Education

Writing Prompts: August Scrawls, Days 1 & 2

I was stymied after prepping Thursday’s post on Wednesday. I had run out of the current prompts available on the social writing app I’ve been writing on – intermittently – for well over a year now. I needed more prompts, until either new prompts showed up on lettrs or my own ideas started flowing.

Did you know there’s a whole community of writers using Instagram? #writersofinstagram and #amwriting are a great way to locate fellow word warriors…but, you probably already knew that.

Nowadays, there’s a hashtag for EVERYTHING under the sun, on God’s green earth…(had to do it once “nowadays” showed up). So, I searched #augustwritingprompts. Lots of options popped up. Several set up scenarios and situations to write about. Not for me. I’m more of a minimalist when it comes to prompts. Give me something to interpret and write my own scene about, in my own voice.

I found such a prompt! It’s called August Scrawls and is hosted by @hopelessperriott on Instagram. A word a day! I can work with that. I hope.

Here are my first two days’ efforts:

Hunger

He hungrily watched her lips wrap around the oblong orb. His mouth went dry with thirst as a tiny drop of clear juice slowly meandered down. His pupils dilated as she captured it with her tongue. He longed to wrap his hands around the soft, golden skin. Mouth watering at the thought of tasting the firm flesh, he asked…

“Do you have another apricot?”

Gotcha! At least that was the idea. The word for Day 1 was “apricot.” How’d I do?

Here’s Day 2:

A Spectrum Moment

“Children, it’s time to work on your spelling words. Jennifer, will you please hand out this week’s practice sheets?”

Mrs. Vee, the teacher, surveyed her overly full classroom. Her eyes rested on the student in the far back corner, Shandi. Shandi was seated on a stool at the science workstation. Her head was bent as she intently stared down at the paper in front of her. She reached for a black marker and began drawing.

Mrs. Vee watched as Jennifer cautiously approached Shandi. Jennifer attempted to hand Shandi the paper. She kept looking at her artwork, seemingly oblivious to Jennifer’s presence. Then, Jennifer bravely placed the paper between Shandi’s face and the paper she was drawing on.

She reacted as badly as expected. The crumpled paper plummeted to the floor.

“Shandi! That’s enough. It’s time to work on spelling. You’ve had your art time. Now it’s work time.”

Defying her teacher’s authority, Shandi climbed down from her stool and stormed out of the classroom, disappearing down the hall to the CBC, Contained Behavior Classroom, where her IEP, Individual Education Plan, said she could go in times of distress.

Mrs. Vee sighed, then called the office, alerting them that Shandi had left the room, once again. “We really need more support from the District’s Autism Specialist,” she thought to herself.

Resigned to the status quo, she turned and addressed the classroom, “Who has completed writing five of the words?”

The word was “authority.”

This scenario is taken from the pages of my life as the parent of a child who interfaces with the world through the Autism Spectrum and experiences ADHD. There were a lot of these kinds of incidents over the past two school years. It’s felt good to interact with and try to support and encourage teachers who care. Most General Education teachers don’t receive much training or education in supporting kids with various special needs. I’m grateful my daughter is where she is.

Anyway, days 1 & 2 down. Hopefully, I’ll catch up with 3 & 4 tomorrow.

Things aren’t always how they seem

Let me begin by clearly stating Domestic Violence is real, does exist, and affects far too many people’s lives. This is not an attempt to minimize or detract from the efforts to address the many issues and concerns of those who have been affected by this problem in our world.

Now, onto my story.

I ran away with and married a man who was 14 years older than me for three and a half years. Because I had experienced inconsistent nurture, care, and discipline; sexual abuse; the emotional and physical loss of my mother before her suicide; and been exposed to drug culture and a sexually “swinging” lifestyle by my subsequent caregivers, I ran away with a man who seemed to see, appreciate, and accept me for me. At 16 years old, I thought he was the only one in my life who cared about me.

Under his tutelage and guidance I learned how to get what I needed and wanted from others. I learned how to tell my story in a way to incite total strangers to offer their resources to help take care of my needs. I learned how to blend truth with fiction in such a way as to be believable and to tell plausible tales.

I was separated and isolated from my family, but they didn’t seem to care all that much about me anyway. I already knew about the skeletons in their closets and judged them harshly for them. So that task was an easy one for him to accomplish. We hitchhiked and lived out of cars, traveling throughout the country.

Occasionally we picked up followers. He could probably have become a Jim Jones or a Charles Manson under different conditions and circumstances. I stayed enthralled by him and influenced by him until I was 19 and our son was two.

I had become disillusioned during my pregnancy, but stuck with him because I didn’t want to be a single, teen mom and raise my son without his father. At that point there had been a reconciliation of sorts with my family and we might have been able to settle down and be a family, except for the legal entanglements that seemed to put him in a position to fail. That’s when we ran again and my disillusionment really began.

I don’t remember the things he would say to me. I don’t think he was overtly insulting or abusive. I suspect I gave him all the power in my own mind and just assumed he was in the right, even when it felt wrong.

We would roughhouse and wrestle around. I used to be quite physically strong and it was a fun thing to challenge my strength against his. Any pain or injury I experienced wasn’t as a result of abuse, per se, but I would always be the one who ended our little play wrestling sessions in pain.

I caught him cheating on me with my best friend nine months before our relationship ended. Because we were “on the road” and I didn’t know anyone or have my own way home or even believe I had a home to go to, I stayed and lived with a hyper vigilance against further betrayal by both of them.

She and I were a lot alike and had been friends before he and I had met. I had facilitated her joining us as a way for her to escape her life and for me to not feel so isolated. Essentially, I had recruited her to travel and con with us.

By the time came that our son was two and I was 19, I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. I hated myself and what we were doing to survive. I hated and loved both of them. I recognized that he was not my rescuer or my savior but that he was my captor.

I started resisting and sabotaging the con. I began demanding we change our lives and find a way to settle down. I argued and stood up for myself.

Things seemed to start stabilizing. We got into a transitional housing program, got public assistance, and started saving toward a place to live. They got accepted into a vocational skills training program and I got enrolled in a high school completion program.

First his training fell through, then hers did. I increased my efforts in my program. They took our son for trips to the nearest rest area, almost 80 miles away, to work the con and bring in some money. I got scared and angry and issued an ultimatum.

Next he talked our public assistance worker to give him the full month’s allotment of cash assistance and disappeared for several days before we had to deposit money with the housing program or move out. Since I thought he was gone and our money was too, I made plans to move.

I withdrew the money we had deposited, minus the cleaning deposit, and went to meet up with a prospective roommate at the bar across from where we were staying. I heard our car and ran out to make sure I’d heard right. I saw him driving around the corner. So, I ran back to the building we’d been living in.

He showed up shortly after I did and in front of our son and my friend we argued and fought. I pushed and shoved and got pushed, shoved and slapped in return. I was overpowered and intimidated. Our son cried and asked in bewilderment why daddy was doing this. My reply was that he was an effing a**hole. I was on the floor with his dad on top of me at the time. I got hit in the face and asked what I had said. I repeated myself, only addressing him directly. Another blow to the face.

I twisted and wriggled around until I was on my stomach and he was on my back. I had this irrational thought that if I could keep him from my face, I would be okay. He grabbed my head and began wrenching and turning until my chin was going over my right shoulder. I thought my neck was going to snap.

Suddenly, he was off my back and I was free. I flew out of the apartment and down two flights of stairs, pounded on the manager’s door and called for her to call the police. I was then overcome with panic and guilt because I had left my son behind. Terrified they would be gone, I rushed back up the stairs, only to discover that my husband and my friend were leaving. I tried to stop him, thinking I could somehow hold him there until the police arrived. I was thrown, spine first, into an external corner and watched them leave as my son stood crying in the background.

I never saw my husband again.

However, those experiences and the remnant emotional, psychological, and physical damage and scars affected every other relationship I have had. Every conflict Jerry and I ever had or got into with each other while my two older children were growing up was colored by the real abuse I had previously experienced.

In my determination to not be in that situation again, I unconsciously chose a man who was my intellectual inferior and who could be easily manipulated. I chose someone who devoted himself to me and wanted to do for me and for my kids. I say chose, but it really was less of a choice and more of a drive to feel in control, loved, and secure.

What I went through with my husband was domestic violence: Isolation, imbalance of power, manipulation, intimidation, economic dependence, and physical violence.

What Jerry and I have had, the things we’ve said and done to each other, what we put my children through have definitely included aspects and symptoms of domestic violence. Many of the effects on my children are the same as that of children exposed to domestic violence. However, ours has been more complex that what domestic violence is assumed to be.

A lot of our conflict was driven by my broken and wounded psyche. Many misunderstandings and altercations happened because each of us had distorted self-images and were fighting our own internal certainties that the other was diminishing or disempowering the other. Each of us had experienced emotional and psychological abuse and neglect in our families of origin and in prior relationships. Neither of us were able to see, admit, or take responsibility for our own contributions to our mutual destruction and it’s impact on my children.

At the same time, it seemed that whenever we hit our bottoms in individual crises in each of our lives, when we were apart, we were the only ones there to offer care, support or nurture of the other.

Because things like domestic violence and abuse are perceived to be one thing, abusers are identified and classified as perpetrators and monsters while often their partners, the victims, are treated with an underlying attitude of contempt for allowing themselves to be in the situation. There is a tendency to not look past a checklist of behaviors and symptoms and try to diagnose every situation and person involved the same.

I was ignored and basically told I was in codependent denial when I tried to explain and identify the things that were not characteristic of domestic violence and those who perpetrate it. Whenever my depression and anxiety symptoms manifested, they were incorrectly identified as being a result of the domestic violence in my relationship with Jerry instead of being recognized as pre-existing conditions and possible factors in our relationship conflicts.

Instead of being examined and evaluated to determine if there was a mental health issue at play, Jerry has been accused, convicted, and looked down on as an abuser, end of story. Whenever I try to explain and identify the things that point to undiagnosed mental health or personality disorder issues, I am dismissed and belittled as being too much of a codependent who is willing to rationalize, justify, and excuse his inexcusable behavior.

Domestic Violence is real and something that men, women and children need to be protected against and rescued from. However, it is not the only thing happening in the lives of people who are in conflicted, unstable and sometimes violent relationships.

Sometimes things and people aren’t always how they seem.

Isn’t it ironic?

I find it very ironic that there are so many people talking about how there is a huge need for accessible mental health services and a need to provide nurture and care for the folks at risk of marginalization due to mental illness and personality disorders, when many of these same people forward memes with quotes suggesting that removing people from one’s life who bring pain and discomfort is what needs to be done on a personal level.

Another irony is how many people I know or suspect who are dealing with a mental illness or personality disorders, diagnosed or not, who all but demand that others around them accommodate and accept them, as they are, yet turn around and treat others with criticism, rejection, and judgment.

I find it ironic that in a country where we hold such contempt for politicians and the modern mockery of the legislative process, our cry is to the politicians to enact more legislation as the solution to senseless tragedy.

Certainly we need better access to healthcare in all it’s forms, especially mental health. Yes, we need to figure out better ways of preventing gun violence.

However, I fully believe that ignorance and faulty understandings about both mental illness and guns have played much bigger roles than we understand or realize in the stigma and marginalization surrounding mental health issues, as well as the sensationalization of gun violence.

Education is a critical component. I think that there are many, many early warning signs that someone could be at risk of developing a personality disorder or is manifesting symptoms of a mental illness which makes them a risk to themselves and others. I suspect, much of the time, these signs and symptoms may be unrecognized, ignored, or rationalized away by teachers, parents and others because most people don’t have an accurate understanding and perception of what’s going on.

I think that, in American society, we (and I include myself in this) have a tendency to blame and criticize others and hold them accountable to a standard of behavior and attitudes we assume should be universal which are anything other than standard or common.

There is a young man I know who is very intelligent and has developed a strong faith and belief in the God of love, forgiveness, and redemption – he has experienced personal transformation and had his life turn 180 degrees as a result of personal changes that came about in conjunction with his surrendering to faith. He attributes the unconditional love, belonging, and acceptance he experienced from a surrogate father figure as the turning point and key to letting go of who he used to be and becoming the person he is today.

Prior to his reconversion experience this young man exhibited sociopathic tendencies, had abused drugs, and was a master manipulator. These were survival and coping mechanisms he developed while growing up in a chaotic and unstable environment filled with anger and permeated with anxiety and despair. Sadly, not an uncommon experience.

The statistics for one growing up within the conditions he grew up are not pretty or good and he fell into them in expected ways. He grew up affected by mental illness, continual conflict, and occasional physical violence. The one who may have been the author of much of the destruction in his childhood, his mother, recognized the harm she had done and continued to do, despite her best efforts, and reached out at every opportunity to connect him with those better able to help him and show him what healthy love looks like.

His life is different now. He is different now. All because there were people who cared about him, who did not write him off.

On a personal level, this young man knows and acknowledges that people not giving up on him, people capable of showing him unconditional love, people able to let go of judgement from his past mistakes, and people able to differentiate him from his behavior and attitudes are what has had the most impact in his recovery and growth.

Yet, despite his personal experiences of redemption, healing, growth and change he exhibits many of the same attitudes, assumptions, and intolerance or judgement toward others which he experienced from members of our society who treated him with the prejudices and ignorance fostered by what is projected regarding people like him. This is partly due to the fact he still has more healing and growth to experience. He did not come to be the person he was in a year. He still has a lifetime of healing, growth, and learning.

I am not criticizing him. I admire him and I have hope that his future path will continue and he will become a powerful force for love and change.

I am just making the observation that even one who knows on a personal level how things like mental illness and violence impact and affect the personal, emotional, and psychological development, still treats some people exhibiting affected characteristics with negative assumptions and intolerance.

I believe if we, as a society, would care as much about educating our children in how to think as much as we care about training them on what to think, we could change the world we live in for the better. I think if we were more concerned with teaching our children how to handle trauma, disappointment, and painful feelings than we are with training them to succeed, regardless of the cost, the disparity between the haves and have nots would diminish.

I wonder if focusing on training our children how to get along and interact positively with others instead of instilling them with the competitive need to be right would create the atmosphere of cooperation and tolerance we say we want but seem unable to bring into being?

I wonder if teaching our children the principles of things from the Twelve Steps, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy before mental illness, personality disorders, and compulsive/addictive behaviors manifest might result in less to heal and recover from?

Following Through

Three months ago there was a situation that arose regarding teaching staff being summarily removed from the Early Head Start class Luna had attended for two years. More about that can be read here. As a result of that circumstance, I pledged that, if we would be able to continue to work with the agency, this year I would involve myself in the process and engage with the Policy Council and become part of the Personnel Committee.

I told the Home Visitor assigned to our family about my experience and she was very excited to have me volunteer to be the Representative for the Home Based parents. She has been encouraging and last week she reiterated her belief in me and stated that “they” would be lucky to have me and would recognize what an asset I would be to the council.

During the training we were given information on how the program is governed and administered, the role of the Policy Council, and how Policy Council meetings were to be structured and operated. We were also informed that at the next meeting, which would be in three days, we would be electing officers and representatives, so to be in thought and consideration about the level of involvement we wanted to engage in within the Council itself.

Chairperson and Vice-Chair had little appeal to me. I don’t want to be in charge of setting the agenda or being a neutral party and not being able to vote unless there is a tie. The concept of being the Secretary and being responsible for taking notes and compiling them for the meetings was a bit beyond my current scope of ability. I am too easily distracted and have difficulty focusing if there are other voices, if the environmental factors are uncomfortable, and if I’m experiencing fibro-symptoms, which is currently most of the time.

State-Representative and the position to attend Board of Director meetings as a non-voting representative both really appealed to me. State Rep has three meetings in the year where they attend meetings where reps from the other Policy Councils from other Head Start Programs get together and exchange ideas, information, and work together in the improvement of the program services and parent involvement. The other position was interesting in the fact that the representative gets to be more involved and interactive with the Board and gain a more comprehensive insight and involvement in the operational processes of the organization. Finally, there was an educational and training opportunity for one parent to attend the National Head Start Association’s Parent Conference from December 1 – 5 in Dallas, Tx.

I REALLY felt the desire and interest to do any of these three things and raised my hand to do each of them. Since I haven’t had the desire to do much of anything lately, it was surprising to have that interest rise up for me. It also meant that I very quickly became overly attached to the idea of being in one of these positions.

So did several other people. Only one person wanted Chairperson. Two people wanted Vice-Chair, and only one person wanted Secretary. There were two available slots for the State Rep position.

Most of the people who “campaigned” for the positions talked about their minority status: Hispanic/bi-lingual and African American, or the fact that they had the challenges of single-parenting, working, and going to school. Several talked about their professional and educational accomplishments. Mostly though, their focus seemed to be on what they wanted to get for themselves and their children out of the experience, with only peripheral statements as to how they wanted to work on behalf of our council and the organization we were part of.

I listened to all of this and tried to think of what I could say that would differentiate me and my experience from the rest. I also wanted to present myself in a way that would show that I was here to advocate for organization improvements and change in how families are supported and selected for program participation.

When I first saw the number of hands rise, I felt this fatalistic dread start to drown out the hope and interest. Anxiety and a small sense of panic at having to try to convince a roomful of absolute strangers that I could do these jobs started drowning out the courage and confidence in my own ability, experience, and knowledge. The more I heard the others speak of their accomplishments and thought about the failures in my inability to have finished my education, stay consistently employed, or event to establish and maintain healthy and functional networks and relationships with others, the more I felt inadequate to put myself forward as a candidate. I raised my hand each time, anyway.

When I did get a chance to speak, I stood up and all the thoughts about how I wanted to represent myself flew out of my mind. I nervously looked around the room and began speaking. I made eye contact and as I spoke acknowledged the various competitors and where I had some commonality with them. I told my personal story about nearly losing access to the program and the fact that untreated mental health and physical health issues had come into play. I identified that mental health issues in families tend to result in punitive results with the parents losing custody to their children and the fact that this is an under-served population, but as or more at-risk as the other populations being represented and that I wanted to be that voice and advocate for change.

My voice was shaky, my attempts to look around and connect probably appeared my jerky than I wanted. I got a little teary and choked up and lost some cohesion to my thoughts and words and my articulation diminished accordingly. I didn’t get chosen for any of the three positions.

Both of the State Rep slots went to other women who were younger, seemed more energetic, spoke about having professional and educational experience in doing things like networking and student government. They both also had a combination of single-parenting, educational, and employment obligations going on. The person who got elected to attend the Parent Conference had shown up to the meeting late and talked about why she had wanted to be the Chairperson, but missed out on that.

Cynicism, resentment, and bitterness rose up like bile in the back of my throat. I was very disappointed and immediately started thinking of the things that should have and could have been done differently to make it more equitable and perhaps allow those wanting to engage in these opportunities to have a better chance at getting heard and considered.

The thing is though, the people voting were my peers. All women who are dealing with a lot of issues outside of that room. Everyone is conditioned to give votes to the slickest presentation and the most put together face in the crowd. This is what happened.

Something that also happened were that the two program professionals in the room: the man who has been the administrative Program Director for over 20 years and the woman who is the Program Director for the Early Head Start (EHS) portion of the program, both acknowledged and validated my contribution and presence, at various points throughout the meeting that followed after the elections. As I was leaving, the EHS Director called my name and reminded/invited me to sign up to be on the Health Services Advisory (board, committee, or council – not sure which) that is another point of involvement.

So, I am a voting Policy Council member and the only representative the 40 Home Based families have. I am on the Personnel Committee and will be involved the Health Services Advisory aspect of the program.

In leaving the meeting one of the others who had also been passed over for all three opportunities told me she was surprised that neither of us had been selected. We talked about our disappointment. Then I was able to say with sincerity, that it is probable that I wasn’t as ready to take on those things as I wanted to be and that when the time comes that my readiness is there, other opportunities will arise.

Gratitude Day 14

I am grateful that I have the opportunity to engage in the democratic process and work with others toward advocacy and change for us as families and parents and on behalf of our children and future generations.