We Don’t Get To ‘Gate Keep’ Grief

On February 20, Chrissy Teigen paid tribute on Instagram to baby Jack on what would have been his due date. The model, cookbook author, and mom has been open about suffering a pregnancy loss at 20 weeks, and her honesty has been a lifeline to others who’ve suffered a similar tragedy. Her honesty has also left her exposed to the worst of the Internet — to vitriol and cruelty, and now, even gatekeeping.

A number of media outlets picked up and shared Teigen’s post, and, unsurprisingly, the comments poured in. Most kind. Others not. One particular comment has been plucked out of obscurity for its specific brand of cruelty. The commentator wrote: “Poor poor girl. I don’t care for her at all and enough about your miscarriages, honey I’ve had 2 of them! You’re no different than the rest of us women.”

This comment is horrid for a number of reasons, but most relevant is the commentator’s attempt at invalidating Teigen’s grief, the attempt to set up an arbitrary threshold of suffering that includes the commentator and excludes Teigen, thereby forbidding her right to grieve. Drilled down to its most fundamental parts, this is an attempt at gatekeeping.

Urban Dictionary defines gatekeeping as, “When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.”

Gatekeeping grief is vile. It’s a nasty impulse to tell someone else that they aren’t suffering enough to deserve sympathy. It’s telling them their hurt doesn’t count. Gatekeeping turns grief into a competition, turns loss and suffering into a competition. Which it isn’t. Ever.

I became a person intimately acquainted with grief three years ago. Since then, I’ve learned a number of truths related to grief and gatekeeping.

One, grief is not a competition. There’s no award for the person who suffered the most. No prize to recover for suffering the most.

Two, grief isn’t finite. It’s not a limited resource. One person’s big grief does not mean yours must now be smaller. One person saying “this is hard” does not mean your suffering is any less hard. There’s space for both lived experiences to be hard, to be acknowledged, to be heard.

Three, the phrase “at least” when it comes to loss is simply invalidating. “At least he didn’t suffer.” “At least you can still get pregnant.” It’s an indirect, often well-intentioned, way of gatekeeping, of telling someone their loss doesn’t meet that high threshold, so they cannot or should not be sad.

The overarching theme on all those lessons: We don’t get to gate keep grief. Not Chrissy Teigen’s or anyone else’s. There’s space for us all to grieve.

Gatekeeping grief is not just a cruel act toward one griever. It ends up affecting all of us. And here’s how: sharing stories is a powerful act. When someone — a celebrity like Teigen or otherwise — chooses to share something so private publicly, she’s extending a hand to dozens, thousands, maybe millions of others who’ve experienced similar suffering and who can’t find the words or don’t yet have the strength to face their trauma.

The commentator wrote “You’re no different than the rest of us women.” This misses the point. Sharing your story is not meant to lift yourself onto a pedestal. Teigen isn’t writing to be a martyr, to collect attention. (And by the way, even if she was, if that’s what she needed in her grief, to help her heal just a little, then she should be permitted to seek that out without judgment.) Teigen is writing to share her story, and in doing so she’s telling countless numbers of people that they aren’t alone.

Loss, grief, the aftermath of trauma, is so incredibly isolating. That moment you realize you aren’t alone, that someone else in the world understands even a glimmer of your lived experience, is sometimes the difference between a breath and a sob. It might be the lifeline you need when you’re drowning.

Making space for one person to share their story doesn’t mean you can’t tell your story. In fact, it makes it easier to find the words. Sharing your story creates more space for more stories, more voices. Gatekeeping grief, shutting out one story, does the opposite. It compresses the space for voices. It isolates.

When you’ve lived through loss, have become intimately acquainted with grief, the world looks different. Empathy often walks hand in hand with grief.

Gate keeping grief may be a result of having been invalidated in the past — lashing out now at another because someone somewhere told you your suffering wasn’t enough. It’s a cruel cycle that needs to stop. The way to stop is with that empathy. Gate keeping grief doesn’t make you more deserving of something. But it reveals a lot about your capacity for empathy — or lack thereof.

Grief is personal. Suffering is personal. No two people experience any of it the same way. There are an infinite amount of ways to grieve as there are an infinite amount of ways to love. As such, there exists space for all of the ways to grief. Moreover, there exists enough empathy for everyone to take as much as they need.

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Don’t Believe The Lies — You Are Not Broken

When I was in my early 20s, I stood in front of a friend’s mirror and saw myself looking in on myself like I was my own Droste effect of being a picture within a picture. I watched myself cry, and I heard someone tell me I was never wanted. The voice in my head was making its way out of mouth and I continued to repeat phrases that made sense to me but no one else. I could feel the emotions of the objects around me. I was being overwhelmed by pain and beauty. I was seeing words and knew I could touch sound. I was having a psychotic break but didn’t know it.

When my ex-partner took me to the emergency room, I remember being asked if I was Wiccan. A doctor asked me this while I was in the middle of talking too fast and with little logic. What? What is Wiccan? I didn’t think I was that. Instead of being treated like someone who was suffering from mental illness, I was assumed to be someone with an obscure religion, practicing witchcraft. Instead of taking me seriously and treating me with compassion, the first reaction this doctor had was to make a snide remark that implied I had created this mess for myself because of a pagan belief system. Somehow that seemed more plausible than that I might be suffering from a PTSD episode.

After replying no to the Wiccan question and others about drug use, they finally asked about my mental health history. They contacted my psychiatrist and psychologist, and I was released to go home after promising I wasn’t going to harm myself. By that point I had started to calm down, and I would have said anything to get the hell out of there. I was embarrassed and confused. I felt like a loser and a freak. I had only been in therapy for a few years, but it seemed like nothing was working. When was I going to be fixed? When was I going to be normal?

I have since learned that I was never broken, and normal is a bullshit construct that no one can live up to. If you are struggling to feel mentally well, you are not alone. And you need love and support, not stigma.

Before the pandemic started, nearly 1 in every 5 Americans had experienced a mental illness; however, more than half of those people did not seek help because they were afraid of judgement, loss of employment, or loss of friends and family. Irina Gonzalez, a writer and editor based in Florida, says growing up as a Latina added an extra layer of stigma when talking about mental health. “I remember early on hearing about some distant aunt who was only described as ‘la loca’ (the crazy one). She didn’t even have a name, just an identity as the crazy member of the family. This is really common in my culture.” She also said that it wasn’t okay to “air dirty laundry” and talk about problems that needed attention. Instead Gonzalez struggled with anxiety and alcohol abuse and wished her family and culture embraced mental health instead of seeing it as something to avoid.

I and so many others use drugs and alcohol to cope with what we can’t explain or what we try to hide. There is an element of cognitive dissonance that happens between feeling that something is wrong and not being taken seriously. We are hurting but are told to suck it up and not talk about it.

Ashley, a mother of three from Vermont, has been dealing with anxiety and panic attacks since she was a child. As an adult she still struggles to find the healthiest ways to take care of herself. “I learned at a young age that it wasn’t normal to be overwhelmed and anxious,” she told Scary Mommy. “The overwhelming message was to toughen up and learn to deal with it. The social stigma of depression is that people who suffer with it are downers. They make people in society uncomfortable. Teenage girls, in particular, are supposed to be pretty, bubbly, happy and lighthearted. I was not fulfilling my duty as the sweet, happy-go-lucky, all-American girl.” She spent years trying to get better or “fixed” before insurance coverage ran out for therapy sessions.

Our insurance systems in this country are disgusting at best. Before having gender affirming surgery, which was also life-saving surgery, I had to prove to my insurance and surgeon that I was suffering and that the surgery would help with dysphoria, a common occurrence for transgender folks. To cover the expense of my surgery, I cashed out an expensive life insurance policy to which I could no longer afford to pay monthly premiums after a divorce. I paid $12,000 out of pocket for my medical bills and planned on insurance covering a significant portion of that bill. Despite having been approved for the procedure, I wasn’t reimbursed any money because my plan only covered up to $2,500 after my deductible was met.

Moreover, when I applied for a cheaper life insurance plan to replace the one I’d given up, I was denied a policy because of my mental health history and addiction — despite having been sober for 2 years at the time, and despite being as emotionally stable as I had ever been. I was getting the necessary medical care to support my mental health. My physical health was excellent. My medications and therapists had been consistent for years. I was clean. I was doing everything “right.” None of it matters.

I was considered too high risk and wasn’t allowed to pay more for the “death by suicide” clause. My history of suicide ideation, my mental break, and my alcohol abuse left stains that society deems unwashable. One system after another makes it hard for those of us who struggle with mental illness to feel worth the time and “risk” to be taken care of.

Lonnie, based in New York, explained that her husband refused to seek mental health services for his debilitating anxiety and irrational rage because he didn’t want to lose his job. “This caused irreparable harm to not only him, but to our family unit as well,” she told Scary Mommy. “Only after he completely separated from the Army did he feel free to seek the therapy and medication he needed.”

Every gender, profession, age group, race, and socioeconomic background is susceptible to mental illness. And despite the millions of people who suffer, mental illness is often kept hidden, not taken seriously, or manifests in ways that others simply shove aside as laziness, weakness, or incompetence. Instead of finding compassion, patience, and support, those of us who struggle with mental illness often find ourselves inflicted by stigma — both from society and ourselves. The negative attitudes and treatment toward people who struggle with mental illness create a cycle of silence, shame, and unhelpful self-judgment. We need to stop normalizing these patterns.

I have been receiving mental health services since I was 18. I have a team of therapists, a compact but effective toolbox of coping skills and medications, and years of painful and enlightening lessons that have torn me apart and stitched me back together. I have several diagnoses and those have been helpful to get the medication and education I need to feel better if not good. But what helps me the most is to acknowledge what I have endured. I was a victim of childhood abuse. I have had to manage my way out of toxic relationships. My brain re-wired itself to the point of self-protection and self-harm. I have learned not to blame myself for my abuse, which means I can’t blame myself for my mental illness that grew out of that trauma.

We need to stop blaming each other too. Fewer stigmas around mental illness would encourage folks to reach out and get the help they need and deserve. People need more grace, not more reasons to believe they are failing or unworthy.

Don’t believe the lies. You are not broken. You are not a failure. You are worthy and loved.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers 24/7, 365 days of the year confidential and free services in Spanish and English. 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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To My Fellow Educators: Please Stop Saying Our Kids Are Falling Behind

To members of the U.S. Department of EducationThe National School Boards AssociationNational Association of Elementary School PrincipalsNational Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and AASA, The School Superintendents Association and our nation’s teachers: As a long-time Texas educator, nationally- and internationally-known and respected educational consultant on matters of literacy, and an award-winning author of educational books, I have one piece of advice – not requested but offered with a genuine heart: stop.

Stop any conversation you hear (or might have considered starting) that “our kids are behind” and “they must catch up.” I respectfully ask, “Behind what?” “Catch up to what?” Our kids are not behind as a result of a pandemic, though at some other time I will happily discuss the insidious systemic racial inequalities that have always existed in our schools, inequalities that have kept many with fewer opportunities than others. But our students are not “behind” now because of this pandemic.

What they are is stressed, anxious, lonely, worried, frustrated, and afraid of what happens next. But they are not behind a reading level or a math skill or a science concept. Rarely have I ever encountered any one concept in any classroom that is only taught once. We teach and reteach; we push kids to apply learned skills, strategies, and concepts in increasingly complex ways across the grades. That will continue to happen and anyone who says, “But they should have learned about mixed fractions in third grade and now we’ll have to do it in fourth grade” is too worried about benchmark learning and not focused enough on what learning should actually be about.

In many ways, our students across all grades have learned skills no one would have expected them to learn at their ages. They have been required to sit at a computer screen for 5, 6, 7 hours a day and figure out different learning platforms. They have had to figure out what to do when a school requires they be in their synchronous learning classroom when the sibling or parent is using the one computer in the home. Many have learned to monitor their own learning while watching siblings, preparing meals for siblings, or being scared while they are home alone. Many have finally returned to schools to be told, “Don’t touch,” “Don’t hug,” “Don’t get too close,” “Don’t share,” . . .  In a world where we want them to experience all they can do, they have been put behind see-through plastic screens on desks pushed that have been pushed six feet apart and told all that they can’t do.

Milko/Getty

In spite of all that, they have learned critical skills. They have learned empathy; they have – whether they realize it or not – become global citizens. They have learned what it means to stay inside; to substitute “I want to” with “I should.” And too many have learned what happens when parents lose jobs; too many have learned, at far too young an age, what grief is. They have learned that fear in the pit of your stomach when you hear someone you love has contracted COVID. They have learned how to cope with difficulties we never dreamed of preparing them to learn.

They have learned that some neighborhoods had more neighbors to contract the disease; they have learned that some hospitals received fewer supplies or received them later than other hospitals; they have seen, now, far more white people receive the vaccine than people of color or people of poverty. And they have questions about that. Questions they have been told “Don’t ask” and teachers have been told “Don’t answer.” They have learned that kindness counts. They have learned what it means to be without and how good it feels to help and to receive help. They have learned that in the worst of moments, they survived.

To dare to say our kids are behind, is to demean all the parents and teachers in this nation who have done their best under circumstances we never dared to imagine but experienced each and every day. These circumstances, for many teachers, were made worse when ridiculous requirements such as how long they must be at their computers, what they must do to show they are indeed teaching, how much they must cover of a curriculum that mattered little this year, how they must buy their own personal protection equipment and use their own dollars to supply classrooms with sanitizers, and teach face-to-face with no vaccines were never ending. This year has caused even our most veteran of teachers to question how they keep going and has reduced our novice teachers to questioning if they will stay in teaching. And now, now they are reminded they must never, ever forget the forthcoming TEST.

Stop relying on that ridiculous state test. It doesn’t measure a critical thing about what was learned this year or what was taught. If universities can set aside the lauded SAT/ACT this year, then what are we saying to our children, parents, and teachers when we say, “Oh, yes, we’ll be giving THE TEST this year”? What are we showing we value? Yes, let’s have a long-overdue conversation about this test. But for now, STOP the demands to “Make sure the kids are ready.”

To the U.S. Department of Education, stop waiting for states to ask for waivers to give THE TEST. Step in and stop the insanity.

To Dr. Jill Biden, thank you for your support of teachers and please see if you can perhaps push a little sanity into decisions being made right now.

And to all teachers: Stop listening to those who say your kids are behind. That’s a statement without merit, offered in unprecedented times, that is uttered by those who value testing, not learning, and statistics, not students. To those who say such things, I say they have not seen you delivering food to homes with little or none, staying online to talk to the kid who is alone, accepting work at any point in the unit, crying when one kid finally shows up because your heart has worried about that child/teen, and laughing with your students when a cat arrives to sit upon your shoulders. They haven’t seen all you have done to explain the unexplainable while you, too, wonder at this nation’s insanity.

Dear teachers, stop saying, “I can’t” because you have. You have shown up. You have done what you did not think you could. You have taught your kids under the worst of situations because it’s what you do. You are tired, stressed, anxious, worried, and feeling alone. I wish I could make those feelings go away. But I can remind you that feelings of inadequacy should be shoved aside. Please don’t think you can’t, because you did. You gave our nation’s students needed normalcy (though a new normalcy) and you showed them grace when few extended the same to you.

Our nation owes you so much and gives you so little. I wish we would all stop any belittling remarks toward teachers and those administrators who do support them. So, to all of the rest of us; stop saying what your child’s teacher did not do and start thanking that teacher for what was done.

Respectfully,

Kylene Beers, Ed.D.

Co-author with Bob Probst of Forged by Reading, Disrupting Thinking, Notice and Note, and Reading Nonfiction

National Leadership Award recipient by the National Council Teachers of English

Teachers Choice Award recipient for Disrupting Thinking

Past President of the National Council of Teachers of English

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Ask Scary Mommy: Help! My Four-Year-Old Is Giving Everyone The Bird

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week: What do you do when your preschooler won’t stop giving everyone the bird? Got a question? Email advice@scarymommy.com 

Dear Scary Mommy,

I have an issue that I’m too scared to post about in my moms group because I can only imagine the judgement some moms would fling my way. But, my preschooler (4 years old) won’t stop flipping people off. He flips off his teacher behind her back when he’s upset, he flips off his classmates during outside time, he flips me off, he flips off strangers when we are stopped at a red lights. He even flipped off his Nana on Zoom! Now his dad and I do curse, so he’s heard some choice words, but we do not flip people (or each other) off. I’m not sure where he learned it, but we can’t seem to make him unlearn it. I think he got attention for it at school, and the shocked reactions fueled the fire. But now, he won’t stop. We’ve tried talking him through what it means and why it’s not nice, time-outs, and even letting him flip things off in his bedroom only. None of it works. It was mildly amusing at first, but now it’s getting old. What the heck do I do here? 

Okay, I know what you are describing is a real problem and I totally get why you are upset. But can we pause for a second to acknowledge how incredibly hilarious this is?

Your kid likely has no idea what flipping someone off means exactly, but is basically doing what every last one of us wishes that we could – telling people exactly what we think of them, and how irritating and annoying they can be. I mean, this kid is living his best life, and I can’t help but envy him.

But back to your query. As I mentioned above, your child really, truly likely has no idea what giving someone the middle finger even means. He’s four years old, after all! But what he does know is that doing this is getting him a lot of attention, and he likely revels in that.

It probably doesn’t help that everyone he does this to is seeming shocked and upset by his actions. It’s understandable that people are having this reaction, because flipping someone off is not considered socially acceptable behavior, especially in environments like school, and among one’s grandparents.

However, the downside in feeling offended by his behavior is that it only seems to egg your child on, which is the opposite of what you want. I know you can’t fully control how others react, but if you are able to convey to others that they might want to try a “gray rock” approach to the whole situation—where you don’t react, or at least underreact to the situation—that might really help make the behavior disappear.

You can at least try this at home. Look him in his eyes and explain, gently but firmly, that his preferred gesture is something that many people don’t like, or think it’s mean. Then when he does it again, rather than lecturing him about it, doing a timeout, or trying to redirect him, just don’t really respond. Change the subject, move onto another activity, etc. Think of things that make your child feel happy and like he is getting attention. Swap this attention-getting activity for something more wholesome—or at least, you know, less expletive-filled.

Remember that whatever happens, and however long it takes for this behavior to end, it will end. Your kid isn’t going to be flipping people off for the rest of his life. Take comfort in the story of Scary Mommy’s Deputy Editor, Rita, whose youngest son was your son’s exact age when he also found an affinity for the middle finger – and its origins were innocent. “At the time, he called it ‘Spider-Man fingers,'” she explains. “He truly thought it was the motion Spider-Man made when he shot webs. But it got a reaction that he found hilarious.”

 

Courtesy of Rita Templeton

She’s happy to report that this phase didn’t last long; he’s eight now, and frequently praised for his good manners. (Whew!)

As for the jerks in your life who might judge you … well, they need to keep in mind that your kid is only four, isn’t doing this to be malicious, and that there is really no issue here besides the fact that he picked up something you’d rather he didn’t. Unless you were actively teaching your kid to curse people out, this doesn’t reflect poorly on you. It’s just a cute and hilarious kid mistake. Truly.

And for people who continue to judge you no matter what … well, you know what to do about that. Or maybe you can get your kid to do it for you.

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I’m Thrilled For Meghan And Harry, And Stoked For The Oprah Interview

It’s official: as of February 19th, Meghan and Harry are no longer working royals. As in, they’ve quit as working members of The Royal Family. Not a shock: they agreed to revisit their decision to no longer live as working royals after twelve months, and eleven months later … boom. As usual, two statements were released, because when does Buckingham Palace resist the chance to release a staid, boring statement? “The Palace” AKA “The Queen and Co.” announced, according to Town and Country:

“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have confirmed to Her Majesty The Queen that they will not be returning as working members of The Royal Family.

Following conversations with The Duke, The Queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service. The honorary military appointments and Royal patronages held by The Duke and Duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty, before being redistributed among working members of The Royal Family.

While all are saddened by their decision, The Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family.”

Staid, boring, and oh snap, Her Royal Majesty just stripped away all Harry’s honorary military titles (despite him being a veteran of Afghanistan, where he served on the front lines, according to Elle), plus England Rugby and the Rugby Football League. Meghan got her patronage of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the National Theatre yanked. Oops. Apparently, only working royals get patronages along with their mandatory nail polish shades.

Meghan and Harry Don’t Need to Be Working Royals to Serve

Chris Jackson/Getty

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who still get those titles at least, even if they’re stripped of using HRH (His/Her Royal Highness), hit back with a statement of their own, says the AP:

“As evidenced by their work over the past year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the U.K. and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organizations they have represented regardless of official role.

We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”

Daaaaaaamn. Scary Mommy’s unofficial translation: “We don’t need to be working royals to serve the public, so take your Royal Family living off the backs of the British people and shove it.”

This all comes, like, five days after Meghan’s baby news hit headlines around the world. Speaking of babies, despite the working royal rift, Harry remains sixth in line for the British throne, Archie number seven, and their next child number eight, says Elle.

Working Royals? Please. 

Being working royals meant taking the official palace line — ignore, ignore, ignore — when it came to racist attacks against Meghan. Headlines commented on her “exotic DNA,” and how she was “(almost) straight outta Compton,” reports NBC. Harper’s Bazaar said it often came through in microaggressions that the palace refused to address.

And real talk: when did The Royal Family last do anything meaningful other than provide fodder for The Crown? They cut ribbons, play polo, and live off British taxpayer funds: almost 95 million dollars in 2018-2019, according to British Heritage. Meghan and Harry cutting themselves off from “sovereign funds” is super mega awesome.

So now they’re living away from British racism, free to speak out against it, and refusing to take cash from average British taxpayers? Um, total win.

And Now There’s This Interview…

Aaron Chown – WPA Pool/Getty

Meghan and Harry have announced they’re sitting down with none other than the queen of chat, the one and only Oprah, for a special to air on CBS March 7th. Can you say must-see TV?! Buckingham Palace is collectively losing their shit. In a totally oops move, the Palace announced that just hours before the Oprah interview, they would be airing their annual Commonwealth Day service. It’ll feature televised messages, according to People, from Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Kate Middleton, among other working royals.

Apparently, that time slot was decided about three weeks ago.

Can you say awkward?!!

CBS says, according to People, that Oprah’s interview with Meghan will deal with “everything from stepping into life as a Royal, marriage, motherhood, philanthropic work to how she is handling life under intense public pressure,” and that they’ll be joined later by Harry.

This could be the most awesome (read: scandalous, gossip-ridden, royal family-embarrassing) interview since Princess Diana sat down with Martin Bashir in 1995 and talked, according to The Independent, about her bulimia, self-harm, adultery, and Charles’s affairs with Camilla, saying that, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Because, let’s admit it. This is what working royals are good for: scandal. Scandal, and those cute little Eton suits Prince George wears. Meghan and Harry are walking away from all that, and yay for them! Archie will grow up without people shoving cameras in his face. Meghan can clap back at any racist crap lobbed at her; the Sussexes can live how they want to live — without taking cash from the British taxpayers — and Meghan can wear outfits that aren’t monochrome.

She can also pick her own nail polish.

Win-win.

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Why I Refuse To Turn Off Ad-Tracking On Social Media

In this age of internet privacy and security, many of my friends on social media remind us less discerning folks about the dangers of sharing all our internet habits with the big social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. They tell us to up our privacy settings, clear our cookies, clear our caches, and either sign out or delete apps that might be listening in.

And I get it.

I totally see the need for keeping our data private and ours. Why should big companies make money collecting, storing, and then selling my information to who knows what? Is my data aggregated with others or is there some thick FBI file on me based on my Google search history in some centralized location where my various writerly queries about sex toys, strangulation petechiae, and the best ways to hide a body triangulate into some highly specific (and yet, not inaccurate) online portraiture of myself?

And yet, despite all these very good reasons to up my social media privacy settings and run ad blockers, I refuse.

At risk of sounding incredibly shallow (not that has ever stopped me), HOW ELSE WILL I KNOW WHAT TO BUY?

If there’s anything I enjoy, it’s a well targeted ad that knows exactly what I need to see in order to part me from my husband’s hard-earned money. (I mean, I make money that contributes to the family pot too, but it amuses me to think of my spending coming from his contribution rather than mine. I don’t know what that says about me, but I prefer not to examine that too closely.)

Without these apps tracking all my searches and dicking around on the interwebs, how will I know what to purchase online? I’m not a particularly trendy person and I hate following Instagram fashion influencers because they make me feel bad about myself — plus I can no longer wander the corridors of my local Target (don’t you dare shame me for finding Target’s affordable fashion so delightful).

Look, they’re going to advertise to me anyway. It might as well be highly relevant products that I want to buy.

Whether it’s in skin care, accessories, clothing, or any manner of household goods and items — very rarely kid-related things because let’s be real, it’s a me-first mentality here — all my favorite things I have bought thanks to Facebook and Instagram ads. The best part is that once I make one purchase, I will be immediately bombarded with more of the same products in the genre! They follow me around helpfully from one social media app to another. They even trail me to the various sites I frequent on the internet!

What a gift that is!

If it happens quickly enough, I may even cancel my previous order and buy a more suitable product from the suggestions!

Do I want a kimono-style dress? They know. Do I want to buy clothes that could only be adequately explained as expensive, giant, oversized sacks? Here are more! Do I love K-pop related jewelry? Check. Do I buy all the South Korean skincare products? ASIAN DON’T RAISIN! Do I want glass tentacled dildos? They ask if I’d like whorls with that. Do I want hype-beast embroidered Japanese Sukujans? Here are all the Asian-inspired sukujans. Do I want pillows styled as corgi butts where the button is a super adorable asshole? YES!

Yes, yes, YES!

I don’t even have to consciously think about it! It’s all preying on my inner Smaug. Give me all the shiny! All the fancy! All the ridiculously cute stickers and stuffies and quippy tees!

Sure, not everything comes as advertised, but I’d say 85% of the time, the product is as described. (Actually, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I have scuttled all the bad experiences into the waste bin of my mind because I perhaps have a really big problem.)

The best part? Whenever I take pictures of my purchases and then post on Instagram or Facebook, I get compliments!! I mean, who doesn’t love compliments? I don’t care if my friends are lying to my face — at my age, I take the props when I can get them. I say thank you and applaud myself for my excellent life choices.

I even pierced five more holes in my ears so that I can accessorize to the fullness I know I am capable of — and if internet shopping isn’t made for filling all my holes, I don’t know what is.

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Schools Should Absolutely Let Kids Resubmit Work And Retake Tests

Since my son started virtual school in the fall of 2020, he has been introduced to a new concept in schooling: the ability to resubmit assignments or retake tests. If he’s unhappy with a grade, he has two more chances to try again for a better one.

When I first learned he would have this feature built into his schooling, it sounded like a cop-out to me. Would he really learn that way? Isn’t it almost like cheating to be able to find out what you got wrong and just … go fix it and improve your grade? Wouldn’t everyone make straight A’s if that’s how things worked? And what about the kids who study really hard and get an A on the first try? Shouldn’t their grade record look better than the kid who got a C, then a B, and then an A?

But then I learned that, at least with my son’s virtual school program, it’s not as simple as going back to the assignment or test and fixing the problems he got wrong. He has to redo the entire assignment or test — with the questions shuffled around, some questions removed, and some new questions added in.

It’s not an easy fix. If he wants to actually improve his grade on subsequent tries, he has to put in the time to study. And because he doesn’t want to spend more time than necessary, he is motivated to study hard the first time to get a good grade so he doesn’t have to do it over. He knows I will make him redo assignments and tests if I see his overall grade slipping too much or if it’s obvious he’s not putting in the effort.

And I am seeing that when he redoes an assignment, he is absolutely getting more than just an improved grade out of it. If he bombed an assignment, it’s because he was lazy or distracted or simply missed a critical piece of information somewhere. When he redoes the work, he identifies what he missed, refreshes his memory, and most importantly, retains the information better. Rather than moving on to the next assignment with gaping holes in his knowledge, he pieces together a solid foundation on which to build and gather new information. He gains mastery.

And isn’t mastery supposedly the point?

A pre-pandemic tweet from 2019 about this concept of redoing work has resurfaced recently and made the rounds on social media.

“My parents seem genuinely shocked at my class policies,” said Tracy Edwards in her tweet. “Yes, your 5th grader may redo any test or quiz. No, I don’t care how many times they choose to retake it. Yes, they can turn in that assignment late. I’m a whole adult that requires grace & mercy. I can extend that to kids.”

In light of the pandemic, it seems many teachers have been reconsidering how they grade their students’ schoolwork. Kids have been suffering from anxiety and a general sense of impending doom. Teachers are recognizing this and adjusting their expectations accordingly, allowing kids to resubmit work and retake tests — hence the resurgence of this tweet. Of course, some teachers have been doing this for a while.

Lily, an 11th grade teacher in Massachusetts, says that in her classroom, it’s been standard practice for some time now to allow kids to make up almost all assignments. “Growth comes from revising and editing,” she tells Scary Mommy. “And not allowing students the opportunity is taking away their opportunity to learn from their own mistakes.” Lily also pointed out that the students she teaches come from highly disparate backgrounds. It would be classist, and often racist, to enforce the same rigid expectations with kids who’ve experienced trauma or instability in their lives as kids who are coming from a place of privilege.

April Noelle Grant also employs a “try again” approach in homeschooling her three children in Florida. “When they don’t do well on tests, we sit and discuss it,” the coach and podcast host of The Other Side of 40 tells Scary Mommy. “We figure out what happened. It makes no sense to throw your hands up and push to the next subject if they aren’t clear on the first one.”

Some kids need repetition to reinforce their long-term memory. Some kids have testing anxiety, and the repetition of retaking a test can help them work through those jitters so they can earn the grade that accurately reflects their understanding of the material. Some kids are coming from a first language other than English. There are so many reasons that being rigid with deadlines and final grades isn’t always the right answer, and in fact is sometimes the absolute wrong one.

None of this is meant to suggest that teachers should provide their students with endless opportunities for revision to the point that the teacher ends up tripling or quadrupling their own work. And clearly, part of preparing kids for adulthood means teaching them the importance of deadlines and how to meet them. Building into a curriculum the ability to redo assignments or retake tests does not mean tossing out all accountability. As with all things, balance is key.

Still we talk of preparing kids for the “real world” as if adulthood is a place where growth and second chances don’t exist. But being a competent adult — both in the workplace and out of it — often involves failure, revision, and starting over from scratch. And the point of school may be to gain mastery of a subject, but even more than that, it’s about growth. It’s not just about acquiring information; it’s about learning how to learn.

So why then would we only give kids one chance? Why not allow them the experience of learning from their own failures? If a student is saying, “I think I can do better,” it is incumbent upon us to give them the opportunity to prove to themselves right. As Lily says of her 11th graders, “If a kid wants to work, and work, and work to improve, what the hell kind of teacher would I be if I said no?”

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Are You Having Mindful Sex?

Humans are too busy. We rarely slow down, we’re easily distracted, and we sometimes miss out on wonderful experiences because of the pace we keep. The pandemic has added to the chaos, and while we may want to run away from it all, our only option on most days is to mentally escape through exercise, television, or a hobby. Our minds can usually drift in and out of what we are doing without much loss of enjoyment in the thing we are trying to do. But there are times when grounding yourself in the moment and being fully present is what’s going to give you the most enjoyment. Sex is one of those times. If you are able to have mindful sex, you will likely be able to have mind-blowing sex.

First of all, sex shouldn’t ever be a chore or done out of obligation. If you don’t want to have sex, don’t. But there are layers of desire when wanting to have sex. Whether you are ready to tear each other’s clothes off or are both up for it but need some extra time to get the engines started, reframing how you think about sex will make it more meaningful and pleasurable.

The first step in being sexually mindful is to let go of the goal of an orgasm. Listen — I want to have an orgasm when I have sex, and I want my partner to have one as well. However, if that is the only point of having sex, then there is a lot lost in the middle. And it’s a lot of pressure! Our bodies act differently on different days for a lot of reasons, and sometimes an orgasm just isn’t going to happen for one of you. You should never be made to feel that there is anything wrong with you if you don’t get there, nor should you ever feel fully responsible for “giving” your partner an orgasm.

Laurie Mintz, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Florida says we need to think less and immerse ourselves more in the sensations our bodies are feeling during sex. It’s the idea of having your mind and body in the same place at once. She describes this as sexual mindfulness — as opposed to sexual spectatoring. If we’re constantly worried about how our bodies look, about our performance, or thinking about our work email during sex, then it’s hard to relax and experience the sensations enough to know what we want and need. In those moments, we become spectators; voyeurism can be a fun part of sex too, but that includes intention and presence as well.

To counter those sometimes negative thoughts that can pull us out of our sexual experiences, it’s important to focus on how our bodies feel. We need to trust that we deserve pleasure and that our partner wants to make us feel good. And if little distractions pop up that take your focus away, Mintz says it’s okay to acknowledge them and then let them go. It’s not always our to-do lists or the dog roaming around the bedroom that pulls us out of the moment; it can be our own fears that our partner is bored when they are giving us oral sex or whatever else they may be doing. We worry our partner is frustrated that we are “taking too long” to orgasm. Or maybe we get frustrated with ourselves. *Revisit my words about orgasms.*

As sex expert Emily Morse said on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, “Communication is lubrication.” Talking about sex before, during, and after will help you stay in the moment because you have provided the groundwork for trust and vulnerability. You have already established what you are in the mood for and what you like. You aren’t put off if your partner redirects you, because communication is expected and desired. For me, my partner’s pleasure is just as important as my own during sex, so I want and encourage her to tell me if something is or isn’t working. I also trust that her feelings won’t be hurt if I ask her to change what she’s doing so that my experience is more enjoyable. Sex should feel good, and all people involved need to let go of egos and selfishness.

Staying present and being mindful during sex means paying attention too. Michelle Mouhtis, LCSW, a New Jersey-based therapist and relationship coach, says to focus on the different senses we experience during sex. Listen to the sounds your partner is making, look at the way their chest is moving while they breathe, notice how their mouth feels on your body, observe how they taste. Not only does paying attention to your body help you have great sex, but it can help your partner too. Some people may not feel comfortable talking during sex, but body language speaks volumes. If your partner’s body isn’t relaxed or fully enjoying what’s happening, you will know. That’s when you — as a mindful sexual partner — can stop and ask what they want or what you could do differently. On some days the answer may be to get a toy or try a new position. On other days, it could be to stop and snuggle. Intimacy can include sex, but a back rub or nap together may be what you both need too.

I hope that all of our sexual experiences are mindful ones, but I also know it takes practice and sometimes a little bit more time to really settle into a hot session of love making. Sometimes all you have time for is a quickie, and those are fun and valid too! But performative and unsatisfying sex is often mechanical and bad sex. Sexual mindfulness is about being present while being intimate with someone. And even though the idea is to let go of the goal of an orgasm, orgasms are often easier and more intense when the focus is on the journey.

If you are struggling to stay present during sex, it’s important to look at why. This can be tough because examining our mental health, relationships, or even our sexuality can be overwhelming and life changing. But everyone deserves to feel physically and emotionally taken care of.

As a sexual assault survivor, I want to mention that I know what it’s like to dissociate during sex. If you or your partner is a survivor, it’s important to talk with each other and a therapist to be sure everyone feels safe during sex. Flashbacks or physical reactions to previous assaults can’t be predicted, so please make a plan to take care of yourself and your partner if staying present isn’t possible.

Now carve out some time and practice mindful sex with a partner. Or schedule some time with yourself — giving yourself pleasure and finding out what you like is empowering and a great way to build sexual mindfulness.

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I’m 39 Years Old, And I Can’t Stop Posting My Breasts On Social Media

I’m 39 years old, an age I felt was ancient when I was a child. I remember learning my mom was turning 40, and I thought she was practically in the elderly category. Now I’m that age, a wife, mom of four, and writer. Despite all of my life responsibilities and the stage I’m in, I will not stop posting my boobs on the internet.

I was only 35 years old when I found my third breast lump during my monthly self exam. I immediately called my gynecologist and made an appointment. She sent me for an ultrasound and my first mammogram. Because I have extremely dense breast tissue, a mammogram is a challenge. I was told that finding a lump in my breast via mammography was like looking for a snowflake in a snowstorm. The ultrasound located the lump, which appeared non-suspicious. I was told to have a repeat ultrasound in six months.

This didn’t sit well with me. I was initially relieved, but in the coming days, I had a growing, nagging feeling that I couldn’t shake. I decided to find a breast surgeon and get a second opinion. She did her own ultrasound and agreed that a biopsy was a good idea. I had the fine core needle biopsy, and then headed on vacation with my family. When we returned, I headed to the surgeon’s office to get my results. I was blown away when she told me I had DCIS, or stage 0 breast cancer.

My first thought was, why me? Why, of all the women, did cancer choose me? I was a busy mom of four, including an infant. I ate healthy and exercised daily. I had no family history of breast cancer, my genetic tests for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes were negative, and I didn’t have any of the typical risk factors. I later learned that breast cancer is, unfortunately, a fairly common diagnosis. In fact, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. About 11% of women diagnosed will be like me, under age forty-five.

My second thought was, I’m going to die. Since I have generalized anxiety disorder, my cancer diagnosis only amplified my worries. Even though I researched DCIS and knew that it was easily treatable, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the C-word. In fact, I didn’t say “cancer” for weeks and cringed every time another doctor or nurse said the word. I was given the option between a bilateral mastectomy or a lumpectomy and radiation. Despite the standard choice to have a lumpectomy and radiation, I chose mastectomy after a lot of contemplation and prayer.

 

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I didn’t tell many people, and certainly not my readers and social media followers, that I was having a mastectomy. I was terrified that I would die during surgery, that they wouldn’t get all of the cancer, or that someone would tell me I was making the wrong choice. I needed to be as clear-headed and confident as I could muster, pouring all of my energy into recovery and not managing other people’s opinions. It’s a good thing I chose the mastectomy, because in my pathology report, I read that I had previously undetected invasive breast cancer.

Shortly after my surgery, I posted that I had a mastectomy. From that point forward, I gained a sense of obligation to remind women to do their self breast exams, every month, and to make sure they got their mammograms. I did this, in part, by the power of pictures. The more I posted my chest, the more attention the photos got, and the more women received the reminder messages to check themselves.


Unfortunately, in 2020, we saw a rise in censorship of women’s bodies. Many women, including breast cancer previvors, fighters, and survivors, were posting pictures of their chests on social media, especially in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Photos of flat-chested women, with scars across their skin, flooded my feeds — temporarily. Almost immediately, they were censored, their posts removed. They received warnings to stop posting naked photos of themselves, which violated guidelines. Just like women in the breastfeeding community, the breast cancer community clapped back, reminding the social media entities that our photos are not sexual. The photos were meant to bring awareness, and in the case of breast cancer, promote early detection and saving lives.

 

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A post shared by She Sparkles On (@meghankoziel)


Despite the risk of being reported for posting a chest-pic that a Karen (or a fragile white man) deems inappropriate, myself and many others are committed to keep posting our boobs (or lack thereof) online. Our bare chests, our one-breasted chests, our scars — these are all begging for attention that will hopefully, in turn, encourage women to do their monthly self-exams and report any concerns to their doctor.

Some of our posts are funny, some are shocking, and some are serious. By any means necessary will we make sure that other women know they matter and have a responsibility to take care of their bodies. After all, we are our own best advocates and know our bodies best. A self-breast exam only takes a few minutes a month, but that simple act can make a huge difference.

 

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Breast cancer doesn’t care about your age, race, religion, or how busy you are. It will show up when it pleases. It’s a jerk, a liar, and a manipulator. Our best defense is to check ourselves and get mammograms when the time is right. We need to know our family health histories, when possible, and get tested for the breast cancer genes, if necessary.

It’s easy to forget to do exams and to schedule our annual appointments. I get it. I’m just as busy as the next mom. However, breast cancer doesn’t wait until your life is less hectic to appear. Which is why my chest pics are going to keep showing up, even if they make people uncomfortable. You know what’s more uncomfortable than seeing someone’s scarred-skin on social media? Breast cancer.


I’m thankful for the opportunity to use my platform to encourage women to check themselves. I’ve received countless messages from women telling me that because of one of my posts, they scheduled a mammogram and reminded a friend to do the same. Some have told me they’ve been diagnosed, while others had a (thankfully) near-miss. Every single message I get tells me that I’m doing something right and my journey with breast cancer is not in vain.

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We Should All Take A Cue From Lizzo And Practice More Self Love

Grammy award winning singer Lizzo has openly shared her journey with body image and the body positivity movement. You can find videos all over her social media focusing on self love and acceptance. And in an Instagram video posted earlier this month, Lizzo stands in her bra and panties facing the mirror and she speaks loving words directly to her belly. It’s the real life example of self love we all need and we should all follow Lizzo’s example and love on our own bodies more.

The video starts with Lizzo rubbing her body while taking a deep breath. She gives it a loving jiggle as she says, “I love you so much. I love you so much. Thank you so much for keeping me happy, for keeping me alive. Thank you.” She blows several air kisses towards her belly before continuing, “May I continue to listen to you. You deserve all the space in the world to breathe; to expand and contract and give me life. I love you.” And then she transfers a kiss from her lips to her belly, gives it one last loving jiggle and ends the video with one final shimmy towards the camera.

 

 

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A post shared by Lizzo (@lizzobeeating)

The number of people that felt the need to negatively comment and inform Lizzo that she had no right to celebrate her “unhealthy” body is astounding. And as you have probably already guessed, most of those comments came from men. But guess what — no one has the right to tell anyone how they can or cannot celebrate their body. So allow me a moment to break down why this mantra of self love is something you should adopt into your daily routine. 

How often do you stand in a mirror and tell yourself, “I love you”? Probably not that often. Society conditions women to believe that loving the skin you are in makes you too conceited or vain. But it is somehow okay to stand in a mirror and berate yourself for not meeting the standard of beauty that society celebrates. 

Just think about how often you have looked in the mirror and grabbed a body part and called yourself disgusting. Or how many times have you avoided a mirror so you don’t even have to see yourself. Probably more times than you would like to admit. Because for some reason it’s normal to point out all the “wrongs” with your body. But is it so crazy to believe that you should be spending much more time looking at yourself with love rather than disgust?

When was the last time you appreciated what your body does as opposed to how it looks? It doesn’t matter what size you are. Being alive is a reason to be grateful and celebrate your own existence. As a society, we have become so wrapped up in what bodies should and shouldn’t look like that it’s easy to forget the more important thing is that you simply exist.

Lizzo’s line, “May I continue to listen to you” is so important. Your body is designed to communicate its needs with you. It signals you to let you know you are dehydrated, hungry, sleepy, stressed or in danger. When you shut those cues out and deprive your body, it becomes harder and harder to “listen” to your body. Eventually you become so detached from your body that you are no longer capable of identifying your own needs. Not only does that not benefit you, but it is also harmful to your overall well being.

Moreover, allowing yourself space in life to expand and contract both figuratively and literally is so very necessary. Your body is not meant to remain stagnant. It has expanded and contracted throughout your entire life as you grew from a child to an adult, experienced the ups and downs of life, perhaps gave birth to children. Your mind, heart and soul have done the same. And you deserve the space to allow that growth and change to happen.

You deserve to be treated with love, and the most important person that love should come from is you. It won’t necessarily come easily because you are probably also the person that is hardest on yourself. And you are not alone. Even Lizzo admits to struggling with this.

In the caption of the video Lizzo states, “I started talking to my belly this year. Blowing her kisses and showering her with praises. I used to want to cut my stomach off I hated it so much. But it’s literally ME. I am learning to radically love every part of myself. Even if it means talking to myself every morning. This is your sign to love on yourself today!”

So take this as permission to take the time to look yourself in the mirror and love on yourself. Come up with your own mantra and say it to yourself each and every day.

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