Even hearts made of steel can break down.

I’m angry.

I’m angry that I live in a world where I never have to wonder if my daughters are going to be sexually harassed or assaulted.  I’ve never wondered that.  I have never stayed awake at night asking myself if men will treat them as objects, will degrade them, will talk down to them, will hurt them.  I have never asked if.

I ask when.  I ask who.  I ask why, and how, and where. 

How old will they be when this happens? Will they be 12, as I was, walking to the mall with a friend and counting how many honks or hollers we got? We were proud.  We thought it was flattering.  We were 12.  We were children, and we looked like children.  We were two young girls walking in broad daylight down a street we’d walked countless times.  Being honked at, whistled at, hollered at by grown men as they drove by.  And we thought it was flattering.

Will they be 17,as I was, afraid to tell anyone that a boy at school stuck his hand up their kilt? That he took her hand and forcefully put it on his penis? That he offered to give her a ride on a stormy day, but only if she blew him in his mother’s van? Will she come close to failing a class because she can’t bear to be in the same room as him?

Maybe they’ll be 18, as I was, held down by their boyfriend and raped because they tried to break up with him.  Maybe they won’t tell anyone because it was their boyfriend, and they’d had sex before.  They said yes once, that must mean yes always, right?

Could it happen when they’re 29 and they try being careless for the first time in their lives, as I was? Will they think to themselves, it’s happened so many times that there’s no way it could happen again, right? Statistically speaking, they’d be safe, right?

And maybe they’ll be 30, as I was, when they thought they were past all of that.  When they’re happy with their lives, when they’re doing well.  When they’ve grown into themselves and finally feel comfortable and at peace with exactly who they are.  When they’ve embraced the strong feminist being within, when they’ve stood up for victims and protested attackers.  When they’ve told more than one friend or family member, it’s not your fault.  You did nothing wrong.  You could be plastered and naked and no still means no.  Maybe they’ll be at this point in their lives.

Maybe they’ll invite a friend over to watch a movie, and maybe they’ll have half a bottle of champagne left over from dinner. Maybe they know that this friend has been attracted to them in the past, but they’ve made it clear that they aren’t interested, and this friend had seemed accepting of that.  Maybe this friend is married and has a child, and just genuinely seems like a nice person.  And maybe that bottle of champagne is already open, and it’d be a shame to waste the bubbles.

Maybe their married friend holds them down while he touches them everywhere.  Kisses them everywhere.  Leaves his mark on their chest.  Maybe this strong feminist breaks for the millionth time.  Maybe she blames herself, after years of telling everyone else that it’s not their fault.  Maybe she tells herself she shouldn’t have opened the champagne, or that she shouldn’t have worn a tank top, or that she shouldn’t have had the lights so low.  If it had been brighter, maybe he wouldn’t have touched her.  Maybe he thought she wanted it.  Maybe he thought her protests were a game.

Maybe she has a boyfriend at this time, and maybe she is absolutely terrified to tell him.  Maybe she’s afraid that he’ll see her differently, that he’ll think she’s weak, that he’ll think she cheated on him. 

I don’t ever have to ask if.  I ask how.  How will it happen? Will it be crude comments at work, or catcalls on the street? I hope for these things.  I hope for my daughters, my sweet and innocent little girls, to be the recipients of harassment disguised as compliments – because maybe that means they will not be held down by their throats by a friend, or threatened and injured by a date, or raped by a boyfriend because they dare to stand up for themselves.  Maybe they’ll get the lesser of two evils.

But the thing is, the lesser of two evils is still evil.  Maybe Phillip Garrido is less evil than Adolf Hitler, but I still wouldn’t want to have brunch with him.  I want my girls to grow into strong, independent women and I want them to know what is and isn’t okay.  I want them to know that you can still be strong and independent and have bad things happen to you. 

It won’t be your fault, my angels.  It wasn’t my fault either.  And one day I’ll believe that.

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Be the hero of your own story.

She had a pretty idyllic start to life.

She lived in a nice house, with two parents, an older sister, and a dog. She had a swing set, a sandbox, and a pool. Her mom was on the school council and her dad was always the most popular during Parent’s Week.

When it fell apart, it fell apart magnificently. Her dad moved hours away and had very little time to visit. Her mom moved in with a man who completely consumed her identity until the person posing as her mother had no resemblance to the one she knew.

She looked for escape wherever she could find it. She would join clubs at school that held no interest for her, just so that she could delay going home. She would choose to walk the forty minutes home instead of taking the bus. She would go for walks, exploring every street in her neighbourhood, looking into the windows of happier homes.

When she was old enough, she found escape in boys. She would spend most of her time at her boyfriend’s house, with his family. She would eat there, she would do her homework there, and she would celebrate birthdays and holidays there. She went home to sleep, but then would wake and do it all over again.

Once that boyfriend went to university, she was left alone again. They made plans for her to follow him to school the next year and move in together. Most weekends would involve her visiting him, or him visiting her. The fantasy of the escape kept her going for a bit.

But then the day to day dragged her down. There was nowhere to escape during the week. Her boyfriend wanted to know her every move, so she would come straight home from school and hide in her room until she could leave the next morning. She felt she had no safe space, and her escape just seemed so far away.

So, she found another boy who was willing to fuel her fantasy. She would spend time with his family, eating with them, doing her homework with them, and celebrating birthdays and holidays with them. Even when she went away for university the next year, she would come “home” to his house on every school break. It felt welcoming and it felt safe.

She left university after one year. She ran out of money, true, but worse was that she had run out of fantasy. She returned home, moved in with her boyfriend, and settled for a college program in which she had little interest. Her desire for safety, for security, and for the ultimate escape was greater than anything else. And so she was engaged at 19 and married at 21.

She waited for her happily ever after, but it never came.  She had spent so many years of her life in a toxic home and this had tainted her view on what was normal.  She thought love meant being controlled.  She thought that love meant losing yourself to someone else.  She felt her identity vanish as she was known as his girlfriend, then his wife, then the mother of his children.  But who was she?

Later, she would wonder…had the capability for abuse always been within him? Or had she planted it there? Was it her fault that he had grown into a hateful, bitter, and cruel man? Or had that man always been there, buried beneath false promises?

One day, she woke up.  She realized that she did not need to escape from her life – she needed to live it.  She was not just somebody’s wife or somebody’s mother.  But who was she?

And thus began a journey of self discovery.  A journey in which she ventured out onto her own for the first time in her life.  For the first time, she was dependent on no one.  She built her new life brick by brick, every day realizing the strength she had inside her all along.

She stumbled, of course.  She took some wrong turns and she ended up in some dark places.  But she realized that these mistakes did not define her; rather, they cultivated her.  She realized that it was okay to ask for help and to accept it.  She realized that there were genuinely kind people out there, and she had many of them in her life.  She realized that she was stronger than she had ever known.

She fought her way through the darkness.  She had witnessed abuse, and she had endured abuse, but she was not defined by abuse.  She did not need a white knight to ride in and save her.  She didn’t need the fantasy of escape.  She had the power within her, and it had always been there.  She was the hero of her own story.

 

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Superdaddy

Every girl’s first superhero is her dad.

Trust me: I’m a recovering Daddy’s Girl.  Every little girl thinks that her daddy can do anything.  He can throw her up in the air and make her feel like she can fly; he knows the best magic tricks and can make anything disappear; he can give her the best, biggest hugs that make her feel like everything is right in the world.

I want my girls to have this.  I want my girls to think that their daddy is the most amazing man in the whole entire world for as long as they can. I know that one day they will realize that their parents are humans: flawed and imperfect like everyone else.  But I will never, ever do anything to cause these girls to have that realization before they need to.  I will never tell them anything negative about you.  Regardless of how things are between us, you are their daddy and I want them to believe that you are an amazing one.

Before we split up, I saw how excited they would get when you come home from work.  They would run (or scoot) to the door yelling for you.  Their faces would erupt into smiles that literally stretched across their entire faces.  Whatever bad things happened in their day didn’t matter in that moment: their favourite superhero was home.

I know that things between us are not good.  I know that it must hurt to have them cry and run away when you come to get them. I know that when they tell you they’d rather stay with me it must cut like a knife.

I would like to believe that at some point we can be, if not friends, friendly.  I hope that we can co-parent to the very best of our ability and give these girls everything they need.  I hope that we can one day do things as a family.  But honestly, I don’t know the future.  I don’t know what we will be like in six months, in a year, in five years.  I don’t know.

But what I do know…is how they would light up when you got home.  How they would ask about you during the day.  How they yell, “HI DADDY!” if we happen to drive past your work. It doesn’t always seem like it, but these girls love you with everything they have.

I promise you that I will do everything I can to preserve that love, to nourish it, to expand upon it.  I will speak about you in only positive ways.  When you are not around, I will tell them how much you love them.  I will give them hugs, and kisses, and snuggles from daddy.  They will never, ever doubt your love for them.

As they grow older and start to ask questions, I will not answer maliciously.  I will answer with honesty and respect.  I will answer so that they know that we did love each other, so very much.  And that out of that love came two amazing little girls.  No matter where our lives take us, we are still a family.  Nothing can ever, or will ever change that.

I know that I hurt you. Please know that it hurt me too, to leave behind our life and everything that I’d envisioned for our future.  Know that I did what was best for both of us.  Maybe you can’t see that yet, but hopefully one day you will.  Know that none of this has been easy for me.  But most of all, know that I will honour and cherish your relationship with these girls.  Because at the end of the day, these wondrous creatures are the only thing that matters.

 

My daughter is a hurricane

I used to write for the paper, before the millennials snuffed it out.  Here’s something I wrote.

 

Before I had children, hearing the term “spirited child” made me roll my eyes.

Spirited just sounded like another word for “difficult,” one that allowed parents to shrug off their child’s inappropriate behaviours with a smile. Then I had my own spirited child.

Yes, spirited can be another word for difficult. I have had other parents smile sympathetically at me while my daughter is crying on the floor of Home Outfitters because I won’t buy her the lime green plastic pot holder she just needs to have. “What a spirited child you have,” they have told me while I try to contain my embarrassment. “What a difficult child I have,” I have answered in my head.

But as my child approaches the two-year mark (how is it that she hasn’t even hit her terrible twos?) I understand that phrase: spirited. She isn’t a difficult child. She absolutely knows what she wants and she can be challenging at times, but she isn’t difficult. At times she is very easy, in fact. She (usually) goes to bed like a dream; she (usually) puts her snowsuit on without complaint; and she (usually) loves to go shopping with us.

Yes, she has more tantrums than some other children I know. Yes, her tantrums can be at an entirely different level than other children. But when I think of the woman I want my daughter to become, are these behaviours really “difficult?” Is it bad that I have a daughter who is confident and comfortable enough to express her emotions? I don’t always agree with the ways she chooses to convey her sentiments, but at the same time her tantrums are the beginning of her ability to express what she wants — and is that really something I want to stifle?

If you too have a “spirited” child, think about your child’s outbursts (a much better word than tantrum). Think about the main components of an outburst: decisiveness, emotional expression and persistence. When you really break it down, these aren’t bad traits to have as an adult. It’s just how your child chooses to display these attributes that is the issue.

When my daughter has an outburst, I try to remind myself of the character traits she is showing me.

She is decisive. She knows what she wants and that she wants it right this minute. As an adult this will serve her very well. She will know what she wants and be able to decide how to go about getting it. Right now she is experimenting. She showed me the green pot holder. I wouldn’t get it for her. She decided to try another tactic: she threw herself onto the ground and cried. That didn’t work either.

Maybe next time she will try another method, and another, and another, until she finds one that works for her. It is my job to teach her what works and what does not. If you give in to your child’s tantrums, you are teaching them that kicking and screaming is the way to get what they want, and that behaviour will continue. If you ignore the negative behaviour and help your child figure out a more appropriate way to ask for things, it will serve him or her better in the long run.

When my daughter is yelling at me from the floor, she is expressing herself the only way she knows how. She does have a great vocabulary for her age, but it only goes so far: she can’t have a rational conversation with me about how well the pot holder would ally accent her bedroom. When I really think about it, I’m glad she feels comfortable enough to express herself. An outburst, no matter how public and embarrassing, is a great opportunity to teach your child.

And finally, my daughter is absolutely persistent (this is a wonderful synonym for stubborn). She does not want to give up. I might have to carry her out of a store crying because she is not getting what she wants. Try to remind yourself of how this attribute will serve your child as an adult: maybe he or she really wants to be an engineer but his or her grades are lacking. Instead of giving up and choosing a new career path, a persistent child will work as hard as possible to achieve that goal. That is a great trait — it just may not seem like it right now.

So if you have a spirited child, know one, or just see one in Home Outfitters this weekend, remember that this child, with proper guidance, is on his or her way to a confident, successful future.

Rule Number One: Trust No One

I talk a big talk.

I’ll tell you all about this wall I’ve built around myself. I’ll tell you about how I use humour as a defense mechanism, and how I don’t let people get past my armour.  But on the other side of this wall, I’m just a giant pile of mush.

Wow…that’s some really fantastic imagery there.

I am way too sensitive for my own good; I always have been. The second someone raises their voice towards me, I cry.  It doesn’t matter who it is: it could be a parent, a friend, a random customer from my retail days…they get mad, I cry.  I can’t control it.

I care way too much about what other people think. I want to be liked; we all do, to an extent.  I’ve tried to teach myself that other people’s opinions of me are none of my business, but it still hurts me so much when someone dislikes me.

And behind the wall I’ve built I have a giant, raw, fragile heart. If I decide that someone is worthy of getting to have a look behind the wall, I give them all of me.  This doesn’t just extend to romantic partners.  My closest friends have seen that once you’re in, you’re in: it’s a front row seat to all the emotions, whether you want them or not.

I am an extremely emotional person, I just try to hide it from most people. I try so hard to pretend that my skin is sandpaper, but really I’m just flesh.  I feel everything so much and it’s overwhelming.  There’s an Anna Nalick song… “But I think too much / I love like I’m dying / And I come and go like the moon, like the moon / My face shows when I’m lying.”  I let people’s words and actions hurt me way more than they should.  Someone at work with whom I’ve had little interaction has the power to send me to my bed with covers over my head, crying into my pillow.  A friend with whom I’ve shared no intimate, personal details of my life can say something cruel about me and I physically feel the pain of their words.  How is it that I let strangers have such control over my emotions, when I work so hard to have none at all?

What I’m struggling with currently is what to do when someone I’ve let in is the one to cause the hurt. I’d like to think that I’m fairly selective with who I allow on this side of the wall.  I mean I definitely make the wrong decisions at times and bring over people who don’t deserve to be here.  But what happens if someone I’ve chosen to love hurts me so much I can’t breathe? And further still…what if I still want them here with me on this side? How do I do that? Is it even possible?

Along with my big, bleeding, raw heart…I forgive. I forgive too quickly and too easily.  I’ll psychoanalyze myself here and say that it’s a result of being in an abusive relationship for 11 years.  You have to forgive easily, or it just makes the situation worse.  Once the conflict is over, the abuser wants to just continue on as if nothing happened.  And if you resist that, the conflict comes back and gets way, way worse.  So as the victim, you just suck it up and move on.  It was your fault anyway, right?

But this comes with a caveat: once that trust is broken and that pain is felt, I may forgive but I will distance myself. I will push my emotions away and push you away right with them.  I will build up my wall, stronger than before with steel reinforcements and barbed wire fencing.  I will cover myself in new skin, to try to protect myself from more hurt.

This time…I don’t want to do that. I feel like a fragile little bird.  I’ve been hurt but I want so badly to heal, and to heal with you.  I don’t want you on the other side: I want you beside me.  But the thought of opening back up to you…scares the shit out of me.  The more layers of skin I peel back, the easier it is to hurt me again…and the more painful it will be.

I guess I just need to time hang back here and lick my wounds. Proceed with caution.  I am surrounded by shattered glass and I just need to be careful for awhile.  Even if you think you’ve picked up all the pieces, there’s always a few shards left behind.