Saying No to Boys

In high school I became friends, almost accidentally, with a guy named Matt who was severely, passive-aggressively depressed. Having felt depressed myself, I tried my best to empathize with him and be his friend. It was a one-way relationship if I ever saw one, because he only ever seemed concerned about himself. I tried to offer him solutions to his many complaints (“My parents just don’t understand me!” “My girlfriend thinks I’m too controlling!” “I want to move to another country with my friend so her parents will stop abusing her!”) but he didn’t complain to me to get solutions–just to get someone else to feel sorry for him. This was okay for the first few year. But…three years later? Okay dude. Grow up.

It wasn’t my kind of friendship–the ideal kind where each person cares about the other’s interests, and values what the other person has to say. From this situation I’ve also come to understand that I don’t prefer the company of people who find themselves in unhappy situations who simply refuse–for years, even–to implement any sort of solution. My friendship with Matt was more of a pity-ship that I felt unable to get out of without seeming rude or heartless, or like I was purposefully abandoning him to his own lonely devices. Looking back, I know I got myself into this situation mainly by feeling that I was unable to say no.

“Well, that’s really an unfortunate situation. But I mean…oh well?” It’s not as simple as all that. You can’t just “oh well” a needy guy out of your life.

Matt’s girlfriend’s dad had cancer, and he eventually passed away, leaving her lost and angry. Matt tried to “be there” for her, but wound up trying to fill the role her father had played rather than the role she needed him to play as her boyfriend, her friend, and her advocate. She broke up with him after he began telling her what she could and couldn’t do “in the name of her safety”, and he came crying back to me. Not only that however–he also asked me to temporarily engage in Friends with Benefits with him in a charitable effort to help him get over his Ex.

Yeah. He did.

I was insulted and hurt beyond anything I could’ve expected; it was then that I was finally pushed to the point where I had to draw my line and say “no.” Amazingly, I found myself at first trying to “understand” and empathize with his disgusting desire to take advantage of me, his loyal–apparently sexually appealing–friend. I had to stop and ask myself, “Wait, what are you doing? What are you saying? You DON’T understand this! This is wrong!” I was nauseated because he was one of my only church friends, and he knew full well that I was in a long-term relationship with Jake. I told him I didn’t want to hear from him again.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the only story I have as a result of my inexperience at telling men the n-word.

There was Mitchell, a desperate boy from my childhood who found me on Facebook and took advantage of my kindness by pouring his problems onto my cyber-lap. He sought fulfillment in my bewildered “there-there”‘s and awkwardly therapist-esque “and how does that make you feel?”‘s, while I once again found myself hurriedly trying to resolve and move on from what seemed a frustratingly unsolvable basket-case. He frightened me out of my high school wits when he all but asked for my hand in marriage, but what was more frightening was how willing he was to wait for me when I told him I wasn’t allowed to date yet (a desperate, overused excuse). That little yet messed both of us up. When he found out I was dating Jake, you can imagine how led on he must have felt due to my inability to express my lack of interest.

I was horrible at setting boundaries, because the only boundaries my parents had ever taught me to set with guys was literally, “Don’t be friends with guys.” Sexist and unreasonable enough for a child, but impossible for any adult.

In college I made friends with a guy in my math group who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and who has no other friends because of his cluelessness toward social boundaries. He is incredibly smart–just loud and kind of obnoxious to listen to all the time; and by that I do mean all the time, since he managed to find me wherever I was on our college campus. I couldn’t keep that guy contained to math class! A semester later, not only was he in my math class, but he got into two other classes with me because I would be there, and I was nice to him. It’s a messy situation to be in–you feel bad for the special needs guy so you befriend him, but then there are no boundaries.

Another guy–man, I should say–in a different class, named Robert, who must have been in his forties–judging by his graying hairs and ever so slightly wrinkling skin–asked for my email address after inviting me to join his history project group. I had to refuse his offer, since I was already in another group, but had no idea how to tell him “no, it’s weird that you’re asking for my email address, and also, you’re way too old for me.” So I gave him my address, hoping to God he only wanted me as an emergency classmate contact.

Not so.

He began emailing silly emails with jokes and questions like what I wanted my career to look like, and whether I had any particular interest in match-making, of all things. It pushed me to a weird point of overall impatient. I felt I’d snap if I didn’t send him a frank email back expressing my lack of interest and apologies over the fact that we’d both misunderstood the other’s intentions. Even as I sent the email, I felt guilt and horror filling the empty cracks in my heart as though I were the one out of line in the situation. However, he never emailed me again.

Stories like this don’t just end so perfectly right there. As of last week, my class group disintegrated before my eyes and another friend in the class said he had room in his group for me to join. When I told him I’d really like to, he said he just had to ask a member if that was okay. Imagine my horror as he turned to Robert, who was sitting next to me, and said, “Hey, Susan wants to join our group, is that alright?” to which Robert ecstatically agreed. He even offered to tell the professor himself that I’d changed groups, something I didn’t have the emotional stamina to process–much less respond to–at all. So there you have it: I was in Robert’s group, after asking him never to contact me outside of class again. Awkward City.

And then there’s Francis.

Ohhh Francis. Once upon a time, in the first week of the semester, there was a boy who hardly seemed like he belonged in college at all. 16-looking, short, and unusually tan, with shorts of equal shortness and unusual-ness, Francis was an awkward, slightly special-needs seeming teenager who either didn’t know how to flirt or didn’t know how to socialize without seeming like he was doing a terrible job at flirting. In the library on that first week, I was studying alone when he approached me and began with, “Hey, I’ve seen you around and you look–uh–like my girlfriend, and, and I want you to meet her.”

I was like: “Um…okay…”

“So will you be in the library tomorrow?”

I shrugged, saying with a great deal of confusion, “Yeah, I’m here most days…?”

“Okay,” Francis said with an odd shake in his voice, “great.” And he walked away.

From this strange situation I thought it was reasonable to assume that he didn’t actually have a girlfriend, and instead was pulling the elbow-nudging pick-up line, “Hey, you look like my girlfriend because I want you to be my girlfriend! Hahaha!”

Things got more interesting that night when he followed me into the lobby after waiting outside of my PE class because he “didn’t get my name.” He told me his was “Frankie,” but that it was “kind of my special nickname, and you don’t have to call me that if you don’t want to,” and to my question of “well, what IS your name?” responded with shy emphasis, “It’s Francis“.

“Okay, Francis.”

“Oh,” he added, “and sorry if I was weird earlier…” to which I only laughed, because what else do you do when someone creeps you out and then apologizes for it without changing the fact that they’re being creepy?

The next day, I actually did meet his girlfriend–who looked literally nothing like me, something she even acknowledged. It was a horribly awkward conversation that I made no effort to make nice about–I was having kind of a bad day already–and I expected it to scare Francis off. It didn’t, however. He continued to make advances as the weeks went on, trying to talk to me, finding me in the parking lot (to ask me if I street-raced?) and giving my shoulder uncomfortable fist-bumps in the hallways. It came to a point where I felt stalked and taken advantage of. My willingness to let things go was wearing thin, and with all of these other boy situations going on simultaneously, I was ready to crack down on the next boy who walked within ten feet of me.

These situations have forced me to question why it’s socially acceptable for men to flirt with women so openly, to the point where women are clearly expressing discomfort and annoyance, and yet somehow feel  unable to set boundaries. It’s become socially acceptable for women to tolerate catcalling, unwanted flirtation, and repeated social harassment without protesting. Why, I’m not really sure.

I believe the patriarchy movement present in many religions including Christianity, and cultures such as in the middle-east, play a large role in the encouragement of the dominance of men and in the lack of preparedness women feel in the face of uncomfortable male pursuit. As a meek home-schooled Christian girl, I was never briefed on how to reject a guy. Rather, I was taught that I was to respect my brothers and father, and someday also my husband, and that I was to stay away from boys until then. I’m not the only unprepared one, either.

It feels so deeply embedded in American culture today that, until women are able to set boundaries, I don’t see men changing their attitudes toward women. Persistence seems to be a trend in their actions, as if a girl who avoids a man pursuing her is only playing hard-to-get and wants to be further chased, instead of left alone. It’s a very frustrating, complicated situation, and men are not 100% to blame, because hard-to-get playing women DO exist in our culture. Furthermore, because we women have learned that standing up for ourselves and setting boundaries with men who are harassing us is not socially accepted, or at least common, our passive silence has been interpreted as permission. Men have embraced the power that has come hand-in-hand with our unwillingness to object, and many probably don’t realize that our agonizing silence is the result of social tape over our mouths instead of thoughts like, “Awww, he’s so cute, I wonder how he’ll flirt with me next!”

Recently, I’ve taken action to put the men still bothering me in their places. Saying “no” and telling people how they’re making me feel when they do something–while tactfully avoiding any accusations–is helpful and seems to be working fairly well.

Ladies, it’s NOT rude to tell a guy you’re not interested. It’s doing you both a favor, by telling him as early as possible that it’s best for his to move on, and by getting him simultaneously off your back. For the more clueless guys, this is honestly really helpful.

We as women deserve to be respected. Demanding respect is not wrong and it does not emasculate men. If that’s how they feel, their definitions of masculinity are messed up anyway. In the first place, we should not be basing our life decisions on how they make other people–instead of ourselves–feel!

Value yourself and your feelings. Respect your time and boundaries. Take advantage of the fact that you have a voice and deserve to be heard by the people who are bothering you. Say “no” without guilt, and don’t apologize for it. In the long run, we are teaching men that we are worth respecting by us first respecting ourselves.

Say “no” to boys. They can get over it.

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The Astounding Effects of Motivation

~ That’s when you can really know that you are happy: when you don’t realize it’s happening. ~

 

Happy

(PC Huffington Post)

I wasn’t always motivated. It kind of came in spurts… I tend to be a high-strung person, so there would be bursts of mad pursuit toward a hobby, and then a terrible burnout. For instance, there were my 7-year-old play-writing days. And then, once every one of my friends quit my play, I hit a real 7-year-old low and stopped; then started up again when I was 12. That time I quit because, just weeks before the play, I got too overwhelmed. In retrospect, there’s probably at least a few good reasons why 12-year-old’s aren’t put in charge of hour-long play productions.

Then there were my novel-writing years. Since I was 8 years old, I’ve known I was destined for writing as a career in some form. I thought I’d write fiction, and for a few years I did, writing many short stories about made-up characters, about my friends, and about my family, as well as novels up to 410 pages long, due–I can only explain–to my lack of anything better to do. Despite their disastrous or awkward outcomes, I also gained an enormous amount of confidence as a motivated person from those experiences. I don’t know whether it was my parents continually telling me I was destined for greatness, or me just believing it to be true myself; regardless, today I feel I am a much stronger, more motivated person because of my choices as a (very) young person to pursue a greater self.

Perhaps it depends on the kind of learner you are–I myself am kinesthetic, meaning I learn from hands on experience,–so jumping into the trenches and practicing what I am learning at full throttle is what has been so effective for me, but might not be necessary or as fruitful for someone who is instead an auditory or visual learner. Other learning practices may be more helpful than my do-it-myself attitude. In my case, anyway, my gradual willingness over the years to experiment with maybe-hobbies and experiences that took courage to get involved in has seemed to put me ahead of others who appear to be only floating along without much direction. I wish more people would have direction. Surprisingly, rather than it feeling like an unnecessary stress added to all of my other responsibilities, my commitment to pushing myself ever forward has proved to increase my self-respect.

Pursuing the future possibilities with as much tenacity and determination as can be conjured up is exciting, and makes me afraid at times, but it’s always well-worth it not only for it’s advantages but it’s never-disappointing thrill. Being motivated is, I believe, a form of dreaming–about what your future could be like, about who you could be. Getting where you wanna get in life, and who you wanna be when you get there, takes effort. I can’t say I speak from the experience of one who has got there, but I have experienced the euphoria of feeling I was the best version of myself, and that is something impossible to compare with nearly anything else.

I realized in a blurry moment a few months ago, amidst the busyness of school and work and life, that I was happy. That’s a moment not to be forgotten. A moment I’ve worked toward in counselling and prayer and years of growing and growing and growing “up”. (How grown up does one have to be to be officially “grown up” anyway?) I wondered why, and I still may not know for sure, but I think it had something to do with my transition from surviving in high school to choosing life after graduation. Many, many elements composed such a transition, all in just such a way that it crept up on me until all of sudden I realized I was not the same. That’s when you can really know that you are happy: when you don’t realize it’s happening.

All my years in high school–and mind you, high school was a funereal time flecked with glittering instants of happiness–I had been surviving. Between dealing with my brothers, tolerating my mom, watching my dad do little to nothing to fix the errors in our family-dynamics, carrying the burden of my harrowing load of homework, trying to be a good girl that God could love, and trying to keep decent friends around, I had been worn very thin. I had lost the ability to experience life for all of it’s loveliness and was instead manually breathing just to get through the day without failing to measure up to the expectations unfairly given me.

Graduating high school was like a successful new years resolution. I was a new person, heart and soul. Granted, this wasn’t pretty at the beginning. I have gone through a hell of a time, first sifting through an overwhelming pile of emotional trash to, eventually, delicately fine-tuning the better parts of me. Now, with so much of the Bad behind me, I feel like I’ve been slowly, deliberately gliding into the Good. Life is a hearty, silver-lined thing indeed, and I am–I believe with all of my heart–going to live a version of it that will make everything that came before make sense.

I was about to say that this story began with motivation. But I only started and then stopped because I realized that isn’t true. This story–like every other story–began with God. I believe that it was He who planted a seed of motivation in me when I was so small that–after insistent cultivation over the years–it’s grown in me to courage and desire to pursue wonders so big that I can’t help but give in, and thus be happy.

I’m sure my experience isn’t the only one like it that exists. Self-pursuit is a quality that has saved the hearts–and begun the careers–of many. I say this for sundry reasons, including the outstanding fact that this is my blog so of course I’m writing about myself, but also just to say…this is me now. And it could be you too.

So allow me to be cliche and say: dream big.

But also: find the courage to make something of those dreams.

And not just something. Make it the catalyst of becoming your best self.

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On Codependency, Family Relationships, and Human Error

Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard my share of advice on how to deal with a significant other’s parents. As I’ve developed my relationship with Jake’s family, however, it’s becoming a laughable observation that none of that advice ever suggested that I might actually end up…getting along with them.

Thank God for that. I believe most people who know me would agree that not getting along with my own family has been quite enough on its own.

I wouldn’t say I’m a people-pleaser, because there are plenty of people I don’t give a flying pig’s ass about pleasing, but I’ve come upon the understanding over the last year that I have a complex when dealing with older women, especially motherly figures.

I had a very challenging time growing up with my mom for many reasons, a principle one which still affects me today being the way she’s always shown affection. Over the years, I’ve noticed countlessly how she’ll bestow gushing amounts of affection to friends and family who have her respect and approval, while withholding or retracting it from those who disappoint or disagree with her. Sometimes she’d turn on someone for no other reason than that she was in a bad mood. Because of this—and because she irrevocably ruled the roost—every member of my immediate family could tell you about how we’d always rally between ourselves, doing everything in our power to win back her affections to avoid further emotional punishment. Unknowingly, what mom was doing was training us to live codependently with her. If she was unhappy, we were all somehow unable to be happy ourselves, I assume because we’d been conditioned to believe that her unhappiness was our fault, and wouldn’t be fixed until we changed for her. It was like living in a box, always bending over backwards for another person; and yet, when she was happy, life was good for us, because we had won the affections of the person who dictated what our lives would be filled with, and worth. Her favor bestowed upon us was our hope for a happy upbringing and a prosperous future.

I feel sick describing how we worshipped her, all the while only doing it for our own well-being, not because we thought she deserved it. (In the same way, I often wonder how many Christians would still worship God if they weren’t getting eternal salvation out of it? But that’s a topic for another time.)

I grew out of my mom a while back. Once I realized that my value as a person lies in my identity with Christ and not in how well I can please my mom—or anyone, for that matter—I understood the reckless, cyclical hamster-wheel I’d been running on for so long.  I also branched out in spite of everything and finally discovered that my mom’s love is not the only kind out there in the Big Scary World. I’ve found there is a host of hearts who love me, unconditionally, regardless of what I believe or say or do.

It’s one thing to say it and even know it…but guys, old habits die hard. Having been so heavily conditioned during some of the most critical developmental years of my young life to live codependently, I still catch myself subconsciously doing it all the time.

And just so that you totally understand how severely I say this, let me explain what my codependency complex looks like.

I spend a lot of time reading other women’s body language, attitudes, tones of voice, trains of conversation, and anything that is not being verbally communicated. I’m naturally a detail-oriented person, and I read in-between the lines like anybody else, but the amount of time I spend thinking about exactly what a woman means by what she says to me or thinks of me is ridiculous in comparison to the amount of afterthought I give to any conversations I have with men, ladies my age, or children in my life.

And I mean anal. If a women is not very obviously, unrealistically thrilled with me, then I immediately assume that she doesn’t like me, has been hurt, or is for whatever reason angry with me. I’ll wrack my memory for anything I could’ve said or done to have hurt her, and then I’ll obsess over how to fix these generally self-fabricated problems. Even when my mind comes up empty, I’ll still feel adamant that something is wrong, and that I am surely responsible. When I am not trying to make things right with her, I’m also simultaneously trying to convince myself that she must hate me, but that it’s okay, because I can live with hate. I have before. Keep in mind that all of this most often will happen to me when triggered by a sentence in which the woman who is the object of my attention says anything to me without an overwhelming sense of positivity.

The women who are the victims of my codependent whims are all role-figures like my bible study leader, my therapist, my clients and bosses, and especially my boyfriend’s mom. I have found that once I “imprint” on them, I’ll silently push my hunger for maternal affection onto their shoulders, despite its outspoken unhealthiness. I have no excuses, and it is by no means their responsibility to be personally nurturing and motherly just because they’ve had kids and are 10+ years older than me. At the same time, however, my mom is just as inappropriate for this responsibility exactly because of her codependent-tendencies which pushed me from her and toward other women in the first place.

At the moment, I find myself fairly motherless. I suppose some might consider it a tragedy, and in a perfect world it ought to be righted, but once a person has been forced to become independent, I’ve found that it’s very hard to move backwards again. Once free to one’s own opinions and discretion, it’s very difficult and sometimes stifling to retreat under another person’s authority. Besides, what I should’ve learned from my mom I’ve already figured out now, and what I still don’t know about life isn’t anything good ol’ Google can’t tell me.

I could write a dozen or more stories about how my complex has made for some awkward situations strained with paranoia and tension. There have been battles between my desire for maternal affection and a simultaneous, conflicted, desperate fight for independence. Times when I wanted attention, but not advice. And then times when I really needed advice but got absolutely nothing useful out of anyone I respected.

The most important mother-daughter relationship I’m involved in right now is the one between myself and my boyfriend’s mom. Jake and I have been together for nearly two years now, and people from both of our circles have begun to realize that neither one of us is going anywhere. He and I, we’re solid. To his family, in the beginning stages of our relationship, nobody batted an eye when I came off as shy and introverted, and more of a challenge to get to know, probably because they didn’t think I’d stick around. Jake and I have never dated anyone else, and it’s a rare thing to stick with the only person you’ve ever dated, which makes sense, when you think about it. When you date people, you’re trying to get to know people while simultaneously getting to know your Type of person. What you like, what you don’t prefer, what turns you on and what’s a Deal Breaker. These are incredibly important things to know of yourself and of the people you’re involved with, and anyone who passes all of those tests even before you knew they were requirements is a real homerun.

So I get that his family didn’t have much faith that I’d stick around. But I did. And then, all of a sudden, at his family gatherings, me keeping to myself around family and family-friends was no longer acceptable because they took it to mean I wasn’t interested in them.

Honestly, yeah, when I heard about these things, my feelings were hurt. But then I asked a few really real questions that made me get over myself. Like, was his family making a general statement against introverts? No. Were they attacking me and asking me to leave Jake? No. Were they being healthy, loving people, making sure that Jake was invested in somebody who wasn’t a narcissistic bitch who was totally uninterested in his family? …Yeah, actually. And that’s how it should be. Just because I was raised in a family who doesn’t give a shit about anything normal but gets super paranoid and nosy about the pettiest, most ridiculous details doesn’t mean that I can expect or demand that from everyone else. I shouldn’t want to anyway.

Once I grew up a bit about those things, I began to open up to who I believe are my future family. I make it a point to get out of my comfort zone and invest in the people who will either make or break my welcome should I end up marrying Jake, and—to my delight—I’ve already begun to feel like they are my family.

In many ways, God has used Jake’s presence in my life to heal my past, or at the very least help me understand why it’s all going to be worth it eventually. Having come from a dysfunctional family, it’s been such a relief to be able to watch Jake’s family interact with one another—not to mention me!—and to learn from them how a real, healthy family is supposed to be. They invest in one another, and they love. They don’t put their feelings as openly on the table as my family does, but they’re a hell of a lot more polite, and they think the best of others rather than the worst. It’s made me want to grow up and have my own family so I can be like them, which is a complete miracle considering I used to swear to myself that I would never have kids in an attempt not to fuck them over by accidentally being a shitty parent.

Even after opening up, navigating family is still complex. I used to think I got people. I thought I had ‘em figured out and could get along with anyone if I talked to them for a few minutes. That is, until last summer, when I went to Costa Rica with a friend and her family for two weeks, and within a day found myself a miserable, sleep-deprived wretch, who was desperate to go home because I couldn’t figure out how to fit in with their family-dynamics since—surprise!—every family is different. That was the two weeks in my life that changed the way I viewed people. You wouldn’t believe how complex they are! Tropes and stereotypes seriously, epically fail to match authentic character-development.

That situation helped me understand something important about myself—I try to manipulate people into liking me by becoming who I think they’d like me to be.  It’s been a subconscious act I’ve put on for years, but like a great chef suddenly without all of his recipe books, in Costa Rica, I found myself desperately lost amidst the overwhelming variety of situations I encountered that were raw and out of my control. I didn’t know who to be, and I got dealt the short end of the stick for being the wrong person more than once.

(You’d think I’d have learned by the age of 20 from all of the American slogans that it’s best to “just be yourself!” but here I am, still making stupid mistakes.)

I’ve recently become aware that I portray myself to each of Jake’s immediately family members with a different personality, insincerely putting on whatever hat I figure they’d like best in an effort to seem more acceptable.

I have the most extensive relationship with Jake’s mom, perhaps because she’s a girl, but definitely also because Jake is close with her, and because of my own mommy-issues. The great thing about her is how talkative she is. When I was competing in forensics during high school, I learned all about how you can make a great impression on somebody by revealing charming tidbits of information about yourself and asking lots of questions to seem interested. Whenever I have conversations with her, I notice myself tending to ask questions so that she’ll keep talking. Then, after we’ve spent a substantial amount of time together with her talking and me agreeing with everything she says, I come away hoping she feels liked by me and the attention I’ve given her gives her an even greater reason to like me in return.

Damn, it’s so much more shallow and bitchy when it’s written out like that than I always thought it was in my head…

Jake’s dad is a little different. He is very sarcastic, and he enjoys teasing people. I have extensive experience in all things sarcasm, namely because I’ve been close with many highly-intellectual, sarcastic people whose company required compatible wit. It’s a learned skill, but it really comes in handy when your boyfriend’s dad says something sarcastic and your response makes him comfortable by letting him know you speak his language. Unfortunately, Jake’s dad often teases Jake, and I’ve found myself willing to jump in and throw Jake publically under the bus in an effort to be further placed in the good graces of his dad. (It’s messed up, I know, since the whole point of me being involved in Jake’s family is because I love Jake.)

Jake’s oldest brother is sarcastic too, which made personality hats much simpler to wear because I could compartmentalize them based on gender—up until I met his middle brother, who isn’t sarcastic at all. That really threw a wrench in my gears when I met him, because I greeted him particularly with sarcasm and it really shut him off. I had to reassess how to treat him and redeem myself, (a real project, because he’s more reserved than his dad and other brother). Eventually I learned he’s a lot more like Jake.

Jake’s brothers’ girlfriends are both pretty easy. It’s clear that all of the men in his family have good taste in women, because they’re all very kind, positive, and outgoing in really fun ways. It’s easy to like them, and as long as I’m open-minded, talkative and cheerful, I get along with them just fine. They’re also in the same boat as me, joining the family from the outside, which is a comfort.

When I write all of this, I am not putting it out there as a suggestion on how to get along with your boyfriend’s family. The way I often act around his family is messed up, manipulative, and superficial. I feel like an emotional chameleon around them, always adapting myself to be who I think they’d want me to be. It says a lot about how inadequate I consider myself to be, as well as how desperate I am to be liked.

And yet while I am disgusted with myself, I still feel moments of proud triumph as I score another homerun toward being “loved” by these people—as a charade character, mixed, perhaps, with paper-thin shreds of authenticity. How fucked up am I that even while I know I’m being a tool, I still admire myself for how well I do it?

From a human as well as practical point of view, I honestly believe emotional adapting is a very useful skill, especially in unhealthy family environments such as the one I grew up in. But it can also aid in the development of pathological tendencies and loss of a sense of self. As of now, I’ve gotten so used to individually catering to each of Jake’s family members that when I do try to be true to myself, it feels false. I’ve just about conned myself into being dishonest! How strange that the wrong things feel the most right, and the right things have lost any moral dimension to me. In terms of personal loyalty to the person that God made me, when I’m not sugar-coating anything even to myself, there is no longer any rightness in it.

I don’t think this is completely abnormal, either. I believe that most people pull the Emotional Chameleon when in a new place and with new people when push comes to shove. We all change at least a little to be favored by people that we revere, despite that the people we change into are what’s really accepted rather than who we actually are. Ironic, isn’t it, that we should wish for acceptance of self so much that we’re actually willing to abandon who we are and evolve into other people’s highest values just for the admiration? We talk so much about being accepted, but I’m calling bullshit on it. I think what most people are conveniently, innocently calling acceptance is really just an easy time. We don’t want our feelings to be hurt, we don’t want to be physically bullied, and we want companionship, and those are all important—even necessary,—but ought we really be willing to lay down who we truly are in exchange for these conveniences? If we really valued acceptance of self, we’d hold onto it much longer and tighter than people usually do in these circumstances, don’t you think?

On the other hand, life is there to mold us into the people we’ve always been “destined” to become, and it most often does this through people and experiences. Situations and conversations have the power to immediately change us in powerful ways. I used to be afraid of change. When I was in high school, I held the highest admiration for my speech coach, who for all intents and purposes could’ve been God. Without her even knowing, she practically was, because I bowed and kissed her shadow like a flunky for three years. I loved her and hungered for her attention and approval; she was another woman who I pushed my codependent agenda onto. She warned everyone in the speech club each year that she was planning to retire at some point soon, and I knew it was a very real possibility that I might not finish high school before she retired and I’d need to find a new speech club. In the beginning years in her club, I remember vehemently ignoring that reality because I couldn’t handle the changes it would bring. I would need a new coach. I wouldn’t have her as my surrogate mommy anymore. I would be left to seek her esteemed approval only from afar. Looking back, I understand how pathetic my regrets were, but I will always remember how forlornly afraid I was of the change to come.

She ended up retiring the beginning of senior year, and I was bumped to a new club with new coaches and new peers. Change was surrounding me, but at that age, I’d wised up a bit. I had prepared enough for the change that I was ready to embrace it by the time it was there; I was happy, even, that it was so. I realize now that even during my fear of the changes to come, I was already in the midst of changes within myself. These kinds of changes–I’d argue–are as necessary for the proper development of a person as they are to the beautifying of one’s soul.

Damn, but humans are incredibly ironic. We get attached to ideas, rather than actual people and events, each of which have been personally defined by our subjective imaginations, within which contradictions coexist just as realistically as our arbitrary fears and convictions do. In many ways, I feel that people handicap themselves by the amount of time they spend worrying and fearing unchangeable or inevitable circumstances. It has been said that the only thing to be afraid of is fear itself, and I think it is powerfully true; it’s only one of many ironies that humans regularly entertain.

We’re afraid of things, most of which will hurt us less than the anxiety we endlessly huff and puff over in an effort to cushion our fear’s effects. We change in an attempt to attain sameness. We alter who we are as people to get acceptance for who we end up no longer being.

All the while, we trick most people—often ourselves, amazingly—into believing our claimed values and innocent well-meaning. We victimize ourselves non-stop, but boy do we clean up well. We have a conveniently matched audience of critics, who often are so busy criticizing themselves that they don’t even notice the flaws we spend our entire lives weeping over and wishing away. We give ourselves grace in the same areas that we leave no wiggle room for others, all the while convincing ourselves that we’re much harder on ourselves than we would ever be on others, because poor us, we’re far worse than anyone else ever.

We’re wizards at living this fundamentally narcissist second-life. We do it so furtively that we’ve even convinced ourselves the act isn’t legitimate, or even doesn’t exist!

How deeply horrible we all are, as people. In the midst of such a realization I hope to pay attention to my hypocrisies in an honest effort to become a more openly sincere person. God knows how wicked and desperate we are as people, yet He loves us anyway, and gives us the grace and wisdom to know ourselves and–rather than attempt to change–be changed by Him. God, I turn my heart toward you, hoping that you’ll turn it back toward the people in my life who deserve a better version of me. 

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Home-Schooled…Or Truant? A Critical Look Into State Regulation

This was my final project for my English 101A class in college this last semester. I spent the entire semester researching the pros and cons of home schooling, and this was the result. It is perhaps the most researched piece of writing I’ve ever completed, and I am not only proud of it, but passionate about its subject. I consider it an unbiased analysis of home schooling, as it does not include my personal experiences. 

In 2003, the New Jersey police department was notified that a neighbor had caught a nineteen year old boy weighing just forty-five pounds searching her garbage for food. Further investigation found that his three younger brothers were also greatly malnourished, and that this report was not the first on his family’s history. Because these children were home schooled, New Jersey could exercise only minimal surveillance on or regulation over their situation or others like it (Huseman). In fact, laws regarding home school regulation vary so wildly from state to state that the quality of education it produces is inconsistent at best, despite that it has done nothing but increase in popularity since its original wake in the 1970’s (Ray 2).  Supporters of home schooling claim that it capacitates a broader education than conventional schooling can provide through its unique opportunities and schedule flexibility. Researchers argue, however, that significant evidence of home schooling resulting in average or subpar test scores, cases of abuse, and graduates unprepared for adulthood outweigh any potential advantages home schooling may offer.  Based on these findings, it can be concluded that home schooling is an inferior medium of education in comparison with conventional schooling.

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 3.4 percent of America’s student population were home-schooled in 2011. Of its participants, 91% cited their concerns about the environment of other schools as part of their incentive to take the education of their children into their own hands (Noel, Stark, and Redford). Home schooling families feel concerned that—in the fast-learning environment of conventional schools—the students who learn at a slower pace constantly struggle to keep up with their classes. Consider those with learning impairments, such as ADHD, or those who do not learn well through auditory lectures, but are instead visual or hands-on learners. Teachers who are responsible to educate large numbers of students do not have the time to give one-on-one attention to those who need it, while home schooling more easily can provide this. Situations such as these are common; in the U.S. Department of Education’s survey, 17% of participants cited special needs, and 15% percent also cited physical or mental health problems as reasons for choosing to home-school their children (Noel, Stark, and Redford). On the other end of the spectrum, some students learn at a faster rate than the conventional schooling environment tends to teach at, and feel frustrated that they cannot pick up the pace.

Home schooling is not, however, the only option available to special needs children or students behind or ahead of their class. There are public education programs created specifically for special needs children. Students unable to follow along with their class can get tutoring, and are—to begin with—placed in the grade they’re ready for. If necessary, they can also be moved to a class more appropriate for their learning level; likewise, students ahead of their class can be placed in higher grades. Granted these accommodations, there is no need to abandon the conventional schooling method.

According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, only thirteen states require home-schooling students to test annually, while eight others require less frequent testing. This leaves twenty-nine states unregulated, allowing children from kindergarten through high school to be home-schooled without outside accountability holding parents to any standard of education. In fact, some states are so negligent about home school regulation that they don’t require parents to report it (Barnett 341). The Gale Encyclopedia lists Alaska, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas as guilty of this. Such negligence has created an issue that stretches beyond just home education, blurring the numbers between those home schooling and those committing truancy. In 2003, a study conducted on the educational neglect present in home schooling found 1,708,764 American children existing in population numbers but missing from any reported school system (Kelly, Barr, and Wetherby 14). The studies that suggest approximately 1.77 million children are currently being home-schooled in America are only accounting for those reported; and while even these children are being inconsistently supervised, unreported students are provided with no supervision to verify the legitimacy of their education at all (Ray 2).

Surprisingly, it is home schooling families themselves who have perpetuated this state of inconsistency, as the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), America’s biggest home school advocate, has lobbied with them for decades in favor of complete parental control over home education. In doing so, they have worked against legislation that has attempted to protect the students who have fallen severely behind in their studies (Huseman). Because of the influence HSLDA currently has, home schooling regulations are unlikely to change in the near future. Apparently, this is preferred, as they insist such freedom enables students to work at their own pace, and that it gives parents the flexibility necessary to point their child’s education in the direction best suited for them (Carter 12). This, however, may not be a responsibility parents have any business carrying, since—despite that such a standard would never be considered acceptable for teachers in conventional schools—only eight states require parents to meet any educational standards beyond a high school diploma or GED (“Homeschooling”).

There are plenty of studies supporting the high level of education home-schooled students receive. A study conducted in 2009 found that while publically schooled students typically get 6.6 pre-college credits, and privately schooled students get 2.9, home-schooled students average 14.7 before high school graduation (Cogan 14). Additionally, Brian Ray’s study suggests that average home-schooled students have been shown to “score at the 65th to 80th percentile on nationally normed standardized achievement tests”, surpassing their conventionally-schooled counterparts, “whose average is the 50th percentile” (2).

Interestingly, a study observing the overall research ever conducted on home school achievement discovered that—due partly to poor state regulation—all data were gathered on the basis of self-selection. This means that, while every participant might achieve high scores, all that has been proven is those confident enough in their skills to participate in a study are well-educated; it ultimately fails to take into account those who opted not to participate (Martin-Chang, Sandra, Gould, and Meuse 195). In an attempt to find a more valid sample, researchers compared the performances of publically-schooled students to home-schooled students. Their findings show that while home-schooled students with a well-structured regimen scored higher than the publically-schooled students, home-schooled students with unstructured regimens scored significantly lower (195). Additional studies comparing the remarkably high scores of home-schooled students to publically-schooled students have been conducted not only on the basis of self-selection, but through a means of self-testing, where the students were proctored by their parents, and the researchers were informed of the test results. Opposing this is a study conducted on volunteering students, which shows that “when the tests are given by a trained assistant, the scores of homeschooled children and public school students do not differ” (Martin-Chang, Sandra, Gould, and Meuse 196). This shows that, because the scores of all the participating students were within a similar range, there is no academic reason to prefer home schooling over the conventional method.

Arguments for and against home schooling extend beyond just education; a child’s emotional and general well-being are also taken into account. The U.S. Department of Education’s survey shows that 64% of its participating parents claimed home schooling better-enabled them to teach their children religious studies, and 77% cited that it increased their ability to provide moral instruction. Common concerns pertaining to these issues include protection from prematurely presented sex-education, opportunities to experiment with substance-abuse, student-bullying, peer-pressure, and social anxiety (Carter 21).

It is estimated that 83% of all girls attending schools in America suffer some kind of harassment, as do 79% of boys (“Bullying Rates and Statistics”). Correlating with this is the American suicide-rate amongst teenage students, which is a frightening 4,400 deaths per year related to cyber-bullying alone. Home schooling claims to fight these numbers by eliminating the emotional trauma students can suffer in the wake of a student-governed environment, instead grouping parents and students together to better censor a child’s socialization.

These are not issues schools have failed to give attention to, however. Private schools allow for more religiously tailored educations, and often have stricter rules that eliminate substance-abuse and modify the presentation of sex-education. Likewise, the concepts of abuse and trauma are non-unique, and are not restricted to just the school environment. Lack of regulation by the state has played a key role in this. Emotional neglect and abuse have been detected among home-schooling families, as was the case when two children, pulled from their school to be home schooled, were found dead by officials months later, hidden in their parents’ freezer (Stafford 5). While it is clearly not home schooling itself that causes tragedies like this, the states’ relaxed attitude toward home schooling makes it an attractive option for people with abusive tendencies. This directly contradicts the widely agreed-upon idea that home schooling provides a safer atmosphere than conventional schools. The facts speak for themselves: In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 754,000 child abuse cases, 1,537 ending in fatalities. Of these numbers, Tyler Barnett, a researcher for the Brigham Youth Universities Education & Law Journal, speculates that 81.3% of these victims’ abusers were their parents (345). He goes on to point out that, because teachers are the number one reporters of child abuse, “Although some homeschoolers worry about abuse at school, the traditional school setting provides protections that are often not otherwise available to homeschooled children” (344). Furthermore, between 1990 and 2004, 116 crime-related deaths have been specifically linked to home schooling, and—due to the lack of regulation among states—the number of abuse incidents not resulting in death is likely higher (Barnett 343).

Certainly not all home-schooling families experience abuse; especially given its inconsistently-researched and widely-unaccounted for participants, there is no way of providing accurate representation of the ratio between well-educated, well-taken care of students and their less fortunate counterparts. What is commonly known to be true about home-schooling families, however, is their proneness to emotional and social neglect. The home schooling community has not failed to protest this, arguing that all home schooling students have at least the same opportunities as conventionally-schooled students to plug into social activities, whether through classes, sports teams, clubs, or summer camps (Carter 18). They further argue that home schooling programs provide flexibility, enabling students to shape their routine to the degree that is most comfortable (Burman 137).

In response to such an argument is the simple fact that—while all of these opportunities may have the capacity to create a well-versed curriculum for a student’s daily regimen—these are options, not requirements. Furthermore, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003, options are all they are, as it was estimated from gathered data that approximately 80% of home-schooling families participated in no outside activities (“Homeschooling”). This means that the vast majority of those home schooling rely on mere textbooks and online research to make up the core of a student’s education. Protesting this are Randall Curren and J. C. Blokhuis, researchers on the validity of home schooling, who point out, “There is a world of information available online and elsewhere, but access to information does not constitute an education. Understanding and judgment are required to distinguish information from disinformation…” making the point that a student may not have the judgement or learning skills necessary to teach themselves without an educated professional guiding them (5). Moreover, such a closed-off environment can, especially at such a critical age-range, significant socially and emotionally handicap the growth of a child’s learning.

This neglect—while representing an unacceptable low standard—is still understandable, as parents taking upon themselves not only the responsibilities of parenting but also teaching carry an admirably heavy burden. Given that being a parent is a full-time job—and, 70% of the time among mothers, it’s only their unpaid one—it is arguably too emotionally- and time-consuming to also adequately home-educate one’s children (Goldstein).

Academic fundamentals aside, the biggest purpose behind any education is commonly considered to be the turning out of citizens who are competent to make the future world go round. Home school advocates argue that home education does this best by personally catering to the learning environment, which enables a child to explore not only the history and science of life, but how to be successful at it.  For instance, students who attend conventional schools arguably cannot always find the additional time necessary to learn how to change a tire, write a check, drive a car, manage a household, and grocery-shop on a tight budget right out of high school, while home-schooled students have a much higher likelihood of doing so. Admittedly, it may be true that conventionally school students do not always graduate with possession of such skills. However, there is still time for them to be acquired after graduation without any real loss.

Home-schooling families will often boast that their child’s self-discipline and personal responsibility—which aided their ability to acquire such skills in the first place—are due largely to the direction of their education being placed chiefly in their hands. They go on to condescend conventional school systems for doing such planning for them, despite that whether a student—or even their parent—is capable of knowing what educational route is best for them is highly questionable. In retrospect, it can be no wonder that there have been such poor results of home-schooled graduates.

Certainly America’s education system is not in the best shape, but the students it turns out are still comparatively more prepared for adulthood than the majority of home-schooled students. One reason for this can be found in the student diversity of a conventional school, which provides exposure to varying values, lifestyles, and opinions, challenging students to further their emotional and intellectual development (“Homeschooling”). Without exposure to different belief-systems, home-schooled students may simply adopt their parents’ values without first obtaining the critical thinking skills necessary to challenge or develop their own sets of ideas. In some cases, this is exactly what parent’s want, teaching their children to mistrust public institutions and their accompanying influences, arguing that too big an emphasis on education is being made (Goldstein). In cases like this, a favorite response among home-schooling parents of the conservative variety tends to be, “Some parents simply prioritize getting our children into Heaven over getting them into Harvard” (Flax).

Regardless, many supporters of home schooling insist that it produces well-rounded adults, tipping their hat towards researchers such as Joseph Murphy, whose study on the development of home schooling found that home-schooled students were socially well-adjusted, had good leadership skills, possessed confidence, and had well-developed communication- and living-skills by the time they were adults (263). With studies like this, what often isn’t taken into account is whether the effects being claimed are actually outcomes of home schooling. Without this study being conducted during its participants’ upbringing, there is no way to prove the correlation between these students’ educations and their success as adults later in life. In addition, given that this study must have been conducted on the basis of self-selection, the outcomes expressed cannot represent 100% of the home-schooled population.

Another under-developed quality expected of a well-rounded adult that is often not addressed until adulthood is a student’s ability to appropriately interact with people of different ages. Amanda Witman, home-schooling mom, explains in her article that, because they are not segregated by grade, home-schooled students are presented with more opportunities to interact and build relationships with people of all ages, especially adults, while “social learning in a group of same-age children” does not provide this same advantage (Witman).

The validity of this argument is dependent on the social situation of each family, as social opportunities within home schooling vary greatly. It’s also inaccurate to assume that a conventionally-schooled student’s social life—while already active—is limited to just school. A conventionally-schooling family is just as responsible to provide healthy social environments for their children as home schooling families are.

Directly contradicting the claims made by Joseph Murphy are researchers Rosalyn Templeton and Celia Johnson, who, in their book on home schooling, discuss the concerns those from the outside looking in have expressed, who say that “homeschool learners may not be well prepared for the world of work and may lack time management, organizational, motivation, collaboration, and/or study skills needed to succeed as a professional,” in comparison to conventionally-schooled students (298). This evidence, when held to the same standard of assumed self-selection, cannot speak for 100% of home schooling families either. It does make the point, however, that not all home schooling families are created equal, and that there are home schooling families adhering to standards on both ends of the spectrum.

As opponents imagine, the worst case scenario for a home school graduate is to have received an education that failed to do its job. Because of lacking regulation, it is impossible to accurately assess how many times this has occurred, but the hundreds of horror stories shared by home school alumni on websites, such as Homeschoolers Anonymous, suggest that these situations are not rare.  Deep concern for students with such poor educations as these ought to be shared by all of society, as the knowledge and skill acquired during their upbringing impacts their lifelong prosperity as much as it does the world’s future (Curren and Blokhuis 3).

Due to limited evidence that home schooling has potential to provide a student with a sufficient education, there are arguably special cases where home schooling is the better option for students. However, there is currently not enough state regulation on it to protect the educational rights of home-schooled children with unstructured school regimens or unhealthy family dynamics. Overall research points to unsatisfactory results emphatically suggesting that—despite its booming popularity—home schooling, executed improperly, is an inferior educational method to conventional schooling. Its inconsistency and lack of regulation results in academic struggle, emotional neglect, and a failure to prepare its students for the responsibilities of adulthood. Therefore, it is a decidedly impractical project for the majority of parents to pursue, given not only its lack of accountability, but a parent’s possible lack of qualification. This is especially true for the 70% of mothers who have jobs in the workforce, and the one-third of all children in America raised by a single parent (Goldstein). As Dana Goldstein put it so well, “Surely, this isn’t the picture of a nation ready to ‘self-educate’ its kids.”

Works Cited

Huseman, Jessica. “Small Group Goes To Great Length To Block Homeschooling Regulation.” Pro Publica (2015): 29. Points of View Reference Center. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Ray, Brian D. “Home Education Reason and Research: Common Questions and Research-Based Answers About Homeschooling.” NHERI Publications. February 2009. Page 2. Web PDF. 9 October 9, 2015.

Noel, A., Stark, P., and Redford, J., and U.S. Department of Education. “Statistics About Nonpublic School in the United States.” n.p. 2.ed.gov. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Non-Public Education, last modified 9 June 2015. Web. 9 October.

“Homeschooling.” Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law. Ed. Jeffrey Wilson. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 625-631. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

Barnett, Tyler. “Pulling Back The Curtains: Undetected Child Abuse And The Need For Increased Regulation Of Home Schools In Missouri.” Brigham Youth Universities Education & Law Journal 2 (2013): 341. MasterFILE Premier. Web 13 Nov. 2015.

Kelly, Philip, Robert Barr, James Wetherby. “Educational Neglect & Compulsory Schooling: A Status Report.” Center for School Improvement & Policy Studies. 2004-2005. p. 14. PDF. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Carter, Diane. “The Normal Homeschooler: How Parents Of Home-Educated Children Use Communication To Shape Identity.” Conference Papers—National Communication Association (2007): 1. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

Cogan, Michael. “Exploring Academic Outcomes of Homeschooled Students.” Association for Institutional Research in the Upper Midwest. 2009. Page 14. Web PDF.

Martin-Chang, Sandra, Odette N Gould, and Reanne E. Meuse. “The Impact Of Schooling On Academic Achievement: Evidence From Homeschooled And Traditionally Schooled Students.” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 43.3 (2011): 195-202. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

“Bullying Rates and Statistics.” n.p. nobullying. Modified 19 October 2014. Web. 9 October 2015.

Stafford, Katrease. “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic—And Rules?” Detroit Free Press. 01 Jun. 2015: 5. SIRS Issues Researcher.

Burman, Jenny. “Class Dismissed.” Cincinnati Magazine 48. 12 (2015): 86. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

Curren, and Blokhuis. “The Prima Facie Case Against Homeschooling”. Public Affairs Quarterly 25.1 (2011): 1–19. Web. Accessed Dec 12, 2015.

Goldstein, Dana. “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids.” Slate.com. 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Murphy, Joseph. “The Social And Educational Outcomes Of Homeschooling.” Sociological Spectrum. 34.3 (2014): 263. SocINDEX With Full Text. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

Flax, Bill. “Want To Tell The State To Stick It? Homeschool Your Kids.” Forbes.com. 22 Jan. 2013. Wen. 13 Nov. 2015.

Witman, Amanda. “What About Socialization?” homeschool. 2 June 2014. Web. 9 October 2015.

Templeton, Rosalyn, and Celia E. Johnson. “82. Homeschool Learne.” 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Ed. Thomas L. Good. Vol. 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2008. 297-306. 21st Century Reference Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

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A PMS-Laden Vent Toward the Habitually Stupid

Sometimes I have self-esteem problems. The whole “aww, I’m not good enough” deal. And then sometimes I’m pretty moderate in my confidence. And then rarely–oh, so rarely–I think I’m a fucking badass. Almost never, however, do I come home one day and literally everything and everyone around me seems so blatantly, stupidly inferior in intelligence that I actually feel smart. And yet today it is so. I absolutely hate the feeling, because while it is a remarkable confidence-boost to feel like you know something the rest of the world doesn’t, it is equally discouraging to realize you live in a world–especially a family–where common sense isn’t…a habit. Not even a thing. 

I know that people have coping mechanisms they use to deal with triggers, with unchangeable situations in life that they hate but must face everyday, and general mannerisms they employ to run the rat-race in a way that helps them avoid going crazy. Many times, the things they do that make sense to them don’t make sense to those on the outside, especially those ruthlessly compassion-less (like myself, right now). These things are fine when they don’t effect other people. I do them too. This blog is a way that I cope: it’s an avenue through which I process my emotional life, it’s a safe place for me to share my opinions without offending the people I’m bitching about, and it’s also a sounding-board for my more philosophical ideas. It’s also, arguably, pointless. I know that. It’s part of my rat-race. But it’s okay, because I cope in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anybody else (except maybe Jake, who has to read it per my excited demands).

But some of the ways people cope, such as by “changing life up a bit”, are completely inappropriate, such as getting another dog while Susan is on vacation. She can’t object when she’s not home, so let’s just get him then. Never-mind the other dog. Everything will work itself out. (Ignoring problems makes them go away, duh.)

They’ll get along–the Pomeranian and the Pit-bull. They’ll be the besteresteresterest of friends and share the doggy-door and their food bowls and the backyard. Susan will loooooove eet!

Literally, when I found out mom and dad took in the pit-bull, I thought Mini, my dog, must’ve died, because we’ve tried other pets before, and it was always nope because Mini and other animals–much less other DOGS–do not mix well. She’s a territorial dog. She’s a one-person dog (a Susan-dog, pretty much). She’s the kind of dog who will make life hell for everyone else if she is unhappy.

Sure, Buster the puppy pit-bull is cute. Sure, he is “harmless” (riiight) and only wants to play with Mini. But does that mean Mini will play with him? Does that mean she’ll share the house and the yard and her food dish with him? No. She never has before, so why should she now? Instead, Susan can keep Mini in her room all day so Buster can run around the house without constantly getting into fights and tearing her to pieces. What a brilliant compromise! Susan is responsible. She can take care of Mini even though she’s at school 5 days a week and works the other 2. Wow, parents. Thank you for your glorious common sense.

This is the routine nowadays: I leave for school in the mornings; Mini is moved from the livingroom to my room before Buster wakes out and is taken out of his kennel; she stays in my room all day until I come home that night; often, I’ll find a pee-puddle on the floor or in the hall because everyone has failed to take her outside, and her food or water dish is empty because no one has thought to feed her in God knows how long. Buster has the entire house to roam around as he grows. He eats out of her old food dish and pees all over the house and tears everything in his fucking way because he’s not actually trained (unlike my family’s many claims). And attempts to hump everything, including my leg, whenever he gets the chance. Fucking hormonal puppies, man.

Mini is lonely, and confused, and noisily paranoid at everything. I am concerned that she isn’t getting enough exercise because she can’t even run around the house anymore, and that she is lonely because no one spends time with her, and I can’t. In her place is a much bigger dog who can’t possibly get along with her because he’s frighteningly large and will squish her by attempting to play with her. My parents are always trying to reassure me that things are constantly improving between the two creatures, but the only thing that happens when I watch them interact is viscous fighting, with Mini on the offense.

I feel that my feelings were not considered when Buster was adopted. Mini has been the dog for 10 years. Originally, it was the idiot-decision on my dad’s part to adopt her as a surprise for us without researching to find out Pomeranian’s are NOT family-friendly dogs, but whatcha gonna do, kill her? Send her to the pound? I’m not into emotional trauma–like at all–and I know animals suffer some of that too. I do my best to keep Mini happy, especially because I’m her Adopted Person.

My family knows that. They know she’s pretty much my dog, not by my choice. Therefore, when they adopted Buster, they not only gave Mini the boot, but they pushed her onto me as her sole care-taker by making it near-impossible for Mini to live in the house without constant conflict and possible danger. By needing me to protect her, I now deal with her in my room all the time, along with her pitchy barking–at Buster, at neighbors, random lights on the walls, etc. And there’s no booting her out of my room. Where’s she gonna go?

It especially hurts me that amongst all of this chaos, they don’t even bother to take the time to care for Mini’s needs when I am away. Of course, I’ll fill up Mini’s food and water dishes from now on so that I’ll know she’ll always have those necessities. I try to play with her and take her on walks whenever I have the time so she can be healthy in her old age. She’ll die within the next few years, most-likely. It’s just stupid that I’m the only one who cares or is smart enough to actually do this.

So among other things, my little brother has a friend over tonight and tomorrow night and they were making so much noise at 10:30PM that I had to leave the house just to get an hour of studying in, partly because they were screaming and making Mini bark all the way from my room. It was impossible to focus on anything.

My phone stopped working, for the umpteenth time. I swear to God, phones that aren’t Smartphones or iPhones are trash and if Verizon doesn’t fucking fix it, I’m going to cry. Oh wait…I just did.

My dad’s dad died a couple of weeks ago. He took leave off work, and right when he was getting back to normal emotionally, he had a ridiculous root canal that forced him on a Saturday to go to the dentist and beg them to pull his tooth even though it was infected and antibiotics wouldn’t subside the pain. It was like a Stone-age dental procedure with him screaming and kicking things in the chair while the dentist pulled out his rotten tooth. We have wonderful genetics when it comes to teeth…

He’s been absolutely miserable, and he’s been doing his best to cope between making things in the garage and suffering from deplorable headaches with ice-packs on his head. He goes back to work tomorrow. I hope he feels better.

My little brother is also the assiest of asses when it comes to being helpful. Also, this isn’t very important, but he took out the garbage last Thursday night and left my recycle bin outside on the garbage can. It’s still there. Sooooo I haven’t been able to throw any recycles away in a very long time. Sorry regular garbage can. You get paper.

I’m also starting my period, guys. Except…I haven’t yet. It’s just pain, and extra acne, and fucking righteous anger over everything including all of the words in this post. (Sorry.)

Oh, and homework. So much god-damned homework. In some ways, I love it. I’m learning like crazy, and I’m doing well in all of my classes. But all of this homework is ridiculous, especially when you have the most unhelpful environment to do it in.

At least there’s coffee. Coffee is sometimes the answer to, like, everything.

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Dear Diary, Entry #2

When I look back on my college days in a few years, I believe the first memory that will always come to mind is that embarrassing moment when–in the wake of pulling my phone out of my backpack–a tampon that had somehow come out of it’s wrapper had also burst amiably forth.

When I saw it rolling on the ground, I took a second to observe the people who may very well have seen the event, and then, as swiftly as I could, I ran over, whispering to it in a disgusted panic, “fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!”

Then I put it back in my backpack to throw away later and tried to forget about the whole ordeal.

I feel like this is just the sort of thing that always happens when I’m nervous and everything is new. I tried my best, however, to put up a good “wow, I’m so confident, look at me, walking straight into a dead-end over here, guys” persona anyway. Waiting outside of my beginners jazz dance class at least an hour early, I observed a few people who looked like they were more or less involved in The Arts. One of them, James, was waiting outside of the class soon after me.

“Are you in this class?” I asked, trying to make a friend.

“Yeah!” James was really enthusiastic about this, which was reassuring. “This is my second time taking it. It’s really awesome!”

Ignoring the obvious question of why he was taking the class again and not taking something more advanced instead, I wondered, “…I read in the syllabus that for every minute that a student is late you have to do a push-up in front of the class. Is that really true?”

James smiled wryly…yet fondly, somehow. “Yeahhh it is. But it’s alright. It’s not an intimidating class. I really like Janel.” Janel, I found out eventually, was our instructor, who–during her introduction–let the cat out of the bag that she had been invited to be a Rockette back in her day.

There are 13 other students in my jazz class, and we were all prepared to dance that day, but our class ended up getting out early after a long-winded introduction from all of us. I found myself to be a novelty as a “former homeschooler on my first day of school!” It doesn’t annoy me too much, though. I think I kind of like being a novelty in this case. It makes people more interested in being friends with me, if for perhaps selfish reasons. Everyone wants the juicy 101 on what it’s REALLY like to be homeschooled. And they’re not disillusioned about whether it’s really as fascinating as it sounds. Homeschooling is full of nasty little secrets, most of which I’m willing to relinquish in a rash flurry of unforgiving revenge.

After jazz, I went to the cafeteria to study; James found me and we sat together. The large yellow tables of huge school cafeterias are strange and bare and unwelcoming to sit at all alone, in a prison-y sort of way. Actually, they reminded me of Orange is the New Black. I got formally introduced to Ivan, who was also in my jazz class, and who for whatever reason I’d been under the random impression was actually named Steve. I’ve started calling him that just because. He’s super talkative and loves 5 Seconds of Summer and Panic! At the Disco, and he likes singing and dancing, so I think we’re going to get along really well.

Steve and James are both openly gay, which is awesome and fascinating for me, because I’ve never had any gay friends. I feel like that girl in the movies who hangs out with all of these guys, and they’re all just friends because they’re gay and she’s taken anyway. There’s less drama and a comfortable comradery amongst us. I may not necessarily morally agree with their decisions, but I don’t disagree with them anymore than I disagree with a friend who might shoplift or bully his siblings. Just because they do those things–especially if they never bring it up with me–by no means gives me a reason not to be friends with them. Besides, they’re hilarious, extremely friendly and easy to talk to, and they’ll be like girlfriends without the PMS. That’s a win-win if ever I knew of one.

American Sign Language class was intense. It’s a 2 hour and 45 minute long class! I was very surprised to find out my professor is really deaf. We had a translator for that day, and the following Wednesday class, but as of now, the translator is gone for good and we’re left to watch our professor mime her instruction or write it out on the whiteboard until we ourselves know enough sign language to communicate with her. The barrier of sound is one you don’t normally think about, especially as a hearing person…

Tuesday was my math class. I’d been preparing for that class for nearly as long as it takes for a baby to be conceived and then born. In  many ways, math is my baby. I’ve invested such a huge amount of time and thought and effort into it that–should I fail or give up now–I’d certainly feel robbed of a large chunk of my life. My teacher is so cool, and so weird. Her name is Irene, but she likes to be called Sam (yeah, no idea why). Her voice is complex and squeaky in a way that takes getting used to hearing without being distracted, but eventually I got used to it. I like her, especially because she came right out and said that she understood that math is hard and that she therefore doesn’t have unreasonable expectations toward performance on our parts. So far I’m on top of my homework, which–besides my ideal career and a beautiful wedding–is a dream come true.

There’s a nearly six-hour gap between math and English on Tuesdays. I stayed on campus all day and enjoyed studying in the library–which is called the “Cranium Cafe”, a pun which makes me happy and gives me a headache at the same time. (Ha.) I find that if I do my math homework right after class I retain more of what I learn, especially because my mind is already warmed up for it.

I went to English class with a classmate named Ryan who I’d met during an orientation, which was a real comfort…just being with someone somewhat familiar. (Guys! I’m actually making friends!) Our professor was hysterical. He swore, which was a little shocking, not because I’m unused to hearing swearwords, but because I’m not used to hearing them come from the sincere mouth of an adult. He talked about nearly everything, including that we definitely shouldn’t commit suicide, but–if we were going to anyway–that we above all costs must not do it in a way that required our mother to clean up our dead selves. Believe it or not, he also found the time to teach us a bit of English.

So far, I’ve spent all of my free-time either talking to or visiting Jake, sleeping, eating, or blogging. I haven’t even opened Netflix, and the only reason I’ve gone on Facebook is to contact my professor. It’s taken me over a week already just to compose this. I don’t know how much extra time I’ll have in the following weeks considering that the first weeks of school are supposed to be the easiest! I enjoy the feeling of knowing that what happens in my life is going to end up getting written out like a story, though, so I won’t throw in the towel blogging just yet.

I will say that I love college. I love having teachers to ask questions of, and homework that actually gets looked at and graded. I’m so motivated to complete my work in a timely and professional way now, and I’m already noticing how much my work-ethic and determination is growing. It’s like I’m finally awake. I know that if this keeps up, I will continue to develop as a person in ways that I will be proud of.

All of my professors have heard from me either in person or over email; I’m trying to develop relationships with them so that I’m not just a name on an essay for them to grade. I sit in the front of my classes and ask questions and try to participate as much as possible. So far, I’m not behind or confused with my classes or homework at all, which is a little bit shocking, but so, so encouraging. I think I might actually survive here. Homeschooling didn’t do me much good, but I’m doing well at making up for it so far. I’m realizing that if I had been put in a school setting as a child, I probably would’ve born many of the characteristics of the ideal student.

Another good thing is that my parents recognize that it would be kind of them to financially contribute for me while I’m going to college. Does this mean paying for classes and textbooks? No. But they’ve made it clear to me that if there are any school supplies (such as the attachable disc drive I needed to get last week) or food that I need, they want to pay for it rather than telling me to do so myself, like they used to. Their logic is that now that I’m not working full time, I can’t afford to pay for such things. (I rolled my eyes a little when they told me that, since almost all of the money I made while working full-time had gone toward college savings, and any extra expenses were painful necessities I’d forced myself to purchase, and none of it had been something I’d considered comfortably “affordable”. Whatever.) I appreciate my parents help in any case, and I’m glad they’re supporting me in that way.

Right now, life is busy, but it’s so, so good. I love the fast-paced, academically-inclined atmosphere of school, and I love how much is expected of me. Already I know that I belong here.

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Dear Diary, Entry #1

I began my journey to start college very reluctantly. It costs money, it sucks up all your time, the homework deprives you of your sleep and tests wears you paper-thin; apparently, you gain like fifteen pounds because you don’t even have the time to take care of yourself, and after you get your degree…sometimes you can’t even get a job. Oftener, you wind up in a field completely unrelated to your degree. So is it all for nothing? All of that time and money and effort out a bay window you’ll never revisit? I used to think so. And I actually do know people who have jobs in fields their degree has nothing to do with. I myself am planning on getting a degree in something I don’t know that I’ll ever get a professional job using.

Here’s why. Today, especially in the line of work I want to do (freelance writing, copywriting, event planning, etc.), the kind of degree doesn’t matter half as much as the degree itself. In whatever. Just going to school and graduating in something–anything–makes you more valuable as an employee because it proves you’ve been committed to something big, you followed through with a decent performance, and you achieved it.

Don’t get me wrong, in many lines of work degrees matter. If you wanna be a doctor, definitely go to medical school. If you want to be a certified psychologist, PLEASE go to school and figured that shit out so you can teach the rest of us. My boyfriend wants to be an engineer. That dream can’t be achieved without an education in sundry different things, so he’d better go to school.

The thing with me is I wanna be a homemaker. I want to be a mommy and a wife, and do some flexible jobs on the side to keep busy and engaged with myself, and before then I certainly wanna be a lot of other things too–but I don’t see the sense in pouring a huge amount of time and money into a career that is going to be short-lived, and which is only a means to an end. Therefore, I’m not going to be a doctor or a psychologist or an engineer. Besides, the things I’m best at are the arts. Public speaking, theater, dancing, singing, writing music, writing stories, writing persuasively, cooking and baking, creating things, making pretty things, organizing, planning… How do I get a degree in all that?

I recognize that I can’t. I also recognize that a ton of those things aren’t marketable talents because they just can’t make a living wage, or because I’m not passionate or talented enough at them to make me a living wage. Here’s what I am gonna do though.

  • Get an Associates Degree in English. I like writing and I’m practiced enough at it that I think I’ll be good at it and that even when I’m challenged I’ll be able to appreciate it rather than struggle through something I don’t truly love. The degree could help me get hired at a few jobs, and it will give me credibility should I ever pursue any freelance or business writing. It will also enable me to charge a reasonable sum of money should I become an english tutor.
  • Take some art, dance, theater and music classes. (Mostly for my own enjoyment, but ya never know, maybe I’ll end up on Broadway.)
  • Take some public speaking classes and involve myself in private coaching for college competitive forensics. I’ve done a lot of that in high school already, and I enjoy it.
  • Take a business class to familiarize myself with how corporations work to better market myself in administrative work, and/or get a better idea how to start my own business, should I ever fancy doing so.
  • Take America Sign Language. Mostly because a foreign language is required for an Associates Degree and I already took it in junior high, but also because I could tutor others in it and do some interpretive work should I become good at it.
  • Learn what I should’ve learn in high school. Like Algebra, and Physics, and Geography, and History. Because I want to be a more well-rounded person and don’t want to be handicapped by my home-school education.
  • Apply for internships in event planning to see if I’d be interested in doing that sometime in the future.
  • Ask God what He has planned for me. What does He want me to do? Things change fast in my life, and if I kept switching things up, wearing dozens of different hats at different jobs, I honestly wouldn’t hate that.

To change the subject a bit, so many people have asked what on earth I did for a year and a half not being in school. It’s as if high school graduates are incapable of anything productive if they’re not attending college. Let’s look at a list, because I believe I’ve had the time of my life, despite all of the pain and growing up I’ve had to deal with due to events in my life that I had too much free time on my hands to ignore any longer.

Since I graduated high school last year, Here’s what happened.

I went official with my boyfriend (which was a big fucking deal), visited Disneyland, and got a job as a wedding gown designer’s assistant, which was only temporary because after the internship I realized it wasn’t my thing. I went on a two week trip to Saint Croix with a friend and her family and checked scuba diving, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, horseback-riding in the ocean, and drinking (the drinking age there in 18) off my bucket list. (I didn’t like alcohol and by the end was ordering virgin drinks because I’m a pussy. Whatever.)  I dealt with a shitload of drama from my family about giving me the freedom to make my own life decisions and made every effort possible to move out until I finally gave up and went to counselling instead. I spent a lot of time working on my heart and my relationship with God and my parents. God slowly began healing my heart. He gave me reasons to be alive, and helped me stop wanting to die. Instead, I began saving money to make a life for myself and move on.

I started coaching competitive speech for my old forensics team occasionally, and wrote a curriculum for a day-long speech camp I didn’t end up using. Then I landed a job as an English as a Second Language tutor for five foreign exchange students. That lasted 3 months, up until they joined a class that was more economic for their needs. I saved enough money to buy my first car and got my drivers license the day before Thanksgiving so I could visit Jake and have dinner with his family (we live a good distance from each other). I then became a regular nanny for this adorable baby who reignited my desire to have children even though they take over ones body and once born produce all of these disgusting fluids for others to clean up. I came to a fork in the road with my boyfriend and we chose to stay together even though it was harder than separating. (Relationships are really, really hard.) My nannying job ended after about 2 months, even though it was supposed to last 6, because the baby’s mom got pregnant and couldn’t afford to pay me any longer.

With two weeks notice, I headed out with my resume to the local mall and got an on-the-spot interview at Dreyer’s Ice Cream in the food court, and was hired officially a week later as the ice cream scoop girl. In the meantime, I realized this last January that college was going to be necessary; furthermore, I was going to need to pay for it myself. I began putting most of my money aside to pay for tuition, and I applied for FASFA. I applied for the community college I wanted, and began planning for test-taking and Freshmen classes. I read a book on how to be smart about college, and I frantically tore through three entire Saxon math books playing catch-up on all of the math I should’ve learned in high school so I wouldn’t have to take a dozen math classes just to graduate. (I shit you not, the time that used to be Netflix in my life became math, and it was partly hell, but then I started to like it, which was a totally weird phenomenon.) I invested a lot of money in a good laptop and a backpack, got early registration for the classes I wanted, and bought all the textbooks I needed on Amazon for cheap because highlighted pages aren’t a thing I’m snotty about.

My relationship with Jake became really serious a few months into it. I began really investing time in his family and I took two trips to Oregon for his brother’s college graduation followed by his wedding. I applied for a Wedding Planner internship that didn’t work out.

But that was good, because all of a sudden I got really sick and thought I had developed diabetes (Damnit, Dreyers) but the doctors told me nothing was wrong despite that I knew something was up. The medical industry having failed to give me answers, I turned to natural medicine, read some really good books, dealt with an almost binge-eating disorder before it became a problem, and changed my diet in an effort to become healthy again.

A few months later, I helped a family move to a different house, then began to consistently organize and house-keep for them. Once their entire house was unpacked, I helped nanny their three kids, partly home-schooled their daughter, and eventually settled into house-cleaning and preparing meals for them 25 hours a week. Once that became a contracted agreement, I quit working at Dreyer’s (5 months there and I’d learned as much as I could’ve anyway) and began doing that full time. It was really, really hard to work while I was sick–low energy, stomach reactions to almost everything I ate, feeling like I was gonna throw up a lot, some constipation–but my job was very flexible and understanding, and I was able to take the time I needed to deal with my health problems. Plus, I really love what I do, so it was easier to struggle through the pain to keep on doing something that I liked while also making money. Working there enabled me to save my entire estimated college expenses, which is fortunate, because I got an email from FASFA last week saying I wasn’t eligible for any financial aid because I live at home and my parents are expected to contribute to my tuition. …Which they don’t. But oh well. Total responsibility allows for total control, which I can appreciate. I can do what I want with my classes on my own nickle. Anyhow, that was depressing to find out, but it’s okay. And with my health, now I’m almost back to normal. Good thing too, because…

I start school tomorrow. I’ve rearranged my work schedule to be 10 hours a week only and the rest of my time is being dedicated to my 14 units. I attended a Freshmen class at my school last Monday where I sat through a series of lectures, one of which talked about having the right kind of priorities throughout school. The speaker compared them to spokes on a wheel. The more spokes you’re responsible for, the harder the time you’re going to have focusing on what’s really important. Being pulled in so many different directions at once makes going anywhere fast a real challenge. Looking at my life’s current priorities, I listed mine.

  • Maintaining a relationship with God
  • Keeping healthy relationships with Jake and his family and my family
  • Taking care of my health (sleep, the right foods, respite like music and art to keep me sane)
  • Maintaining my grades and expanding my education
  • Work

I’d also like to make a few friends along the way so I can have some study buddies and people to talk to, because the rest of my friends have all gone off to different schools or are still in high school and we don’t really keep in touch. That’s not a priority though. Just a perk.

Aside from decorating some notebooks, picking up some pencils from the Dollar Tree, and frantically going through some math problems today, I’m as prepared as I know how to be. I even recently got glasses so I won’t get headaches from reading for too long, and I went shopping for “back to school clothes” like I was going to freaking fifth grade and wanted to look cool so I could make some friends (which isn’t so far from the truth). I’m freaking out because for whatever reason I can’t find the syllabus for my classes online and I’m worried there’s some before-class homework nobody’s bothered to tell me about.

I’m gonna pee my pants I’m so nervous because I’ve never been to school. I did go to kindergarten, but that hardly, hardly counts. In kindergarten I could only wear ugly uniform colors of navy blue, black, red and white, but I wore mostly just black because I was convinced I would be an FBI spy when I grew up and wanted to look the part. I earned smiley-faces when I was good each day so I could get lollipops from the prize box every ten days, and I tried to be good and not fight over the crayons. I chased a silly boy around the schoolyard because I thought he was cute, but never actually mustered up the courage to talk to him. Kindergarten was dumb. In kindergarten, I was dumb, and I learned very little. Most notably, in kindergarten, I wasn’t worried about performance, and my goal wasn’t to get good grades. I don’t even remember if I was graded at all.

So college is different, and I have no experience doing anything remotely like it. Cross your fingers and wish me luck. Send up a prayer to whoever, because this homeschooler is gonna need all the help she can get.

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