Tuesday, September 4, 2012

There's Always a First Time

Well, today I witnessed a first at Promise House.  A 20-year old young woman walked in off the street with three (3) children (4 month-old twins and a toddler).  I've seen that before, so what is the first?  Well, she has ANOTHER child living with a relative who is 4 years old, we think. 

HOW does this happen?  Well, I know HOW it happens, but HOW in the bigger picture does this happen?  Twenty years old and four (4) children.....I can't even wrap my head around it. 

Unfortunately for her, we can't take her in due to the number of children she has.  We were, however, able to find her shelter elsewhere and load her up with baby supplies, food, etc.  She can also come here during the day to get help from our street outreach case managers to access all kinds of support services for her and her children.

But back to the HOW.  This child needs help!  Not only housing, etc., but she needs to know how her body works, how this keeps happening, and how to KEEP it from happening again. She needs help learning to say NO and learning that she is worthwhile.  She needs, yes I'm going to say it, Sex Education, badly!

 And, I'd bet untold amounts of money that she needs help working through physical or sexual abuse issues from her past.

And where are the men who are also responsible for these children? 

This is such a complex and emotionally charged issue that it would take me weeks to write it all here.  So, let me just say that when I see a young girl (and she is a girl) like this, I go through such a range of emotions that are hard to harness.  And since she is the first one I've seen in my 15 years at PH with 4 kids at her age, it's especially hard. 

I can only hope that she will stay connected with us.....because if she does, she WILL get help and she WILL figure out how to manage her life and give her kids a better future than she was given.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Go for the Gold....the Girl Scout Way!

In today's Dallas Morning News, 40 young women were recognized for reaching the highest honor in Girl Scouts, The Gold Award.  Each of these young women persevered over many years in Girl Scouts to reach this pinnacle, and each one created and implemented a Gold project designed to help their communities. 

How cool is that??  Especially in this day and age when teens get such a bad rap over and over,  these girls are living proof of the passion, energy, creativity, tenacity, and just plain fun that resides in EVERY teen.  Reading their stories literally made my day. 

Their success also speaks to the enormous benefit of organizations such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, and other youth groups that stress community service, loyalty, integrity, teamwork, honesty, and achievement.  Young people flourish in environments where success is expected and support is readily available to reach that success. 

I hope you will check out the Metro Section in today's paper and read about these young women and the projects they created.  It will do your heart good!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day Musings

I hope everyone had a good Mother’s Day.  I certainly did.  My girls and my son-in-law are so much fun to hang out with, I never want to come back home!  Although I KNOW they have to live their own lives, I want to live WITH them (wouldn’t they love that??), and yes, maybe, even live mine THROUGH them a little.  We’ve always joked that I only had children so that I could live vicariously through them.  And I would venture to say, that although we are certainly not supposed to admit it, we all do that to some degree. 

After all, is there anything better on earth than witnessing your kids’ successes?  It’s so much more fun that witnessing your own, at least it is for me.  I stay amazed at how brainy, courageous, funny, beautiful, crass, self-centered, and loving they are….all at the same time!  I KNOW I was nowhere near their level of evolvement or development when I was their ages.  I’m with Gloria Steinem when she said she didn’t think she had a real thought til she turned 30.  These young’uns are so far ahead of where I was at their age, I just sit back and try to keep some kind of semblance of “up”. 

I saw a posting on Facebook over the weekend:  the day you become a Mother (and it could just as well be a Father) is the day you agree to wear your heart on the outside of your body for the rest of your life.  Isn’t that the truth?? 

I’ve lost two mothers in my lifetime.  My mother, Jane, died way too young at age 57 (when I was way too young), and my step-mother, Pat, at age 72.  Different as night and day, they modeled so many important things about mothering for me and so many important things about being a woman.  I stayed mad at my mother for years for being so strict, until I used a few of her techniques on my own kids and saw how great they worked!  I got less mad very quickly after that!  And from Pat I learned how to graciously manipulate an entire family of about 30 without ever raising her voice—quite a talent, huh? 

 So, although I miss them terribly, especially around this time of year, I am so grateful for the mothers I have had in my life.  And that’s not even to mention my fabulous grandmothers!  That’s an entirely different story!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fourteen Years

So, besides being tax day, April 15 is my anniversary with Promise House.

Fourteen (14) years, 11 of which I have served as President. I started in April of 1998. Leslie was 8 years old, Kat was 18. I used to pick Les up from school and bring her to PH for the afternoon. We barely had computers, had no email, no computer games, iPads, or iPhones, so she amused herself drawing and messing up my office.

1998 was Kat's senior year at Arts Magnet. We were busy finishing college apps and waiting nervously for acceptance letters. She had done Senior Showcase, and probably Prom by that time. Her graduation was one of the coolest I've ever attended----a little over a month after my first day at PH.

Fourteen years. I cannot get my head around it. WHERE has the time gone?

Funny, I don't gauge my time at PH so much by the milestones there, but by personal milestones, primarily of my girls. And my mind stays boggled at what 14 years has brought.

Leslie went through elementary, middle, and high school, graduating with top honors from Bishop Dunne and is now 21 and a junior at The University of Texas at Austin, majoring in photojournalism.

Kat graduated from Arts, then Austin College, moved to Austin, met Dan, fell in love, got married, and promptly moved to London for graduate school in theatre. She is now back in Austin with her own non-profit theatre company serving incarcerated women.

And me? Well, I stayed the course, cheering them on (and, yes, sometimes living vicariously through them), keeping the home fires burning, visiting them in weird places, keeping the animals alive (mostly), and becoming the "older generation" in our neighborhood.

But what ABOUT Promise House? My other child, as some would say. What has 14 years brought? Well, email for one thing, and great computers, iPhones, and up-to-date technology. They have brought new programs, ended others, borne mighty struggles for survival, and witnessed unprecedented highs. They have brought awards, disappointments, great joys, and great sorrows. The years have ushered in fabulous new employees and ushered others out. Most importantly, they have, year after year, placed hundreds of desperate teens and families at our door.

As I've watch my girls grow and change, I've watched PH do the same. As the teens we serve have changed, so have our programs. As the depth of their problems and sorrows has increased, we have changed and grown to help them. And, no doubt, we will continue to do so for many years to come.

And me? Well, I'm staying the course, cheering us on, hoping to be of service, struggling at times with the enormity of our responsibility, trying to keep hope alive for these kids.....

And we shall see what the 15th year brings. For Leslie, for Kat, for PH......for me.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Facing the Void

So, I am cleaning out my house. Closet by closet, every drawer, every cabinet, cubby hole, nook and cranny. Luckily, I have the help of 2 friends who have an “organizing” business. I am by no means a “collector”, but I am amazed at the amount of STUFF that has accumulated over 25 years in that house.

As excited as I am about lightening my load, I feel myself strangely unmoored in the process. Getting rid of vestiges of the past is surprisingly unsettling and more difficult than I had imagined. Everything I see or touch has connections to me, my children, ex-husbands, dogs, cats—most of whom are ghosts long gone. The pantry where Leslie and Sara played, the now useless Walt Disney VHS Movies, the children’s books that I read to my girls, school uniforms, class pictures, soccer socks, dress-up clothes, the doll house in the attic…….each of these relics tugs at my heart and begs to be saved from destruction. What will happen when they are gone? Will that piece of my life disappear, will I lose the memories without the physical touchstones they provide? What will fill the void?

And speaking of voids, I can’t help but think of our teens during this process. Many show up with only a trash bag of belongings. No past relics to remind them of who they are, no photos, no connection to their former lives. I can’t imagine how unmoored they must feel, how disconnected. Luckily for them, we can be the touchstone they need to build good memories, to build a positive past, present, and future, and to come home to.

I’m surprised at my reaction to cleaning out my house, but keeping the most important relics will help me get through it. I hope that is what we help our teens do…..ferret out and keep the most important relics from their pasts to guide their present and future—whether they be physical items, memories, hopes, or dreams. If we accomplish that, we will surely have filled that void of disconnectedness that all of our teens struggle with.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Tis the Season

'Tis the season.....for depression.

Now, I don't want to be a complete downer, but amidst all the holiday hoopla, festivities, decorations, music, gift buying and giving, food, food, and more food, there are many among us struggling mightily with depression.....and feeling even more depressed, because they SHOULD be happy and "in the spirit".

When I was in private practice, my client load increased exponentially during and right after the holidays. These are very difficult times for those of us vulnerable to depression. Aside from the fact that it's the dead of winter, dark and cold, the stress of the holidays, coupled with the expectations of a "happy time" (promoted so heavily by media), wear heavily on many folks.

How do I know this? Because I've struggled with depression most of my life. Luckily, my last bout is long past, and with the help of a great support system, I have been able to keep the gray ghost at bay for years. But the dark days of winter bring it dangerously close at times; and it is at those times when my heart goes out to those in the midst of the battle.

Depression sucks the very life out of you.....and, by the way, everyone around you. It settles over you like a gray mist, leeching all color out of life. It steals your ambition, hope, energy. It makes you think crazy thoughts and do crazy things.

What's worse is, those who have experienced a bout of clinical depression are likely to have at least one recurrance, worse than the first. Serious depression changes your brain chemistry, and each episode makes it harder to repair the damage.

So, my message this holiday season is, GET HELP if you're feeling down or depressed. There is no shame in seeking a cure for this incidious disease. Set your ego aside, take antidepressants, go to therapy, do what your psychiatrist tells you do to. And if you are a friend or relative of someone you suspect is depressed, INTERVENE. Insist that they get help......which is what my dear friend did many years ago that probably saved my life (or someone else's!).

It is definitely the season......to pay attention to those around you.....and to yourself. Be kind, be attentive. You never know whose life you may be saving.

Monday, November 14, 2011

He's NOT a Pedophile

I’ve been hesitant to add to the rhetoric about the Penn State sex abuse scandal. However, I would be remiss in my duty as President of an agency whose sole mission is to protect the most vulnerable teens in our community, if I did not express my dismay and sorrow at the events that have recently unfolded. I stand with Penn State leadership in firing Paterno and his assistant coach, and my heart goes out to the families of all affected.

I would like to make an important distinction that the press and media continue to get incorrect. The man who perpetrated these acts is NOT a pedophile. He is a sex abuser. There is a BIG difference. Pedophilia is a diagnosable mental illness spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, used by the psychiatric field. A pedophile is usually unable to function well in society, is severely developmentally stunted, and sees himself as approximately the same age as his victims.

This definition does NOT apply to the assistant coach, nor to most sex abusers. Most are “solid” citizens, many have families of their own and would be considered upstanding citizens in their communities.

Why do I care about the distinction? Because of the ability to hold the sex abuser accountable for his actions. If he can use the plea of pedophilia, which can show he is mentally ill, he is many times “off the hook” for his actions. Sex abusers are not mentally ill, by all western standards. Although their actions are horrific, they appear to be as normal as anyone else, even under psychiatric scrutiny.

Sex abuse and sexual assault are primarily abuses of power and of opportunity. To those of us who cannot imagine such acts, sex abusers seem sick and demented. What I don’t want, however, is for them to be able to use mental illness as an excuse for their actions. They must be held accountable by the highest letter of the law, without the distraction of a mental illness diagnosis.

It is the least we can do for the victims.