I like you just the way you are.

“I like you just the way you are.”

This fall, I framed several drawings that my daughters created when they were younger, like their first self-portrait and the picture of our family that our firstborn made when her younger sister was born. I hung them in the entryway of our house, along with photos of our family and a reminder: “I like you just the way you are.” What a declaration from that revolutionary, Mr. Rogers.

I want my daughters to remember, every day, that they are unconditionally accepted and loved.

Of course, the most powerful reinforcement won’t come from a sign by the door but in how I accept them and how I accept my self. Liking my self just as I am is hard work. I have never attempted anything more radical in my life. Yet it is also the easiest thing there is, because it feels so good and true to my soul. It feels like home.

My word for 2018 is mothering. Since I first saw “Pregnant” appear on a stick in a bathroom stall at a CVS, I have been becoming a mother. Not only to one and then two little girls, but to my self. Mothering is not just one day or one happening. It is not just “Pregnant” on a stick or when you push the baby from your body or first hold the child you have adopted or the first time you decide to be gentle with your self. Mothering is every day. As my body changes, as my children grow and increase their independence, I have to choose again to mother, to like and love and accept.

For me, for now, if I had to summarize mothering in one thought, it would be Mr. Rogers’.

I like you just the way you are. I like me, too.

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“You are the champion of everything”

If you need a little cheering up, you should read the Amazon reviews of Allie Brosh’s new book (Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half blog fame). Her book that has been about-to-come-out for almost a year now. Over the past few years, when Allie has disappeared from online for months and months at a time, fans like me (many of whom struggle with depression, as I do and as Allie does), look for her and hope she’s ok.
So, there’s all kinds of amazing reviews for this book that has not yet even been written. I love just how much Allie’s fans love her. And how they, like Allie’s work itself, reflect the kind of humor and heart that make life (whatever it is, as Kurt Vonnegut would say) bearable when it might not otherwise be.
May we all have someone who believes in us as much as these reviewers believe in Allie.

Goodnight, Clothes

Photo: If Moms Wore Tube Tops

Today I cleaned out the basement and parted with the remainder of clothes from my single life that I hadn’t heretofore realized I was, indeed, never, ever going to wear again.

In memoriam, an ode: Goodnight, Clothes (a la Goodnight, Moon)

Goodnight, short H&M skirt. I have no idea how I ran to catch a bus whilst wearing you.

Goodnight, hot pink strapless top. I ask, why?

Goodnight, fair isle sweater. Fair isle is classic. Maybe I will wear you again? No, I will not. It has been over ten years.

Goodnight, nightgown that I wore with heels and called a dress. The nightwear section was cheaper, and I was poor.

Goodnight, old clothes. Goodnight, 25-year-old Christa. You had so much fun.

Don’t worry, I am not sad. I cannot even tell you how comfortable it is to wear yoga pants and blouses that breathe and drive a minivan.

#metoo

Since about mid-September, I’ve been thinking back to, “This time last year….”

This time last year, we were closing in on the US presidential election. I was not certain that Clinton was going to win. I knew nothing was a given. But I was hopeful. Having grown up in evangelicalism, I have as many conservative friends as liberal ones. I know them to be good people. Surely the majority of Republican America would not vote for this man.

And yeah, yeah, HRC got 3 million more votes than Trump. That is the tiniest bit comforting. But just the tiniest bit, because Trump still got almost 63 million votes.

This time last year, I was daring to believe that there weren’t that many people who would put up with his shit. I was wrong.

I’ve been debating whether or not to post #metoo. Because of course, #metoo. Reading the avalanche of #metoo stories, I feel as I did watching the second presidential debate, almost exactly a year ago, when Trump incessantly interrupted Clinton and paced menacingly behind her: I feel like I can’t breathe.

Over the years, I’ve heard people say, “There’s no need for feminism anymore.” I witness that is their reality, that they feel no need for it, but there are millions of us gasping for the air of autonomy. To not be interrupted. To not have our space taken away from us. To not have to contort our selves into ever smaller shapes to make room for others’ sprawling colonization of our space. And of course, to not be raped. To not be blamed and shamed.

It is part of my story, one that I tell openly, that I’ve dealt with depression since I was 13 years old. I don’t view it as a pathology so much as a completely appropriate response to having read a history book. An appropriate response to the feeling of fingers beginning to creep around my neck, squeezing my throat, threatening my breath. I was so young, but I was already experiencing the silencing of my girl voice and objectification of my girl body.

One might call what I was feeling grief. As I’ve grown older, as I’ve surrounded my self with friends and a life partner and poets and other authors who are witnesses, who get it, I’ve come out the other side of grieving. The depression has subsequently eased.

I have to admit that as I’ve read all of the #metoo stories this week, I have been scared of grieving again. So much grief. How can we bear it? Especially, how can we bear it in this world where even a man who claims to be an ally, joining our marches, has assaulted dozens of women? Where a man stalks a woman, openly, in front of God and everybody, and 63 million people say, “Yes, he should be the most powerful man in the world”?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is #metoo.

I’m Doing the Best I Can

“I’m doing the best I can.”

I have repeated this near daily since June, when I took on a new job with more hours – more weekly hours, in fact, than I had worked since having two kids. It’s a good project, and I’m glad to be doing it, but there may have been one or two or ten days that felt like running a race with only one shoe on. Or without socks. Or maybe I had on socks but they were dirty because the laundry piles in this house are everywhere.

Today in the mail, I got this lovely Emily McDowell magnet from a friend.


“You are doing a *&^% great job.”

It was accompanied by a note, written with marker on brown construction paper, “I’m sorry about the icky brown construction paper, but my kid won’t use it so I have to….”

I’m not sure which I appreciate more, the magnet (which I promptly placed on the altar in front of my desk (yes, I have an altar, don’t you?)) or the note (because if using the brown construction paper isn’t a metaphor for motherhood, I don’t know what is).

I do know that I love my friend and that she thought to send this to me and the holiness of the space we humans-doing-the-best-we-can hold for each other.

And for you, in case you need to hear it: “You’re doing a *&^% great job.”

CCS School Board to Vote Thursday on Weighing Students, Taking Away Recess

Now’s the Time: Tell the School Board You Care About Weigh-ins & Recess!
Please consider coming out to the CCS School Board this Thursday, September 7, when the School Board will be voting on the issues of weighing students and of taking away recess as punishment, as part of an updated district Wellness Policy.

The School Board meeting begins at 5:00 at Charlottesville High School, 1400 Melbourne Road. Every member of the public is entitled to speak for three minutes. The public comment period will be towards the beginning of the agenda. You do not have to stay for the entire board meeting!

If you are not able to attend the meeting on Thursday, you can still email them. Click here for sample text that you could use in an email to the school board and for all of the school board members’ email addresses.

Two things I will be asking the School Board to do and would encourage you to consider asking for, as well:
1) Approve the updated Wellness Policy.
2) Given the persistent use of recess as punishment and the confusion about the legitimacy of the practice, send communication to ALL CCS stakeholders – parents, teachers, and administrators – announcing that recess is not to be taken away from students.

To read the updated Wellness Policy here, click this link, then select the third hyperlink on the page, under File Attachment (see screenshot below): http://esbpublic.ccs.k12.va.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6241&mtgId=605
Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 1.50.32 PM

If you have any questions at all about speaking to or emailing the school board, please email me at christa.v.bennett@gmail.com

For more information on the updated policy, keep reading….

The Updated Wellness Policy
The Wellness Policy has been updated by the School Health Advisory Board. It contains numerous changes to the existing policy. The two issues that my petition has been focused regard student weigh-ins and taking away recess as punishment.

The changes to the policy of weighing students include the following:

  • Students will be weighed in third through tenth grades (whereas they used to be weighed beginning in kindergarten).
  • Parents have the option to opt out their child from being weighed AND students have the option to opt out themselves.
    • PE teachers’ training in conducting the weigh-ins will include how to talk to students about opting out and their right to do so.
  • PE teachers will be trained in how to conduct the weigh-ins, using modules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • An additional teacher will be assigned to the PE class while the PE teacher is weighing students.
  • Students’ weights will not be recorded with their name or other identifying information.
    • The purpose of the weigh-ins are for “surveillance” instead of “screening.” In this case, surveillance means collecting data, without identifying information attached. The data will be used in application for grants that will benefit Charlottesville students.
  • Students will not be told their weight, even if they ask what it is. (This is not yet in the Wellness Policy, but Patrick Johnson, CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education, indicated that he intends to include it in the final draft of the Wellness Policy.)

The change to the policy of taking away recess as punishment includes the following:

  • It can’t happen!

In a very clear statement, the Wellness policy says that taking away recess, PE, or other physical activity as punishment is not permitted. Additionally, the use of physical activity as punishment is not permitted.

My Take
I am very pleased with the changes to the Wellness Policy.

Regarding the practice of weighing students, my original preference was that it wouldn’t happen at all. However, I am intrigued by one of the changes that is really innovative and could be a powerful experience for a student: that they can opt themselves out. There is a shift towards teaching kids in school about consent, that they get to decide what happens to their bodies. Being able to say no to being weighed could be an empowering experience for students. I will be watching how this plays out.

Regarding recess, I am very happy to have such a clear statement against taking it away as punishment.

I was surprised that at the school board meeting last month, no one pushed back on the second prohibition, i.e., the use of physical activity as punishment not being allowed. I am sensitive to the limited resources teachers often face, and I am concerned that they have adequate alternatives to respond to disruptive behavior in their classrooms. Some teachers do have kids walk laps at the beginning of recess, as a consequence for poor choices. While this is not ideal if it is happening every day – the numerous studies indicating the importance of recess in child development highlight its utility in social development as well as physical and academic – I wouldn’t necessarily balk at a teacher using it occasionally.

Weigh-ins and Recess Excerpts from the updated Wellness Policy

(p4)

  • Reducing or eliminating time for recess, physical education or physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.
  • The use of physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.

(p5)

  • BMI (height and weight)assessments surveillance will be conducted collected for students in K3-10 yearly, however, parents and students will have the option of opting out. An opt-out form will be provided to all parents prior to the start of the BMI assessment. BMI assessment will be taken without using student’s names and will be done in a private area. PE teachers will be trained and provided with an additional adult to assist with the PE class while assessments are being taken. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/BMI/BMI_measurement_schools.htm

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.