we are using this system and it is working. Our kitchen is staying a lot cleaner. 

What needs work:

These two areas. Cooking and laundry. 

First cooking. So many parts where we fall short on this. 

Meal planning, shopping regularly, using what we have, cooking it, making enough for adequate leftovers, using the leftovers we do have, throwing stuff out after it goes bad. We are trying to do weekly meal planning. 

I want to do Once a Month Shopping and Cooking. Or even Twice a Month Shopping and Cooking. The Dude is hesitant because he doesn't like to spend so much money all at once, he is concerned that we will get overwhelmed and not do it and will waste food, and he is concerned about storage, since we don't have a super big house. We do have a freezer, but even having adequate storage bags and finding the right lids for our plastic containers is a commitment. He is right to be concerned about all of this of course. 

My main reason for wanting to do it is that I have the attention span of a fruit fly. Remembering to take meat out to thaw, knowing what to cook before 7 pm-these are challenging for me. On my nights to cook, you can often find spaghetti with sauce from a jar (throwing in some veggies for good luck!) or rotisserie chicken for Safeway. If I knew that a day or two was dedicated to cooking, it would be so much easier. 

Right now our compromise is to make a weekly meal plan and shop for it. We will see how it goes. We often forget to make anything that is on our meal plan.

The second big looming issue?

Laundry, laundry, laundry!! The Dude does it often, and Magnus will run loads through as well. I remember sometimes. However, even when we do remember to do it, we are very bad about folding it, so it sits in the laundry baskets until very very wrinkled. And when we do manage to fold, the clothes are supposed to be put away, right? Yeah, that is a problem. So there is usually at least one basket sitting in the living room, either folded or not folded. I want to stop the madness. I have tried the FLYLady method of one load per day, but honestly in our house, there is always more than one load per day, it is hard to get people to put laundry away daily, and some days I just don't think about doing laundry. 

So, we are going to try my mom's method. Every Wednesday and Saturday, I would wake to Mom sorting clothes into 8 piles on the kitchen floor. My mom was running a house that had two adults and 9 kids, so precision was her life saver. She had two laundry days per week-clothes were washed, dried, folded, and placed on people's beds. I will not be doing the last part so much, and in fact will insist on a lot more input throughout the process, but it is the method I am going to try. I have placed on my Google Calendar a recurring event-Laundry Day. Monday and Thursday. And I am going to add sheet washing every two weeks. You just don't even want to know how long we normally go between sheet washing.

So, that is the plan to tackle these dreaded tasks. Weekly meal planning, with an eye toward bulk cooking, and two days set aside for laundry, and marked on the calendar so I don't forget. And just to be clear, although I am using 1950s pictures throughout this post, the boys and husband are very much involved with this process. I will not be doing this alone. 

I am sure that for a lot of you, this is all quite simple, but I have to work at these most basic tasks. Hopefully this is a step towards taming the beasts.
Please talk to me in the comments. How much time do you spend a day on housecleaning? Meal prep? Laundry? What methods have you found helpful? 

signed-Not Very Good at Making a House a Home, and Not only Would Martha Stewart Give Me Side Eye, but I Think Even Roseanne Might be Better at it Than I Am.