Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Immaturity Is No Excuse

When I was ten years old I had a sudden onset of Tourette's syndrome. I lost control of my body and voice. My limbs jerked and writhed. I collected bruises along my left hip and my left arm went raw from hitting myself all the time.
I suffered through what remained of my fourth grade year and didn't do much over the summer. I was an active kid. I started dance at two, acting lessons at five, choir at seven, and did swimming and gymnastics off and on. Now all those doors were closed to me. Friends weren't feasible. I couldn't even read anymore. That was the summer the last Harry Potter book came out. I'd read the sixth one in a week, but my brain was so jumbled up that it took hours to chew through a few paragraphs. I read the first page of chapter ten, "Kreacher's Tale", so many times that it fell out of the book.
My mom got me the audiobook. The night I tried listening to it, the vocal tics arrived. Now I wasn't just flailing and jumping and spitting. I let out bloodcurdling screams no matter where I was-in the middle of church, the dead of night, the types of stores where children are expected to be well mannered-and then school started.
Ms. Rogers had a reputation as a mean teacher, but she was dedicated to helping us succeed. And she insisted on treating every student equally. Our class was a fifth-sixth grade split but she refused to divvy us up by age. She'd never had a student with Tourette's, but she educated herself to give me what I needed. The only other kid I know with Tourette's syndrome had to drop out and be homeschooled because of bullying. She kept me in public education.
Meanwhile, I taught myself how to swallow Zoloft dry. My medications sapped my energy. I ate like a bird and fell asleep on the bus both ways. I spent a lot of time in my head, talking to my twenty nine imaginary friends and God more than I did anyone in the real world. But without me having to try, my classmates banded together and stuck up for me.
One day Ms. Rogers was gone to a conference. We had a substitute and I was terrified. Explaining to kids is bad enough. When I took an art class through the community center, I decided not to tell any of the kids about my condition because it would be over in a week anyway. One of the girls, Josie, kept giving me grief about my yips and yells, but I snapped right back at her, telling her she would grow up to be a professional critic because she was already so good at it. But adults don't swallow it like Josie did. Even when you try to explain it in advance, they think you're trying to pull something.
But confronting him in class was a lesser evil than getting chewed out for screaming during quiet reading time. So I walked into the room, hung up my backpack, and when I turned around, three kids were already at the teacher's desk explaining my condition.
They were ten, eleven, maybe twelve. Biologically, socially, and legally immature. Words like "empathy" and "camaraderie" hadn't popped up on their vocabulary lists yet. But they understood smaller words. Friends. Nice. Bully. 
Fast forward to today. My friend L'ren has been "squeaking" for over eighteen months. Tourette's syndrome is a combination of vocal and motor tics, and L'ren's are only vocal, so she doesn't fit in that box, but I know her pain. Like me, she's confused and afraid to explain her condition to people who just won't listen anyway. I've corrected countless people who think she's faking it for the attention.      
We have government together. Josie's in that class too. Fortunately, she never grew out of her critical mindset. She's now an opinionated liberal feminist and leads our daily current events discussions, at least when I'm not doing it. We argue good naturedly, sometimes on the same side, sometimes not. Behind her sits a group of boys who like to talk to hear the sound of their own voices.
Today, after seventy minutes of successful silence, L'ren let out a single squeak. They echoed her with loud, mocking wails, and suddenly I was eleven all over again. I stood up, grabbed the nearest boy by the wrist, and yelled "Stop it!" They have to put up with her outbursts, but she doesn't need any from them. The teacher shushed the class, and she let me explain L'ren's tics and my own. Josie chimed in. "You're eighteen years old. Grow up."
That got me thinking. We're supposed to believe that when a teenager is cruel, it's a side effect of those nasty hormone monsters inhabiting the brain, or maybe a lack of education. We're supposed to believe they've got time and they'll use it to educate themselves. We're supposed to believe that age will bring them wisdom. But I've been on the receiving end of adult cruelty. To call it childish is an insult to children. 
On my way out of the room, I met Josie's eyes. "Thanks," I told her. It's hard to stand alone, even when you're standing up for what you believe in and you have the fury of injustice to guide you.
She nodded. "It needed to be said."
Here's another thing I need to say: Cruelty is cruelty and age is just an excuse adults throw out when they want to ignore a problem. Adults can be cruel, teenagers can be cruel, children can be cruel. I've seen hateful harassment and unspeakable kindness from every end of the spectrum. Some of the most valiant people I've met were a motley band of fifth and sixth graders who knew enough to stick up for a friend.
Instead of trying to be less childish, let's all live more like eleven year olds. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

25 Things You'll Actually Do In High School.

1. Start a term project at 11:00 P.M. the night before it's due.
2. Crawl under a desk and take a forty minute nap.
3. Skip out on a school dance and feel pathetic for not being asked.
4. Skip out on a school dance and feel pathetic for not asking anyone.
5. Go to a dance with someone you don't particularly like.
6. Go to a dance with someone you asked at the last minute and have an awesome time.
7. Eat lunch with people you don't like.
8. Befriend an outcast only to realize they're cooler than any other person you know.
9. Fall in love with a class you didn't think you would survive.
10. Pass a class you really shouldn't have.
11. Tank a class that should've been an easy A.
12. Have an existential crisis.
13. Decide you're too cool to participate in school sponsored activities.
14. Participate in school sponsored activities anyway and party it up.
15. Watch a friend go through a crisis that dwarfs any crisis you've gone through.
16. Show up at a friend's house at midnight so they can cry on your shoulder.
17. Show up at a friend's house at midnight so you can cry on their shoulder.
18. Love a book your English teacher forced you to read.
19. Have a teacher who hates you and vice versa.
20. Have a teacher who inspires you to succeed at life.
21. Watch a friend go through a crisis.
22. Go through a crisis of your own.
23. Rise from the ashes.
24. Figure out who you are.
25. Move forward in life.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Close Your Eyes

I've met a lot of parents who cover their children's eyes to protect them from seeing something bad. That always seemed counterproductive to me What's the goal here? To shield your children from all that is dark and evil in the world, or to raise up moral agents who can think for themselves?
On Mayan Apocalypse Day back in 2012, I invited some friends over to watch Titanic because it's a disaster movie. My mom was eager to try out our new clear play filter. It skipped over all the swearing, which made things messy, especially in the iceberg scene. We weren't entirely sure if they'd hit the iceberg or not because it jumped so much. Then came the sketching scene. The filter blocked absolutely nothing and that was the moment my mom decided to walk into the room.
She stood in front of the TV, arms and legs splayed wide like a starfish. "Don't look, girls!"
I don't know what she would've done if we hadn't been there. Hit fast forward? Look away from the TV? Filter it with our own eyelashes? At any rate, we would've done something. We knew the scene was coming. We just never got the chance to face it on our own.

 If you're used to having your eyes covered, what happens when no one's there to reach out to you?
I don't see myself covering up my children's eyes. When they're old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, they're old enough to choose. Instead, I'll teach them to look away.
The best filter you can ever have is your own eyelashes.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Just My Luck

I could call myself privileged.
I was lucky to be born in a country where free public education is mandated.
I am lucky to live in the same house as both of my biological parents.
I am lucky to only have minor physical and medical conditions that don't affect my chance of succeeding in life.
I am lucky to have internet access and freedom to post whatever I want on social media.
I am lucky to do my homework without bombs falling in the background because the nearest wars are thousands of miles away.
But I don't consider those privileges. They are rights, and rights, so far I can tell, are just privileges you can't take away.

A few weeks back, the girls and women in my ward (church congregation) did a volunteer project with a nonprofit organization called Days for Girls. Simply put, they provide reusable feminine hygiene pads to schoolgirls in developing countries around the world.
Now let's get into why they have to do it. It's not because running water is a privilege and most third world girls grow up wiping themselves with their left hand and carrying around that gunk for the rest of the day. It's not because they have no way to dispose of trash, so just mailing in a few normal pads won't cut it. It's not because desperate girls will use corn husks as makeshift pads and that causes all kinds of infections.
It's because girls around the world are trading sexual favors to stay in school.
Hygiene kits
Our Days for Girls volunteer supervisor shared a story about a time she worked with a school in central Kenya. She contacted the male headmaster and asked if Days for Girls could host an assembly. He said yes. After she gave her presentation and helped distribute materials, a girl smiled graciously up at her and said, "Now we won't have to go to the men anymore."
When she asked her what she meant, the girl explained that whenever that time of month hit, girls would go their male teachers and staff, explain their predicament, and meekly shut the office doors. Ten minutes later they'd come out carrying pads. They go back to class.
And if they're not up to the task? Then they stay home. They stay home, and they miss so much school that they end up dropping out,
The day my ward volunteered, I couldn't find my sewing scissors, so I walked in late and only caught the tail end of the story. I knew I'd probably end up blogging about it, so while the supervisor ran across the room making sure everyone had a cutting pattern or outlet access, I asked her what country this school was in.
She was flustered and annoyed with me for wasting her time. "It's not just Kenya, it happens everywhere." And not just with teachers either. Community men get in on it. "They set up their shacks and tents across the street from schools."
There's one more thing I could count as privilege. I was lucky to be born in a country where my mom could simply hand me a pad the day after my thirteenth birthday. "Congratulations. You're a woman."
As we cut and stitched the fabric to make these pads, several of my friends told me they'd "never complain again" about their periods. I didn't want to join in. If we count pads as a privilege, then we're saying sexual exploitation is a natural part of life for teenage girls, and it's just my luck that I got through high school without it.
Kenyan girls after receiving their kits
This is why I don't like the idea of privilege. Even if these Kenyan girls' experience is statistically more common than mine, they shouldn't be the standard.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

To Parents With Imperfect Children

Your grief isn't special.
So you've cried after your son was curt to you as he left for school.So your daughter slammed the door and didn't talk to you for the rest of your life.So you cried.Do you think that a child's cries should never be seen or heard-unless they're a problem you can wipe away with your parental expertise?One thing I've noticed about imperfect children is that they all seem to have imperfect parents.