There is a fantastic reason why I almost chose not to tell my #metoo story.
I could tell you that it’s because it is too personal for me to share on this platform, but that’s not why.
I could tell you that it’s because the incident that happened to me “wasn’t that bad” since “it only happened once” and it was at the hands of a classmate in grade school who probably didn’t even understand what he was doing at the time. But that’s not why either, and I think I’ve missed the point of the #metoo movement if I believe subtle incidents of sexual assault are not worth talking about.
The reason I almost didn’t share it, is that I had forgotten I had a #metoo story.
Oh, I remember what happened in detail, but the fact that I was violated has not figured prominently in my memory. Rather, it was the empowerment I received by the action my mom took on my behalf that made the greatest impression on me.
I was in the 4th grade and attending the little school run by the Lutheran church my family attended. We were a close-knit community, so I had been with the same classmates ever since kindergarten. Most of us also went to church and Sunday school together.
At one point during that school year, I heard hushed whispers and giggles surrounding a rumor that “Timothy”* had touched “Stephanie’s”* private parts on the playground.
I wondered if the story was really true, but I didn’t have to wonder for long. Shortly after the rumor began, I was standing in the lunch line when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see Timothy grinning.
“Hey Erika!” he said, “Did you hear what I did to Stephanie?” Before I had a chance to respond, he groped my chest and touched my crotch. Laughing, he disappeared in a flash, and my jaw dropped as I processed what he had just done.
Later on at home that day, I spoke with my mom in private. I told her what Timothy had done to me. I’m sure she spoke reassuring words to me when I told her, but I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember is the swift the action she took on my behalf. She made a beeline for the kitchen counter, opened a drawer, pulled out the church directory, and phoned Timothy’s parents. I could tell his father had picked up the phone on the other end. Embarrassed, I retreated to my bedroom, not wanting to overhear any of that phone conversation.
The next day in the lunchroom, a sincerely different Timothy walked toward me. This time he wasn’t smiling. He was meekly looking down at his feet. When he spoke, his voice was shaking.
“Erika, I’m sorry for what I did to you yesterday,” he said. “I will never do it again.”
“I forgive you,” I said. Timothy’s face showed relief.
I will never know what Timothy’s father said to him after that phone conversation. I do know that as a result, I was placed in a position of power. Timothy’s was the position of embarrassment. The embarrassment I felt because of Timothy’s actions was fleeting. The empowerment I was imbued with after my mom talked with Timothy’s dad has lasted for 27 years and counting.
I also think about Timothy. I think about how I was not the first girl who Timothy violated. The actions taken by my mom and in turn by Timothy’s dad likely prevented him from doing the same thing to another girl in our class. I’m thankful for Timothy’s sake that his father corrected him. He learned what it felt like to be embarrassed by his actions when he apologized to me. I wonder what the impact would be if more grade school boys received such correction when warranted?
I’m not happy #metoo stories exist. But I’m glad these strong examples shone through in the midst of my #metoo. They help me remember I am NOT powerless as a mom raising kids in a #metoo world.
To make the most of the examples I found in my own #metoo, I decided to make a list of what I can do to empower my own kids today. I can only pray that I can do this as well as my own mom did.
- I can foster availability and safety within my relationship with my kids.
- When my kids confide in me about things that happen to them, I can be a loving and consistent listener.
- If I learn that someone has harmed my children I can take swift action on their behalf.
- I can’t control the reactions of those I may need to confront, but I won’t shy away from doing so when necessary.
- I can’t ensure that others will respond as well as Timothy’s dad did, but I can share his example with my circle of friends and relatives-especially the dads among them.
- I can’t reverse what my children may have already experienced, but I can look for ways to invite them into positions of power when they feel powerless.
Would you add anything to my list?
*Please note: The names mentioned in the story have been changed.