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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Reconnecting with My Teens as Adults to Help Houston

Last week I had the honor and the privilege of reconnecting with some teens that I used to teach and I have never been so proud.

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I’ve talked before about Mark Morrison, who helped organize a group called Little Lobbyists to help children with complex medical needs. This past week Little Lobbyists teamed up with The Parker Lee Project to help get truckloads of supplies to medically complex kids in the Houston area affected by Hurricane Harvey. So I spent some days last week receiving and sorting and packing medical supplies with another former teen who is now going to graduate school in the DFW area. It was amazing to reconnect with her, and while doing such important work.

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The Parker Lee Project was started by a woman who lost her child with complex medical needs, Parker Lee. She is working to help make sure that kids get the supplies that they need. They take donations of both medical supplies, which are sent out to families in need, and money, which helps pay for the shipping costs. Everyone who comes to the warehouse to help with the supplies is a volunteer. Most of them have children with complex medical needs themselves so they are all too familiar with the challenges of what it is like to care for a child that needs feeding tubes, trachs, breathing equipment and more.

In fact, these parents really helped me better understand what it would be like to have to escape a critical situation, such as Hurricane Harvey, while caring for a child with complex medical needs. When my home flooded and I had to get my children to safety, all I had to worry about was my children. These families rely on a host of medical equipment to keep their children alive and safe, which would further complicate the rescue efforts.

As I mentioned, three of my former teens are now involved with both Little Lobbyists and The Parker Lee Project, and I am so proud. I am proud of the adults they have become and I would like to think that maybe, just maybe, I played a small part in helping them become the awesome, compassionate and thriving adults that they are.

Little Lobbyists: About Us

The Parker Lee Project

Sunday Reflections: Boyfriends, Breakups and Blocking – Oh My! Talking with teens about a different type of access

tltbutton5As a librarian, I spend a lot of time talking about teens and access. Access to books. Access to information. I’m all about access. And then a new discussion of access came up and I had a decidedly different message for my teens.

The Scene:

Three of my teens are sitting in the Teen MakerSpace and each one of them have recently been broken up with. One of them felt sudden and without explanation to the heartbroken teen. Not only was said teen “dumped”, but the boy blocked them on all social media and asked them not to talk to them at all.

The Conversation:

So here sat these teens, discussing how unfair that was and what the rules to blocking someone on social media were. Their argument was that there had to be some reason, some explanation, and some type of real violation.

It was here that I interjected as someone that they were talking with that just because you want access to a person, their time, their social media, did not mean that they owed it to you. People can block people or decline social media requests for whatever reason they wish and, though it may be difficult to deal with, they don’t owe us an explanation. We are not automatically granted access to other people’s time, space, thoughts, or attention. No matter how much we may want it.

And no matter how much it may help us deal with the loss and heartbreak, we aren’t even owed a reason for why someone is breaking up with us. They just get to opt out because that’s what they want to do. And yes, it hurts and it’s hard, but it’s the truth. In the end, I hope everyone breaks up with kindness and preferably in person, but we can’t control the actions of others. And we’re left to deal with our pain on our own.

The summer after I graduated high school my long term boyfriend broke up with me and the reason was simple, I just wasn’t “fun anymore.” Dagger to the heart. It burned, it truly did. I did not cope well with this loss. But the young man who broke up with me owed me nothing. He was kind enough to answer a few calls from me, and I’m not sure if that made things better or worse, but it was a kindness he did not owe me.

This idea, however, that there are rules about who gets to block whom were interesting to me. But at the end of the day, I don’t think you automatically get access to someone, and I bet there are a lot of teens (and adults!) who need to be having these discussions in this era of social media.

So for possibly the first time in my life as a librarian, I found myself arguing in favor of the right to deny someone access. Welcome to 2017.

Sunday Reflections: Who are we marketing YA lit to?

tltbutton5This past week I sat down with The Teen to binge watch Veronica Mars, and I was excited to share what is arguably one of the best teen shows ever created with her. But after a couple of episodes The Teen got up and went to her room. It’s not that she hated it, it just didn’t feel like it was for her. It didn’t speak to her the way it spoke to me. It felt dated.

She has also watched things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which she loves), Gilmore Girls (which she tolerated), and a few other shows that people in their 30s and 40s speak about reverently. She didn’t finish Firefly. She can’t stand any iteration of Star Trek.

In fact, the only show I have found that we have a mutual love for is Daria.

I thought of that this morning when I saw a list go through my Twitter feed that said If You Love Veronica Mars you’ll love these books. And I was immediately interested in the list. But then I thought about The Teen’s reaction to this show and wondered: Who is this list marketing these YA titles to? It’s an important question.

Now make no mistake, I myself have done this very thing. If you search through TLT you will find lists for people who like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who and Sherlock. Although Doctor Who and Sherlock are both currently popular shows with my teens so I will argue that this is somewhat different then using an older show that is no longer on the air.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in the early 2000s. I remember watching the last episode when The Teen was around 1.

Freaks and Geeks ended in the year 2000.

Veronica Mars ended in the year 2007.

My So Called Life ended in the year 1995.

John Hughes movies all took place in the 1980s.

And yes, SOME teens have access to these shows and movies. But not all.

Some of our go to marketing comparisons for YA literature are simply not relevant to today’s teen readers. Yes, there are always outliers. But if we want to reach a wider teen audience, I would argue we need to use more up to date and relevant comparisons.

For example, instead of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we could use Shadowhunters. It’s both a hugely popular book series and tv series. My teens watch it quite faithfully.

When I raised the issue this morning on Twitter, many people responded that these comparisons work on book sellers and librarians, and they do. I have less problems with a review journal that says this book is a great read for Buffy fans, but that means something to me. I have more issues with the tagline on the cover of a book that reads Buffy meets The Breakfast Club, because that seems to indicate you are marketing your book to people in their 30s and 40s as opposed to current day teen readers. And as a teen services librarian, I care very much about this. I have no problem with adults reading YA literature, I am an adult who reads YA literature. But I have a huge problem with the way that YA has become increasingly about adult readers as opposed to teen readers. Teen readers deserve to have literature written about and for them – and marketed to them in ways that help them connect with those books.

I also understand that authors want to sell as many books as possible, as do their publishers. Numbers matter and I get that. I really do. Being able to afford to feed my children is one of my most important life goals. But as someone who also genuinely advocates for teens and who has to work hard to connect teen readers with books, maybe we can take a second look at how, exactly, we are marketing those books.

I am a huge advocate for YA literature. I think it is high quality writing and that everyone can and should be reading it. But at the end of the day, I am also an advocate for teens. Teens need and benefit from that high quality literature being ultimately targeted to them. There is nothing more validating then a good YA book that speaks to where a teen is at life and let’s them know that they are not alone in what they are thinking, feeling, and going through. We can help teen readers find those books by marketing them in ways that speak to them, not their elders.

I’ll read every book that says if you like Buffy read this. But The Teen, to her that just means its a book for her mother, not her. But if I say Percy Jackson or John Green or Shadowhunters or Pretty Little Liars or something that is currently popular with teens, they will jump right on that.

Anyhow, that’s what I’m thinking about today. I don’t have good answers, just random reflections. Because it’s Sunday.

Sunday Reflections: The Day I Did Everything Wrong

tltbutton5Setting the Scene:

It was a T-shirt Monday. This meant that we would be spending the next six hours in the Teen MakerSpace making t-shirts with any teen who walked into the space, working straight through the traditional dinner hour. It had become our custom on these nights that someone would take our order and run out and buy us food, if we didn’t just order pizza. Mondays are glorious days of chaos and teens and being so busy you hardly have time to eat. Food would soon become our nemesis.

The Precipitating Event:

One of the teens in the space, a super regular that we had closer ties with, overheard us taking orders to go to Wendy’s. They asked if they gave us $5.00 could we bring them back some baconator fries from Wendy’s. I hesitated oh so briefly – this was new territory and I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about it – and then I said sure. I didn’t listen to my gut and that will bite you in the bum every time.

The Drop Off:

So our person went and picked up food on their way to an offsite meeting. They texted from the parking lot that they were there and another person was sent outside quickly for the hand off. Food was eaten. T-shirts were made.

What Happened Next:

There are several teens in the room, though not the teen with the baconator fries. The fries have been eaten, the t-shirt made, and in the chaos that teen has now left the building. Suddenly another teen, we’ll call this teen Y, says to me, in an angry voice, “You know, baconator fries only cost $2.00 and X gave you a $5.00 and you owe X $3.00 in change.” To which I reply, “Okay, we’ll make sure that is taken care of.” And I keep helping someone make a shirt. But Y is angry, wants to confront me about the $3.00, so I finally look at Y and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable talking to you about this. It’s not a situation you are involved in. X and I will work it out.”

The Fallout:

X comes back into the space. I ask X to come speak with me in private and explain the drop off to them and tell X that I will get change asap. Here it is revealed that X asked other teen to ask me about the change, so I try to gently tell X that in the future please come directly to me, I am happy to work things out with them, I didn’t know how much the fries cost or that they were even owed change. It had all just happened so quickly and we were all so busy.

And Then:

We step back into the space and Y starts yelling at me – in front of everyone – because Y apparently volunteered to help X because we were trying to steal X’s money. Y is inserting himself, again, into a situation that he shouldn’t be involved in, and he is doing so very publicly. It’s an uncomfortable situation all around. I admit it, my feelings were hurt. We have spent days upon days upon days with these teens. They know us. We know them. They share their triumph and struggles. We listen with intent and care about them. And here they were publicly accusing us of harm over a misunderstanding about change in the middle of a chaotic day.

So I stop and say, in the middle of a crowded room full of busy teens, we will no longer be talking about this publicly, it is not okay that this is happening right now. And then I say, “In the future, we will not do things like this for you. No library staff will be allowed to take any money from you or get you any food, so do not ask.”

And Then the Knife Goes In:

So then Y says, “That’s okay, we don’t trust you anymore anyway.”

I’m not going to lie. That. Hurt. A lot.

X then flees the room.

The Apologies:

I eventually find X sitting outside with Y. I ask Y to please let me speak privately with X. At first Y refuses to leave, claims he is protecting X. But X keeps asking Y to leave and eventually he does.

The first thing I say to X is, “We were fine before this and we’re going to be fine after this. But let’s talk about what is happening.”

X says they can’t talk about it because they have anxiety and are prone to panic attacks. So I share that I also have anxiety and sometimes have panic attacks. X starts crying. We sit in silence for a while. Then we talk. We talk about what exactly happened, how I didn’t know how much the fries were and that there should have been change, about the quick drop off in the parking lot, and about how all of this could have been avoided with a bit better communication. We talked about how to handle conflict. I admitted that the lack of trust hurt my feelings, as did the fact that X didn’t come right to me to ask about the change. And about how the situation was made so much worse by who X had chosen as an emissary and they way that everyone had treated everyone and in such public spaces.

I talked to Y about how he had talked to the staff and how it wasn’t fair to anyone involved for him to insert himself into a discussion that he really shouldn’t have been a part of.

The Aftermath:

X came in the following day and everything was fine between us all.

It took Y several more days before he came back, but he did come back.

I sent a recap of the event to my staff with a reminder of what our library policies were regarding the events that had happened with an apology for the day. After discussion with my assistant director, we re-affirmed with the staff that they should not take any money from the teens or give them food outside of a library sponsored event that served food. We talked about appropriate boundaries, professionalism, and reminded staff that they represent the library at all times. It was a reminder that the library had rules regarding situations exactly like this and that we had gotten too casual with our teens and lax in enforcing them. So we went back to following the rules to protect everyone involved, including the library itself.

The Wrap-Up:

This was a hard day for me. It was emotionally exhausting, gut wrenching, and soul crushing. I had been moved by compassion because I know that most of my teens come to the library and stay for hours – often 6 or more – with no food because they don’t have money or transportation. My heart was in the right place, but the event did not play out in ways that I expected. I am not going to lie, I was stunned by the lack of trust expressed.

At one point, one of the teens in the space remarked, “What’s the big deal? It’s only $3.00.” This is when I explained privilege to this teen and explained that for many people, $3.00 was in fact life or death. It could be a meal. Or enough gas to get to work. But that it was very much a big deal and even if it wasn’t, it was still their money and they had a right to ask about it.

It wasn’t the asking about the change that was an issue, it was the how of it. And the who of it. And the when of it. It was just the perfect firestorm of events that combusted at the exact wrong time in the exact wrong ways.

And I know the title of this post says that I did everything wrong, but I didn’t. I worked hard to resolve this issue with all parties involved. I felt good about how I approached X and said, “We were fine before this and we’re going to be fine after this,” trying to re-assure this teen that I wasn’t angry and they weren’t in trouble and I was sorry and we were going to be okay, they were going to be okay. And in the end, everything was okay. Getting there was just hard.

The truth is, as a manager, I would have been upset if my staff had done this. It breaks the barriers put in place by our institution and I am a big fan of those barriers which protect patrons, staff and the library itself. But I broke those barriers and learned some valuable lessons. I just learned them the hard way.

That was the day I did everything wrong but in the end, we worked it out. And that’s important to0. Mistakes can be fixed, relationships can be mended, wrongs can be righted, and a bad day can turn around.

Also, baconator fries only cost $2.00. Knowing that ahead of time would have saved me a lot of troubles. So now you know.

Sunday Reflections: Today, as the Mother of Daughters, is a Good Day for Geekdom

My Sunday Reflections are usually somber reflections on the world that I see around me, in part because there is a lot to be concerned about. But today, I rejoice.

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THE NEW DOCTOR IS A WOMAN!!

We are huge fans of Doctor Who in the Jensen household. The first thing we recently did upon returning to our Texas home after several weeks in Ohio is binge watch our DVRed episodes of Doctor Who to get caught up. We cuddled up in bed, the girls and I, and watched four episodes worth of our favorite show. We laughed. We cried. We bonded and rejoiced and lamented that we would have to wait until the annual Christmas episode until we saw the Doctor again.

And then today the announcement.

The new doctor is a woman! We called everyone we know screaming the news! To say that we are excited is an understatement.

But, it gets better. They also released the teaser trailer for the new movie adaptation of arguably one of my favorite childhood books. And it is glorious!!

This summer I also got to take my girls to see Wonder Woman and help it become one of the highest grossing super hero movies of all time.

With all the news about the assault women’s reproductive rights and healthcare and the walking back of protections against campus sexual violence, it was a good day in geekdom to get to be the mom of two amazing girls. There is a lot to be worried about, but today felt like a triumph. In what seems like dark times to be a woman, I’ll take any moment of triumph I can get.

Sunday Reflections: “These Kids Lead Dark Lives”, the Summer The Teen Learned about Privilege

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This summer The Teen has been spending a lot of time with me in the Teen MakerSpace, and it has been an enlightening experience for her.

Let me tell you some of what these teens have talked to her about:

One of our regular teens has an incarcerated father.

Two of our teens have fathers who have recently tried to kill their mothers, one of them in front of the teen.

One of our teens called 911 as her mother ODed on the front lawn.

Another teen has recently moved as she has been placed in a new foster home.

Many of our teens talk openly about the challenges of being poor and their struggles with their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Many of our teens have moved and moved again as they are in financially unstable homes so they move in and out of homes with relatives or have to find new apartments because the rent goes up.

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The truth is, the community that I work in is much different then the community that we live in. And although our family definitely has our challenges, we also have a lot of privilege and The Teen is coming to understand this. At the base line she has married parents who love each other and her. Right out of the gate she has a stability that many of the teens that I serve don’t have.

And as a feminist raising a feminist teenage daughter, she is aware of the challenges of growing up female in this world. But she is growing up white, middle class female which still has its own privilege. To make matters easier for her, she meets conventional beauty standards. Make no mistake, she personally and our family has our own personal challenges, including financial difficulties, a lack of healthy extended family, chronic illness, and more. But she is really gaining an understanding of what privilege is this summer.

So one night a few weeks ago I was tucking her into bed – yes she is a teenager and I tuck her in to bed every night and I will continue to do so until she asks me to stop or moves out of my home – and as I was turning off the light and shutting the door she asked me to come back and talk to her. This, by the way, is the very reason I still tuck her in, this is when our best conversations happen. She looked at me and said, “Mom, some of the kids you work with have really dark lives.” “I know,” I said, “That’s why I do what I do. I learned many years ago that the best service I could give to teenagers is to be a librarian, a mentor, and give them a safe place to come and read stories and get an education and find the tools they needed to make their lives better.”

The Teen making a T-shirt bag in the Teen MakerSpace

The Teen making a T-shirt bag in the Teen MakerSpace

I work in a state different then the state that I live in. I leave my children every few weeks to come and spend time with these other children. It’s a delicate balance of schedules and needs and emotions. I have a great staff that helps me serve these teens and we work hard to create the space and services that we provide. But I think this summer has better helped The Teen understand why I do what I do. These teens have dark lives and I have the honor and privilege of trying to be a light in it. It’s a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

Sunday Reflections: Who needs healthcare?

In case you haven’t heard, this week the Senate Republicans released their ‘healthcare’ bill. I’m not here to analyze the changes this would make to our current healthcare system, but there is a good brief analysis here. I am here to talk about the impact this might have on our lives and the lives of our patrons.

To be honest, my views on healthcare were radically changed when I watched my best friend slowly die from cancer. Up until that point, I had taken health care for granted. I was privileged to grow up in a family where one of my parents worked for a company that provided the highest level of healthcare coverage (General Electric.) Having all of my wisdom teeth extracted cost my family $4. But watching Shannon fight and resist her eventual death caused me to reconsider all of my assumptions. What wouldn’t I be willing to sacrifice for the 18 extra months we had with her following her diagnosis? And what wasn’t she willing to do to have that extra time with her family, which included two internationally adopted sons with special needs? I remember watching her have a blood transfusion and going from deathly pale to her normal pink skin tone. I remember how uncharacteristically assertive I was when her husband was out of town and she called me to come advocate for her in the emergency room.

And still, her melanoma killed her. Was she not worth those extra 18 months? What about children born with life threatening conditions. For a political party to advocate against abortion on the pretense of being ‘pro-life’ but then refuse to care for the most vulnerable amongst us – how is that compassion? Refusing care even to those who have ‘brought it upon themselves’ (i.e.. drug addicts, etc.) ignores the responsibility we hold for generations of oppression and neglect.

And no, we cannot depend upon the ‘better natures’ of our society to correct these inequities on their own. One only need look at the statistics on charitable giving to see that most of it comes from those least able to afford it. If those who are ‘obscenely rich’ were willing to donate the amounts necessary to provide healthcare to everyone, they would have already made the effort to provide a livable wage to all of those under their employ. And so it becomes the responsibility of the government to enforce a basic level of care to ensure the health and livelihood of its citizens.

To put it pragmatically, a healthy and well educated citizenry contributes to the overall gross domestic product of a country. Why is this so difficult for some to understand?

Sunday Reflections: Celebrating Six Years of TLT

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Celebrating 6 Years of TLT!

I am a YA librarian. That is one of the core ways I define myself. I have spent 23 years working to be the best YA librarian that I can be. Yes, I have worked and love working with younger kids. Yes, I have worked and love working the Reference desk. But at my core, I am a YA librarian. If you asked me to define myself, it’s in the top five things I will say: Christian, mother, YA librarian. These are part of the things that make me me.

So in 2011, after the flood and after the job losses and after having to move, I worried about finding another YA librarian job. Full-time librarian jobs are hard to come by, YA ones even harder still. And thus Teen Librarian Toolbox was born. It was and is my attempt to be better at what I do and to stay connected to this field that I love and this important part of my identity. It has become a tool, a resource, a sounding board, and so much more.

Through TLT I have met amazing people, been challenged to expand what I think and how I serve, and developed a strong core group of fellow YA librarians/librarians who are not only professional peers, but personal friends. Heather, Amanda, Robin and Ally have helped me through deep personal times as well as having been a professional sounding board. I can not tell you the immense gift that these women are to me and my family. I value, respect and admire them, but more then that – I love them, they are my friends.

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TLT is both my most meaningful professional and personal accomplishment. With your help and readership, I get to model to my daughters the joys and hard work of building something from scratch and watching it succeed. And make no mistake, they too have benefited from TLT. They have met authors, been blessed by my fellow librarians, and many of you have sent them your positive thoughts in our darkest of days.

As I reflect on this, the six year anniversary of TLT, I say thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for discussing. Thank you for challenging. Thank you for supporting. I am a better person, mother and YA librarian because you take this journey with me. Thank you for six amazing years. I hope you will continue to be on this journey with us in the years to come.

Heather Booth Reflects

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My first post for TLT was about a live action Angry Birds program I hosted in 2012. I was reminded of this just today when a colleague replicating the event asked for some details. “I think we used beach towels to fling the balls,” I told her. “I know it’s on TLT though, just check the site, I’m pretty sure there’s a materials list.” So what does TLT mean to me? It’s a record of my work over the past several years, the other half of my brain, and a reminder of the amazing support, awareness-raising, and mutual admiration that our profession is capable of. I’m glad to have a small stake in TLT and immensely proud of the compendium of information and perspectives shared here by librarians, authors, teens, and more. The output – at least one high quality post six out of seven days a week – is astounding for an unpaid staff the size of our group, especially since that group includes a slacker poster like myself! Thank you, Karen, for creating and maintaining this space, even when it was hard.

Amanda MacGregor Reflects

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Teen Librarian Toolbox has given me so much over the past three years (and the three years before that where I was a reader but not a contributor). A lot of those things are obvious. It has: given me a platform to talk about books and issues important to me; helped connect me with thousands of librarian/book/YA people on Twitter; connected me with publishers who make sure hundreds of books show up here each year for me to consider for review; and opened the door for me for other opportunities related to books and writing.

But TLT means so much more than just a place to write about YA books and advocacy for teens. I am grateful to have learned so much from being a part of TLT. Whether from my fellow TLTers, from guest posts, from the conversations surrounding books and posts, or from our various yearly projects, I have taken away new information, new ideas, and new ways of thinking about things. TLT isn’t just some blog I write for—it’s a community. The past 3 years have been filled with emails, texts, phone calls, and more with TLTers that sometimes have things to do with the blog, but most often do not. This past fall, when I met up with Heather at NerdCon, my son was flabbergasted that we’d never met in person before. When I told him I’ve actually never met anyone from TLT in person before, he was absolutely astounded. “But they’re your friends!” he said. And yes, most of our interactions are in virtual spaces, but these people are my friends. I’m not quite sure why Karen plucked me out of Twitter to ask if I was interested in joining TLT, but I’m forever happy that she did. I love TLT for the community, the learning, the support, and the many ways it challenges me to think harder and do better. Thankful for my fellow bloggers here at TLT, the legions of people who volunteer to guest post, and everyone who reads, shares, and talks with us about our posts.

Robin Willis Reflects

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Being a part of Teen Librarian Toolbox has been a true blessing in my life for a number of reasons. When I started contributing, I was struggling to enjoy a job where the moments I got to be a librarian (rather than tech support) were growing fewer and fewer. TLT helped me be more reflective and change my practice to serve the students at my school with more creativity and enthusiasm. It has helped open doors for me to join in the larger YA librarianship community and given me perspective on my life and work. Even though I now mostly work with the 5 and under set at a public library (finding a full time YA position is nearly impossible) I still feel connected to my work with teens through TLT. More than all of that, though, I enjoy working with a fabulous group of librarians who are always available to support me both professionally and personally, and who feel free to call on me for the same support.

 

We always love hearing from you, so if you would like to tell us what you like about TLT, what you would like to see more of, etc., please leave us a comment.

Sunday Reflections: I Did Not Succeed, but I Also Did Not Fail

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Yesterday I sat in my Teen MakerSpace with four teens and we tried to build a Lego car that would move by voice activitated LittleBits. We did not accomplish this task. In fact, we could not figure out how to attach the wheels in a way that would move.

As we built the car, the teens began telling stories using their Legos. By the end of the day they had built a regular Lego car and a house and were telling an eleborate backstory for Nancy and several other characters. They acted it out using Minifigs and the tale continued to grow as each teen contributed their part.

Later they sat down and colored.

But still there was no voice activated car that moved.

It would be easy for me to think that I failed, but I did not. Sure, I didn’t succeed in building the voice activated car, but I succeeded in several other goals. These teens were being creative in their own self-directed way. They took the reigns and started doing something else that they apparently wanted to do. And while they did it they were social, engaged, and building positive feelings about the libraries. They were in a safe environment with caring adults and engaging in positive behaviors with short and long term positive outcomes.

So no, I did not successfully build a voice activated Lego car. But I also did not fail.

Sunday Reflections: The Long Term Effects of Trauma and the Kids We Traumatize

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We are driving home and it is dark. Thing 2 is quiet in the backseat. I realize that she has probably fallen asleep, it’s late and the drive is a little over an hour, but there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if she has died back there. Maybe the seat belt has cut off her airway. Maybe she has fallen asleep in that weird floppy way that kids buckled into cars do. So I resist the urge for as long as I can and then I ask The Teen, “Can you please check on your sister in the backseat?” And she does. She is used to checking on her sister asleep in the car.

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When Thing 2 was five weeks old she stopped breathing and turned blue. She was sitting in one of those electric swings and The Teen and I are were doing something when I looked up and saw that she was turning blue. We would later learn that she had severe GERD caused by multiple food allergies and GI issues, that she had aspirated on the reflux causing her to quit breathing. That night in the ER she would be placed on a sleep apnea monitor that we used for months to help make sure that she didn’t quit breathing again in her sleep. We lived in a constant state of stress and fear.

One of the effects of this incident is that I became afraid to drive at night in the car with my baby. You see, with her turned around rear facing so I couldn’t see her, I worried that she would aspirate again. I had zero confidence in the apnea monitor. This was my baby we were talking about. My baby that I had fought through pregnancy loss and hyperemesis gravidarum and a separating placenta and fibroid tumors to bring into this world. My baby that I had already seen turn blue. So I stopped driving anywhere at night. And sleeping. I stopped sleeping.

My road to motherhood has been paved with a lot of trauma. I nearly died. I lost an early pregnancy in complicated ways. And then I finally gave birth to my second child after a high risk pregnancy complicated by hyperemesis gravidarum. I then suffered PPD and my baby had “colic”. It was a couple of years of constant trauma and stress. And last night, driving home in the dark, I was reminded of the long term effects. I think a lot about the effects of trauma.

There have been a lot of recent studies about childhood trauma (see additional information below). Childhood trauma literally rewires the brain. It is associated with increased rates of addiction. There is nothing good that comes from childhood trauma. I can assure you that at the age of 44 I still carry the effects of the sexual abuse I suffered as a young teen with me.

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Thing 2 is now eight years old. When she was two, our town flooded and we had to escape through knee high raging (and freezing waters). She doesn’t remember the house that we lived in when this happened. She doesn’t remember many of the people we knew during this time of our lives. But she does remember the night of the flood. She remembers being carried by a stranger through the water. She freaks out when she sees commercials for disaster movies with a tsunami or flooding. She should remember nothing, but yet she seems to remember the fear associated with the rising waters.

1 in 5 children in America goes to bed hungry. They live in a constant state of economic stress and financial insecurity. 1 in 4 struggles with a mental health issue. 1 in 5 will be the victim of sexual abuse. Many more will be the victims of or witness to violence. There’s a lot of childhood trauma happening all around us every day.

At the same time, we are witnessing what I believe to be our least compassionate moment in my history. We are willing to let sick children die if they are poor because apparently healthcare is not a right. We are willing to let children starve because they are poor because apparently food and water are not a right. We continue to let the children in Flint be subjected to lead tainted water. We want the right to harm children in the name of religious freedom. We want to strip away education and healthcare and food subsidies, the very thing that will get a lot of these children through their childhood so that they can become successful adults. We are causing trauma to our children in the name of political power and political parties and greed and prejudice. And yet I look at the results of childhood trauma and I can’t help but think, we’re not just hurting the children, we’re hurting ourselves, we’re hurting each other, we’re hurting our country, we’re hurting our future. Nobody really wins here when we hurt our children.

Our country is in the midst of one of the greatest opioid epidemics in our history they say. Addiction is highly associated with mental illness and childhood trauma they also say. What if the answer to our crisis is that we need to be more compassionate to our children?

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We arrived home safely last night and I put Thing 2 to bed. She chose to come snuggle with me as she slept and I held her close and kissed her head as I prayed over her, thankful that we made another car ride home in the dark and she kept breathing. And I prayed for all the children in our world. May the adults in our world choose to create a world with less childhood trauma so that our children can thrive.

We need to do better.

For More Information:

Effects of Complex Trauma | National Child Traumatic Stress Network

How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD – The Atlantic

Childhood Trauma Linked to Brain Changes and Addiction

Trauma and Substance Abuse – National Child Traumatic Stress Network