Friday, February 16, 2018

In which I am forced out of the closet

This blog has been my closet for two years now.  That is, I mostly don't talk about religion anywhere but here.  I didn't want to make a big statement and offend half my friends, so I have shared my theological questions and opinions here, in the safety of obscurity.  This blog isn't private, but it's read by maybe twenty people and, so far as I know, you're all nice, so I've felt pretty safe being open on here.  It's like having a private conversation in a busy restaurant.  There are other people there, but they don't care about you enough to listen in.

And it's possible to dig through my facebook account enough to find one's way to this blog and then read back through for several months and get posts that mention my beliefs.  I didn't worry about that too much, because I figured nobody cares about me enough to do that kind of digging unless they really like me.

Well, I was wrong.  Somebody did care that much.  Someone, probably ticked off about my criticism of Christendom's treatment of rape victims, found their way here.  He immediately messaged me saying that I owed it to everyone to be public, for fear someone might listen to me or trust me because they thought I was Catholic.  Not that I've claimed to be, but people consider it the default because I went to Christendom, so not making my private views public, in his view, amounted to lying.

And because of all that, he gave me a deadline.  Make an announcement in a group we're both part of, or he'd do it for me.

It got me really upset.  I've had a lot of reasons for keeping my religious beliefs mostly to myself.  I don't want it to be a big thing.  I don't want to make people think badly of my kids or my husband because of me.  I also know that many people take the view that having private opinions is one thing, but making a public statement is formal apostasy and gives scandal.  I never wanted to make that kind of gesture.  It only upsets people, and who am I to "give people a faith crisis," as my words have been accused of doing?  I've warned people off this blog a few times for that reason.  If you find I'm scandalizing you, don't read.  It's fine.  I just didn't want to be accused of throwing my opinions in people's faces.

At the same time, the closet is a smothery place and I've complained about it a bit.  Even just being able to talk about stuff here, and nowhere else, is still pretty isolating.  I comment a lot on Catholic stuff, and while I never claim to be Catholic, people assume and it's hard to walk the line of saying only things a Catholic would believe, without saying things I don't believe.  It's a mental burden to be doing that all the time.  I've been looking forward to maybe being a little braver someday.

But it's different to have that forced on me.  It's sickening to have someone else have that kind of power over me, to decide what I am allowed to keep private and what I am not.  I felt ill about it for a day or so, went back and forth with the guy trying to talk him out of it, but his mind was made up.  So I went ahead and posted to the group, while making clear that I was being forced to do it.  I don't want to now be punished because I insisted on being public about this.  At the same time, I had no interest in stalling for time.  The unpleasantness of people's negative responses would be a lot better than the stress of knowing a person who dislikes me was holding that over my head.

I got a lot of supportive messages over it, so that was nice.  I know most people aren't that cruel.  They might be sad not to share a faith with me anymore, but they also want to condemn that sort of behavior.  They agree it was my right to tell or not tell who I wanted.

But of course, there's plenty of negative feedback as well.  I commented on a friend's post about gun control today and someone, a stranger to me and not a member of the group I posted in, said that no one should believe me because I "publicly" apostasized.  Not that there is a Catholic teaching about gun control, or that I had claimed anything about Catholic teaching, but simply that I existed while not being Catholic.  It bothers me that the information is spreading so much.  I wonder if my blog is going to get a whole bunch of hits all of a sudden, people eager to pick apart my beliefs and condemn me.  To gawk at photos of my kids, sneer at Marko's autism, judge my parenting.  I feel like I'm naked in the middle of my college Commons. 

Anyway, it's hard to write this post now because I feel I'm no longer just talking to you, my online friends, some of whom I've been interacting with for a decade or more.  I'm talking also to enemies, who may or not be reading.  But again, I feel that avoiding talking on here just gives those people more power than they deserve.  I'm not letting them kill my blog.  I'm not the one who has done something to be ashamed of.

Could I get some supportive comments today?  I'd like a reminder that people are reading who like me, or who like what I write, and aren't just here to judge me.  Even the people who are Catholic aren't the Inquisition.  You guys are good people and you're not here to stare .... right?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Glasses and the ship of Theseus

Since Jackie was born, I haven't been seeing very well.  I gave it some time to get better on its own, but it didn't, so I finally went out and got some glasses.

It really should not be a big deal.  They're just glasses.  I even think they look fine, in the abstract.  But my face doesn't look like I'm used to it looking.  It's thrown me into a tailspin of anxiety, which I tried to remedy by putting more blue on my hair and painting my toenails, but of course this made it worse.  I look in the mirror and I don't see me.  I see someone who looks very, very different.

Change is one of the more troubling parts off the human experience.  When I was a kid, I loved it and was always in a hurry for more things to change.  I tried on new outfits, rearranged my room, measured myself against the wall to see if I'd grown another inch.  Then puberty hit and I'm not sure I've ever recovered from the trauma.  In my head, I'm still about ten years old.

External things change all the time.  The house I grew up in is still there, but it's been changed a lot and I can't go there anymore.  My family has four more kids than it had when I was growing up in it, with a whole new set of customs and inside jokes.  The cabin where we spent our honeymoon has been sold.

But that's nothing compared to the amount we ourselves change.  When I go back to a place from long ago, it doesn't matter how little it's changed -- it still looks different from the way it looked when I was there.  My old college campus is ten minutes from me, but I rarely go.  It's just too weird, being there yet feeling so different than I did then.

I sometimes wonder what twelve-year-old me would think if she heard I never built the treehouse that was my number-one dream at the time to build.  Or that I have four kids and only one cat.  What would sixteen-year-old me think if she knew I never got consecrated, that I now detest Regnum Christi?  What would twenty-year-old me think about my not being Catholic anymore?  What would twenty-five-year-old me think about my kids going to public school and getting all their vaccines?  Would all those people be disappointed in me?  And what is the point of making any plans, having any opinions, dreaming any dreams, knowing that my future self might think all that stuff is stupid?

With so much change, it's hard to see what exactly stays the same about me.  I was a bubbly, talkative person at thirteen, and now I dread leaving the house.  I don't look the same, have the same opinions, or see any of the same people.  But when exactly did the change happen?  Old me wasn't abducted by aliens and replaced by new me.  Instead the change was so gradual I didn't even notice most of it.  It's like the Ship of Theseus.  This philosophical parable tells about a ship which undergoes repairs until, over time, there's no part of it that hasn't been replaced.  Is it still the same ship?

I've gotten myself so hung up over this idea that I've been afraid to go to sleep because I'm not sure the version of me that exists tomorrow is really the same as the one I am today.  Does that mean falling asleep is dying?  Sometimes it feels like it is.

Religion helped me with this, when I believed in it.  There was this unchanging soul inside of me that kept everything consistent even after every molecule of my body was replaced.  And I imagined eternity would involve looking back over every moment of my life, being able to savor every sunset and fiery autumn leaf and baby's smile.  I would have all the time in the world to enjoy all those transitory things, because nothing would really be lost.  Sadly, I don't believe that anymore.

I guess it's one of the heartaches that flesh is heir to.  Like losing friends or accepting that we will one day die, it's just a grief we all have to live with.  You don't have to keep obsessing over it, but you can't necessarily escape it either.  It just is.

I recently read a great story about this in which the hero decides not to change.  It's kind of appealing.  At the same time, isn't it rejecting a big part of what makes us human?  We need the ability to change, because nobody gets everything right on the first try.  All of the ideas I once believed and have since discarded, I discarded because I had good reason to think they were wrong.  And I need the ability to do this.

Likewise, when my kids grow older, sad as it is to say goodbye to their baby selves, it's a joy to discover their older selves.  It's something that is supposed to happen.  As they say, "Growing old sucks, but it beats the alternative!"  I wouldn't even want my kids to stay babies forever.  It would be depriving them of a chance to be something new, something they have the potential to become.  Maybe I don't know what that's going to be, any more than they do, but there's no reason to assume that what they are today is better.  Or that what I am today is better than what I will someday be.

I guess the scary part is that, at thirty-one, I worry that I've already peaked, that the rest of my life is going to be glasses and bifocals and hearing aids and sore joints.  My body isn't likely to get any healthier.  Though there's still hope for increased wisdom and more accomplishments.  It's just ... life is so short, and I spent such a lot of it in cults and having babies.  It stresses me out.

I don't really have a tidy takeaway.  I do think that change is a part of what I am -- that imagining a constant self that doesn't change would be like imagining a river without the flowing.  At the same time, it hurts and it's scary.  That's a part of it too.  Like changing seasons, would I really appreciate anything in my life if I knew I would have it the same forever?

Maybe not.  But that's not going to stop me from clinging to things I want to keep.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Teaching an autistic child about consent

Lately I've read a lot, and I mean a lot, of comments about rape and rape culture and consent and victim blaming.  One comment that has stayed with me was something like, "I'm not worried about my sons, because I have taught them about consent."

And it bothered me.  I mean, I'm sure we would like to believe that all rapists just haven't been taught about consent.  Maybe they picked up toxic attitudes toward women from their parents, or maybe no one ever talked to them about it at all.  But it's possible that the parents taught them about consent and they ignored the lesson.  People have free will.

Still, it's definitely something I'm trying to teach my kids about all the same.  Certainly it's a conversation we need to have, and more than once.

But autistic children are an extra challenge.  Normally I completely reject defenses of rapists that include stuff like "maybe he just couldn't tell she didn't want that!" because most of us have the basic ability to read other people better than that.  But autistic people struggle.  I want to communicate consent without terrifying my kid to the point that he'll never approach someone he's attracted to!

Here are a couple of reasons why autistic people might struggle with consent:

  • Flirtation and romance often are heavy on subtext -- and subtext is a second language for them.
  • They learn a lot of social skills from TV, where they can watch a scene over and over and learn how people act -- but Hollywood has creeptastic ideas about what women want.  I do not want my son to treat women the way Han Solo or James Bond does.
  • They may internalize an idea that "asking permission is unromantic" because it rarely happens that way in fiction -- but asking permission with words is sometimes the only way they can get a clear answer.
  • They internalize rules that are clear and spelled out verbally, but very often the rules we teach our children ("don't have sex before marriage," for instance) don't include consent, because we think it goes without saying.  With autistic children, nothing ever goes without saying.  There's an autistic guy I've talked to online before who explained that all non-procreative sex is rape, while all procreative sex within marriage is okay.  Why?  Well, because the Catholic Church says sex must be within marriage and procreative, but it doesn't talk a lot about consent, so he just sort of ... glossed over that part.
  • People often fail to obtain consent from autistic children.  Autistic children are often put through therapy where they are forced to hug, touch, or make eye contact when they are uncomfortable.  I read an autistic person's account of how she got in trouble for taking off people's headphones to talk to them.  Her complaint was that her teachers and parents always yanked off her headphones without asking, so she thought this was an okay thing to do.  Autistic people long for consistent rules -- they will treat others the way we treat them.

So how do we overcome all this?  How do we teach our children not to rape, to recognize when they are raped or assaulted, and at the same time not make them afraid of relationships?

Spoiler: I don't know for sure.  My kids are young still, and none of even them know yet where babies come from.  When we get to that point, I'm almost certainly going to need to enlist some help.  But we're laying the foundations now, and I can tell you what we're doing.

First lesson: Your body is yours.

I'm trying to respect their own wishes.  This isn't even possible all the time, because I do have to wipe their butts (yes, all four of their butts are still in need of my skills from time to time, moan moan) and make them get in the car.  But I try to let them have some choice in any matter involving them.  You know, blue shirt or green shirt, get in the car now or in two minutes, that sort of thing.  That paralyzed Marko when he was two and three years old, but now it makes a big difference.

I don't always ask Marko before hugging him, because he usually does like it, but sometimes I doublecheck to be sure.  I want him to know he can always say no.  That's doubly true with people outside the family, whom he usually does not want to interact with at all.  I have started pushing him more to say hello or look at people when we meet ("so that they know we like them and are happy to see them") but touching is always optional.

Second lesson: Not everyone likes the same things.

I try not to appeal to what is "reasonable" or "the only way" when talking to Marko.  I don't say, "That food is delicious," when he's saying he hates it, I simply say, "I know you don't like it, but you finish you will get dessert."  (Yes, I used to be strongly against this approach, but as he's severely underweight, we have to do it this way.)  I don't say, "It's obnoxious to be singing all the time," although it totally is, but instead, "I am tired of all this singing and would like some quiet, could you either stop or go somewhere else?"  My point here is to try to get him to understand subjectivity, that there's no wrong or right answer sometimes.  What one person loves, another hates.

Marko learned not to hit (most of the time) by about four years old, but he's learned a whole arsenal of other tricks.  He'll lean on you really hard, or hug you too tight, or make a loud noise in your ear -- anything to show he's mad without breaking a rule.  So we've talked about how the real rule is not to touch anyone in a way they don't like, and the kindest thing is to do things they do like.  He's actually started explaining this to me, so I know we're getting somewhere.  He knows that the way you show kindness to Miriam is to share toys and let her join in, while the way to show kindness to Michael is to let him have some control of the game they are play together.  And tickling, hugging, or kissing a child who isn't liking it is treated the same as hitting -- he must apologize if it's by accident, and have a time-out if it's on purpose or he refuses to apologize.  (I never made him apologize before about six years old, because he simply didn't get it.  Now he does, but it's still a bit of a struggle.)

In short, there is no rule that will tell you what behavior is always appropriate.  Appropriate behavior must be behavior both people are okay with.

Lesson three: Nonverbal communication counts.

Marko's younger siblings don't always communicate clearly, which makes them a great object lesson about unspoken consent and refusal.  For instance, if he's playing with the baby, I point out the signs that show that she is having fun, and the signs that she is not.  "She's pulling away, I don't think she wants that hug," versus "Look at her laughing! She loves that!  If she could talk, she'd be asking for another tickle!"

Miriam can talk, but she doesn't always remember to, so we have the same conversation.  "Look at Miriam's face.  See how she is shrieking at you?  Do you know what it is she didn't like about what just happened?  Let's try asking her."

Lesson four: Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

Marko gets upset sometimes when the rules of the game are changed on him.  He just figured out Mama likes hugs, how can she stop wanting hugs after the 43rd consecutive hug?  But that doesn't obligate me to play along.  I can simply say, "You know, normally I love hugs, but I am done with them for awhile.  Come back later."

Likewise, Marko is a lot more willing to play games that push his limits a little (like John's scary monster game) if he knows that when he says he's done, it stops.

Lesson five: TV is not reality.

At this point, most of the TV the kids watch is designed for them and has lessons appropriate for them.  But I still pause from time to time to point out stuff.  "When Rainbow Dash says, 'Why are saying I'm angry? I'm not upset!  And I am NOT ANGRY!' do you think she is telling the truth?  Why do you think she's pretending she's not angry when she is?"

As they get older, I'm going to be riding the pause button a lot harder.  Marko needs to be explicitly told what is like real life and what is only in shows.  He needs to know that when male characters kiss and grab their female friends, in real life, the women might not like that.  We can talk about how you might know that someone wants that (for instance, they said so).

This will make me the obnoxious mom, but you gotta do what you gotta do.  I'm probably going to encourage him to watch sitcoms and other "girl" shows with me, because they actually teach a lot about real social situations in a way that Marko's favorite genre (fantasy) usually does not.

So that's what I've got so far.  Do you have any more ideas?  What are good ways to help autistic children practice reading other people's wishes and standing up for their own?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Does Christendom have a problem?

All my social networks are abuzz right now because of Simcha Fisher's articles about Christendom's handling of several rape cases.  Many alumni are leaping in to defend the college; they feel Simcha's article was a hit piece which blames Christendom's strict rules for rape.  Others are coming forward to admit a lot more incidents happened than are described in the articles, and that the college has a lot of dysfunction when it comes to dealing with serious problems.

Personally, I loved Christendom.  I was very happy there.  I was only two years out of the Regnum Christi school, and those two years had been extremely isolated for me.  To arrive on this beautiful campus and be surrounded with friendly, serious Catholics was a dream come true.  I had real friendships, and at the same time I had a lot more freedom than I'd had in boarding school.  There were a zillion rules, from curfew to dress code, but they didn't bother me at all.  They were less strict than what I was used to.  When people complained, I thought they were lightweights and probably not very pious.

There were things that did bother me.  It upset me how impossible it was to have a normal relationship with a guy.  I had zero experience when I arrived at Christendom, but even I could tell that the ban on hand-holding and kissing just led to couples going off into the woods to make out.  And another bad result was that the rumor mill had so little grist to go on that it would just make stuff up.  Seen hanging out with one guy one week, and another guy another week?  You were kinda fast.  Even if you were only trying to get class notes.  One girl "dated" a guy for over a month, at least in the eyes of the rumor mill AND the guy, before she found out that's what their friendship was supposed to be.

During the time I was there, some friends of mine were going through really hard times.  That, I could tell.  What I did not know was that they had actually been assaulted by fellow students -- and not the rude, hard-drinking kind (of which we had a few) but guys I would have thought as respectable, as gentlemen.  Why did I not know that?  Well, it wasn't something that was talked about.  The same went for other friends struggling with mental illnesses.  I always assumed Student Life was looking out for people.  But it turns out, it wasn't.

Christendom, in my mind, has three big flaws.  It is unprofessional, it is overly concerned with appearances, and it is controlling to the point of infantilizing its students.

I'm used to small Catholic organizations being unprofessional.  They can't really help it.  They're new, they're tiny, and the kind of experts that would help them don't want to work for them for peanuts.  So very often the "professionals" they have to rely on are friends and family of the founders.  This was my experience teaching in Catholic schools, where we would have the daughter of the board chairman as an art teacher, though she knew little about art or teaching; or me, for that matter, stuck into a classroom after a one-semester teaching practicum course.  When a child had special needs, there would be nothing we could do -- a school of forty kids can't afford an occupational therapist -- but no one ever wanted to admit it and tell the student's parents to take him elsewhere.  So it was up to a couple of unlicensed teachers in their twenties to figure it out.

And it's the same at Christendom.  Very few of the staff have any experience in the work they're doing; they're expected to learn on the job.  The faculty are better, but sometimes they're stuck teaching something other than what their degree is in.  When anyone criticizes, we are reminded that they are "doing their best," which of course they are, given their experience, and that the critics are just too picky and want a ton of unnecessary paperwork.  They are, as far as I know, the only Catholic college in the country that doesn't take federal student aid, which they say is to avoid government bureaucracy.  There isn't any specific case of overreach they're worried about, they just think that theoretically, the government might oppress them someday.  And anyway it's just a lot of paperwork, which would take up their time and make things harder for them.  But really, what it seems to me is that they aren't really equipped to raise the college to the standard other colleges meet.  It's hard enough for them to renew their accreditation each year.

With all that, it's unsurprising to me what the article reveals -- that it took months for them to handle Adele's case, that they never made any proactive move to keep her attacker away from her, and that there doesn't seem to be anybody whose job it was to help Adele through the process.  All her support seems to have come from professors, whose job is certainly is not (though thank goodness they were there, and willing, when Student Life's main concern seems to have been liability).

Next, they're overly concerned with appearances.  I can think of no better example than the Commons: piazza with fountain at the front, stench of raw sewage in the back.  I don't know why the septic tank overflows back there, but it's been doing it since 2004 at least.  Currently the college is fundraising to build a giant new chapel with a steeple high enough to be seen from the freeway.  It's going to cost 13 million, which they don't have yet, but they're breaking ground on it already.  That's the priority - to be a city on a hill, to somehow be a beacon that will lead those poor benighted townies to become Catholic, or something.  Not to fix the septic tank or the mold in the dorms.

And that attitude is out in spades right now.  The alumni facebook group booted me out, and eventually purged all the threads that were critical of the college.  For awhile this was their group description:

Current students are flooding Simcha's comments section with supportive, if irrelevant, comments about how they've never been raped and feel very safe.  Others are screaming and yelling, on facebook and in person, about how saying bad things about the college will destroy it, and since it's doing good, everyone is morally obligated to be positive about it instead.  Nothing they've done has reminded me of Regnum Christi so much as this has.  It's a sort of reflexive defensiveness that circles the wagons and calls anyone who thinks things could change an enemy with an ax to grind -- someone who should be opposed at all costs.

When the Northern Virginia Daily picked up the story, the president of the college didn't call him back.  Another administrator gave a comment, but a misleading one, claiming Title IX prevented him from commenting on how many rape cases Christendom has dealt with.  In fact, Title IX would require the college to make that information publicly available -- if Christendom were subject to it, which it's not.  At every turn, the college has misled or obfuscated what's really going on.  Anything to protect Christendom's reputation.

Last of all, Christendom tries to control the students in the hopes of forcing them to be moral.  The PDA policy is an example of this.  They hope that if they keep students from holding hands, they'll never have sex.  But in reality, all it does is force couples off campus, where it's even harder for horny teenagers to avoid having sex.  And that has led to some unsafe circumstances, of course.  A girl is a lot safer kissing in the quad than she is kissing in a dark backseat in a national park.  But the response of many has been to blame the victims for breaking the rules in the first place.  If they hadn't kissed, if they hadn't gone off campus, this wouldn't have happened!  Well, sure.  But how would Christendom boast of its many Catholic weddings if students never kissed each other?

Actual marketing material

The college likes to say they are helping parents, or that they take the role of parents.  They make sure you don't kiss your boyfriend, they make you clean your room, they check that you're in by midnight.  This reassures parents and makes them feel they're doing what they can to make students moral.  But it gives the lie to any statements they later make that they're not responsible for what happens because the students are adults.  That's not what they were advertising.  They were advertising that Christendom would be safe like other places aren't safe.  And students believe they are safe.  The college is doing nothing to help students act like adults.  Female students believe that it's safe, and all their male classmates are trustworthy.  From the comments on Simcha's blog:

"As to the men on this campus, I found the best friends of my entire life and know that they would do everything to protect and guard me as a woman. I am preparing for my Rome semester now and I have talking to many of the guys I will be going with and I know that they will be escorting us home each and every night. I trust them completely that they would never hurt me in that way, no matter the circumstances or if drinking was involved."

"As many of the girls here have stated, we all feel safe walking around campus alone at night. I take walks alone fairly often in the middle of the night to think and be alone, and I have never once felt unsafe in any way."

"In the past, I lived across the street from campus, and many nights it would be dark when I returned to my dorm. But I never felt afraid walking back in the dark. Why? Because whether it was the girls or the guys, there was always someone who would walk back with me at night."

"I have experienced the frustration of not being allowed to have my boyfriend hang out in my dorm with my when he visits me, and instead we have had to be creative with where we go to spend one together, but for all the times we have taken walks in the woods or have gone to Skyline to sit and talk without being with others, I have never once been afraid of my boyfriend taking advantage of me."

These comments are sweet, but they're really naive.  They could get raped doing these things, and if they did, I know some of the staff and alumni would blame them for it because they "should have known."  But they don't know--they see Christendom men as their protectors, and not as threats.  The college doesn't do anything to change this view.

I didn't mention the sexism, because it runs deep and would take a whole other post to describe it.  And many Catholics wouldn't notice it anyway, because they're used to that kind of thing.  You know--90% male leadership and professors, women encouraged to see themselves mainly as future mothers, women expected to take responsibility for men's chastity.  I do think this mindset contributes to women blaming themselves for their rapes and telling no one lest they be seen as "ruined."  But I think I'll leave it alone for now.

Anyway, going over all this in my mind, and clearly seeing how Christendom is unprepared to deal with sexual violence, even though it's made an effort to change, makes me wonder where to go from here.  I don't want the college to shut down; it was a happy place for me and I know people who are there right now and love it.  I'm not opposed to the president stepping down, because he certainly had a role in this, but I don't think that would solve the problem, because these problems pervade the whole institution.  But I finally found out one thing that would help: Title IX.  I've been reading up on the things it requires, and all of these are changes Christendom should make.  Take a look at some of these, none of which the college follows:

"Under the Campus SaVE provisions of the Clery Act, all schools are legally required to provide prevention education to first-year students and include information on students’ reporting options and resources. But research shows that a single session during orientation isn’t good enough. Your school should require continuous, comprehensive, in-person prevention education for everyone on campus.
That includes first-year students, transfers, graduate students, professors, and staff. Effective consent education must be skills-based and interactive (rather than merely informational), inclusive, and community-based. "

"Your school should guarantee that survivors have access to counseling and medical attention in a timely manner and without having to file a formal complaint. Medical care, including mental healthcare, should be provided at no cost to the survivor—the high cost of counseling can preclude people from accessing it, with significant psychological and educational consequences. If a survivor requires a remedy in order to access an equitable education, their school should provide that remedy at no cost to the victim."

"All decision-makers, including (but not limited to) members of any adjudication panel (if your school has one), sanctioning officers, appeals officers, and case managers should be impartial individuals with training in sexual and domestic violence. University administrators such as deans of student life or academic advisors generally lack the knowledge necessary to effectively adjudicate these cases and their stake in protecting the school’s public image suggests a conflict of interest; we do not believe they are appropriate decision-makers in this context.
Both parties should have the opportunity to challenge investigators, case managers, and decision-makers involved in the hearings, sanctioning, or appeals process. If anyone in those positions has a relationship with the accused student or victim, they should be removed from roles in the disciplinary process."

All schools should use the preponderance of the evidence (otherwise known as “more likely than not”) standard for adjudicating complaints. The preponderance of the evidence is the standard used to adjudicate civil rights cases in court. Since Title IX is a civil rights law that exists to protect each student’s right to an education free from harassment and violence, the preponderance of the evidence standard is the most equitable and appropriate standard. Schools should not use a different standard, such as “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
All policies should explicitly state that a survivor’s dress and past sexual history is irrelevant to the investigation and outcome, and will be excluded from evidence.
A respondent’s past findings of responsibility (whether in civil, criminal, or university disciplinary records) should be included as evidence at sanctioning.
Your school should guarantee that survivors have equal opportunity to present evidence and witnesses, should develop a clear procedure for both parties to present evidence and witnesses, and shouldn’t deviate from that established procedure without a compelling reason.
Your school should interview all available witnesses with relevant information. If your school declines or fails to interview a witness suggested by either party, they should provide an explanation to the party in writing.
Both parties should have equal access to available evidence in their case file and should have sufficient time for them and their attorneys to review it before a hearing."

"Qualified Investigators — It takes years of specialized training (not just a few hours) to fully understand the complicated dimensions of gender-based violence. Reports must be investigated by impartial individuals with extensive professional expertise in gender-based violence to ensure they are effective, professional, and trauma-informed.
Case Managers — Schools should provide survivors who report with a qualified case manager, someone they can contact whenever they have questions about the process and who is responsible for keeping them up-to-date about any developments, helping them secure accommodations and interim measures, and preventing retaliation. At many schools, survivors and accused students will be given the same case manager, which can make many survivors (and accused students) uncomfortable, deterring them from coming forward. Your school should guarantee that survivors and perpetrators will never have the same case managers.
Survivors’ Stories — Investigations (and hearings) should be designed to limit the number of times survivors must re-describe the incident to as few individuals as is practicable.
Timely Investigations — Schools must conduct the major stages of investigations and grievance procedures in a reasonably prompt timeframe. The ideal timeframe is about 60 days, depending on the complexity of the case."

"While colleges cannot publicly release the sanctions given to a specific, named individual [because sanctions are considered an “educational record” protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)], they can and should publish aggregate statistics so that students, parents, and alums can hold schools accountable for their responses.
Your school should publish aggregate statistics showing, at a minimum:
how many cases are reported;
how many survivors were denied accommodations that they requested;
how long, on average, cases remained open;
how many students were found responsible; and
how students found responsible were sanctioned.
Your school might claim that publishing this data is a violation of FERPA, but it’s not. In fact, the Department of Education under the Obama Administration has required many colleges found in violation of Title IX to publish this information."

Christendom is exempt from Title IX because it doesn't take federal money.  But in my opinion, it needs to become compliant anyway.  Best of all would be if it accepted federal money like other colleges do--that would lift the burden on alumni of having to pay Christendom's loans, which are at 10% and must be paid back within six years.  And this would finally give students a legal right to complain at the college's blundering response to sexual assault.  But if it doesn't do this, it should at least independently become compliant with these standards.

In my opinion, that's the college's only hope of surviving with its reputation as an excellent, safe Catholic option intact.  If they insist on staying as they are, they're likely to shrink down into a smaller and smaller student body as reasonable parents don't send their kids there.  We've seen other Catholic colleges, like Southern Catholic College, take this spiral before.

But if Christendom bites the dust, it won't be Adele's fault or Simcha's fault.  It will be the fault of an administration that refuses to be professional, transparent, and respectful of its adult students.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

New year, new hair

This year, I hope to focus on my own needs and wants a little bit more.  So it seemed right to start out with a symbolic action -- one that took both self-value and courage.  That's right: I finally dyed my hair.

I settled on blue, since it's a color that never fails to look good on me.  With dye, it can be hard to say exactly what shade you're going to get, but every shade from turquoise to periwinkle is in my wardrobe and flatters me fine.  Orange or red would be much riskier ventures.  I didn't want to do my whole head blue, because that was too big a step; I wanted some of my familiar color to reassure myself that it was still me.  So my plan was to do something like this: 


That is, I wanted to dye the underlayers of my hair blue, and keep the rest blond.  It would be subtle.  I wanted to ease myself into the whole hair-dye experience.

But I did decided to just slightly, very subtly lighten my whole head, because my hair color is kind of a dark blond and I worried the blue would look muddy and the blond parts would clash with the blue.  

Well, um ... it turns out that bleach is very difficult to do.  Even after reading pages and pages of advice, nobody really could tell me how much bleach it would take to lighten dark blond to light blond, or how long to leave it in.  In retrospect, what I should have done was buy twice the "developer" -- the liquid part -- and only half the bleach, because I have a lot of hair to lighten and there isn't any way to put the liquid in thinly.  It goes in, or it does not go in.  Even with a friend to help me, it was a struggle.  Comb through the bleach to the ends?  My hair did not comb, it snarled and stuck to itself.  Apply close to the scalp but not touching the scalp?  Not exactly sure how anybody is supposed to manage that.

Then, of course, we waited and waited and it wasn't getting lighter at all, and then suddenly it was yellow.  And it was only at that point that it because apparent that some of the hair hadn't really gotten any bleach at all.

That's not a shadow, there.  That's the actual stripe I had.

So I got the bottle and squeezed out what drops there were left, to cover the dark area.  Left for half an hour, rinsed it out, saw there were now more unusually-shaped dark areas, and did yet another spot treatment.  And it still didn't look super.  If I kept it parted exactly where it had been, and the light wasn't great, I just looked like a bottle-blonde with overbleached hair.  If I pulled the hair back at all, it looked straight-up ridiculous.

So that's when I made up my mind that some of the front hair was going to have to be blue as well.  Put a blue stripe through that mess, and the yellow and brown patches would be a lot less noticeable.

I did the blue by myself, and luckily it went into my hair a lot more easily than the bleach had.  Which still wasn't easy--hair really resists having stuff put into it, as it happens.  You can put stuff on the outside of a hank of hair, but if you pry the hank apart, you see the dye didn't reach the middle.  In the end the technique that worked for me was to squeeze the dye onto an old toothbrush and comb it through a very small chunk of hair at a time.

The articles I read said to be very careful not to get it on your skin, to wear gloves, to set the bottle down on newspaper, and so on.  Turns out even if you're careful, it's a lost cause.  I got blue a lot of places.  Comet got most of that off the floor, and as for my arm and neck and right ear ... well, it's starting to fade.

Here's me, very worried it won't look good:

Rinsing it out was difficult too.  They say to use cold water, but I didn't want to do it in the kitchen sink (because I didn't want to turn all the dishes in there blue, or wash them either) which meant a freezing shower.  At first my entire body turned faintly blue and corpselike from the runoff.  And the blue strands bled onto the blond strands, so now I have three colors: blue, pale blue, and yellow.  It was just as well.  That yellow color isn't attractive and the light blue is much nicer.  I kind of want to do the rest of my head in light blue, if not now, maybe when this batch fades.

I don't know if I was supposed to keep rinsing till it ran clear, but it just kept coming out blue, so after awhile I just quit and dried it off.  But I have been warned it'll bleed every time I wash it, and to use an old towel.

Once it started to dry, the color began to show up a lot better.  It looked ... well ... it looked GOOD!  Which came as a shock to me, given the horrible-looking stages I went through to get here.

Mostly the underlayers aren't visible; I'm glad I did the front too, or nobody would even notice it was blue.  I had worried bright color near my face would wash me out, but I don't think it does. 

The dye I used was Splat! Blue Envy, which includes the bleach kit.  I love the color, and it's supposed to last through 30 washes.  Though if you have darker hair, I'd suggest going with one of that brand's colors intended for brunettes.  That way you don't have to deal with the difficult bleaching process.  I can say for myself, if I ever need my hair bleached again, I'm going to a pro.  I'm happy to touch up the color myself, but since bleach is permanent, I'd rather have someone else do it.

Every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I see the blue and feel happy and proud.   Happy to have color in my life--and proud I had the guts to FINALLY do it.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking back at 2017

Today is the day to look back on the year I just had and try to take stock.  Problem is, my memories are kind of fuzzy.  Last New Year's feels like forever ago.  So I grabbed this survey off of Facebook and am going to use it to jog my memory.  Feel free to answer the same questions in the comments or on your own blog!

New Years' Survey!

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
Dropped the boys at school and left them there.  ALL DAY.  I think I missed them more than they did me.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Yes!  My goal was to "rise to the occasion" and do all that executive-function adulting stuff that I dread, and I did.  I took Marko to numberless assessment appointments.  I scheduled shots and showed up to the appointments.  I did not get to the dentist.  Oh well.  I had a physical though AND saw a dermatologist for a mole that has been scaring me for two years.  I can say that I have grown massively in organizational skills and in confidence.  I feel like I can commit to showing up somewhere or making a phone call without hedging that I'm a flake and may not show.  When I have to make a phone call, I usually do it the same day rather than stalling for a solid week.  Having to do it made me do it, and that made me less scared of doing it the next time.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
I racked my brain for awhile before remembering that I DID.  Jeez.

Two people close to me got pregnant, and I have been supportive instead of making bitter comments about how their lives are going to be ruined.  Go me!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Not very close.

5. What countries did you visit?
None.  I went to Maryland once.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2018?
My room to myself.  Sometime this year, I'm kicking Jackie out into Miriam's room and will finally get to put my pajamas on with the lights on!  It's going to be great!

7. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
January 20th.  Jackie's birth and Trump's inauguration.  It wasn't a great day.  At least the afterpains distracted me from reading the news.
Also August 15th, the boys' first day of school.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finally, after over two months, getting Jackie to go to bed at a reasonable hour so I didn't have to spend 8pm-midnight nursing her and unable to move a muscle without lengthening the process by hours.

9. What was your biggest failure?
The garden.  Basically didn't do much of anything in there.  I planted stuff and ignored it and it all died, except the tomatoes and peppers which sort of plugged along in a half-hearted way.  The soil is not as good here as at the old place, and there isn't as much sun either.
Oh and the chickens.  I gave them the same treatment as the garden, and to the same effect.  Two died and the remaining one I gave away for fear she'd meet the same fate.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
So many illnesses.  Cold after cold after throat infection after flu.  The kids bring it home from school and share it around the family where, with six of us, it hangs around forever.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Honestly I don't remember buying much of anything.  I did buy a nice pendant for my birthday, so I could have at least one piece of jewelry that wasn't a cross.  It's just the earth.

12. Where did most of your money go?
That big ol' mortgage, I guess.  Also school supplies and clothes.

13. What did you get really excited about?
NaNoWriMo.  It was the most thrilling thing that's happened to me in a long time.  It meant I could be myself again and do something I wanted to do instead of spending all my productive time on kid stuff.

14. What song will always remind you of 2017?
Probably Blue World.  I've had that in the car for a long time and it's very catchy.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:?
– happier or sadder? happier
– thinner or fatter? thinner
– richer or poorer? richer (in savings - income has stayed about the same)

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Nothing really.  There wasn't any extra time I could have spent on other things.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Waking up at night?

18. How did you spend Christmas?
At home, in my jammies.  I recommend it.

19. What was your favorite TV program?
Probably Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  That's John's and my show to watch together right now.  I also watched a good bit of Call the Midwife, Jane the Virgin, and Parenthood.  Didn't get back into action shows, though I would have liked to.  It wound up being too much tension for me.  Though my anxiety is getting better all the time, so next year I bet I will be able to.

20. What were your favorite books of the year?
All the Terry Pratchett books.  They got me through.  I highly recommend them when you're stressed, anxious, or depressed--they're light-hearted and never scary.

21. What was your favorite music from this year?
Like the previous question, I'm going to go with music I listened to this year, not music that came out this year.  I mostly listened to Rush and Moody Blues.

22. What were your favorite films of the year?
The only movies I can remember watching are Zootopia, the MLP movie, Rogue One, Boss Baby, and Bright.  Liked them all.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 31.  Don't think I did anything special.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I have had a strict policy against might-have-beens this year.  I'm sure y'all can guess the very first place my mind went when I heard this question.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
Two words: Yoga. Pants.  Though my weight has stabilized to the point I can go buy some jeans now.

26. What kept you sane?
This mental health technique

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017?
Probably to trust my kids to meet obstacles and fears and still be okay.  I've been very protective up to now, and maybe that was the right thing then, but this year it has been the time to force my kids into situations they didn't feel ready for . . . and find that they were ready after all.  It did a lot for their confidence and for my trust in them.  And I gotta say, it's great not to be the only person responsible for their entire education anymore.

So, how was 2017?  Well, it beat 2016.  2016 was chugging along wonderfully when it suddenly started to derail, and things got worse and worse for the rest of the year.  I spent a lot of effort on my mental health that year, with the net result that I did not actually have the total mental breakdown I felt like I was going to have.  So that was something.  But it was, in general, a horrifyingly bad year.

But this year I knew it would be better, because no matter what awful things came my way, I figured at least I wouldn't be pregnant anymore.  And that happened.  Nobody has ever been pregnant forever.  Of course Jackie's newborn phase was a living nightmare; she was just the worst ... and they have all been high-needs so I know what I'm talking about.  But I at least had the comfort of having my body to myself.  That matters a lot.  And I felt a lot saner than during the same time period with Miriam, whether because I had a house big enough to hold my family, or because I used a baby swing instead of trying to hold the baby all the time, or because my hormones were in better shape.  I felt bad a lot of the time, but I didn't scream at the other kids (much) or fail them in any obvious ways.  Miriam loved being a big sister, so that really helped . . . one of the hardest things about having a newborn who isn't the first is that you are dealing with a clingy, upset toddler who is jealous at having to share you, and that really didn't happen at all.  It also helped a lot that she was potty-trained, no longer napped, and gave up nursing when Jackie was born.

But really, it was still overstimulating and exhausting.  The big kids were bored and fought with each other a lot, and I was usually too overwhelmed to get them out of the house much.  The real turnaround happened when they started school.  Finally they had a built-in place to go and do big-kid stuff, while I had some hours a day where I wasn't surrounded by yelling and screaming and mess.  Miriam had more of my attention, and when the boys got home from school, they played nicely together more and fought less.

Now Jackie is almost one, which means she is light-years less trouble than she was as a newborn.  She's still high-needs.  It takes her a lot to get her to nap, and then she doesn't nap long.  When she's unhappy she doesn't want to snuggle, she wants to claw your face off.  It's tough.  But I'm rejoicing at every milestone she reaches, because the older she gets, the more she joins the Big Kid Gang and the more I can do other things.  That's how I managed to write a book ... though she's having a difficult phase at the moment and I can't work on editing very much.  But I expect to be able to write another book in the coming year; I can't see why not.

So.  It's a year of slow improvement.  I'm proud of how I've handled it.  I did rise to the occasion, absolutely.

What are my goals for the coming year?

1.  I want to work on publishing my book.  I believe it's good enough, or can be made good enough.  It might not be what the market is looking for.  I hear a lot that the dystopia "moment" is over and nobody wants to publish them anymore.  But perhaps I can get someone to take a chance on it.  I'll submit it to 100 agents, or even more, and if after all that I don't get a bite .... I'll move on to the next thing.  I am telling myself that if I want to get published, I can.  All I have to do is work hard at it.  Writing not good enough?  I'll just get better at it.  Story not what publishers are looking for?  I'll write other stories.  A lot of books get published every year.  There isn't any reason why one of them can't be mine.

2.  I want to write another book.  I am bursting with ideas right now.  Should it be the one with the alien with another person living in her head?  Or the space pilgrims?  Or the agoraphobic, possibly autistic inventor who has to foil a global conspiracy?  You see I'm trending toward sci-fi at the moment.  I want to keep working on my fantasy epic sometime, but maybe not right now.

3.  I have to make a decision about school for the kids for another year.  Michael almost certainly will stay in school because it's been obviously great for him.  Marko is begging to homeschool again, but I am not sure I want to put myself through that wringer again.  He is really, really hard to homeschool.  My goal is to make a decision that weighs the entire family's needs, and is right for him.  (I say "I" because John is adamantly pro-school -- he's made up his mind.  So if I decide homeschooling is better, we're going to have some tough conversations and then decide as a unit.)

4.  I want to get out of the house more.  I want to visit with friends, meet new people, join clubs.  I want to join a writer's group and actually attend the meetings.  I want to volunteer at the library to teach knitting classes again -- something I did one time this past year and liked.

In short, I want to move on, move forward.  I want to value my own dreams and wishes, because I will have the space to do so more and more.  I've learned you can't go on forever putting yourself last.

I just don't know of a word that sums all that up.  Hopefully I can think of one before we're too far into 2018!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Weighted blankets

I've been busy lately.  And I mean really busy, not scrolling-through-facebook busy.  School has all kinds of random demands lately--bring cookies for this party!  Bring grapes for that party!  Send in three dollars, must be cash, for the field trip!  There's homework, of course, a daily nightmare.  There's editing my book, which I've started now that I let it sit for a few weeks, and a few people have read it.  (They had some hard-hitting criticism, which stung at first, but I sat on it and I think they're right.  And now at least I have a direction to go in for the rewriting.)  And Christmas presents too!

For Marko and John, I made weighted blankets.  They're very popular for kids with autism, SPD, and anxiety, because supposedly the sensory input is calming.  I figured Marko's would help him be a bit less restless at night, and as for John, he's always loved big heavy blankets, but they make him very sweaty in summertime.  So he is getting one as well.  My hope is that it will feel like a big comforter without being hot.

I read some online tutorials and figured out the basics: you sew around three edges and sew some vertical channels.  Then you pour in the weights and sew across a horizontal row, pour in some more and sew those in . . . until you have little square pockets all over that hold the weights.  That's the way to make sure they stay put instead of all gathering in the corner.

You can use any number of things for the weights.  There are PVC pellets, like in beanie babies and bean bag chairs.  You can use beans or rice if you don't care that it's washable.  You can use BB pellets apparently.  I picked sand.  This was a mistake.  Sand is very dusty and I worry it will wash right out if I attempt to put the blankets in the washer.  Imagine fifteen pounds of sand in my washer.  I'm not even going to try it.  And there is a thin film of dust everywhere I worked on it, little bits of sand on the floor, sand trying to get into the crevices of my sewing machine.  I cannot recommend it at all.  Next time I'm going to see if I can find washed pea gravel or aquarium gravel, because much as I like the idea of something softer that won't feel lumpy . . . I also want something that won't get everywhere while I'm working on it.

My first step to make this was to get my old sewing machine fixed.  My Grandma J -- the grandma who taught me to sew -- got it for me for my 18th birthday.  It's been shipped across the country more than once, kept under a bed, shoved in an attic, left in a garage . . . it's had a hard life.  When Marko was a toddler, I tried to use it and found a little rubber part inside had melted from the heat in the attic where I was storing it.  I took it completely apart, ordered the new part online for a few dollars, and put it back together . . . but alas, it still didn't work.

So a few weeks ago (read: after it had been shoved in a box, broken, for six years) I finally took it to a repair shop.  The guy said it would cost me a fortune to fix, and all because I'd unscrewed something I hadn't been supposed to unscrew.  So much for my repair skills.  In addition, the bobbin case was rusted and would need to be replaced.  The repair man (who was really nice, I'll heartily recommend him to any local people who are interested) told me he couldn't possibly take my money to fix it, because it was a cheap machine in the first place and it would cost me less to replace than to fix.

That upset me because I don't have money right now for either.  So I moaned about it on Facebook and my other grandma (Grandma C) emailed to tell me to pick a new machine, whatever I wanted, and she'd get it for me.  Wow!  I was tempted to say no, but my Grandma J passed away some years ago, and all I could think was, let me let my grandma love me.  I wish I had more memories from Grandma J, let's not make the same mistake with Grandma C.  And there's just something special on sewing a machine that comes from someone in the family who also loves to sew.  So I picked out this baby:

I thought I was being greedy, because it's a high-quality machine with heavy-duty metal parts inside.  The sewing machine repairman recommended Singer as a brand that's easy to repair.  It can do all kinds of things, like a zigzagging and decorative stitches and automatic buttonholes.  But my grandma thought I was holding myself back.  Nope!  I know there are more expensive machines out there, but they're complicated computerized gadgets.  I want something simple and strong.  This fit the bill.  Reviews say it can sew through layers of denim!

The actual materials cost under $30.  The My Little Pony fabric was a little pricey, but I knew Marko would love it.  The other side of his blanket is green, like Link from The Legend of Zelda.  He wears green daily, so he can be Link, so naturally the blanket had to be green too.

John's is dark green on one side, and a green pattern on the other.  It's kind of huge -- about 3'x6'.  That size weighted blanket is over a hundred dollars online.  Whereas with the help of my sewing machine, I was able to make it over about a week's worth of naps, for a fraction of the cost.  Am I proud of myself?  Yes.  Yes I am.

The real question is, are they really soothing?  I tried John's out today to see.  It certainly did smoosh around me in an interesting way instead of tenting the way lighter blankets do.

But I didn't really love the feeling.  It wasn't constricting as I might have feared--it doesn't feel heavy, with the weight distributed over the whole blanket.  But it didn't seem to do anything for me either.  Maybe if I'd felt anxious or overstimulated I might have felt differently.

We'll see how John feels about his!  I gave Marko his already -- he was having a really hard week, and I didn't feel like waiting on something that might be comforting.  He didn't say anything about it helping, but he did really like it, and I think he might be sleeping better.

Now, of course, everybody else wants one.  But no one really cares about the "weighted" part, so I'm going to make a plain cotton blanket for each of the others.  Miriam wants pink on one side, rainbow on the other.  Michael will have to come to the store with me and pick one.

But that, alas, will not be by Christmas.  There's only four days left and Jackie is too much of a toddler for me to take out needles and scissors any time she's awake.  But I'll get them done eventually!
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