Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

I own it but it was not my fault


October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Every year, I talk about it a little.  I provide some links.  I tell a story or two from my days of working in shelters.  I, sometimes, allude to my past.  This year, I decided to tell my story.  I was inspired about 6 months ago by a story I read and realized that while my story isn’t terribly dramatic it might give someone a little piece of understanding or comfort.  It really can happen to anyone.  It happened to me: a smart, educated, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ADVOCATE AND EDUCATOR.  It can be slow and insidious.  It can happen so slowly, so slyly that you don’t realize until it is too late.  I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone the whole story.  I was too ashamed – I was supposed to know better.  I spent years telling women it wasn’t their fault and I finally decided to believe my own words.  To read my story, click here.


Often when I am typing a comment on someone’s post, I realize I’ve just written a mini blog post.  It happened again this weekend. I was commenting on a lovely post by Stacey.  She wrote about how knowing someone’s story can change how we view them and their actions.  It is a cautionary tale of judging others because you often don’t know their story.  It reminded me of something from my days at the shelter.

I spent the first and happiest chunk of my career working in domestic violence shelters in various capacities.  When you work in an emotionally charged arena, you often develop a bit of gallows humor and can be a bit jaded – it is a defense mechanism.  You have to walk a fine line between caring and taking care of yourself.  People who are good at the work are able to walk that line.  People who aren’t either care too much and burn out or quit caring enough and need to go work elsewhere.

Alice (not her real name, obviously) was in her 50’s when she came into my shelter one weekend.  The shelter staff told me she was a little off.  Alice carried around a notebook and wrote in it during her free time.  She told us she was re-writing the bible.  The staff all shared a private chuckle at that piece of information.  Pssst…the new client is a little whack-a-doo…she says she is re-writing the bible.  Who does that?  Hehehe. The clinical staff casually discussed exploring if there was a mental health issue behind that behavior.

But then we really talked to her.  Not just a casual “What are you writing Alice?” but a conversation.  Alice shared that her husband used scripture from the bible to justify beating her.  He would quote passages about the man being the head of the house and women submitting to the man in order to make her understand it was his right to beat her.  He used something she held sacred to tear her apart physically and emotionally.  He used her God against her.  She wanted to re-write those bible scriptures in such a way that he (and other men) couldn’t take them out of context any more.  She wanted to make the bible into the safe haven it had once been for her – an instrument for comfort and peace not violence and control.  Suddenly, Alice seemed like the sanest person in the room.  She saw a problem and was trying to fix it the only way she knew how.  And I’ll never forget her.

It really is all about framing…all about stories.  Everyone has one.  And if we take a moment to find out the story of someone who seems odd or difficult or a little nutty, we might find that they are doing the best they can.  Just like the rest of us.

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Race for the Cure


I would like it a lot more if I didn’t have to get up at dawn to do it.  But did it in honor of a friend’s mom who is currently battling…and also with my step-mom, who is a survivor, in my thoughts.

I walked with a group of friends complete with feather boas, ribbon stickers on our faces, and pink do-rags on our heads. I wasn’t overjoyed that summer decided to return today making our 5K walk a little warm but it is better than cold and rainy like it was last year.  But it was amazing seeing the thousands of women and men there to support the cause.

I usually do a quiet boycott of all things Susan G. Komen in October.  Obviously, I support breast cancer research!  But the Komen foundation has the best PR machine of any non-profit, ever.  It tends to eclipse all else in October.  My passion lies with a cause that also calls October its official awareness month:  Domestic Violence.

If you need help, the national hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE

You can find more general information about domestic violence here or here or for a more global perspective about ending violence against women click here.

Also, a few of my favorite things combined: Tim Gunn (love me some Project Runway), Marshalls, and shoes.  If you buy shoes at Marshalls (until Oct 15th), $1 will be donated to the national domestic violence hotline.

If you want to read some personal stories from survivors and lend support through comments, visit Violence Unsilenced.

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Spreading the word


Social media has been furiously working on getting the BRESMA children to the states.  I was amazed that every time I looked today there were new developments being reports.  I sadly have no political or wealthy contacts to offer so I offer my personal connection with all of you.  Currently, they are trying to reach out to the families who are adopting from BRESMA. Do you know anyone?  Or know anyone who knows someone?  I posted this on the Haiti board at adoption.com as well as a couple of Haitian adoption blogs and facebook.  But if you can think of other places, spread the word.  We adoption bloggers are a community so we should be able to help them find these folks – they need information from them quickly.

Visit the main link for That’s Church for the latest – the above link will take you to the  post about wanting to reach adopting families.

Anyone out there have any real connections?


Most of my readers are fellow adoptive parents.  You all remember that helpless feeling when something happened in Guatemala (or whatever country you adopted from)?  The earthquake near Guatemala City?  The hogar raided?  The birthmoms who were terrorized for giving up their babies?  We were besides ourselves because these babies, our children, were beyond the scope of our arms.  We couldn’t make sure they were safe.  We couldn’t protect them.

Now imagine you are in the process of adopting from Haiti.  Made your heart stop for a second didn’t it?  I’m sure there are millions of heart breaking stories about amazing individuals who need assistance in the aftermath of the earthquakes.  I can’t imagine the need.  But there is a specific situation that has been given a face (figuratively) for me.  My heart is breaking.  Go read about it at That’s Church (formerly PittGirl). The American women running that orphanage need help.  They need a private plane to get them and the babies (who have adoptive parents here waiting for them) out.  Without help, the babies will not survive.  Can you help?

Update: My understanding is now they might be able to physically get the children out, but they need some powerful political strings pulled to grant these children refugee status until their adoptions can be finalized.  Any political strings out there that you can pull?  I can’t bear that red tape is the cause of these children not surviving the aftermath of this earthquake.

Update #2: Members of Congress have become aware of the situation and are working with the White House to find a solution.  @JanePitt said on twitter that CNN was made aware and their crew on the ground in Haiti was checking on the women and children to make sure their immediate needs were met – she also said lots of important people were getting involved.  It seems that social media does have use and value when used for good.  Let’s hope there is a resolution quickly.

And if you are interested, there is a Facebook page for the cause with almost a thousand members.

Domestic Violence Awareness


dvribbonAs I have each October since I started blogging, I will remind you that October isn’t just Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

85% of domestic violence victims are women

The cost of domestic violence in health related services and lost productivity and earnings approaches $6 BILLION every year

1 in 4 (25%) of women has experienced some form of domestic abuse in her life

1,232 women are killed each year by an intimate partner

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women

Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the US.

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

It starts early: 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically or sexually assaulted by a dating partner.




Educate yourself.  Reach out to anyone you fear might be in a dangerous situation – even if you just let her know you are there if she needs you.  Talk to your children about behaviors to look out for in dating relationships.  Domestic violence festers in silence – SPEAK OUT! SPEAK UP!

Violence UnSilenced gives women a place to share their story and sheds a light on what is often a dark secret.

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Not a soap box – I need some schooling


I’ve made no secrets of the fact that I am a bleeding heart liberal.  I am pro-choice.  I am pro gay marriage.  I am anti death penalty.  Having worked in non-profits my most of my career, I love a  good social program.  (Good being the operative word – yes, they can be hard to come by when the government gets involved.)  I have mellowed a tiny bit as I age.  I am more moderate when it comes to fiscal issues than I used to be.  And I accept it is the right of law abiding citizens to possess guns…I just wish there was an IQ requirement.

Despite my passion for those causes, I am able to see the other side of things (except the opposition to gay marriage but that is another post).  I can put myself on the other side and understand why the person believes what she does.  I don’t agree but I get it.

churchstateEnter today’s post.  On Twitter and around the blogosphere, I heard some of my conservative friends (yes there are a few willing to overlook my liberal leanings and still speak to me) mourning a statement made by President Obama yesterday in Turkey.  He said: “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.  We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” Conservatives around the internet seemed greatly bothered by this statement and kept saying we are no longer a Christian nation.

We were never a Christian nation, regardless of some of W’s actions.  We are a Repulic made up of Christians, Jews, Buddists, Muslims, Atheists, Wiccans, etc.  One of the tenets our nation was founded upon is freedom of religion.  The founding fathers were very clear on the separation of church and state.  This is not a grey area in our constitution.  And this is not me trying to rile up the conservatives – these are facts.

My question is this:  Why is this a bad thing?  Why do so many Christian conservatives want to blur the line/role between government and religion? Because I really don’t understand.

This is a sincere question – I really want to hear from those who believe it is a bad thing that President Obama made this statement.  (My liberal friends are always welcome to chime in too.)  Please help me see your side of it.  You aren’t going to change my beliefs but I do like to feel I can see both sides of an issue.

As always, play nice in the comments.  Respectful debate is encouraged – especially today.  But if anyone starts kicking sand, you’ll have to take your ball and go home.  Feel free to comment anonymously if you don’t want your blog linked with your religious or political beliefs.

posted under political | 31 Comments »

Inaugural thoughts – 1 week later


I didn’t do a post about the inauguration on the day of for a couple of reasons. The first was because everyone was doing it and I’m one of those dance-to-the-beat-of-my-own-drum kinda girls.  The second was because I needed a little bit of time to process my thoughts.

Like most of my blogger friends, I was torn between wishing my children were old enough to appreciating what a historic event they were whining over witnessing and being amazed that for them this would always be normal.  It would never seem extraordinary that our president is bi-racial or black.

So many around the country and the world have shared what this election and inauguration meant to them but I was sent a link to a very special group sharing thoughts.  A group of children from Chicago had the incredible opportunity to be there in person at the inauguration.  These twenty four 5th and 6th graders attended and documented their experience through blog posts and videos at http://www.sharemyinauguration.com/ under the moniker DC24.  After reading and watching the reflections of these students who are part of the next generation, I decided that perhaps what I had to say wasn’t so important.  They spent Martin Luther King Jr Day at Howard University, knowing his dream had been realized.  They had their own inaugural ball (and they all looked sharp!). They staked claim to a spot on the lawn and waited hours in the cold for the festivities to begin.  Go visit them.  See it through their eyes.

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Dream realized


45 years after Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, many of his hopes were realized – with the highest voter turn out in 100 years electing Obama.

But we still have fights to fight in our country.  We are still legislating hatred and intolerance.

Proposition 8 passed in California banning same sex marriage.

Arizona and Florida also passed laws stating that marriage is a union between 1 man and 1 woman.

And Arkansas passed a law banning gay adoption.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 45 years to see the error of denying the rights of section of the American population.

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Safe Haven Shrinkage


Do you ever start talking to someone mid-conversation?  Once you start talking you realize you’ve been carrying on the conversation in your head and the other person has no idea what you are talking about?  Yeah, that was what yesterday’s post was.  So let’s just pretend that is part of my quirky charm and move on.


Safe Haven laws have popped up in many states in the past 15 years.  The law is meant to allow a parent to leave an infant at a hospital (or firehouse or police station) without any legal repercussions.  Basically it is legal child abandonment.  The law came into vogue after a trend of dangerous abandonments and deaths of infants (babies found in trash bags, dumpsters, closets, etc).  Lawmakers hoped to give parents options other than abortion or putting a newborn into harms way.

Laws differ from state to state.  In some states the babies end up in the foster system in other states they are available for adoption.  Some states have specific parameters for how old the baby can be to qualify for drop off.  Other states aren’t as strict.  Nebraska wrote their law in such a way that people have been dropping off children of all ages – even teens – when they feel they can’t care for the child any longer.  Their child protective system is feeling the strain and lawmakers are drafting a bill to close the loophole.  They will now only accept babies up to 3 days old making it one of the strictest Safe Haven Laws in the country.

I’m struggling with my feelings on this.  I used to work in the system and there are never enough resources or money to go around.  I can understand the concern about straining an already stretched tight system.  I also have issues with allowing these parents to walk away with no personal responsibility for their children and the trauma of being abandoned at age3, 5 or 12.  But isn’t it better to allow these parents to drop their kids off before they inflict harm on them?  If a parent is on the edge and sees no way out that stress may lead to abuse.  Offering the parents an alternative to reaching the breaking point can’t be a bad thing.  I just have to think that no matter the consequences to our budgets, it has to be better to get a child out of a potentially volatile situation.

Discuss in comments. I’m curious to hear what others think.  Respectful disagreement is always welcome.

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October is…


Domestic Violence awareness month.  Have a seat.  I’m comfy up here on this soapbox.

We all know that October is breast cancer awareness month – everything is pink, there are walks, television spots, pink ribbons are everywhere, etc.  I think that is fabulous – it is an important issue for women.  We should all be educated so we can protect ourselves.  But I’ve always been a little bothered by how completely it overshadows a dirty little secret that lives in all neighborhoods: Domestic Violence.

I’ve had private conversations with several of you about how domestic violence has touched our lives.  It used to be a cause I was passionate about.  Then I found myself on the wrong end of a gun in my bathroom and suddenly I realized I was a victim to the very thing I had spent almost a decade educating others about.  So it really can happen to any one – even someone who spent years being an advocate and educator for other women.  It sneaks up on you even when you know the warning signs.  For an educated woman like me, it took a gun to my head to make me see the whole truth.  Don’t ever think you or any one else you love is immune.

Domestic Violence can have many forms.

There doesn’t have to be a gun to your head in order for abuse to be part of your relationship.  It is about control.  It might be controlling the money or controlling outside relationships or controlling movements.  It is also about fear.  It doesn’t have to be physical fear.  It can be as simple as fear of the argument that will follow if you do or don’t do something.  (Not because you just don’t like to fight…but because the arguments turn ugly.)

And it follows a very predictable cycle:

Everything starts out all hunky-dory.  He (I’m using the classic male as the abuser and woman as victim pronouns but it can be any domestic relationship) sweeps you off your feet.  He is sweet and wonderful and attentive and romantic.   Often the relationship gets very serious very quickly.  Then the cycle begins.  The tension building phase is that period of time when you are walking on egg shells.  You are doing anything you can to avoid a fight.  He is becoming short tempered and irritable.  Then the inevitable explosion.  It might be a physical fight or it might just be a really ugly verbal fight.  The tension has been released and he returns (sometimes quite briefly) to the sweet man you originally fell in love with.  He is sorry.  It won’t happen again.  And then comes tension building again.  The cycle can happen over a very short period or it can take weeks or months to move through the cycle.  As time goes by, the cycle tends to grow shorter.

Questions to ask:

1. Does your partner tease you in a hurtful way in private or in public?

2. Does your partner call you names such as “stupid” or “bitch”?

3. Does your partner act jealous of your friends, family, or co-workers?

4. Does your partner get angry about clothes you wear or how you style your hair?

5. Does your partner check-up on you by calling, driving by, or getting someone else to?

6. Has your partner gone places with you or sent someone just to “keep an eye on you”?

7. Does your partner insist on knowing who you talk with on the phone?

8. Does your partner blame you for his problems or his bad mood?

9. Does your partner get angry so easily that you feel like you’re “walking on eggshells”?

10. Does your partner hit walls, drive dangerously, or do other things to scare you?

11. Does your partner often drink or use drugs?

12. Does your partner insist that you drink or use drugs with him?

13. Have you lost friends or no longer see some of your family because of your partner?

14. Does your partner accuse you of being interested in someone else?

15. Does your partner read your mail, go through your purse, or other personal papers?

16. Does your partner keep money from you, keep you in debt, or have “money secrets?”

17. Has your partner kept you from getting a job, or caused you to lose a job?

18. Has your partner sold your car, made you give up your license, or not repaired your car?

19. Does your partner threaten to hurt you, your children, family, friends, or pets?

20. Does your partner force you to have sex when you do not want to?

21. Does your partner force you to have sex in ways that you do not want to?

22. Does your partner threaten to kill you or himself if you leave?

23. Is your partner like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” acting one way in front of other people and another way when you are alone?

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.

There are many websites you can find if you want more information but if you are in an abusive relationship please use a computer at a friend’s house or the library.  It is very difficult to completely remove evidence that you were surfing sites about abuse so using an outside computer is safest.

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