My Latest Article for Curve Magazine #2

A Girl Named Lucy

 

I met a girl named Lucy a few weeks ago. She is the middle child of a conservative family. Lucy is a 14 year-old Hispanic girl who identifies as bisexual. Lucy is also what some would refer to as a “cutter.” Being a middle child can be difficult enough. Being a bisexual one makes things all the more difficult. To be a young teenage bisexual middle child in a conservative family is more than Lucy can bear sometimes. And so, to deal with the pressures that come from all of the cards that Lucy feels are stacked so firmly against her, she cuts.

 

It started by accident really. Sitting in her room one afternoon, reeling in the words of her parents’ last tirade about how her Facebook profession of love to another female was bringing shame to the family, she scratched herself in a fit of anger and frustration. The scratch did something for her. Lucy said that it was as if a release valve was opened and all of the emotions that were overwhelming her from the inside escaped and set her free. Free from the pile of disdain and loathing that her family had just dumped on her. Lucy figured out rather quickly that she could not only make herself feel better by cutting, but she also found that self-mutilation was one thing she could control in her life. Her sexuality was not something that she could change nor could she change how her parents chose to deal with her. For Lucy, ‘cutting’ became that: a sense of control.

 

The freedom that Lucy felt she had gained from ‘cutting’ quickly became something else. Lucy was cutting so regularly as way to deal with life’s difficulties that it just became another thing that slowly took control of her rather than the other way around. What started out as small incidents of self-harm in secret corners of her bedroom quickly turned into a near obsession. By the time I met Lucy she had been hospitalized at least three different times and her cutting had become such a frequent thing that you could barely see a patch of skin on her arms that did not have scars or freshly healing wounds.

 

The first time Lucy opened up about her ‘cutting’ she talked about the loneliness of being different and the helplessness of not being loved by the ones who are supposed to love her, “no matter what.” There was such power in words adorned with so much pain. My job was to “fix” Lucy. Get her to learn better coping skills for dealing with difficult emotions. I did that. I taught her strategies to manage anxiety, cope with sadness, and deal with pain and disappointment. But every time that I left Lucy, I couldn’t help but wonder: was she really the one that needed fixing? Sure, she was using dangerous coping mechanisms to deal with issues that affected her. Certainly she needed help finding other ways to cope. But, all of the strategies in the world can’t help her family change the way they feel about her sexuality. No coping skill I teach her can ever make the pain of being put down by her own family at all bearable. How can any coping skill make her feel loved and accepted by those she loves the most.

 

Cutting is an epidemic that is much more wide spread than any average person could ever imagine. Kids today are doing it much more habitually than ever before and the cutting gets deeper and more widespread. Today it seems more like a team sport as kids are enlisting one another to join in the behavior. The sad part is that the fix is usually much simpler than their worried families may dare to believe.

 

Being a teenager is a difficult part of life. What makes it more difficult is that teens are not yet developed enough biologically to be able to solve life’s difficulties in very productive ways. They need “Us,” the adults in their lives to help them along. Why do we instead provide them with additional baggage to carry in the already heavy backpack of life. Love, accept, validate, embrace, support, acknowledge. These are but the things that they seek. These are the things that they require in order to survive life. It is what they deserve, simply because they are. Loving a child with all that makes him or her different is not a choice. It is a requirement!

 

“To all the Lucy’s in the world; we hear you!”

 

 

Short Bio

 

Liz Diaz is a wife and mother of two teenage kids. She is originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico (Ponce es Ponce…) She is a counselor and coach in the Metro Atlanta area working in the areas of substance abuse, parenting, anger management, self-harm, and LGBTQ issues. Liz works with children, teens, and adults but her specialty is working with teens who consider themselves misunderstood. She serves her community as an advocate, teacher, and mentor. Liz has spent over 14 years working with children and families in the community. She dedicates her life to helping others find their voice when they need it most. Liz hopes that her writing will inspire some and help others. Find her at liztruly@wordpress.com

Check out the actual published article here: http://www.curvemag.com/Culture/A-Girl-Named-Lucy/

 

And this is how you make it work…

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It’s the middle of the day on a chili Saturday in Atlanta. Slightly overcast and all feels calm. I’m in the center of the city where it is usually hussling and bussling. Not today. Today it is a peaceful scene. I’m sitting in my favorite restaurant. A cozy café in the heart of the city. Walking through the door means walking back in time. Ella playing on the speakers, soft and gentle, not overbearing. A quiet table in the corner is to be my preferred spot for this most needed date with myself. A tiny vase sits in the center of the table holding a single stem of the sweetest looking flower. This is my perfection. A good book, a great cup of coffee, a little Ella in the background and a great momentary escape.

Life is full of distractions that can quickly kill the romance. This is why many couples either don’t last or just lose their luster. They go for years simply co-existing.  That’s not for me and it will never be us! I am so in love with her and love how it feels to love her so much that I (we) work to protect its constancy and permanent existence. So I sit in this coffee house by myself: regrouping, re-energizing, re-viving myself. And where is she?…respecting my space.

Our days are filled with work responsibilities, school deadlines, PTA functions, kids concerts, parent/teacher conferences, bill paying, family drama, deaths, births, and the list goes on. In the midst of it all, we make it a point not to forget the why and how we came together. So we work on it. We spend quality time together (regular date nights help) and make it a point to allow ourselves some time apart. For as much as we have in common, we have just as much that sets us apart. After all, we are two different people. I enjoy getting my hair done, she likes playing sports or hanging out at the park. I like coffee, she drinks tea. I enjoy reading books, she likes to listen to music. Her guilty pleasures are not mine. So we allow ourselves those differences and give each other space to enjoy them. Just as important however, is appreciating those things together once in a while. We compromise often and it serves us well. Every so often she goes antiquing with me and other times, I brave it out and climb a rock wall or two with her. I love how we challenge each other that way. Focusing on the good things that our differences bring rather than trying to force one to be more like the other. She takes the time to learn my culture and I take the time to learn her’s. She can make a mean pot of “Arroz con habichuelas” and I actually make a decent pot of “greens.” I love the blend that has become “Us.” Today is about the individuality in each. She spends time with her “Ace” and I sit in this coffee house with myself. Later tonight we’ll meet for a date.

Relationships really are not as difficult as most people make them out to be. You just have to step outside of yourself long enough to notice, there is someone else in this relationship with you. Love each other for who you are together but more importantly, who you are apart from each other. Foster those differences; you were attracted to each other for a reason and that includes the things that make you different from each other. Embrace that. Life is full of enough stressors to then add your own fabricated list of must have’s or should be’s. Allow yourself time to miss each other. This will keep you on your toes. Surprise each other. Impromptu lunch dates in the middle of a workday go further than you think. Do something that the other person usually takes care of before they get a chance to tackle it (do the laundry before she gets to it, make dinner if you get home before her).

My sweetheart wrote the book on this and in my world, it is a number one seller! It’s the simple details…she buys me fresh flowers regularly, I leave her love notes in her lunch bag. She surprises me with soft gentle kisses as I cook, I greet her every day with the warmest embrace and kisses on her face.

We only live once folks, make it count! Consider one another and enjoy life as God meant for us to!  With love-

The Fairytale of LIFE

I heard a song the other day that took me back to my day-dream days. Back when I was a young girl often lost in thought thinking of what life would be like when I finally got to grow up. Will I be married? Who will I love? Is it possible to love one person forever? Will I have kids? What will they look like? Will I like the people that they are? Is real happiness how it is in storybooks? Is that real? That song I heard on the radio took me back to all of those questions and many more that often stumbled around in my pondering head. And in that instant, I remembered everything about that young girl. I remembered how it felt when I imagined what love was and what I anticipated life would be like. Almost as quickly as I remembered her I realized; I am one of the lucky few who get to live life just as I imagined it to be.

I think life itself is more like a fairy tale that we care to take notice of. It has it’s drama, it’s heroes, and it even has the occasional villain. The question is, do we take the time to LIVE it, NOTICE it, APPRECIATE it.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of living what I call two lifetimes. I lived one life for the first half of my existence and underwent a rebirth that will take me to the end of my days. I can’t say that I regret either one. My first life allowed me to create two amazing individuals that already add to this world of ours in their own right, but this second life…this second life is my fairytale come to life. Everything I dreamed of as a young girl complete with all the feelings I felt then in anticipation. Life is so much richer when you can truly appreciate the simple things in the blessings that surround us each and every day rather than focus on what we lack. I choose not to focus on the fact that I am not rich or that I don’t have the perfect shape. I choose not to notice the many less than favorable aspects of my life or who I am. Instead, I like to focus on the fact that watching my kids play their instruments in school functions fills my heart. I choose to focus on the fact that my daughter’s kindness and philanthropic spirit are awe-inspiring. Or that my son’s level of intellectual ability leaves me thinking, “ I created him?” I also choose to focus on the fact that my life partner is the perfect balance to my often out of sorts approach to life. That after three years together, she can still make my knees weak and butterflies dance in my stomach just from entering the room. I choose to focus on the fact that I have had the presence of mind to know that I have been blessed and to live in that reality long enough to not take those things for granted. I focus on nurturing what I have in order to protect my “Happily Ever After.”

And so, as the song on the radio ends, so does the momentary flashback. And in its wake, it leaves behind a trickled smile that lasts for days; for I have arrived!

A Special Place

A Special Place

Atlanta is home to one of the most diverse communities in this great country of ours. Typically, you move to this city (finding a native Atlantan these days is like finding buried treasure) and you will find that it’s people are welcoming and just all around affirming. Here in Atlanta anyone can feel free to be who they are and we will love them for it. That is until, you step into a little niche found within the neighborhood of Druid Hills. A place now known to some and as the ‘stepford’ wanna be ‘twilight zone’ of the “A.”

Druid Hills is a sweet looking little place nestled in the city of Decatur. It sits quietly, just outside the hustle and bustle of tall skyscrapers and harried commuters. It is a safe haven just outside this great metropolis that is Atlanta. Driving through you’ll see the typical signs of suburban life; mom’s strolling about pushing baby carriages, folks jogging along trails of horticultural masterpieces, dog’s playing with their human families on the well manicured lawns. It is regular Norman Rockwell kind of stuff. Druid Hills has so much to offer but, there is a little gem, within that indisputably lovely little place that makes Druid Hills just that much more special.  It is known as The Frazer Center.

Every town in every city has a number of academies and schools.  Druid Hills is no different. What is different is that in this affluent area of private schools and prep academies also lies one of the greatest learning environments this city has to offer. The Frazer Center is an inclusive learning environment that offers vocational training to adults with special needs and a rich education for preschool children at all levels of ability or disability. The center was founded in 1949 by a couple who had been disheartened to find that very little was available in terms of early education for their own child who had Cerebral Palsy. Though the Frazer Center started in the basement of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, in 1952 the center was relocated to where it stands today.  Through the years the center has grown and expanded in so many ways. The center began to offer services to adults with disabilities in the 80’s and in the 90’s a beautiful garden was added. The center has continued to evolve and serve the community in immeasurable ways. Much like the center has changed, so has the neighborhood surrounding it. Beautiful homes were erected throughout the perimeter of the Frazer Center’s lush grounds and the small enclave known as Druid Hills grew to the picturesque small utopia that we see today.

Utopia would be the perfect word to describe this a area of Druid Hills if we could base the truth on mere appearances. The reality however is a sad one. See, all of those beautiful homes that popped up all around the center serve as dwelling to a group of citizens who are not at all impressed with the Frazer Center, what it has meant to a great number of families or what it continues to do for those who really depend on it’s existence. I must clarify, I do not imply that every homeowner of Lake Claire shares this sentiment but the handful that does have made quite an impact. For some time now residents of Lake Claire have all but declared war on the Frazer Center. It seems that those pesky special transportation buses have posed a danger to the neighborhood of magnanimous proportions. To hear the feedback from the “select few” neighbors one would think those busses are more like torpedoes barreling down their perfect roads just aiming for unsuspecting victims to demolish in it’s path. The “select few” have brought up a number of concerns and have caused such a ruckus in getting those concerns heard that this non-profit special needs center has been forced to spend an obscene amount of money to defend its right to be there. To say that this is a sad situation is an understatement of monumental proportions.

There is enough by way of research on the subject to find that at the onset of the issues the neighbors may very well have had some legitimate concerns, however since the disputes have gained steam, the arguments have become less compelling and the neighbors of Lake Claire firmly secured a place in the Ogres Hall of Fame! Time is their weapon and bullying is their ammo. They sit at the back gate of the center watching each and every car that goes in and out of the center. They log every little detail and write letters of complaint to all who’ll listen about it. There actually is a woman who apparently has enough time on her hands to whip out her RADAR GUN and literally clock the speed of cars as they drive by. At this point, honestly, will anyone care about the concerns and see any validity in what these neighbors have to say? From where I stand, these “select few” now look less like concerned citizens and more like suburban bullies. They make demands almost on a daily basis and as much as those demands are addressed by the center, it is never enough. The center has had to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars (did I mention this is a non-profit program) no only to pay attorneys to defend them and their right to be there but they have also made numerous modifications in order to address the neighbor’s concerns good faith. Anything and everything that the Frazer Center can do to alleviate the situation has been done. The only thing left would be to close its doors. Personally, I think that is the outcome that the “select few” are aiming for and I don’t believe they will rest until they get it. My question is, why? Why have they sunk their teeth into this center which has been there much longer than most of them have? What is the outcome that will finally allow this center to get back to what it was created to do: serve special families in the community? When will the center be able to use their resources to purchase much needed special needs equipment instead of wasting it away in defense of their right to be there?

I believe that the Frazer Center is a very special place; a place of selfless devotion to the care of the flourishing futures of special children and adults. I also believe in another special place.  I believe in a special place for people who pick on the weak; a special place for those who have a selfish disregard for others. A special place for those who lack the diplomacy to express themselves or meet their own needs without decimating the needs of others.

Some Resources:

VirginiaHighland-DruidHillsPatch Residents, parents, discuss frazer center traffic issues http://vahi.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/residents-parents-discuss-frasier-center-traffic-issues

http://www.lakeclaire.org/wpsite/2013/05/a-request-from-the-frazer-center/

http://www.eavbuzz.net/forum/off-leash/need-help-legislation-to-block-frazer-center-bus-service/

Children Are NOT Communal

“It takes a village to raise a child.” However well meaning this adage may be, it is sometimes taken too much to heart. Recently during a visit to the farmer’s market my girlfriend and my kids went off in their own direction as I mulled over the hundreds of spices there were to choose from. I was oblivious to what they were doing until I heard what sounded like my girlfriend’s voice at an octave she never uses. I turned to find her arguing with some older woman. All I could make out was the word “Kids” so the momma in me kicked in and I hurried over to see what was going on. It seems my kids had been handling the sprouts and the woman did not take kindly to it. Now mind you, my poor sheltered offspring have been raised in suburbia where there are just regular staple items all lined up in neat little packages in your tidy neighborhood grocery store. Going to an open farmer’s market where the fruits and veggies are there in bulk for you to stuff your little plastic bag till your heart’s content was quite the experience. This being new to them they were doing a bit of exploring. My daughter asked a question about the sprouts and my girlfriend, an educator by trade, saw it as a great teachable moment.  She allowed her to handle the produce as she explained where it came from and how it gets to be on your dinner plate. This is where it gets interesting. See, my children are pale little kiddies with blue and green eyes. My girlfriend is an african-american beauty of deep mocha skin and locks that fall down below her shoulders. So when this woman felt it necessary to say something about the kids handling the food she made no connection between the kids and my girlfriend. “Please don’t handle the food” she said. My girlfriend standing by doesn’t say anything not realizing the woman was talking to my kids. My kids apparently did not actually hear the lady make her request and she took further offense to that.  She quickly became irritated and once again told the kids to not handle the food, except this time she used a harsh and condescending tone. “What? Are you hard of hearing? I SAID! STOP HANDLING THE FOOD!” Well, the devil came down to Georgia at that moment. My sweet-natured and normally docile girlfriend grew horns and spit fire right at this woman. The look on her face as my girlfriend announced, “I AM THE PARENT HERE, they are with me and any comments you have can be directed at me, NOT THEM! You leave my kids alone and go on about your day!” I can’t tell which made a greater impact on this woman; being put in place for scolding someone else’s kid or the confusion of having this very black woman claim these very lilly white kids. Either way, the look was priceless! As tickled as I am by that I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth made this woman think it was ok to talk to my children that way.

This is not the first time that I have witnessed someone take it upon themselves to discipline someone else’s child though it was the first time that it had happened with my child(ren). So my children were handling the sprouts, and by handling I mean they picked up a bunch, looked at it, smelled, put it back and admired how they looked all together in a giant pile. Now when I go to the produce aisle whether it be a farmer’s market or a grocery store, I pick up the produce, I touch and feel it, I may even smell it before I make my choice. What is the difference here? The age? Look around and you would see every single adult in that place doing the same thing.

Folks, adulthood does not come with a special incentive card that lets you be the authority over any and every child around you. Every child does not automatically need to be reared by you simply because you are “Of Age.” You don’t know the nature of what these children are doing or their motivation for doing it. You don’t know how the parents are choosing to raise that child or why they are parenting the way they choose to. There is little else more personal than your child. Don’t always assume that you know what is best for someone else’s kids. My girlfriend and I make it routine to expose my kids to experiences that take them away from the electronic gadgets that so plague young people’s lives today. We want them to experience the world four dimensionally and our trips to the farmer’s market is a part of that. Handling the sprouts is exactly what we want them to do. To ask questions about what they see and encounter as a new experience is the very thing we want to encourage. So, grouchy lady from who knows where, I hope a lesson was learned that day. Stay in your lane and next time you feel you the need to address someone else’s child, think twice! You just never know 😉