A Blog on “13 Reasons Why”: Consent

***Trigger warning: I will be discussing sexual assault and sexual consent in a non-graphic way. If this triggers you in an unhelpful way please be kind to yourself and click away.

***Spoiler Alert

 

I binge watched 13 Reasons Why on Netflix this week. I literally could not stop watching this show or thinking about it.

Late last night I finished the last episode and this morning I still find myself shaken by the show.

I know it was a fictional story and a lot of BIG THINGS happened to a small group of people, but I believe there was a lot of truth in that fiction. You see for many years I had the privilege of ministering to teenagers. I went on retreats where I comforted young people as they talked and cried about being cyber-bullied. I cried myself when two different young people I love died in two different senseless accidents. I stayed up nights worrying about who might be drinking too much or smoking pot regularly. There are a lot of things you deal with when you are a teenager and when you love a teenager.

But there is one topic that is stuck in my mind this morning, so much so that I have to write about it.

And that topic is consent.

You see not only have I ministered to teenagers but I have been a young woman myself. So I know what it feels like to have random people grab your body parts without your permission. I know what it feels like to have boyfriends push you to do things you don’t really want to do. I do not know what it is like to be raped, acquaintance raped, or otherwise.

Notice I didn’t preface that statement with “by the grace of God” or any other qualifier because frankly I think I just got lucky. I made plenty of not-so-wise choices that led to me being in precarious situations where I could have easily been raped. And I have friends that were acquaintance raped when they made much better choices and were in seemingly safer situations than I sometimes put myself in.

So the whole issue of rape terrifies me a little because not only have I been a young woman and ministered to young women, but now I am raising a young woman. My daughter will start high school next year and though she is a “good girl,” part of me is scared to death for what will happen to her in the next ten or so years.

Because as much I tell her never to accept a red solo cup from a guy and encourage her to always stick with a female friend when out in public, I know I can’t keep her safe. Because as much as I tell her to choose to be with the guys who treat you well and stay away from the ones who don’t, I know I cannot always control who she will be around and how they will treat her.

I cannot force the young men in her life to respect her and treat her with the kindness and dignity that she deserves. I cannot prevent those she encounters, male or female, from crossing boundaries she did not want crossed by force.

I can only tell her that whatever happens to her I will always love and cherish her. That she can come to me with any story, any situation, and I will always be on her side. That I will always help her see her way through. That she is never alone no matter what she faces because she will always, always have me.

And here is the other thing I can do,

I can talk to my son who is now also a teenager about what consent looks like.

About how you never hurt another person or pressure them to do something they do not want to do. About how, for God’s sake, you never force yourself on another person in any way, no matter what.

Only how do you explain these things to a boy who is still afraid of girls?

The only thing that came to mind this morning in my 13 Reasons Why-induced hangover was to tell him about his Dad.

You see for all practical purposes I married Clay Jensen. And I thank God every day I am lucky enough to spend my life with a good, decent guy. Even if like Hannah I don’t always deserve him.

So maybe the best thing I can do to teach my son how treat someone you are in a relationship with is to tell him (and his sister) what it was like to date their dad.

How his Dad told me on the first date that he usually asked girls if it was okay to kiss them before he actually gave them a kiss. I laughed at him at the time, because God knows no one else had ever done that for me. But now I realize how amazing that was. How he was making very sure that I consented to even this small intimate act he wanted to engage in with me.

I can tell them how their Dad always treated me with respect, never pushing me to do something I didn’t want to do, always looking after my well being as much as and sometimes even more than his own.

For you see consent is about the little things as well as the big things. Consent starts small and follows through to the end.

Consent lasts through 20 years of marriage during which that good and decent boy has turned into of one the best and most decent men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Treating not only me, but everyone he meets with the same kindness and respect. Never crossing a boundary that didn’t want to be crossed, never hurting another.

You see when I was a young girl some well-meaning adult told me during a sex talk at a youth group meeting that “boys could not help” how they acted around girls. A boy’s hormones made him “out of control” and always seeking one thing. And it was my job to stop them from taking out their desires on me. And if I failed in those attempts? Well, they never answered that question. So I guess I just assumed that it was a part of being a girl. That is was my fault for not being vigilant enough.

But 20 years later I know different.

Boys and men are totally capable of controlling their actions around women. And they should be expected to do so. They should make sure whomever they are engaging in sexual acts with is always in total consent. 

Be a Clay Jensen. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Is this okay?” Always stop when someone changes their mind and tells you it isn’t. Hold the other guys in your life accountable to these same principals, and look out for the girls around you. Show the world there are still good and decent men out there. God knows we need them.

 

What We Really Learn on Middle School Field Trips

This past weekend my daughter attended the State Science Fair at UGA. When we found out she had made it to state, we were of course proud and happy. I remember my thinking being “Wow, what a great experience for her academically!” followed immediately by, “It will be even better for her to go away on her own for a weekend.”

You see I can be a little overprotective of my girl. And she can be a little overly attached to us as a family. So when I heard that the kids from her school were to ride up on a bus together and stay in a hotel together while being chaperoned only by their teachers, a part of me panicked. But the rest of me said,

“It is time. Let her go.”

So away she went Friday morning at 5:30 am on the big yellow school bus ostensibly to further her knowledge in science and engineering.

We texted a few times. She let me know they got there okay. We told her “goodnight” and “good morning.” But that was pretty much it.

On Saturday our family drove up to see her awards ceremony and then we packed her up in the car to head home. Once we were in the car and headed out of town I asked her, “So how was science fair?” A part of me actually expected her to tell me thing she learned about, you know, SCIENCE.

But here is what followed.

“Well, the bus ride lasted forever. And Jenny say with the boys in the back of the bus and not with the girls which I thought was weird. And then we met some cute boys while we were waiting to be interviewed by the judges. O wait, I just found one of them on Instragram. You think I should follow him? The hotel food was really expensive so we ate all our meals at the mall next door. I ate orange chicken for dinner and breakfast and lunch! It was really good orange chicken but now my stomach kind of hurts.  We walked around Sears for an hour and sat and talked in all their lawn and garden displays. Sears is awesome! The boys were so crazy all weekend. Why do boys act so crazy?”

Yeah, this went on for about an hour until she finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. Too much orange chicken and gossiping in the hotel room at night. Not enough sleep.

I was irritated for about a second that no one made her eat anything other than fried chicken covered in orange flavored sugar sauce for a whole weekend and embarrassed that she had tormented the sales people at Sears.

And then I remembered my own story.

My eighth grade year our brave teachers took all the kids in the honors science classes on a field trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. A pretty cool field trip for sure. There are a few things I remember about actual Space Camp. I remember the machine that pushed you into the wall with centrifugal force and then dropped the floor out so we were supported only by the Gs gluing us to the wall. I remember eating freeze dried ice cream.

But mainly I remember this:

Our teachers had us staying four kids to a room at this cheap hotel. I was in a room with three of my best friends and all of us had a crush on the same guy. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He even had a little facial hair coming in. We were over the moon for him. And as fate would have it his hotel room was right next to ours.

I cannot remember whose idea it was to sneak out of our room after “lights out” and knock on the boys’ door. We were all pretty much good girls so that fact we did this at all still surprises me. The proximity of all that testosterone and cuteness must have been more than our adolescent selves could handle.

So sneak out we did and the boys were more than glad to host us in their room. Now let me say nothing really bad actually happened. We just sat on cheap hotel beds and talked and giggled. And apparently we giggled loudly because after about 15 minutes of adrenaline filled rule breaking, we heard a loud knock on the door followed by one of our teacher’s voice demanding we open the door.

All I remember was the panic I felt. I am sure we were all scared. But most of the kids stayed to face their doom while myself, the future minister, and my buddy Quentin, the future lawyer and judge, both ran for it. Quentin and I ended up cowering in the shower together hoping we would be conveniently overlooked.

A word about Quentin and I’s shower encounter. I didn’t think anything of it at the time other than I was hiding with my friend and hoping not to get caught. But looking back on it now it was a bit of a revolutionary of moment. You see I was a young white girl and Quentin was a young black guy. Now my parents would have been furious about me hiding in the shower with any guy no matter the race, but if Quentin and I had been in the shower together for whatever reason 50 or 100 years before good old 1986, my reputation would have been tarnished for life and Quentin would have likely been arrested or shot or worse. We were in Alabama for crying out loud. But thanks be to God and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1986 the son of a former slave and the daughter of a former slave owner could not only sit together on the red hills of Georgia, they could hide together in the showers of cheap hotels in Alabama.

But the bonding moment ended all too soon when we heard the door to the bathroom open and our teacher’s footsteps cross the linoleum floor. I am sure it was a bad moment when the other kids got caught in a hotel room together. But let me tell you when your teacher rips open the curtain to find your young girl self hiding with a boy in a shower, it is nothing less than mortifying.

Our teacher didn’t say much to us that night. She didn’t have to. We were all embarrassed and scared to death she would call our parents. But she didn’t. Because I guess she already knew what I am learning now. That sometimes the thing a book smart kid needs most is to learn how to live their life on their own. How to make choices and face the consequences.

25 years later I realize how important this moment was. The moment when I had my first taste of freedom. The moment I made a few less than perfect choices but lived to tell the tale.

And I have to say I don’t regret a second of it (Sorry Mom). Because we all turned out just fine. One of us has a career in law enforcement. One is a lawyer. One a stay at home mom.

And Quentin? He was a hot shot lawyer bringing justice to Atlanta for many years until he recently became a judge. Every once in a while I will see him on TV being interviewed about a trial or being honored for something. When I do I inevitably shout out to my kids, “Hey, I hid in a shower with that guy on a field trip back in eighth grade.”

I only hope my daughter’s memories of her first big trip by herself will last as long.

 

 

 

 

Coffee Fueled Motherhood

Today’s motherhood story comes from my church friend, Lynda Jordan. Lynda and I met through the ministry of our favorite local coffee shop, Bare Bulb Coffee. I met Lynda as she was parenting a teenager and have been so grateful to watch and learn from someone one step ahead of me in the parenting journey. I am more grateful that Lynda and her teenage daughter have been mentors to my own daughter as she crosses the road from girl to young woman, since I couldn’t ask for better examples for my girl to follow.

I had the pleasure of not only knowing Lynda as a friend, but of serving her and her daughter in my job as a barista at Bare Bulb when they would come in for their weekly Mom/Daughter book study. If you want to know the true character of someone, serve them in a minimum wage position. I can tell you from experience that Lynda and her daughter are true gems. What I didn’t know on those mornings we shared together was just how important a Mom and daughter coffee date could be. How listening and hearing each other in a neutral third space could transform a relationship as delicate and changing as a teenage girl’s with her Mom. So dear readers, especially those of you with teenage daughters, I share with you the words and wisdom of Lynda.

mosaic of motherhood

Coffee is a language to me. With my coffee I am united with people around the world. It smells like relationship to me. It makes me brave.

Let me begin. I am a mess of contradictions. I am a homeschool mom of one child who is as far removed from the Duggars as one can be. I am a Prius driver, but I spent hours with my daughter on car lots looking at vehicles that are not known as fuel efficient or environmentally friendly. I am the mom who thought, if I read the right books, marked the right check boxes, spoke the right verses, I could get it “right”. I was so insecure about motherhood, but there was no way anyone or my daughter would be allowed to know.

Pre-teen years are hard, they just are for everyone. By early teen years I was questioning every choice we had made with my daughter. Insecurity was winning with her and with me. Then the life giving ingredient came into our lives. Coffee.

I have always loved coffee. The smell when I was little meant my parents were up and having time together. The cup in my hands feels warm and feeds my soul with warmth. Picking the right mug in the morning is the first important choice I make for the day.

mother daughter relationships over coffee

So my insecure self took my young daughter and bought her a latte at a local, fair-trade coffee shop. We left two hours later and never had any idea how much the coffee and shop would change us. We spent so much time talking, upset, fighting, celebrating, serving, and most importantly listening to each other in that coffee shop. We read books about the Old Testament, women’s rights, and Quakers. Coffee glued my daughter and me together.

Yes, I am still a mess, a bundle of contradictions, and an insecure mom. However, I am a better person because coffee and croissants became the communion that bonded my only child and me together. Yes, we still go there to “drink” away a bad moment in the day, or celebrate the completion of an important test. Yes, coffee is important to me being a mom and an essential ingredient in my relationships.

My daughter is about starting college next fall and is beyond excited. She knows the best place to get coffee beans, and I hope how to connect, listen, and grow with others.

I know she taught me more than the books or check lists ever could teach a mom.

After serving as a missionary in Taiwan and teaching Christian education in churches, Lynda is a now homeschool mom to one of the smartest, most compassionate and passionate young women you will meet. Together they spend countless hours volunteering with at risk preschoolers and doing all kinds of good for the people in their community. She is too modest to write her own byline, which makes her even more of a saint, in the truest sense of the word.