To The Domestic Violence Survivors I Work With: About Your Children

I volunteer for the domestic violence organization you are brave enough to seek safety and assistance from.

We are acquaintances at best. Perhaps we’ve exchanged pleasantries in the common area after a session, but I don’t like to chat or linger too long out of respect for your privacy. When I visit the shelter, you often leave before I arrive.

My job is to care for your young sons and daughters so you may have a few uninterrupted hours to do what you need to do to move forward.

Since little ones aren’t armed with the emotional maturity and language to understand, let alone navigate trauma, I brace myself before each appointment. As an unknown adult in a position of authority, I show up expected to be tested with tantrums, outbursts and physical displays of anger.

Like you, I’m a parent. A mom who wonders how my boys conduct themselves and interact with others anytime I release them into the world. With this in mind, here are 5 observations I’ve made about your children.

Each one is remarkably capable. A preschool aged boy insists on opening his own snack wrapper. Another wants to search for parts to build a Lego tower without guidance from a grown up. A third takes the initiative to find and put on his own jacket, zip and bundle up. The phrase, “I can do it by myself” is prevalent.

They take care of one another, especially the siblings. A toddler with few words makes sure his older sister has a hat before going out to play. A big brother unties a knot in his younger brother’s necklace string. Their instinct is to help and protect.

The children are kind. A brother encourages his sister to ride the tunnel slide for the first time and waits so they can go together. A school-aged girl teaches a cranky toddler how to fold a paper airplane to distract him from his tired mood. A little brother lets his older sibling try out his new rubber snake. They lean toward what is positive and good.

They are loving. A young girl reaches out to hold my hand as we walk to the lunch table and asks me to rest beside her on a bench to watch the clouds. They talk about you with adoration and beam the moment they know you’re close enough to accept a knee high squeeze.

And filled with joy with every pump “to the moon” on the swings, every giggle as they cook up an invisible order of hamburger and fries, bounce and roll of a deflated basketball and stomp in a dwindling mound of crunchy snow. Amid the pain, your children’s default emotion is happiness.

Motherhood is challenging enough under less strenuous and terrifying circumstances. I respect your strength, determination and resilience. You are a survivor. Your children are survivors.

As you all continue to regain power and heal, please know I am here. Consider me part the village.

America the Beautiful – The Women’s March on Washington

Bleary eyed passengers boarded a 3am bus
Smiling, as some passed out buttons and treats.

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By half-past six, the carrier greeted dozens more at a highway rest stop.
Together we drove south, through the morning fog.
Bus drivers helped navigate the parking lot labyrinth.
Multi-generational volunteers pointed the way.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words lined front yards, rainbows draped from poles and Stevie Wonder blared from a window
As seniors, families and pets came outside to wave “hello.”

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One neighbor gave out water bottles.
A guest thanked national guardsmen with a handshake and a candy bar.
When a commuter stopped at a light and called, “I’m with you in spirit!”
Strangers shouted back, “We’re here for you!”
Schools and places of worship opened doors offering coffee, bathrooms and a place to rest.
Faded chalk drawings left by little ones brightened the park’s cement:
Hearts, “kindness” and “love.”

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Congressional aides bore witness from the balcony.
Cutters and cranks steered clear of snaking bathroom lines.
Waves of cheers cued the masses when the stage was nowhere in sight.
“Excuse me.”
“Please.”
“Thank you.”
“No problem.”

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A lady shared her box of Krispy Kremes.
A lanky fellow stood at a traffic light’s base to lift those in need of a boost.
A boy climbed the street lamp with his sign held high.

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The teen with the spiral curls led droves in “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Savoring each note, we sang to a flying flag.

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Ladies held their liberty torches high.
My voice rose above, “Run for office!”

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A grandma patted my friend’s back when she leaned over to stretch.
Hoards cleared a path for a man in a wheelchair
And moved aside for an ambulance too.
A napping infant snuggled against his father’s chest.
A pooch nuzzled close to her human.
Husbands showed off pink knitted hats.
Toddlers in strollers never seemed to fuss.

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The police officer who answered endless questions suggested a shortcut so we could catch our ride.
The crossing guard who directed crowds that morning, accepted hugs come evening.
The minister who took notice. “You’ve been sitting on our steps a while. Can I help you inside?”
And the millennials who collected metro cards for the local homeless shelter.

Sore feet, hungry bellies and uplifted spirits hustled, shuffled and climbed aboard their bus home.
New friends exchanged photos until the cabin lights dimmed.
This rider, filled with hope and touched by humanity closed her eyes.

E pluribus unum
We the people
America the beautiful

“There is no sound more powerful than the marching feet of a determined people.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

DARLENE BECK JACOBSON SAID WHAT?…2017: A Year To Be Kind

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Darlene is a freelance writer, educator, Speech Therapist and Children’s Book Author. Her first middle grade novel, Wheels of Change was named a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2015 by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC) as well as awarded Honorable Mention from the Grateful American Book Prize for 2015 for an outstanding work of Historical Fiction for children. Darlene’s website is chock full of articles, activities and recipes for parents and teachers. It also serves as a resource for writers and illustrators of children’s books.

Her post, “2017: A Year To Be Kind” offers resources for adults and young people who want to share stories, engage in acts of kindness, or learn about the importance of and scientific benefits to being kind.

I have one addition to make to Darlene’s list: Can U Be Nice?

Can U Be Nice? is a new platform created to capture our stories and “spread awareness for the need to be nice to one another.” Its goal is to empower people to choose nice over negative, kind over cold.

Can U Be Nice? is the brainchild of Bill Carter, a husband and father of 3 grown sons who spends much of his day observing the world from behind the wheel of his delivery truck.

One chilly morning in 2015, Bill was waiting on a loading dock for a freight elevator. Thinking about his wife, Dianne, a veteran teacher in the public school system who he blissfully describes as sincere, genuine and loving, Bill heard a commercial on the radio for an upcoming charity walk. He thought, “That’s something nice to do.” Then the idea struck him. He wrote the words, “Can you be nice?” on a nearby box. He changed the YOU to a U with a smiley face and said, “That’s it. That’s the message.”

Bill’s mission is simple. He believes “we all have it in us to be kind and if we make a commitment to bring this side out each day, the world will be a better place. A small act of kindness can change a person’s life and have a chain reaction. One small, nice deed can lead to another. Make a decision to look for your inner kindness. Then express it to those you meet without hesitation. You will feel better and people will react positively.”

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “…Stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

So the next time you are or see someone being kind or nice, share a story with Can U Be Nice? If you’re in search of ideas, please check out Darlene’s wonderful post. And if you know of a hub for kindness we overlooked, feel free to join the conversation.

Let’s make 2017 the year to be kind.

Darlene Beck-Jacobson

According to a poll by Kindness USA, only 25 percent of Americans believe we live in a kind society.  In another survey of 10,000 teens, 4 out of 5 said their parents are more interested in achievement and personal happiness than in caring for others.  There is definitely less kindness in public life.

With so much harshness, negativity, hatred and meanness that seems to populate discourse in our society, it was very encouraging to see a recent article about BEING KIND.  The article, by Paula Spencer Scott in PARADE MAGAZINE, lists ways we can change this discourse and make kindness a priority in our lives.

1.You can join PARADE and the RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS FOUNDATION in this year’s challenge: Write 52 Thank You Notes – one each week to a different person for a year.  Besides bringing kindness and joy to the recipient, this gratitude boosts happiness and well-being…

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Feminist Rising

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My husband, Mac tells a story about his late father, a tough guy raised during the post-Depression era on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that ends with his dad referring to women as “broads.”

I unfortunately never had the chance to meet my father-in-law, but from what I gather such terms of endearment about the opposite sex were part of his everyday vocabulary.

Now anytime Mac’s sister or mom were privy to one of these tales, they chuckled but shook their heads. And whenever my husband tried to get away with using broad or even so much as said “girl” when referring to an adult female, they made sure promptly to correct him.

Not one to get my knickers in a knot about the occasional cat call or reference from a stranger as sweetie or hon, I couldn’t understood their issue. Why so sensitive? What’s the harm in benign synonyms or generational slang? Mac’s intention wasn’t to make me or his female relatives feel objectified, demeaned or less than.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law would argue in favor of selective word choice. Had I pushed back, I’m pretty sure they would remind me words are powerful; slang and synonyms perpetuate the idea that women are subordinate to men. They’d then likely ask, “Aren’t you a feminist?”

My likely response? “Meh.”

A feminist, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary is one who supports feminism or “the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.”

Whenever I hear feminist, my mind is quick to gloss over the definition and hone in on a visceral image of a man-hating, braless lady in bell bottoms with unshaved pits marching in protest. For me, associating with this label feels passé and a wee embarrassing mostly because as a Generation Xer, I’ve spent a lifetime reaping the benefits of rights and opportunities. By 21st century standards, feminist ideals seem like bygone liberal gibberish that only widen any existing divide between women and men.

Then I woke up on November 9, 2016; my progressive, purple haze engulfed by a thick, hazardous fog in a land where those who brag about taking advantage of woman and dismiss sexual assault as boy talk are rewarded, where no doesn’t necessarily mean no, abortions are potential grounds for punishment, the notion of having it all is a men’s only club, equal pay in the workplace is not a priority, skinny women with pretty faces and big tits define feminine worth and where an exceptionally qualified woman got passed over for a job by a man with no related experience.

And I was horrified.

In a blink, the liberties I’d taken for granted were in jeopardy. As I trudged through the holiday season grappling with this alternative reality, I thought about those who poured decades of themselves into advocating for women’s voting, health, reproductive, education and gender equality rights in the workplace.

A sense of responsibility to our history and for future generations began to stoke the embers that lay tucked between ambivalence and pride, labels and perception. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled in, I was done with setting frivolous resolutions. Primed for a revolution, a feminist was rising.

After some reading and much Googling, I’ve learned that how one interprets or brands feminism varies and who feels included in the movement is still scrutinized. My understanding is simple and grounded in intersectionality and humanism. As then First Lady Hillary Clinton said in 1995, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

My personal goals are also simple; take action in my community and be mindful of words.

In order to stand up for women’s rights, one first needs to believe she has the right to do so. During the final weeks of 2016, I had the privilege of supporting those on the road to empowerment by providing childcare at a local domestic abuse shelter and outreach program. I look forward to doing my small part to help these families as they find their voice.

I will also do my best to pay attention to my own voice as well as those closest to me.

On a New Year’s Day hike with Mac and the boys, Bubbe navigated us over rocks, through mud and moss. When we came to a clearing, he challenged me to a race. “C’mon Mom,” he said with a smirk, “Be a man.”

A few months ago, I would have laughed off his comment. Like his father and grandfather, I know my son’s intent wasn’t to make me feel inferior. But this time, I took a page out of his grandmother and aunt’s book and kindly corrected him. As we journey through the fog, it won’t be enough for the feminist in me to rise; I need to be the woman who raises my sons to be one too.

RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…It’s More Than a Safety Pin

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Although I like to vary guest posts, Jan Wilberg’s blog, Red’s Wrap hit home for me again. Although my blog avoids politics like the plague, this time I’m making an exception.

I respect the office of the presidency. I respect our democratic process. I know and cherish the story of how the United States came to be. I have re-enacted the Revolutionary War. I have taught children about the 13 colonies, branches of government, our constitution and The Bill of Rights. I have voted in elections for 2 decades. I am a proud American.

I am also a woman. I am a mother raising Jewish children. I am a survivor. And I am a friend to enough who are scared of being hurt in the name of our future president.

Yes, I know. Mr. Trump went on television and told supporters who are discriminating against minorities to “Stop it.” I also heard him say during the interview he “was surprised to hear” about the incidents and believed they were “built up by the press.” Minimizing attacks and blaming journalists only makes me question more and trust less.

As a New Yorker who’s watched her fair share of reality television, I’m used to Mr. Trump’s word dance. So I’m watching the actions. Right now, what I see are ideologues, alt-right white nationalists and alleged anti-Semites being appointed to positions of power.

While I won’t pass judgement on the people in my life who are excited about his presidency, I refuse to shut my mouth or blindly accept that if I give Mr. Trump a chance everything will turn out fine for all Americans.

So I will continue to wear my safety pin. Not to make myself feel better, but like Jan explains in her piece, to remind myself of what I need to do every day to help my children, loved ones and neighbors.

It’s easier for me to snuggle up in my bubble, play it safe and hope for the best. To be honest, I feel uncomfortable even writing these words. But I’ve come to learn discomfort is not only good; sometimes it’s necessary.

Going forward, I will use my voice. I will march for human rights. I will find time to help. I will do my part to preserve our democracy and uphold the values upon which our country was founded. Because as an American, I am free to do so.

Red's Wrap

I’m not an ally. I’m a fellow citizen. It’s not a safety pin. It’s something bigger than that.

The “Dear White People” messages that tell me that my pledge to stand up for American values is flimsy and theatrical are condescending and unkind. Those scoldings are dripping with assumption and disdain about my motivation as an American citizen.

Oh, you’re going to wear a safety pin. Aren’t you precious? 

Don’t you understand how meaningless that is? It’s just something to soothe your white conscience.

As an older feminist, I finally learned not to discount support coming from men. Sometimes, I have been in disbelief that a man actually, genuinely, shared the view that men and women are equal, and more disbelieving when that man actually showed through his actions – small and large – that the belief was real. You don’t find men who are feminists on every street corner…

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To The Veteran Suffering From PTSD: I Feel You

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The Mighty

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Author’s note: New data shows an average of 20 veterans take their life each day

Pushups. 22 per day for 22 days to raise awareness that on average, 22 veterans lose their lives to suicide daily.

With each press against the floor, I think of you.
When my triceps collapse from strain, I think of you.
As my form turns solid and shoulders stabilize, I think of you.

The #22Kill movement, created in response to the Department of Veteran Affairs’ 2012 Suicide Data Report works in conjunction with Honor Courage Commitment, Inc. Together, they educate the public about mental health issues like Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can lead to suicide and offer empowerment programs to transitioning military brothers and sisters.

#22Kill strives to “bridge the gap between veterans and civilians to build a community of support.” The final words to flash across the screen of the website’s video are “We’re here for you. We hear you.”

Today is day 22. As I post my last set of pushups to social media and tag fellow CrossFitters to accept the challenge, I need you to know something.

I feel you.

I am a civilian. I have not sacrificed my life and time to protect our country’s freedoms, but I have survived child sexual abuse. I have experienced trauma. I know what it’s like to live with darkness, peer down the spiral, and question the value of my life.

For 25 years, vigilance, control, mistrust, and detachment managed the pain, angst, hurt and rage brought on by traumatic experience. But I found a way to push up; to rejoin life and contribute in a way I always imagined.

Treatment through therapy made the difference. With a pride too big, walls so thick, and shame so deep, at first I couldn’t ask for help.  I didn’t value myself enough to reach out; vulnerability translated into weakness. There was peace in solitude.

But I valued those who loved me. When I could no longer dodge my husband’s plea, when I reached the edge; feeling as if my skull might split, I answered this question:

Who do I have a responsibility to?

Mac and our new marriage suffered from my trauma. I knew my mental health would damage our children. This was unacceptable and unfair. I resolved to do my part and agreed to keep the appointment Mac had made with a social worker on my behalf.

Once there, I harnessed the strength used to endure and suppress my experience to open wounds and talk.

The session discussions, albeit uncomfortable and scary at times encouraged trust. With consistent support, I learned tools to tackle triggers, reframe the rage, be mindful of mood shifts, channel destructive tendencies into a safe and productive rush, express vulnerability, and deepen relationships. I came to understand the genesis of my emotions, recognize they were typical for survivors, and accept I wasn’t alone.

The likelihood of full recovery is slim. But now, over a dozen years later, I’m equipped to fight the funk when it drives a heel into my back. With each win, trauma loosens its grip and I gain power.

I’ve also gained direction, purpose and most importantly, worth. I can approach parenting with a healthier perspective, contribute to a more loving, respectful, and meaningful marriage, and pursue career goals, creative passions and fitness aspirations with assurance. I am a better friend; know how to navigate social situations, and enjoy being with people.

Bad and unnatural things happened to me. My mind and body reacted to them. That doesn’t make me less deserving of a rich, positive, and fulfilled existence. I have every right to be here; to push, to grow and to live.

And so do you.

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Lessons From A Crossing Guard

A few weeks ago, I tagged along with Bubbe, Skootch and the local crew during their 3 block walk to school. As we approached the 4-way, main street intersection where the library, high school and last stretch to the elementary school meet, our young neighbor turned to the boys and whispered, “If you don’t say thank you to Doris the world will blow up.”

I think the kid might be right.

Doris is a pillar of our sleepy, suburban town and a force to be reckoned with at that. Torrential rains, icy roads, blaring horns, and testy commuters can’t stop her from parading dead center into this congested intersection during school drop off and afternoon pick up to yell, “Crossing!”

A sentinel for youngsters and teenagers, siblings in strollers, parents and pets as they travel to and from parked cars, school, practice, religion, and home; pedestrians welcome her presence.

Many drivers do not. They are forced to sit, wait and wait some more until Doris releases them with a flick of the neon flag. Held up for work or a midday appointment; some grumble, honk, and huff. Others rant on social media; the rest stress in silence.

I get it. There was a time when I dropped Bubbe and Skootch to school on route to work and inched my car too close to Doris’s east end cross walk. She took one look at my tires, locked eyes and stepped off the corner. “Hey, don’t you see children here?”

Jolted from my to-do list daze, I sputtered an apology. “Sorry Doris. It won’t happen again.”

I got over it. We regular walkers know something about the way our crossing guard approaches her job that drivers may not notice from behind the windshield.

Doris teaches children the value of a greeting.

Skootch first met Doris when he was three. Every day he watched her from his wagon as I wheeled him across the street on the way to his big brother’s school. Doris was never too busy to say “Good morning.”

As they developed a rapport, she added compliments about Skootch’s smile, noticed haircuts, and congratulated him when he was able to walk the distance sans carriage. Doris showed Skootch respect.  He reciprocated the sentiment.

Now, not a morning goes by on my little guy’s way to Kindergarten that he doesn’t wish Doris a good day. The same holds true for many middle and high schoolers who take time to look away from friends and up from phones to say Hello, leading me to believe her lesson has been repeated before.

She models generosity of spirit.

New to the district, I was shocked to see Doris sitting in the audience of Bubbe’s first grade play. The parents who had older children were not. As it turns out, she does her best to attend each of the roughly 24 class plays held annually at the elementary school.

And during the holiday season, those who walk her way will find Doris’s open car trunk spilling with free cookies for the kids.

Such gestures are not taken for granted. When a few families found out she was having a “big” birthday, moms spread the news on Facebook. The next day, her “office” was decorated with signs, balloons, flowers and handmade cards.

She gives parents peace of mind.

Bubbe often walks with our young neighbor long before Skootch and I head out for the morning.

One day, Doris stopped me. “Your son and his friend are good walking buddies,” she said. “They walk, talk, there’s no fooling around and they follow the rules.”

Even though she and I have only exchanged pleasantries, Doris knew which child belonged to me and took the time to report he was making good choices.

And reminds us to take it easy.

Doris was cut off mid sentence during one of our pre-pick up exchanges by a speeding car. “What are you doing?” she hollered at the blurry sedan. “Where do these people think they’re going in such a hurry?”

I smiled and shook my head. “Doris, I don’t know.”

I continued onward, slowing my gait for the last block and a half to my destination feeling pretty confident that, after spending my few moments with this special lady, the world was safe from annihilation for one more day.

It takes a village to shape a community.

“Thank you, Doris.”