Child Abuse in the Church: A Parent’s Response, Part 1

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Rhodes - What light through yonder window .....

Rhodes – What light through yonder window ….. (Photo credit: BR0WSER)

When I was twelve years old, a teenage kid working the ticket booth at the movie theater told me I could pass for seventeen. I developed early and I had the curves to attract attention. But although I may have looked older than some of my peers, emotionally I was far behind them. I was sheltered and dreamy and utterly naive. I was in a dangerous place, but I didn’t know it. I could have become a target for anyone with a twisted sense of morality, or just a raging case of hormones.

Fortunately for me, I had protective parents. The distance between their farm and the town didn’t hurt, either.

Not all kids are so lucky. During the thick of the sex abuse scandal in the Church, I was working as a liturgy director. As one who worked closely with schoolchildren, I went through the training that was put into place in our diocese. Volunteers, staff–everyone has to take it. We use Protecting God’s Children, or Virtus. I went to a two-hour training session, and every week thereafter I was expected to read a lesson that came via email, along with a test question at the end. They tracked compliance.

Most of the time (I’ll be honest) I was impatient with it, because the lesson imparted was common sense. But now I think maybe that’s the point. If we take time to think about issues related to the safety of our children, most of it is common sense. The trouble comes when we get distracted or complacent and aren’t aware. The point of the training is awareness.

In the long run, the most important thing the Virtus training did for me was to sensitize me to the issue. The fact is that if there is a pedophile around, he (or she) will find a way to subvert the procedures put into place to protect our children. That means the impetus is on me as a parent to teach my children about their inherent dignity as a human being, especially where matters of sexuality are concerned, in such a way that they recognize threats to that dignity, and have the confidence and courage to respond.

The lessons of sex I learned as a child dealt with the danger of premarital sex and the value of chastity, but I don’t remember really learning why. Maybe this is because I was a rule follower, so if you told me to do something, that was all I needed; any other information given might well have gone in the “useless information” file.

In adulthood, though, outing the damage and dysfunction caused by obsession with unrestricted, no-strings-attached sex has become my passion. When even Catholics resist making the connections between the dysfunction in the culture and the birth control they depend on, I’m very aware that my kids are besieged. They’re not going to get a holistic vision of the human person unless I give it to them. And they’ve got to have the whole picture; they’ve got to know why, or there’s no chance that they’re going to resist a cultural paradigm that pushes so hard in the opposite direction.

Until recently I always thought of this in terms of peer relationships–hookup culture, pre-marital sex, etc.–but recently I realized that the lesson is just as important in helping prevent abuse by authority. Because when you know the incredible dignity of this body you inhabit, you are much less likely to allow someone else to do something to damage that dignity.

I planned to write a single post on this topic. I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning and, unable to sleep, pounded out almost 1200 words on it. In the light of day, fleshing it out, I’m about halfway through it. So I’m going to hit “pause” for today and beg you to come back tomorrow, when I’ll talk about what we are doing with our kids.

In the meantime I’d like to know what your dioceses and/or parishes are doing to guard their young from predators. If you can, please leave comments here rather than on Facebook (even if you do so anonymously), so that everyone can see.

Part 2 is here.

Waiting

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Waiting..........

Waiting………. (Photo credit: davidyuweb)

“Mommy, get me some dessert!”

Nicholas stood at my right elbow. I looked pointedly at the pizza in my hand and back at him, but my coming-up-on-five-year-old is blissfully (or perhaps willfully) immune to messages sent via body language. Time for plan B.

“First of all,” I said, “that’s not how you ask. Second, am I still eating my dinner?”

“Yes.”

“Is Daddy still eating his dinner?”

“Yes.”

“Then you have to wait until we’re done. Sometimes you just have to wait for good things. Now sit down and be patient.”

He sat down, but patience was beyond him. As I returned to my pizza, he wiggled in place and then asked again.

In one way, I can sympathize. Waiting for good things is hard for anyone, and even more so for kids, who don’t have much practice at it. And yet at the same time, it’s a bit exasperating. It’s not as if there’s any question of him getting what he wants, after all. He knows very well that dessert is going to be served after dinner. It’s not like, for instance, the novel query process, where the outcome is far from certain.

Then again, waiting is hard for everyone who anticipates something good. The proof of that just passed us, in the form of Black Friday. I mean, Black Thanksgiving Thursday. All Black Friday’s Eve. Or something.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this annual ritual. Actually, scratch that. My feelings about the nonsense that is Black Friday/Black Friday’s Eve are pretty unequivocal. And yet, for the last couple of years, Christian has actually gone out as early as the stores offer their blockbuster sales, because the system forces the issue:

1. Sales start at a given time and there are limited quantities.

2. If you don’t get there early, i.e. during the Thanksgiving evening hours, the sale price may be valid, but there won’t be any stock to buy.

The choices are, then: go shopping with the madhouse despite the gnashing of teeth caused by your conscience telling you this encroachment on holiday is just wrong; or stick to your conscience and accept that you will pay a lot more for the item you were going to buy anyway, if you can find it at all.

We should wait. But we don’t.

These are good avenues of thought to pursue on the second day of Advent. This is a season given to us to pause and take stock of the state of our lives. Where are we out of balance? What opportunities for rest and quiet are we barreling past with the radio at full volume? And what things desperately needed for our mental and emotional well-being are we losing as a result?

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A Stream Of Consciousness Rant About Pop Music

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Katy Perry dancing with others at the Buda Cas...

Katy Perry dancing with others at the Buda Castle with fireworks bursting from them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Katy Perry was singing on the radio when Nicholas popped out with, “Is this song called ‘Tiger Rahr’?” I chuckled inwardly at the way his brain changed “roar” into “rahr,” and then suddenly chuckled at myself, because all our kids yell “rahr” instead of “roar” as a result of being chased them around the house by me, growling thusly on all fours before tackling them to tickle and chew. And why, it occurs to me, do we say “roar” in the first place? After all, it does sound more like “rahr.”

Pop music has been on my mind lately. From the time I entered college in 1992 until about a year ago, I had only the most tenuous connection with the contents of the radio stations. I spent a long, long time immersed in classical music to the exclusion of all else, and when I poked my head up it was in the presence of a boyfriend/fiance/husband who preferred country. When I started Jazzercise last year, the instructors were always shouting “who is this singing?” like a pop quiz I was doomed to fail.

I started paying attention, because there were quite a few songs I really liked. And these days it’s a matter of mood, whether I put on pop or the classical/NPR station. I keep a list of songs I want to download until I have enough to burn a CD. (No, I do not have an iPod. I don’t need music with me anywhere there isn’t a CD player, and I can’t even keep track of my wallet and sunglasses; I don’t need one more thing I’m worried about losing.)

Yet at the same time, I get really frustrated, because some of my favorite music ends up being on the list of things I can’t buy because of the lyrics.

Example A: Enrique Iglesias. Man! Some of the most creative music out there, and such filthy lyrics. That example isn’t one of the worst, but you notice I didn’t embed the video. As one of the Jazzercise instructors said, “Whatever happened to all that ‘I wanna be your hero’?”

Example B: Pit Bull. Okay, so rap is all the rage, and Pit Bull cameos on approximately a billion other people’s songs. I’m not a rap fan, but that song that goes with the Fiat commercial is actually a really good song. Except what’s up with that repeating lyric “sexy people”? I can’t play that in front of my kids. These people have got to be interested in picking up the next generation of fans; why make that lyric so prominent? It’s not even what the song is about, for all that it’s the title. In fact, that song seems to have three lyric strands that are only slightly connected: the beautiful love song about Sorrento, stuff about immigrants, and this befuddling “Sexy people”, implying, I suppose, that all immigrants are sexy? I don’t know…maybe I’m missing something.

The problem is, I really, really like these two songs. Or rather, I want to, and it’s frustrating to feel that I can’t actually listen to them, because–as noted above–there are little ears listening.

Of course, there are some really wonderful songs out there, too. Katy Perry seems to specialize in songs that affirm (think Firework), and this Jason Mraz was one of the first I knew I wanted to download–still one of my favorites. I suppose it’s always been this way, hasn’t it?

End rant. Time to start another crazy Tuesday.

The Balance Between Authenticity and TMI

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A caution sign used on roads made in inkscape,...

I’ve spent my writing time the last several days researching literary agents. When you Google someone’s name, you get a lot of clutter, but if you take the time, you can often get a good sense of who they are by the things they say online. For an author hoping to find someone to represent her, this is a tool you’d be foolish not to use. And for an agent considering a potential client, the same holds true. So authors are always admonished to be professional in their online presence: to be careful what they say and how they say it.

“Careful” is a hard word for me. I overthink almost everything related to what I “should” or “shouldn’t” do, and the tension between what to say and what not to sometimes creates complete logjam. I’ve been wrestling for two weeks with a query pitch for my novel, for instance, because I’m pretty sure it’s not right yet, and I’m having trouble shaking loose a fresh take on it.

Online, the tension is between stories that are mine to tell and stories that are not. Between sharing the journey and risking looking whiny. Between affirming other people’s struggles by opening up about mine and opening myself to criticism and judgment for what I did or didn’t do.

Caution sign, in parking on 5th street

Caution sign, in parking on 5th street (Photo credit: gregoirevdb)

Life is not all unicorns and rainbows, and when I run across people online pretending otherwise it really grates on my nerves. Yet I can understand why a person might whitewash (or self-censor) the tough moments, the ones where defending yourself might make you look petulant, or the ones where you don’t come off like mother of the year and it’s not funny but instead an excoriation of the soul. Your “tribe” will get it. They see you as a whole person. But they’re not the ones you have to worry about. It’s the person who’s Googling you out of nowhere. What if that moment is their introduction to you?

The balance between authenticity and TMI is something everyone who is online faces–or should be cognizant of, at any rate. I stopped Journaling when this blog took over that role, but more and more often I’m recognizing the value of an outlet where I can work through things without worrying about who’s looking over my shoulder. Now, where to find the extra half hour of time?

On to the next impossible question…

Words Matter (a primer on disability language)

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Colorado Cousins Trip 603First, I am fully aware that many people are going to look at this as splitting hairs.

I did, until my daughter came along.

How do you refer to a person with a disability? If you are like most people, you slap a label in front of the name: Julianna is a “Downs child” or a “Down syndrome girl.”

The practice encouraged by disability groups now is what we call people-first language. Re the great Wiki:

The basic idea is to impose a sentence structure that names the person first and the condition second, for example “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”, in order to emphasize that “they are people first”. Because English syntax normally places adjectives before nouns, it becomes necessary to insert relative clauses, replacing, e.g., “asthmatic person” with “a person who has asthma.” Furthermore, the use of to be is deprecated in favor of using to have.

The speaker is thus expected to internalize the idea of a disability as a secondary attribute.

Colorado Cousins Trip 436In the case of my girly-girl: she is a child with Down syndrome, not a Down’s child, a Down syndrome daughter, etc.

This is a subtle difference, I’ll grant you, but it’s important. Aside from disabilities, there is no other medical, educational or cultural status in which we refer to the condition first. Doing so makes Down syndrome more important than the person. You don’t go around saying “that cancer guy” or “that four-eyes woman.” In the first case we would consider it insensitive; in the second, insulting. In both cases, it reduces the person to a fraction of his or her true self. So why is it okay for disability–unless we actually do subconsciously think a disability makes a person “less than”?

County Fair 050 smallJulianna’s extra chromosome is an intrinsic part of who she is, one that impacts an awful lot of life–but not all. The basic things that underlie life are the same for her as they are for all the rest of us: eat, sleep, love, learn, live. Her disability is important, but it’s not the most important thing about her. She loves music, hates dogs, loves books and carousels and horses, is terrified of thunder, needs glasses, adores babies, had heart surgery, can read, cannot speak clearly, and is capable of making connections with the crustiest person she meets. To reduce all that to a label that comes first–“Down syndrome child,” “Downs child”–is to deny her the complexity of soul and personality that we grant everyone else.

The most important thing about her is the fact that she is…just like me, you, and everyone else we meet.

Sex, Love, and Women’s Fiction

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Love ? I love love love you.

Love ? I love love love you. (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction lately, and reading it with a more critical eye than is usual for me. As I contemplate the novel query stage, I’m analyzing how my book fits into what’s already out there. There’s a lot of really good writing out there: great character depth and engrossing storytelling. But one thing I just don’t get is the approach to sex.

That’s not exactly accurate. I’m not an idiot. I’m well aware that my outlook on sex, as an integrated act melding both body and soul, is way, way outside the mainstream. And I know that even after fourteen years of married life I’m still very sheltered. I find things revolting that others think are not shocking at all.

But recently I’ve encountered one character having oral sex (really? what possible attraction can that hold for the woman?), and another who repeatedly has sex with one guy as she’s becoming more convinced that she belongs with another. And Guy #2 knows about it. Eventually, Guy #2 and main character decide they’re perfect for each other, except they aren’t sure they’re “sexually compatible.” So into bed they hop, just to be sure before they get engaged. (Because no one can learn to give another what they need. You’re just s-o-l if you don’t get it right the first try. Puh-leeze.)

Do people actually act this way?

I suppose they do. But if they do, it’s no wonder our level of relational dysfunction is as high as it is.

I suppose it’s not surprising that contemporary literature for women would involve a certain cavalier attitude toward sex, since that is the reality of the culture we live in. And I suppose it’s no surprise that my formation, first as a sheltered Catholic girl and then as a woman who learned intimacy through the lens of an integrated, holistic sexuality that includes both body and soul, stands at odds to that. But frankly, having experienced the latter, I can’t imagine why anybody would find the cultural standard the least bit attractive.

A few years ago someone made a comment on a romance writers’ site that went something like: “And what is wrong with a man and a woman in love showing their love for each other through sex? If you’re honest with yourself, nothing at all.”

I suppose that’s a true statement, if it’s real love. But real love is revealed over time. You can’t front-load a relationship with sex and just call it love because you have an overpowering emotion. That overpowering emotion is not love. Love must be tested and proven.

It is a commitment made through choices over the long term. Yes, I know that’s really fuddy duddy, but anyone whose marriage has actually lasted would say the same. The sex is a response to and an intensification of a mind-and-soul unity that came first. Not a gateway to unity.

I don’t understand how women can not feel that this most intimate act loses value if you just pass it around to everyone you like. Frankly, it gives me the heebie jeebies to think about having sex with anyone other than my husband, whom I knew, long before we were intimate, has always had my best interests at heart.

And then there’s this question: If you know Person You’re Attracted To has just been sleeping with someone else, would you really want to be intimate with them? Isn’t there a huge “ewww” factor in that?

I just don’t get it.

But I think I have a totally different vocabulary surrounding this subject. To me, sex is a gift, and it’s intrinsically tied to personhood. It’s not something you can classify as “casual.” Sex has …well, consequences, for lack of a better word, although that has a negative connotation which is not what I mean. How can it be satisfying if it’s not experienced in the context of a 100%, no-holds-barred commitment? Which presupposes that the commitment came first?

Love and marriage is the central theme of my novel: when you grow up believing marriage is forever, and then you realize you made a big mistake, what do you do? How far do you go to salvage it? How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice?

I worry sometimes that my view of the world is so outside the mainstream that it won’t resonate at all. But words are the tool I’ve been given to try to make the world a better place. So I have to try. Novel query stage: bring it on.

An Epic, Blog-Worthy Doctor Visit

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Photo by jdsmith 1021, via Flickr

Over the summer, I have been to the doctor with my kids eight times, plus Michael’s tubes and four visits to have Julianna’s glasses fixed after Michael got hold of them.

It’s always tiresome and chaotic, but nothing compares to yesterday’s ENT visit.

Let’s back up a week, to Julianna’s well child check, the visit at which I promised both her and Alex that there would not be any shots. Well, guess what? There were. Not only that, but we haven’t had her thyroid checked in four years and we’ve never seen an ENT. Since thyroid imbalance and sleep apnea are extremely common in people with Down syndrome, we needed to address both those things.

Thus it was that on a day I promised Julianna no shots, she had not only a HepA shot but also a blood draw.

It took four people to get that vial of blood–three to hold her and one to wield the needle.

So yesterday, Julianna was not happy about going to the doctor, and she was not about to believe me when I said there wouldn’t be any owies. (Heck, I wouldn’t believe me, either!)

Enter present tense narrative.

We come down the hallway of the ENT office, Nicholas leading the expedition with the confidence of one who’s been here half a dozen times. The nurses look at us, look at each other, and one says to the other, “Move that other family to a different examining room. This one needs the big room.”

Things are fine until Doctor A (resident?) comes in. The kids grow steadily more restless as we talk. Michael climbs up, down, and over me without pause. When Dr. A asks, “So what symptoms of sleep apnea does she have?” and I answer, “None,” I can see it in his face: Then what on earth are you doing here?

About this time Nicholas thrusts his head in my face: “IT’S MY TURN FOR THE IPAD!”

“Alex, give him the iPad.” They switch and I resume being used as a human junglegym while talking with the doctor, but I can see that on the floor by my feet, Alex is butting into Nicholas’ game, as he frequently does, and Nicholas is getting mad. “Alex! Back off! It’s his turn! So, doctor, you’re saying…”

We’re discussing stridor breathing when the wrestling match begins, accompanied by screams from Nicholas and clenched-jaw growling from Alex. “Hey!” I grab the iPad before it gets clobbered. “That’s it! YOU go over THERE and YOU go over THERE! No more iPad for either of you! Sit down and I don’t want to hear one word out of either one of you!”

Alex flings himself into the corner. Nicholas sits down for a minute, but then notices there’s a more comfortable chair right next to Mommy. I spend five minutes challenging the doctor on the need for a laryngoscopy while wrestling Nicholas to force him to abide by his time out.

And then it’s time for the examination.

Julianna tolerates the first ear pretty well, but steadfastly refuses to turn her head for the second. By now I have Michael in arms, and he’s tired and cranky, which means the only way to keep him from fussing is to play physical games with him: upside down, tickle, dance. We attempt to sing “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad to get Julianna to look the right direction, but she’s having none of it. I put cranky child on the floor and grab her head and hold it still so Doc A can look.

And now comes the mouth. Julianna sees the tongue depressor and shrieks, then claps both hands over her mouth, elbows at right angles to her body. I spend three minute cajoling her, sticking my tongue out so the doctor can look at me, but she’s not buying. At length, I cup her head into my shoulder and hold her still so Doc A can force her mouth open. She gags mightily but turns her head, so after all that he still doesn’t have what he needs. “No wike eee!” she shrieks (No like it), and he evidently decides it’s not worth the trauma.

He exits to get Doctor B (attending).

While I’ve been thus occupied, Alex and Nicholas have made up and noticed that there are not one, but TWO rollaround chairs in this room. Now they are chasing each other in circles, coming ever closer to the Wall Of Expensive Equipment. “Stop that!” I snap.

“But WWWWHYYYYYY?” they wail.

“Because you already popped my exercise ball with a scissors today, and the last thing I need is you demolishing half a million dollars’ worth of medical equipment!”

Doctors A and B enter the room, and we rehash the laryngoscopy question again when I realize the boys are still chasing each other. “Alex! Nicholas! I told you to stop! Are you disobeying me?”

Doctors B can see that his office building is imminent danger. He says we can take an X ray instead and makes good his exit.

And now we go to X ray.

Perhaps you’ve identified my problem: I have two boys fighting, a patient who makes the word “uncooperative” look like a day off, and Michael Mayhem, who needs a nap. Thank God, this is a children’s hospital. They call in support staff to supervise the boys while the tech and I wrestle with Julianna.

I do not see how they could possibly be getting any kind of useful picture–she’s flailing and shaking and screaming “toilet! toilet!” (which is her way of getting out of everything unpleasant, like clearing the table) and employing muscle tone that never surfaces any other time while two of us in lead aprons try in vain to keep her still and centered in front of the + sign. Surely the X rays must be blurred. But the tech takes them to the doctor and they pass muster, so we make good our escape.

And about this same moment, on the other side of town, Christian’s boss is telling him how precious our children are.

Sigh.