Tag Archives: Safety

The Deal with Me & School

How do I explain this so the masses understand my fixation on school…ok here goes.

I love school; even when it was hard I loved school. I like learning. I’m curious. I watch historical shows, google subtopics and gobble up Wikipedia pages right down to the footnotes. I appreciated the challenge that school brought. When it came to my doctoral work, I actually liked the rhythm and pace of things even though it was grueling. The writing and rewriting…I was creating something, and it was and remains awesome.

I love school.

I’ve benefited greatly from my academic pursuits. Good job, buying a house, got a car, planning for retirement. Definitely enjoying the material trappings of hard work and earned accolades. I’m proud of my accomplishments. I had big aspirations when I was a little girl. I thought I would be an attorney someday. I realized early in college that I didn’t want to do that, but I also believed that I would earn a doctorate in something. I would one day be Dr. ABM. I have always been ambitious as hell. #heymomImadeit

Walking across that stage being hooded was an amazing feeling.

Graduation

Best Day Ever!

And then there’s there the reality of what it means to me to be educated.

One of the things I value most about all this schooling is that I feel like it gives me a little social privilege which can counterbalance the reality of living in black skin. I’m a little more welcome in white spaces. The education does not make me better than anyone, but it makes a lot of white people see me differently. And if white folks think I’m safe because I’m educated, well then, I might actually be a little safer while walking around in this skin. I move in circles that are sometimes uncomfortable, but I have the right letters, the right credentials, I “belong,” and so I’m safe.

It’s true what we tell our kids about working two or three times as hard to get half as far. I busted my ass, and loved it, to get *here* and one of the fruits of my labor is moving a little easier in white spaces.

Hope came along right as I was finishing my doctorate, and as helpful as being Dr. ABM at work has been these last few years, the real benefit of having $70K in educational debt comes when I step across the threshold off Hope’s school.  Hope’s first summer here, she got into trouble at her summer camp and they were planning to kick her out. I met with the camp director who immediately started berating me. I held my hand up, insisted that we start over with proper introductions because I’m not going out like that—“Let’s start over. Hi, I’m Dr. ABM and you are?” By the time it was over he was apologizing profusely, Hope was allowed to stay in camp and got a promotion to junior camp counselor and I didn’t have to pay for the rest of the summer. Maybe it was the Dr, maybe not, but I know everything changed when I introduced myself as Dr. ABM. That was a moment when my privilege was extended to Hope.

I’ve found that my educational privilege has played out in numerous ways shielding Hope and I from a lot of drama. It was a lot easier for me to be *that* parent with the Dr in front of my name. The conversations always change when meeting participants who initially see me as some kind of stereotype black mother progress to seeing me as an educated professional mom. It’s always clear when some kind of back story for me and Hope is challenged and somehow the acceptable version of us is welcomed …my education somehow makes us safe, different and sadly, respectable.

This is the reality of racism, and it’s so utterly apparent to me since I finished my degree. It’s nearly stunning. In my 45 years, 8 with a president who looks like me, I’ve never been as afraid for myself or my kid’s future. I dreamed of what having kids would be like. I worried a lot about countless things, but these last few years, my fear of racially motivated harm has escalated sharply. I feel like there’s a part of me that’s always unsettled and looking to avoid the inevitable hurt that racism brings.

So, when I wrestle with my emotions around Hope’s academic experiences it’s largely motivated by fear, not by any expectations of Hope in particular.  I am terrified that she won’t have this little buffer of safety that I feel like education can provide (even when it doesn’t, really). What happens when Hope isn’t covered by what little privilege I have amassed to buffer us from some of racism’s ugliness? I already worry about her various vulnerabilities. It’s not just that I want her to do well for the sake of doing well, I just worry myself sick that someone will read her wrong and she will end up in trouble or worse…dead. I don’t know if doing well on her SAT will protect her from being harmed, but my sense is that not trying will certainly not offer any protection.

I’ve started to see school as an avenue for self-protection.

So, when well-meaning, kind of shared experience having white parents urge me to let it go, to not worry about school, to let Hope handle it all and fail on her own…it’s not that I disagree, but I feel like there’s a huge part of the story of my worry that is completely unheard or not even considered.

Their stories are considered universal—everyone can and should relate because well, I’ll be frank, white is normative. Their kids fail and it’s heartbreaking. It is, but it’s not failing in a system that already doesn’t give two shits about you.

My worries about school are very different; this is about Hope’s survival in a racist world. This is about amassing elements of protection that can provide small buffers of the worst of a life routinely disrupted by racism. This is about being considered safe enough to be granted entrée into white spaces where more opportunities and resources await. This is about liberation and freedom.

The stakes feel so much higher and not just because I’m an absurd high achiever, but because I’m scared shitless. So, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely let the school thing go.

And Hope is starting to understand this. It isn’t really just about her performance; it’s about the long game. I know she struggles with her interpretation of my academic push; I also know that somewhere in there she wants to do well. I’m also keenly aware that there’s an additional layer of pressure on her because of what I’ve achieved. People see me and wonder why Hope isn’t doing better; they often assume she’s rebelling.

My desires for Hope are expansive, but honestly I just want to keep her safe. Education is one avenue to help do that. I don’t know how it will all work out. I have no idea.

I do know that being educated and working in academia doesn’t always offer the protection I wish it did. Even in my job, I feel it. I had hate mail too; I’ve had students say nasty things about me and to me. I’ve had professors say I was a “troublemaker.”

And yet, I still think it’s one of the best options we’ve got.

So, this is why I fixate on Hope and school. This is why it’s so important to me. This is why I can’t just let it go.

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Thoughts on Guns in School

In short, no. Just no.

I am a former gun owner. Yep, for friends and family, this will likely come as a bit of a surprise.

When I was in my 20s, I purchased a firearm. I took classes on how to properly fire it. I got it to help me feel safe after I very briefly dated a guy who turned out to be a stinking nut job.

After going out with him twice, he proceeded to stalk me. He sent letters, followed me, watched me. He called me nonstop. He sent flowers to my office every day for weeks at a time; I had to tell security repeatedly to refuse the deliveries.

After a couple of months, I called the police. They were dismissive, said he was probably a nice guy who was just clearly taken with me. I requested a temporary restraining order. He started back up shortly after it expired. More months went by and I took the police the letters, an affidavit from the office security, recordings from my answering machine. They finally pressed charges. He eventually did 30 days in jail. Got out, stalked me again. 30 more days.

I eventually purchased a 9mm because I didn’t think the cops were doing enough to keep me safe. I wanted to be prepared if things escalated. After more than a year, I moved when my lease expired and changed my phone number; he moved on and probably started stalking someone else. A year or two later, I legally sold my gun. I didn’t believe it was still a necessary part of my safety routine. I no longer needed it, and I divested myself of it.

I never really intended to own a gun and do not have any plans to buy another.

I don’t have an animus towards people who do. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why a sane someone outside of a war zone would want an assault rifle. Even in my What Would ABM Do in a Zombie Apocalypse dreams an AR probably would not make my list. I just don’t think we should have them.

But that’s me, and for whatever reason apparently, they figure prominently in other people’s lives beyond the zombie apocalypse.

Hearing about the Parkland shooting two weeks ago made my heart sink. I spilled tears thinking about all the death and trauma. I also spilled some tears for the shooter; knowing he was an adopted kid who had lost both parents and seemed to be lost made me think about how close my own daughter could come to disaster—either as a victim or a perpetrator. Trauma is a beotch.

Now, a couple of weeks later, the post-traumatic discourse about guns is in full swing. Do we get rid of all the guns? Do we get more guns and arm everyone? Do we just keep troubled, sick people from having guns? Shouldn’t the teachers have guns?

Sigh.

I’m an educator. My sister is an educator. My uncle was an educator. I know educators.

Education is amazing, inspiring work. Teaching kids and adults stuff is life-affirming. You get to watch minds grow. You get to see minds opening, skills developing and opportunities created.

I’m lucky. I exist outside of the actual ivory tower; I live in an organization where I’m well compensated. I don’t have to deal with the daily rigors of classroom life. I don’t need to personally buy supplies or call parents. I am a different kind of educator, and I’m routinely grateful for that since I still get the joys of seeing all the cool stuff with minimal exposure to the icky stuff.

I can’t imagine carrying a gun into a classroom. I just can’t. Clearly, I understand that there are people who would, but no. I can’t.

I also do not want Hope to be in a school where teachers are armed. No. Hard no.

I don’t think that armed faculty mitigates the risk of an armed gunmen entering the school, and if it does, show me the data because to date, I haven’t seen anything but hypothetical conjecture.

I don’t want Hope around guns, gunmen or teachers with guns. Just no.

I don’t want an arms race in education. Haven’t we seen what happens with nuclear weaponry and proliferation at the global level? You get a weapon, then your neighbor feels like they need to get a weapon to protect themselves from you. Then everyone gets more weapons. It only escalates and then we’re all more afraid that one leader who isn’t wrapped too tight gets pissy on Twitter, and the whole neighborhood is all dead.

Do we want that for our kids?

We are fortunate to live in a decent area with good schools. Hope doesn’t have any metal detectors; there’s no ‘wanding’ to go to school events. Kids get to be kids. Yes, there are worries, there are fears. The day after the Parkland shooting, there was a shooting threat at her school. It scared me. It scared her. My work with people convinces me that having armed teachers wouldn’t have prevented the fake threat, much less a real one.

I am locked in some ongoing drama with a couple of Hope’s teachers and counselors at the moment. They are passionate about their work. They care about my daughter and her classmates. I think they would do what they could to keep them safe if necessary. I still don’t think they should be armed.

I do not expect Hope’s teacher to die saving her. I also do not expect them to shoot someone to save her. I expect them to teach her.

English.

History.

Physics.

Anatomy

Algebra.

Band.

That’s it. That what they are paid to do.

If they need tissues and hand sanitizer, I’ll buy tissues and hand sanitizer. If they need some extra notebooks, pens, and markers for kids whose families don’t have the ability to provide them, I am eager to help out. I advocate for higher pay; I know they are woefully underpaid and hardly get bathroom breaks to boot.

I will not lobby for them to have guns in the classroom. I won’t do that. I don’t believe that is the appropriate response to trauma. I don’t meet Hope’s trauma with more of it. I won’t do it at home and I will not advocate for it at her school.

No.

I will advocate for schools to embrace and infuse their teaching with trauma responsive techniques and tools for student management. I will advocate for more student service resources to help identify struggling kids who may be at greater risk for violence. I will advocate for more programs and resources for people who find themselves young, but of legal age, without family or resources, but with lots of emotional trouble and turmoil and at greater risk for violence because the pain is unbearable.

Hurt people, hurt people.

We don’t give hurt people guns—before or after they are hurt.

So no, I don’t want to see guns in Hope’s school.

Nope.


Parenting in the Era of #MeToo

As my fellow sisters continue to take to social media to share their experiences around sexual harassment, assault and other predatory behavior, I’ve been thinking about how all this affects Hope and kids like her.

Hope is 16. We watch the news, and I try to keep her abreast of current events. Last year, we sat and watched Bill Cosby’s legacy tumble down as numerous women came forward to say he sexually assaulted them. For me, it was painful to watch the Jello pitchman, Cliff Huxtable, lovable, funny guy I grew up watching shed all of that and be revealed as a sexual predator. He wasn’t a part of Hope’s youth, so it was more removed for her.

But the moment that we’re in now where the revelations are weekly or daily, where a senatorial candidate has been accused of trolling for girls close in age to Hope, where social media is flooded with stories of #metoo: it’s kind of triggering for both of us.

So many kids have a history of sexual abuse; nearly 1 kid in 10 among all kids, and over 1 in 4 of US kids 14 to 17 years old. When this latest moment launched, Hope and I had a really personal #metoo discussion. I shared my stories with her, and she shared a little bit of her story too. I thought it was important for me to talk about things that I felt were violating, so Hope could continue to develop her own benchmarks. We talked about limits, about how to defend ourselves against unwanted advances, and about who and how to tell when something unwanted happens. I wanted this conversation to help both of us feel empowered.

A few days later, on the way to school and while listening to a pop culture podcast, the topic came up again. This time I focused on being clear with Hope about my hope and expectation that she tell me if she’s ever hurt. We’ve already established that I have a tiny bit of Huck from Scandal in me, and I promise to try not to straight up murder anyone who hurts her (torture might be more fulfilling anyway). I wanted her to understand that I want her to be safe and that I am prepared to do whatever I need to do to make that happen.

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We’ve had talks about dating safety and what that looks like In practice. We talk about consent and slippery slopes that aren’t consent. I posted this summer a podcast series that I listened too, The Heart, that explore how many women are “gently” pressured into sex when they were clear they didn’t want to have sex. The show explored how insidious pressure can be and how easily a no can be converted to not a yes, but a “well, ok, but I’m not really into it.” We talked about always making sure you have bus fare and that maybe, just maybe I should let her in on my Lyft app so she can always get a ride if she finds herself in a not so safe situation. We talk about how you can hold your keys so they can be used as a weapon.

We talk a lot.

And still, it feels like we’re oversaturated with news of predatory behavior.

Earlier this week over breakfast as we watched coverage about Matt Laurer, Hope asked, “Is that the one who flashed himself from the bathroom?” No that was allegedly two other guys. “The one from that Netflix show?” No he seemed into assaulting men and being an a-hole to both genders. “Ok I know it’s not Bill Cosby because this guy is white.” I finally remind her that we used to watch Today until they did Tamron Hall wrong, and I switched to CNN. “Oh…oh yeah.”

There’s seriously so many stories tumbling around that it’s hard to keep up.

I try not to be alarmist with Hope. She has enough anxiety without my contributions, but I do want her to be aware of what’s happening and how relevant the discourse is to her life. More importantly, I want her to learn so she can be safe in ways that affirm her confidence and security. It’s hard though; it’s hard right now when we’re having conversations about high profile predators in positions of power making decisions about other people’s lives. This is some scary ish.

The best I can do, is keep talking, keep affirming, and keep my inner Huck contained.

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