I understand there are some things we want to protect our children from for as long as we can. But for me, my daughter does not get to know who I am without knowing my story. If I practice authenticity, even though sometimes with haphazard grace, the most important person I can practice with – is my daughter Lyra. I am an adult trauma survivor. I was sexually abused for many years as a child, some occurred while I was eight, the same age as my beloved Lyra is now. I have written about this part of me for many years now. How could I share it with the world and not her?
We began talking about this as early as three years old. Understanding what I do, both personally and professionally as a marriage and family therapist, it is never too young to start “The Talk.” I am imagining some parents right now are screaming and wanting to pull hair out (mainly mine) at the thought of starting such a squeamish conversation so early. We had the ‘okay touch, not okay touch’ first, attempting to demonstrate how her body belonged to her and no one, including me, was allowed to touch, squeeze or hug without her permission. I had hints of regret when she would gladly explain to other people how she was in charge of her body (with her hand on her hip), but I had to shrug and smile while other adults rolled their eyes at me.
Later came the first sex talk at the age of six. We got a new kitty and he was going to be neutered. She asked one night while taking a bath (a place where many deep conversations take place, NOT the dinner table -Apparently) what ‘neutered’ meant and I blurted out, “He gets his balls cut off!” Oh, I was rightfully chastised for this because by this time we had many conversations about using proper language. As usual, when you decide to not put your kiddo in a bubble like some trauma survivors do, you have a few mishaps with the sex information being shared . This time, she readily informed all her friends at school and later told me proudly that one of her friends already knew the details of how babies were made. Yes, I did a face palm because how could I forget the power of knowledge? But as the years have raced on, her wise use of knowledge astonishes me.
One aspect of a trauma survivors recovery often entails giving back. So, this year marks the second Annual Phoenix Rising 5k, held in my little rural town, Georgia. When I began private practice, I had in my mind that I wanted a way to support sexual assault survivors in my own community. By raising funds and publicly modeling for all trauma survivors that they are not alone, I could continue to support others in shedding away the shame that every trauma survivor carries. My lovely Lyra decided after I explained to her what happened to me (in as much of an age appropriate way as I could) and why we were hosting this race, that she was going to be the Phoenix, calling herself ‘The Race Mascot.’ In a way that she does not even understand yet, she IS the mascot. Together, we have ended an intergenerational cycle of sexual violence and she is what I have birthed out of the ashes of my strength and hope.
But, like all good truth tellers, especially the Phoenix kind, she didn’t let it end there. Within weeks of the first race, she presented me with a drawing on her favorite colored paper- purple. I beamed!
“I Want to Change the World by Bieing a Masscott at a Race.”
I inquired and the first thing she said was,“Ms. Student Teacher asked us to do this project in art with her. She wanted us to draw a picture of how we felt we could change the world.”
She went on, “I wanted to write that I could change the world by supporting rape survivors, but when I asked her how to spell the word rape, Ms. Student Teacher shushed me and said I couldn’t write that.”
Okay…a little internal dialogue:
“WHAT- THE WHAT! S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y. Student teacher lady, you did what to my daughter???!!! Shushed HER??!!!!” …..then that was immediately followed by, “Oh, poor-poor student teacher, poor 20-something-who-has-no-clue what in the hell to do with such a difficult, complicated and taboo topic (especially with a seven year old in second grade).
I took a deep breath. Then another….. AND Another. Geez, why didn’t I just stick with the bubble? I then asked, “How did you decide this instead?” She flippantly said, “Well, since SHE had a problem with it, I decided to write what I was doing AT the race.”
Yes, we had a lengthy discussion about how it was inappropriate for her teacher to not explain herself and followed that up with the usual, ‘we’re not your typical parents’ bit, but that her teacher was right in this case, ‘Cuz, remember when I let you know that you may not want to tell all your friends about what sex is? Well, this is kind of part of that.’ I explained that we needed to let other parents decide when they were going to talk about certain things and it wasn’t our place to make Ms. Student Teacher have a lecture on rape to her second grade class.
Are you dying inside or jumping with joy? I always wonder what parents would think of my decisions around this part of my relationship with my daughter. I would be lying if I said that I don’t worry or don’t care and I did especially care about my daughters teacher and poor-poor Ms. Student Teacher ‘s feelings. After a few days, I followed up with an email to her teacher explaining what I understood to have occurred and offered understanding and support, but continued to stand my ground around what I believed my daughter deserved in that moment. Not for one HOT MINUTE did I believe Ms. Student Teacher was prepared for such a conversation with a seven year old, but perhaps my daughter helped for future sake.
All I know is that when I made the decision to host this race, I wanted to give back to my community. I wanted to search within and continue to push myself to grow and change in ways I felt were not happening by staying small. What I did not consider was that when I committed to Phoenix Rising, my family did.
For all the struggle that modeling authenticity has been with my daughter, one thing I know for sure: She believes that she is changing the world. And from my point of view, She Already Has.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us: http://momastery.com/messy-beautiful-warrior-friends! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy,Beautiful Life, just released in paperback: http://momastery.com/carry-on-warrior!
P.S. In case you were wondering….Yes, We are wearing Tutus. So Fabulous!