A photo by Volkan Olmez.

“Do you get energy from people, or do people drain you?” My therapist asked me a year ago. In silent retort, I burrowed my shoulder blades into the scratchy couch in his office. To be honest, I didn’t wholly understand the question.

Define people, I thought.

I stared back at him, my features tightening with enmity. It wasn’t the question I found unsettling, it was the resilient, glowing peace, the kind manufactured from life lessons garnered from seven plus decades of life, that lit his eyes. Wisdom. Often, in its presence, it feels intimidating, because of its authentic conception. It cannot be store-bought, or gifted. True wisdom is a result of your own applied living versus existing despite life’s unfairness. It’s the gift of not giving up.

I folded my arms over myself, vulnerable. Therapy, ugh. The voluntary act of gathering as many scattered “pieces” of yourself that will fit in to your arms, only to lay those jigsaw puzzle pieces on an invisible table and give into the resolve of trying to fit them together, solving small parts of your own widespread puzzle, in under an hour. Then with those pieces constructed, your big picture produced by your own hands, you get to wrestle with believing whether it’s reality or fiction all while an unbiased stranger stands over your shoulder observing. Again, therapy, ugh.

I needed clarity. “What do you mean people?” I asked. Because if ‘people’ are the small-in-size, yet large-in-wildness, army of emotional manics—my four daughters—I created to test, terrorize, and overwhelm me with a deluge of heart bursting love on the regular, I’d say drain till I’m a hollow corpse. But if ‘people’ are adults than I’d say they energize me. *Translation: I will drain you, it’s who I am.

Over the course of the past month, I’ve witnessed my narrative change and negatively morph. I’ve gone from a lover of people, to being plagued with a persona that is fearful of people. I’m not sure if it’s implicit of my future, or only teetering on my hopefully temporary and somewhat broken spirit.

Currently, I’m exhausted and coated in outrage-meets-heartache. My timeline, the straight, but curvy line representing the past month of my chaotic life, holds a plethora of emotions. The colored dots, bleeding together, are a virtual mood ring defining my ugly emotional state. Black and red. The line has short stretches of undisturbed, un-dotted spaces due to sleep, but even those small spaces dominated by my subconscious are an angry, steaming black night train. I am restless.

As a result, I’ve been a bone-tired, one-dimensional caricature, only capable of reacting from a self-defensive standpoint. It feels like liquid, the medium more watercolor than oil.

That’s anxiety. It clouds your judgement, left unable to pinpoint the source of your grievance, or even recognize a true threat, because anxiety also holds hands with paranoia. Everything feels like an attack.

Lets rewind to the start, before I make you (if I haven’t already) think I’ve gone completely mad, yet for the record I’ve always been a slightly emotional maniac—love me through it, kay?

My daughter’s 5th grade year started off rocky, to say the least. The landscape was an interval of unscalable boulders, designed by bullies. These bullies led with disturbing agendas, one’s that define ‘rape culture’ with an undertone of vulgarity.

I’ll admit, for a minute, I was so blindsided that I fought my own erratic rationale first. My frantic heart chiseled at my ribs, my chest filled with rage.  Coming to, I fought back with a strength I didn’t know I possessed. I was my daughter’s advocate, protector, and activist on a mission. Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned. Halfway through the fight, I was blindsided again. And I never saw it coming.

My ideals were shot in the head.

For most of the last decade, I have been wrapped in the euphoric state of mommin. I have four daughters ten-years-old and younger, each nearly a two year stair-step in descending age of one another, and I’m not saying everyday has been euphoric—this phase of life has been ugly hard, but for the most part, it’s self-induced.

As a mama to young children, you are often your biggest critic. You’re main enemy is your own tiredness, stress, and frailty. It’s worrying about your child’s schedule, nap times, health, nutrition, the milestones, knowledge of the alphabet and eventually sight words, and whether they are getting too much screen time. The enemy, while they are young, doesn’t feel like it’s the outside populous—aside from the occasional “judgy” mama, or the insane maniac you see on the news.

It sounds disturbing, ideals being shot in the head, but it’s the truth. Nobody warns you about the ‘real world’ wake-up call you will receive as your child steps into adolescence. Yes, nearly all say, with an air of survivor humor, “wait till they are sixteen.” Together, you share a laugh at the forewarning statement. You laugh at the threat and they laugh at your naiveness. But where was my warning, “just wait till their ten. When children the same age will vandalize your child’s innocence. The mean classmates who will label your child, stealing titles crafted from a demeaning list of words they surely can’t understand.”

When it happened, I didn’t know where to start. I was mad at myself. And I knew it stemmed from Mama Guilt—the responsibility mother’s place on ourselves to make our children’s life perfect.

This was the very tip of the serious matter iceberg—my child’s value of self.

Here is the cold, ugly, and hard truth that started my downward slope: Nearly a month ago, she was punched in the face, called a bitch, and then this boy went online and told eight other classmates, in a thread on Instagram, that my daughter sucks dic (because he isn’t mature enough to know that the slang word for penis is actually spelled with a k, too—it’s the one syllable rule), and other boys in the same thread called her a loser, an idiot, and other words…

I nearly threw up writing the above paragraph.

After coming full circle—the school, police, child, parents—I realized how broken our system truly is.

The school is limited, the rope of their control is a short leash. Two police officers and a clerk offered me sympathy, one officer told me that this is really a “parent’s job” to handle. They should, along with the school, discipline the child, because he doubted the DA is going to press charges against a ten-year-old. The child said “sorry” but he clearly didn’t mean it, because he still went online after his written apology, on a social media account he isn’t even technically allowed to have due to not meeting the age requirements, and wrote lewd acts about my child because I assume he’s mad he got in trouble at school. The parents are still silent—either too embarrassed to communicate with me, or too uncaring to extend any responsibility or restitution.

There is a ton of finger-pointing, but little accountability. It’s EVERYONE else’s problem to handle. The system we rely on, formal jurisdiction, says it has to go to the worst possible scenario, and even then it’s dependent on age and background, as to what they will charge. Two words: Brock Turner.

I have never been more disgusted with our state of affairs regarding bullying and ‘rape culture.’ The dominant response I got was “maybe he, or they just like her…” I wanted to scream, nearly uttering ‘bullshit’ when people said that to me. Is that the generic, but acceptable excuse?  If you like them, and aren’t mature enough to communicate it, then by all means, physically and verbally assault them.

To be fair, I don’t want one experience marking every young boy as a perpetrator in my eyes, making me live in a constant state of fear for my daughters. But the sad fact is that it wasn’t one occurrence, one boy. It was four boys, who cyber-bullied her, influenced by one boy’s anger. This bullying extended over two weeks.  The ugly truth is that one bad apple can influence the weaker will of others. If one isn’t held fully responsible then this does become a theme, an epidemic. And we are there.  And the masses don’t want to believe it.

I was guilty, too.  Somehow, to this point, I’ve lived in my stay-at-home-mama bubble, shielded from the tragic state of this epidemic, until it directly affected my life.

I’m sick with myself.

It is happening and here, in the Midwest, it’s taboo—only to be whispered. The audible gasps I received when I, in a tone that is nothing close to a whisper, mentioned this child, who called my daughter a bitch and punched her in the face and then told her classmates that she commits lewd acts, in the same sentence that included Brock Turner, the rapist, says it all.

And we, myself included, have the gall to wonder where the “Brock Turners” come from? They don’t just emerge, at twenty-one, committing heinous, violent sexual acts against women. It starts a decade before then. The same way young girls are taught to undervalue and loosely define themselves for the sake of sexuality (just look at the clothes sold at Justice to too young girls).

We are missing a vital step that protects our children from rape culture.

Or are we content to be blind and spoon-fed that this pornographic, morally decaying world, is too far gone to change?  Are we all okay settling for relying on ‘hope’ that our child doesn’t become a victim?  Or have we become this freaking lazy? Or we just naive?

I don’t know the answer, but we are something–read the statistics on rape and sexual violence and not be sickened and outraged.  Better, read Brock Turner’s victim’s letter to him here.  This is real.

My stomach is in knots, bile and anger eating at my insides. I’ve been slapped in the face with bitter reality. In the course of a month, I’ve shed so much of my own naiveness that my skin is raw, I feel like I’m on the underside of a third degree burn.

It has disturbed me on a depressive level. Ever have those moments days when you are confused, hurt, and disgustingly angry that the sight of a beautiful, cloudless day, the kind where the temperature is agreeable and the breeze is the perfect strength to just lightly feather across your skin, but not prick it with coldness, that it pisses you off?  You crave the storm, pelting rain and a blanket of darkness. You want a greater power to commiserate with you, reveling in the shadows.  Some recognition, an omission that your inner tirade is justified.

The honest truth: as a mother of four daughters, I’m terrified. How do you protect your daughter from a silent enemy? Because that is what ‘Rape Culture” is and it’s lingering around our children.

The images on tv that objectify and label women, the sexists that push women beneath men, the culture that says it’s unacceptable, but not truly punishable at ten because he’s immature and maybe just likes her. If there isn’t any true recourse, who will this child become? And how do I protect my daughters from him?

The sick part is that I can’t, not fully–wisdom, this experience, says so.  It’s an uncomfortable fit, this new awareness, but it’s the first step in protecting my daughters, and I refuse to remain silent, letting the torment of rape culture be a bi-line of my daughters’ childhood.

Hell hath no fury like a scorned Mother…

Hot Mess

A photo by Matthew Wiebe.

I was the hot mess mama this morning. If medals were to ever be given, my overachieving, but underdressed self would be receiving gold. (also, the above picture is an exact representation of what I looked like this morning…)

“It’s 7:30 on a school day!” Trav said, too close to my ear. His statement was my wake call this morning. I only had twenty-five minutes to get three children ready for school. (The school bell rings at 8:00 a.m. sharp.)

We overslept, thanks to our “close to the Lord” child’s iPad. (She’s currently grounded from the iMisery and it’s taken residence on my night stand…and here’s where I tell you that my daughter has set 7 alarms on it, starting at 6:00 a.m. And those alarms severely messed with my mind this morning. So thus, I’m blaming the iPad (for ignoring my alarm) and its alarms, because it was definitely not my good book last night mixed with my ill respect for mornings. I am innocent.)

“WHAT?!” I screeched in the face of my wake up call (sorry, husband), jumped out of bed and sprinted to the kitchen. Still feeling hazed, I started throwing three lunches together (apples…a candy bar…and a juice box–I may get a call from the teachers). That’s a lie, there was also jelly sandwiches–that I didn’t spread–and gogurt. Then I shoved three pieces of toast in the toaster, and set a cold clump of microwaveable bacon–no, I didn’t separate the six pieces that formed said clump–in the microwave and hit 30 seconds. The overcooked toast popped and I put one streak of butter on each one, before I took a deep breath and then patted myself on the back. (Notice how I never said I made a cup of coffee. And yet, there I was slaying lunches and breakfast. Go me! #momwin)

Trav was busy getting the girls up, because I tend to overreact when under such short time constraints. (“GET UP NOOOOOOWWWW, WE ARE LATE!!!!! *while pulling my hair out and throwing clothes at them)

I raced to get Amelia dressed, Trav signed planners, and I was back in the kitchen, making threats–“if you think you don’t have to brush your teeth because we’re late, you are wrong! Go brush your teeth!”–then I’m throwing lunches in backpacks, telling them to shovel their burned toast and bacon down faster without choking, and nearly picking the beauties up and tossing them in the car.

And we’re late. (I will not speak of my irresponsible speed, but my long-bus-like Yukon can take curves on a dime, so if you are in the market for a mini-bus that can haul booty (the always running tired and late kind) go buy one!)

We are that one minute late, the one that follows the school doors locking. That one minute, the one we learned on orientation night that makes me, as a parent, have to physically walk in and sign them in. Admittedly, I almost told the beauties to just sneak in, but I can’t. I am a rule follower to a default. My anxiety about rules says I have to get out of my car and go do the walk of shame with them.

I park, and swallow my pride before I open my car door. I am a sight–this I know. I’m also horrified as well, because I never looked in the mirror this morning. This leads me to question all that could be wrong with my face… (Think smeared-not-completely-washed-off-eye-make-up, boogers, and no eyebrows…)

You know you are late when you don’t even attempt to draw on your “brows.”

I take a long, disapproving glance down at myself and instantly abhor my appearance–I have on pajama pants, gold dressy sandals, a cross between a sweater and a trench coat, with a brown and white polka dot tank top underneath, sans a bra and worse, I can feel the heaviness of my hair that is sticking out as big as Texas because I slept on it wet.

I feel naked, but I am dressed…praise the Lord.

And I’m walking with my arms crossed over my chest, pressing against my sweater/trench coat wrapped tightly around me because in the flurry of lateness I didn’t go for basic necessity, the cardinal rule after breastfeeding four babies: a (push-up) bra.

Inside the office, nobody is making direct eye contact with me, mostly because I probably look like a threat of some sort–a fashion confused extremist.

Finally, when the silence is too long, and everyone is quietly shaking their head at me, I basically have an outburst of hands and weird body gestures while asking, so loudly, “Where do I get tardy slips?!”

I sign the tardy slips, kiss the beauties bye, walk the shame road feeling like Cersie from GOT and drive much slower on the way home, trying to bring my embarrassment and my heart rate back down.

Parked in my garage, I get out and make a beeline to my kuerig. I smell it, before I see it. My face, that could possible have a giant booger hanging out my nose, is one of shock. There on my counter in my bedroom, freshly brewed, lies a piping cup of liquid gold.

Trav turns the corner and grins at me. I take my coffee as a strange sight in my peripheral alarms me. Something is not right.

“Did you make the bed?” (Even the 19 decorative pillows are arranged. I almost gasped.)

Trav nods, looking coy. (I half wonder what the H is happening? Because this is the twilight zone!)

I ponder the made bed and my whacko thoughts a moment. In twelve years of marriage, he has maybe made the bed twice, and that’s a generous benefit.

“Why?” I ask, almost scolding. (It’s not enough that he has to make all the money, but now he has to make the bed, too?!)

He shrugs, a mild twinge of guilt coats his face.

And suddenly, after a sip or two of coffee, I feel enlightened.

“You made the bed so I wouldn’t get back in it, didn’t you?” I accused, like he was on trial and I was a young lawyer asking the most important (make my case) question of my entire interrogation.

He laughs at my dramatics, holding his hands up in surrender. “Babe, listen, if you don’t get laundry done today…” He sighs. “I’m going to have to start turning my underwear inside out. You left me no options.” He smiles, the same one that makes me remember that I do love this man.

Today, okay honestly…most days, I am a hot mess mama of four beauties, and sometimes, like the first week of school, I’m an overachieving procrastinator of the homemaking kind. It just is. Thank goodness, I have a family and friends, who love (and hug) me through it, even my husband with his gentle nudges, too.

Cut some slack for all the Mamas, we are trying, amidst running late and mountains of laundry…

Bite. Your. Tongue.

A photo by Oscar Keys.

A few days ago, my two oldest daughters had a disagreement with one another. For the life of me, I cannot begin to remember what started the verbal war between the two. (mainly because I’ve been floating in a state of little sleep and I don’t think chocolate—as a primary source of nutrition—is much of a memory preserver)

All I can recall, before my memory cuts off at the exchange of two words (idiot and moron) angrily lobbed at one another, was something about eggs. That was right before steam shot out of my ears like a locomotive and my head swiveled like Medusa. I highly doubt they said anything after my wicked transformation into pissed off Mama.

I could lie to you and tell you that discipline came in the form of them sitting in time-out for ten minutes. A solitary place where they both could think of ten uplifting things about each other. Then I made them recite those affirmations of character to one another while they held hands.

But that wouldn’t be the truth.

I got so mad that I burst out crying (Medusa cries, just so you know). And, once I calmed down, I went off the deep end about name calling being the ugliest form of a sucker punch. And as their Mama, I can’t defend a sucker punch.

It was a tirade—this episode of mine. And I’m not sure they heard what I was really trying to “teach” them. Maybe it was the tears, or my head swiveling on my neck, I’ll never know.

But now it’s been awhile; I’m more collected (basically, not an emotional basket case incapable of training up children). I feel strong enough to put into written word why I am so hung up on name calling.

First, I’d rather be slapped in the face than called a derogatory word. (Seriously, don’t slap me–I am fragile.) Call it a childhood hang up, but it’s my truth.

I can still remember the first time someone called me a name. The impact it had on me is one I won’t forget. I was in the sixth grade. My home life was weary and intensely stressful. My parents were only a few months shy of announcing their impending divorce. My childhood was on the verge of shattering.

One weekend, I’d been invited to a birthday party. The birthday party. The one where all the “cool” kids would be there. Rocking a too tight perm (that was awkwardly growing out and worse, an undercut), I’d never felt more accomplished, to be invited, at age 11. In my mind, I had made it to the proverbially inner circle of social hierarchy.

Little did I know, my fall from the “so-called top” would be swift and hurt like hell.

At this birthday party, we played ‘spin the bottle’ or maybe it was ‘truth or dare,’ I can’t remember. According to the spin or dare, I had to kiss a boy (who I will not name) who I thought had won the 1.6 (I’m not talking the measly 656 million, it was the record jackpot, mmmkay) billion dollar lottery of all genes. In my eyes, he was it–the. cutest. boy. in. all. the. land.

The peck was 2 seconds, pink cheeks and no eye contact for the rest of the party (and probably the rest of entire school year) followed. We were 11. It was the first “kiss” I’d ever had.

I’d return to school the following Monday, most likely skipping, with Cupid’s arrow surely still visible, like a love struck fool. I was standing outside the school, among a few friends, waiting for the bell to ring, when a girl walked straight up to me and stuck out her hand.

I was confused. This person was apart of that social hierarchy I’d perceived of my own free will; we did not talk. Did she want me to shake her hand?

Clearly not getting it, she reached out and took my hand and placed it into hers and then she rigorously shook our locked hands, before she said, “Congratulations. You’re a slut.” Everyone, after the initial shock wore off, laughed.

The image is one burned in to my memory. (I’d later learn that this boy, I’d barely brushed lips with, was “going out” with this girl’s friend.)

I stood there, shocked and humiliated. After the bell rang, I went into the bathroom and locked myself into a stall, sunk into the metal barrier and cried. An ugly cry.

Those words, for longer than I care to admit, clung to my fragile self-esteem. The adhesive was my own insecurities, my broken home life, and the blooming idea, amid my humiliation, that I held little worth.

It was the “bully” moment of my childhood and it changed me.

I think my emotions, upon hearing my daughters name calling with such vengeance, pulled me under an ardent tide because my oldest daughter will be 11 next year. We are encroaching on territory that holds a painful landscape of mine.

She could break someone, or be broken by someone.

I cannot change the past, nor do I hold any ill will against this memory, or any one in it. But this is my chance, Lord willing, to place power into changing my children’s culture.

What I told my girls, when I was ready to broach the subject again, was this.

“Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21

I told them I wanted them to understand the value of a word. A word is profound.  No matter the size.  It holds power, casted negatively or positively over, against, and for someone.

Even just a single, negative word can cause a deep-seated fissure upon someone’s heart; striking a negatively false belief in their self-esteem and their self-worth.

One. Single. Word.

Is all it takes.

I shared with them the responsibility we shoulder using words and the value of “why” we need to choose to communicate our frustrations versus the easy way out–the verbal sucker punch.

I want them to be cognizant their words could break a child’s heart, one who is suffering. Who feels unloved and lost. Who wants to desperately fit in, because there isn’t a fit in their home life.

Their words could scar someone, stranger or friend alike.

In truth, we never know where someone stands, in light or the shadows of darkness, but our universal culture has to be kindness mixed with a little bit of bite. your. tongue.

It’s easier biting your tongue, than eating your words. (Here’s where I tell you I had a mind to go to a speciality grocery store and find the most disgusting thing–sure to have the worst taste–and labeling it ‘idiot’ and ‘moron’ and then making them eat it.)