Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

What we can learn about the gift of security and foundation from USES FOR BOYS by Erica Lorraine Scheidt (by Christa Desir)

A long time ago, I sat at a lecture where the speaker said, “Don’t be afraid to tell your kids ‘I love you, but no’. This is the very best gift that you can ever give them. It is the gift of security, of them knowing that someone is driving the bus.”

I think about this a lot. Mostly I think about those of us who for one reason or another didn’t have parents who said no. The unprotected ones. The ones with no boundaries, no one driving the bus. Or maybe someone was driving the bus, but only sometimes, and it was erratic enough to feel unsafe.

There are a lot of different reactions to being left unprotected as a child, but at the end of the day, it all ends up in the same place: with the undeniable knowledge that however you’re going to navigate this world, you are on your own.

It’s a tall order for a small child.

When I read USES FOR BOYS, I felt this narrative creep back inside me. The narrative of someone who grew up with few boundaries, with no parent around to say “I love you, but no.” Anna was unprotected. Her early life was peppered with a revolving door of men and/or her mom notably absent. And the gaping hole inside her got bigger with each interaction she had with guys. 
To me, there is a lot of solace in reading a book that lets you know you’re not alone. But Erica Lorraine Scheidt takes it a step further. By Anna so frequently creating her own fairy tale in her mind, desperately trying to control the narrative of her own existence (i.e. posing herself the first time that she goes on a date with Sam), the reader is pushed into considering how we could change Anna’s story, both from her perspective and from her mom’s. We are left to think: at what point along this path could we have made this better so that Anna is not so incredibly unprotected. What lessons could we have offered Anna or what could we have helped her avoid. 
You cannot protect your child 100% of the time. They don’t live in bubbles. It’s a wide world of a lot of shitty things. But there are tools to give them, resources to provide them with enough of an emotional landscape that when confronted with hard things they can get through. People say that kids are resilient. I think they are only if they have enough resources to be. If someone along the way has given them enough of something to cobble together a workable life. They deserve this. And Erica Lorraine Scheidt spends a lot of her time trying to provide this. (Ask her about her job/non-profit). 
This book is about sex and not about sex at the same time. It is about want. It is about seeking wholeness in the only way that Anna knows, through interactions with boys. Over and over again we see Anna trying to fix herself through boys and over and over again it doesn’t work. And to me, Anna’s journey in this book is more about figuring out what she wants than anything else.

But for girls (and boys!) to figure out what they really want, they have to be asked. They have to know that what they want matters. They have to consider themselves as part of the equation in all things that they do. They have to feel protected enough to fail and know that they still have a safety net.

Which is the role of Sam in this book. Sam is the protected one and through him, Anna figures out what she wants. Not because he tells her, but because he asks. A lot. And then his mom does. And Anna finds her way into something that starts to solidify the broken foundation she had been existing on. Which ultimately leaves us with enough hope at the end of the book to believe it might be okay for Anna. That she might have the tools she needs to make it through after all.

Christa Desir is an activist, editor and the author of FaultlineFaultline is the story of a girl (Ani) who was gang raped at a party and how her boyfriend, Ben, deals with his guilt and feelings in the aftermath. She is also the author of the forthcoming title Bleed Like Me. Desir is one of the moderators of the #SVYALit Project and guest blogs with us here on topics involving sexual violence, slut shaming, and consent.

You can join us tonight at 7 PM Central on Twitter as we discuss Uses for Boys with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt using the hashtag #SVYALit. 

Sunday Reflections: “There is no plan.”

On December 14th of last year, I sat in my library’s meeting room for a scheduled staff inservice on safety and security.  The police officer held a question/answer session, fielding library staff questions one by one.  The answer was almost always, “Call the police.  We’re the experts.  Let us decide.  Keep yourself safe.  Don’t worry if it’s a false alarm. Call the police.”

I work in a small town.  It’s very nice.  Quaint.  People frequently ride their bikes to the library, which is near the heart of town, and leave them unlocked outside, propped against the book drop.  It’s the kind of place that feels very safe.

On the other side of the country, in another quaint town that felt very safe, while we sat in the meeting room eating coffee cake from the local bakery, listening to the officer answer our questions, and looking forward to an early end of the day, Sandy Hook Elementary School was making national news in the worst possible way.

In the time since the Newtown, CT school shooting, I’ve been a part of a committee creating security plans and procedures for my library, and this past Friday, we all met back in that same meeting room again, this time to introduce the new security plan, and to be a part of an active shooter drill conducted by the local police department.

The procedure we were advised to use in the case of an active shooter is very brief.  It doesn’t include many specifics.  The main message is to make your best judgement and keep yourself as safe as you can, whether by hiding or escaping, notifying others if you can, but keeping yourself safe above all else.

The officer who ran the drill gave us one instruction:
This will feel very real.  Do what you would do if this were real.

Of course the questions followed.
“Should we sound an alarm?”
“Do we make an announcement on the intercom?”
“What if we can’t hear it happening?”
“What if we were with children, or in a program with teens?”  
“What if I’m near the exit but there are kids closer to where the shooter is?”

He repeated, “Do what you would do if this were real.”

I won’t lie.  It was terrifying.  It’s not that I felt that my safety was at risk – I understood intellectually that the shots fired were not harmful and that though they were loud, I wouldn’t be hurt.  But the mere fact that we were drilling for this left my stomach churning and my heart racing.  A situation as unimaginable yet as increasingly common as this has another layer of emotion for those of us who work with young people.

Who among us wouldn’t be torn about how best to evacuate or notify the teens in our building?  What is the difference between our motivations, roles, and responsibilities as individuals with hopes and dreams and loved ones of our own, as youth-serving professionals, and as good humans?

It’s heart wrenching and sobering to contemplate.  We are people hoping teens will come to us.  We hope we can earn and then keep their trust.  We craft our collections, programs, and spaces to make them feel comforted and welcome.  We care about them.  So when the answer to our questions was, “You’ll need to decide.  Do what you would do if this were real,” and the officer reminded us that we are all college educated adults and need to use our best judgement when faced with difficult decisions about life and death, escape and refuge, safety and heroism, it was hard to hear.

I wanted a rule, a procedure, a plan.  But there is no plan.  There is only a situation and our best judgement.  Unlike the officer’s reminder in December, that they are the experts, that we need not decide how best to deal with a potentially volatile situation, once the situation has flipped and the situation is volatile, it is up to each of us to act, using our own best judgement.

We can know where all of the exits and safest rooms are.  We can tuck hammers and fire ladders near high windows.  We can put panic buttons in easy to reach places.  But we can’t make our libraries 100% secure.  As the officer sagely pointed out, that’s not a place of learning and engagement; that’s a jail.

Before we adjourned for the day, a coworker with a son in middle school spoke up.  She pointed out that while we all are concerned with keeping children and teens safe, and those of us who work with them specifically may feel an additional layer of professional responsibility to do so, teens and children are being equipped with their own set of survival skills.  Unlike most of us adults who drilled in school for fire and weather emergencies, today’s youth are also drilling for the devastating possibility of a shooter.  And just as we carry the lessons of our early drills with us everywhere, “duck and cover” “stop, drop, and roll” “stay low and go,” so will today’s youth carry the tools of our modern situation with them.

We hope they never need to use those tools.  We hope we never need to make these life and death decisions.

How does your role as a youth services professional change your perspective on emergency response?  Does your library have an emergency response plan?