When You Need To Discuss Sexual Harassment With Your Pre-teen Child

“Mom, I need to tell you something,” my daughter spoke as I started the car after picking her up from the YMCA yesterday, “but I don’t think you are going to like it.”

 

I love sentences that start this way. I had no idea what was going to come out of her mouth next.  Let’s just say I never ran the following as a possible scenario in my head.

 

She proceeded to tell me that a 7th Grade boy on her afternoon bus was going around talking about his two favorite words, thick and moist.  I knew instantly what was coming next as I am my father’s daughter and have always had a dirty mind.  She continued by saying that this boy then proceeded to ask all the girls on the bus if he made them moist.

 

Uh, what?! Did I really just hear that correctly?!

 

My daughter, a wise soul (after all her name means Wise Fairy), was disgusted. Somehow, she knew what he meant at her tender age of eleven.  She scrunched up her face and replied with a huge “No!” when he asked her.  But that response wasn’t enough for this kid.  He then wanted to confirm her answer by asking if he could look to make sure.

 

I was worried what her response would be to this. I have always been straight with her, not sheltering her from the realities of this world.  I was very proud when she said that she told him, “Heck no!”  I am raising her right.

 

I had to digest all this. I knew I would feel disgusted if someone asked me this and I am in my late 30s.  When we got home I was curious to see what her father’s response to this situation would be, hoping that some reaction would be given.  Knowing my husband, I knew I was asking for a bit too much.  He said that this is the age boys get disgusting and that our daughter responded correctly.

 

As the discussion progressed during dinner, more questions arose in me.

 

“Did the bus driver do anything?” My daughter responded with, “No.”

 

Excuse me?!

 

“She didn’t say anything at all?!” My daughter responded, “Nope.  Well, at one point she tried to change the subject, but that didn’t work.”

 

Okay, bus driver, I know this is not really in your job description, but please say something even if just to the school.

 

Did I mention that this bus aside from having the Middle School kids, also has 4th and 5th Graders?

 

I was torn with how to react. So obviously, I posted it on Facebook leaving it to the internet gods to come up with a solid solution.  Waiting for reactions to start pouring in, I pondered this event more and more and became more saddened by it.  Of course, the kids in Middle School are learning about their bodies and how their bodies react hormonally, I can’t prevent that, nor do I want to.  But this, this wording… While he thought he was being cool, it was just feeding the Sexual Harassment frenzy that has snowballed into an avalanche in the United States recently.  It isn’t right, this wording isn’t right.  What this boy did, as many on Facebook agreed, was Sexual Harassment.  These girls aren’t going to know yet to tell him to shut up.  Most are going to shy away from it and pretend it didn’t happen.  Worse yet, is a 4th Grader going to know to tell him no when he wanted to check if they were or weren’t “moist”?

 

I woke up and checked Facebook this morning. I was met with generally the same reaction… this is Sexual Harassment, call the school and the bus company.  While I want to jump at the phone and dial the school’s number, I am undecided what to say.  I feel awkward using the word “moist” (God, what a horrible word) when discussing this with the school authority.  I also have no idea what the child’s name is.  What am I going to say, “Some 7th Grade boy is asking the girls on bus 20 if he makes them moist”?  But, I do not want this to die away.  This is extremely relevant especially at this prepubescent age.  This is the age where girls and boys are learning about what their body can actually do.  They are learning about sex.  They are learning about their body’s reaction to sex.  They are feeling awkward about it.  I mean my daughter still plugs her ears and sings “La, la, la” when I even try to discuss what a menstrual cycle is.  I also know that they are coming upon an age where some of their friends will sadly begin to engage in sex.  All this, all this means, they are coming upon the age of being sexually harassed.

 

It is sad, sad to think that I need to discuss in further detail what Sexual Harassment is to my newly eleven-year-old daughter. It is sad that this boy feels he can talk this way and get away with it, especially with all the recent events (Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, etc.).  It is sad that now somewhere in my town a parent might have to discuss this with their nine-year-old 4th Grader.  How does one delicately explain it to a mere child?  How do you teach your child this is not right?  There is no required training in this like there is at work.

 

So here I sit, angry, disgusted, saddened and a bit confused wanting to hold on to the little girl that still resides in my daughter, but knowing that in this day and age, she needs to grow up at a younger age than I did.

I’ve Always Wanted To Be An Architect… And Other Shit 

I remember my first Lego set.  I was six and my family had just gotten back to my Aunt & Uncle’s house from the mall.  I am not sure why I wanted this set so badly, but I begged, I pleaded, and now it was lying on the floor of the bedroom I was sitting in.  It was a medieval boat that came with two men in helmets.  I stared at it in awe.  Could I build this?  At six?

I worked hard on it but sure enough, I completed it.  I stared at it in amazement thinking, Wow, I built this!

This teeny-tiny itty-bitty Lego set started it all.  I wanted to become an Architect.  I made a major life decision at the respectable age of 6.

Through the years, I challenged myself.  The sets got bigger and my time to build them got shorter.  I would follow the directions, quickly erect the Lego building, look at it with pure elation and then take it apart.  At this point, I would be my own creations.  I was, after all, a budding Architect!

As I became a teen, I shifted from Legos to hand drawings.  I would draw floor plans just for fun.  Soon, I developed into drawing the front elevations of houses.  I received several home plan books and computer programs for my birthday and holidays.  I even received a drafting table.  Yes, this is definitely what I wanted to do.

In the fall of 1998, I started the 4 year Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree at the University of Maryland.  I was on my way.  For the next few years, I lived in the Architecture building, taking a particular interest in my Architectural History courses.  I became fascinated with buildings, mainly homes, from the Colonial and Federal time periods.  I graduated in May of 2002 and after a month started my career in Architecture.

But, I was far from my desire to be a licensed Architect.  I kept my work records and when the time came, I began to study for the exams.  7 exams at over $200 each.  I took my first exam when my daughter was 2.  I anxiously waited for my results.  The day finally came…

…FAIL.

I was heartbroken.  I was also in the midst of my 5th episode with Major Depressive Disorder.  I decided to take a break and wait for my daughter to get a bit older.  After all, the 5 year rolling clock didn’t start until you passed one of the exams.

1 year after I failed the first exam, I took a different one.  I felt confident going in.  I felt happy when I left.  I felt defeated when the results came…

…FAIL.

The word ‘fail’ and the fact that I am an Alpha with perfectionist tendencies, didn’t ease this situation.  I decided then and there, I was done taking exams until I had the money to pay for the review courses and the exams.

Years went by.  My job growth continued, although minimally.  I began to really think about my career.  Would being licensed make a difference?  At that point, no.  My pay would not increase.  My responsibilities would not increase.  Why spend the money?  Just so I could put ‘Architect’ after my name?

A few years ago, I was struggling with my career.  Where I was working was affecting my Mental Health greatly.  It was not a healthy place for me anymore.  So I once again thought about the question:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Suddenly, the answer was no longer Architect.  I had become increasingly interested in hiking and nature.  Being outside rejuvenates my soul.  Researching, I realized that maybe a career in Forestry, like becoming a Park Ranger would be for me.  Lacking funds to go get a degree in it, I decided to start small and take a Certificate Course in Forest & Wildlife Conservation.  Most of the material intrigued me.  And then reality set in… there were very little, if any, paying positions in the Northeast, and we were not moving.

Next up in line, a Groupon became available to become a Certified Personal Trainer.  I studied and miraculously passed the exam (an exam that most of its material was not covered in the books the course came with).  To this day, I am still certified.  To this day, I have not used it.

Why?  I changed jobs.  I found a job that still uses my knowledge in Architecture that I enjoy.  Is it my passion?…

…No.

I feel like we stress deciding a career so early in life.  Of course, I made the decision even earlier than necessary.  I graduated college when I was 22, but one had to declare a major by the end of sophomore year.  I look at my daughter now, and can’t even believe that in less than 10 years, she will have to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  How can we decide so young with so little knowledge and experience on what life really is?  She is already starting to decide.  So far she has narrowed it down to Fashion Designer, Illustrator, and Teacher  (Fashionista dropped off the list a couple of years ago).  These are her current passions, but when she is my age (a few years shy of the big 4-0) will she still feel that way?  I don’t.

If I could turn back time (someone send me a Time Turner from the Harry Potter world), I would change my major, knowing what I would endure in the years to come.  Becoming an Architect would fade away.  After suffering severely with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, advocacy is my new passion.  I only want to help others to not suffer the way I have and to get better.  I want others to know they are not alone.  I want to be one of the many people to break down the stigma wall, block by block.  If money were not an issue, I would go back to school now.  I would get a degree in Mental Health Counseling.  I would become a Mental Health Counselor.  Since money does not grow on trees, I will do what I can, maybe one day going back to school.

For now, I am an Architectural Project Manager who advocates for Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health through my writing. And, I am content this way.

What I Want My Daughter To Know On Her 10th Birthday 

My Baby Girl,

Today you turn 10, a decade old.  As I look at you, I see the baby face that I gave birth to and admire the preteen beauty you are now.  I am not sure when it actually happened, when you got to this point that toys were no longer an “in” thing for you, that make-up tutorials and Minecraft tutorials were now cool.  I am not sure when you decided to stop playing with My Little Pony, Barbie, and American Girl Dolls.  Ten years, they just flew by.  As I reflect on these stages of infancy and young childhood that I will never experience with you again, I want you to know a few things and keep them in your mind as you get older:
Stay Kind – Kindness is everything.  You really do need to treat people how you would like to be treated.  As you make fun of someone for the outfit they are wearing (and you will), remember that they are owning their style just like you own yours.  Remember they are human too and no one deserves to be made fun of.  Being kind opens up doors to future opportunities.  No one wants to hire a rude person.
Be Your Unique Self – You will fall into peer pressure.  I have not noticed anyone who hasn’t at one point in time.  Please remember that you are the only you there will ever be.  Exploit that.  Show your style and your personality.  Your friends like you because of who you are.  If they are asking you to change or to do something you don’t want to do and threaten your friendship because of it, then they were never your friends to begin with.  
Hold On To Your Imagination – Tether this one to your heart.  As we age and become adults, our imaginations tend to dwindle.  When I was younger, I was an avid story and poetry writer.  Then adulthood kicked in… work, bills, getting married, having a child… I lost a piece of me.  I lost my imagination.  It took falling into a black abyss of depression and anxiety to get that back and at this age, it isn’t nearly as strong as it was.  Crazy glue your creativeness to yourself.  Don’t ever lose that.  It is what makes life interesting.
Keep Dreaming – Always aim to achieve your dreams and goals.  It may not be a quick process but never decide to let go.  You have seen me achieve my dream of becoming a published writer with being a contributor to two published collections.  You see me currently writing my own book… a book that has been in the process for years but I am not giving up.  Do not let others tell you to quit dreaming.  They are not living within you.  You are capable of anything you put your mind to.
Challenge Yourself – Do not take the easy way out on everything you do.  Strive to be as good as you can be.  Try to read those novels in high school and bypass the Cliff Notes, you will be surprised at all that is in the actual novel.  You do not need to strive to be valedictorian, just try to be the best YOU can be.  Challenge yourself by drawing more, writing more, reading just one more page.  You won’t regret it.
Loyalty Is A Blessing And A Curse – Always try to remain loyal to your friends and family, the ones that have your back, the ones that love you “to infinity and beyond”.  Loyalty is a tremendous gift but, it can backfire on you.  Just be aware.  You may put out way more than you will receive in certain relationships. 

 
Remember Empathy – Empaths are rare.  To truly be empathetic to a person is to “walk in their shoes”.  Everyone is going through something.  It could be a physical illness such as cancer, a mental illness  such as depression, neglect, prejudice, etc.  No one, I mean, no one’s life is easy even if it seems like it.  I am glad that I passed on this gift of empathy to you.  Keep using it in all situations, but try hard to not let it stick with you for long periods of time.  Once you feel empathy for a person or a group of people, acknowledge it, digest it, and then do not dwell on it.  It can take over your mind and cause you depression and grief.

Not All Friendships Last – Friendships can end due to many reasons.  Sometimes you may have said or done something and sometimes a friend may have offended you.  Honestly, most friendships that end is just from the simple fact that friends can grow apart.  Schedules get busy. Common things get sparse.  It happens, and baby, it hurts.  There will be a grieving process to mourn the end of a friendship.  You’ll go through the stages of denial, disbelief, depression… and eventually, acceptance.  What’s important is to realize that they were in your life for a reason.  It may have been the extra shoulder you needed, or the ear you lent them.  Understand that although you feel like it ended because of you, it most likely didn’t. With these friendship deaths, there are strengths.  Friends you’ve had for years, decades, who are there for you. Friends you may not see or speak to often but when you do, it’s like you were never apart. Hold on to them.
Common Sense Is Just As Important As Book Smarts – Always aim to be the best student you can be but that is in two fields in life, school, and common sense.  Listen to your instincts.  Sometimes common sense matters more than what you may have learned in class.
Love Unconditionally – Always let love in.  It can be in the form of your father and I loving you, you loving your friends and them loving you back, finding your future spouse, love for your future children and love for a pet.  If you have every really processed movies, you will realize love conquers all and it does.  Love is what saved Harry from Voldemort.  Love is what let Anna and Elsa take back their kingdom.  Love is what brings Darth Vader back from the Dark Side to the Jedis.  Love is what makes us live and want to live.  There is always someone out there that loves you.
I know I have told you most of these things before, but I want you to understand all of them.  You are getting to a point in your life where you will not listen to me anymore (or at least for a few years).  You will think you know everything and Mommy and Daddy know nothing.  I have been there.  Your father has been there too.  But you know what?  After those years of being “above all” you will come to treasure everything your parents told you.  You will read this letter and know exactly where Mommy was coming from.  Please process these now and keep them with you.  Know that I see you, I see the strong, silly, sassy, smart girl you are.  I see your beauty, inside and out.  I can see what you are capable of.
You are a beautiful and unique young lady.  You are you.
Love, Mommy