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Health care for all?

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write in this space. Several times over the last months I have begun and then discarded my inadequate attempts to make sense of the increasingly wacked out world in which we live.

But then other stuff got in the way, like parenting and cooking dinner and laundry and celebrating birthdays and, you know, life, and the days melted into months.

So now, here we are, creeping up on six months since all hell broke loose in Washington, D.C. And I find myself alone in my house, as my children and spouse are otherwise engaged in the pursuit of summertime pleasures, with nothing to do but watch MSNBC and/or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt OR write a blog post. And since I watched a couple Kimmys last night and ate my lunch while watching MSNBC, I thought I’d write.

Just joshing. I’m giving it more thought than that. I’ve actually been struggling with how to wrap my head around this whole health care nightmare.

Not sure what’s going to happen, but I know that it’s not going to benefit me or anyone I know. How do I know this? Because from what I can tell, the only winners in this whole debacle are the ultrawealthy who will gain a large tax break with the death of the Affordable Care Act tax, which subsidized Medicaid expansion and access for others to the health care system.

And no one in my circle of trust or life or what-have-you will be accessing any of that cash.
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So my thoughts, naturally, go to my children and those with whom I work. Most of those guys are covered by Medicaid under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Their parents can seek out yearly physicals and mental health services for their kids through their managed Medicaid health plans. My own kids always have been fortunate their parents’ jobs include the option to buy health insurance, and so they’ve never gone without.

But my oldest two children are 21 and 19. They’ve got one foot out of the nest. And, like my father before me, I worry about whether they’ll be able to find jobs once they’re finished with college that will provide health insurance. This will be especially important for them because they each, along with their younger brother, have what insurance companies will consider pre-existing conditions.

My oldest child has asthma, a condition he developed after contracting RSV as an infant. His brother and sister both have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune condition. These conditions are mild, as far as health issues go. But they are chronic and lifelong.

I remember my parents telling me, when I was nearing the end of college, that I needed to aim to get a job that provided health insurance. And I didn’t really even have a pre-existing condition.

Except, as it turns out, that I did. I had a big one.

I’m a woman.

Yes, that was a shocker to the 23-year-old me, figuring out that my very identity made me a risk to my health insurer.

And to think that I’d lived all those years and never realized how risky I was. What a waste. To think of what I could have accomplished had I known. I was oblivious.

But one day, shortly into my tenure at my first newspaper job and after the prescribed waiting period, my health insurance took effect. Yay! I was excited. I had Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kansas, because my employer was a newspaper owned by Stauffer Communications, based in Topeka, Kan. (This is only mildly interesting, but I must point out that Mary Stauffer, granddaughter of the company’s founder, is married to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.)

My hubs and I had been married about six months, and for part of that time I’d been covered on his insurance through the Boy Scouts of America, where he worked. But with an actual full-time job, I would qualify for my own coverage. And at that point in my life, about the only thing I needed was access to birth control pills.

We’d been married less than a year. We were 23. And we were in no way, shape or form ready to be parents. Under the Boy Scouts’ health insurance plan, my birth control pills were covered, except for a reasonable co-pay. And I assumed it would be the same under my new Blue Cross plan.

But when I went to pick up my prescription that month, I found out otherwise when I had to fork over $50 for the 30-day pack.

It was 1992. I made less than $16,000 a year. The hubs made not a lot more. And that $50 was a big hunk of money. Much less than raising a child, to be sure, but still, it was ginormous for a couple of kids who sometimes went to the grocery store on a Saturday and feasted on samples to save a few bucks. There must have been a mistake, I figured, so I called the insurance company.

Nope, they said. Your policy doesn’t cover birth control pills. Or birth control in any form.

“Gosh,” I said to the customer service representative. “What about maternity care? Is that covered?”

“Oh, yes, there is coverage,” the woman on the line said.

I remember sitting in silence.

“So,” I said, “if I get pregnant, go to the doctor for nine months and have the baby in a hospital, all that is covered?”

“Yes,” she said, as if speaking to a small child.

“But the birth control pills aren’t covered,” I said.

“No,” she said.

“So nine months of maternity care and the birth and a short hospital stay is covered,” I said. “But $400 or so yearly to keep from getting pregnant is not covered.”

“No,” she said.

I remember asking, “Does that make sense to you?”

But I don’t remember her final answer.

So I worry. I worry about all my kids and their current and future health needs. I worry about my daughter, who because she is a woman will be penalized under the health care bills put forth by both the U.S. House and Senate. I am concerned about both my parents and my in-laws, who are in their 70s and on Medicare.

And I worry about my clients, many of whom couldn’t afford to be able to see doctors regularly for preventive health care without Medicaid.

I worry.

Step outside your bubble

It’s only been about a month since the inauguration, but some days, it feels like it’s been a year.

Maybe it’s because many of our fears about what a Trump presidency could mean for the country are coming to fruition.

Reinterpreting Title IX to exclude students who are transgendered. Actively hunting down illegal aliens. Working to take away healthcare from millions of Americans.

It’s overwhelming. Disheartening. Frightening.

And much of the time, I feel somewhat alone in my fear bubble. It’s just me, a handful of friends and family and Rachel Maddow.

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At least that’s my perception.

Except we’re not alone. There are lots of us out there – I mean, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. So why do some of us feel lonely?

Personally, I think it’s because I am living in a kind of echo chamber, despite my best efforts. Sure, I’m making my daily calls, thanks to Daily Action. I’m in the process of getting vetted to volunteer for Jewish Vocational Services’ refugee relocation program. Yet it generally feels like I’m doing these things without benefit of ever seeing a familiar face.

And then, within the last two weeks, my bubble burst in a good way.

First, a friend I’ve known for several years mentioned she’d been at a local Progressive Social Network meeting. I didn’t realize she was involved. She’d never mentioned it, and I hadn’t asked.

Then a couple weeks ago, I got an e-mail asking for last-minute volunteers at JVS.

With the stay keeping the immigration ban at bay for a bit, JVS learned that more than 40 refugees would be arriving in Kansas City the week of Feb. 13. They needed people who could help put together basic supplies to help the refugees get set up in their new homes.

So early on a Monday morning, I headed to a warehouse in Midtown to bundle together donated sheets, towels, kitchen supplies and toiletries.

I didn’t know a soul there. I was a little late (because I usually am,) so I joined two women who were just getting started. One was in her 20s, and the other in her late 40s. They’re friends who work together at Southwest Airlines. I asked how they found JVS. I thought maybe Southwest had a volunteer program such as Kohl’s Care for Kids.

Nope, they said. They were working the Sunday that folks gathered at the airport to protest against Trump’s executive order effectively banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. They decided that day they wanted to do something to help refugees, so the older woman found out about JVS’s work through her church.

They never spoke of politics or the election or even mentioned Donald Trump’s name. They just wanted to help other humans. We worked together for two hours, counting sheets and blankets and pots and pans and toothbrushes.

Then on Wednesday, after a long day at work, I stopped by the local meeting of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus. I was late, this time because of work, so I slipped in, signed in and headed for a seat. I tried to make myself smaller so as not to draw attention to myself.

But I felt eyes on me, so I looked over at the next table. There was a woman I knew through my job, smiling at me knowingly. I flashed her a grin.

Just then, the door to the room opened, and another woman walked in late. After a few minutes, I realized it was a woman I see at my gym. After the meeting, I reminded her that we take Zumba together.

I was starting to feel like part of a club.

And on Thursday after work, I stopped by Jo-Ann Fabrics to pick up something. As I grabbed a cart, a woman came up to me.

“Excuse me,” she said, leaning in.

She looked around and lowered her voice.

“I like your bumper sticker,” she said.

I paused.

“My Clinton-Kaine sticker?” I asked.

“Yep!” she said. “I just had to say something to you. I feel so alone that when I see people I know feel the same way I do, I have to reach out.”

I smiled and offered my hand. Then I told her about the Progressive Social Network group and the women’s political caucus meeting. She didn’t know about either. I told her about Daily Action – she’d been trying to make calls on her own.

I dug in my purse and pulled out a business card and wrote all that on the back.

She thanked me, and I thanked her for stopping me. And then we went on our ways.

And the world felt a little smaller.

#ThanksObama #ThanksTrump

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We’re almost through our third week without a president named Barack Obama.

I miss his calm demeanor, self-deprecating humor and general air of respect.
But if there’s one thing President Obama left behind for Americans as he vacated the Oval Office, it was hope.

That was a theme President Obama never strayed from.

He spoke of it in 2004, when he addressed the Democratic convention. He led with that theme in 2008, when he first ran for president. And during his last speech to the nation, just days before Donald Trump assumed the office of president, President Obama spoke of the optimism he still harbors that the United States will continue to be a beacon of welcome and refuge and innovation and leadership for the rest of the world.

Like others, I was distraught as Jan. 20, 2017, drew near and we faced the reality of a Trump presidency. Ugly things were happening. Reports of hate crimes against immigrants and minorities peppered the news. Meanness and vulgarity abounded on social media. It felt like the progress of the last 50 years was quickly slipping away, like water down a drain.

But since Jan. 21, I’ve got to say, the Trump presidency has stimulated hope.

What’s she talking about? you’re wondering. Is she hitting the scotch again?

My friends, I’m merely choosing to look at the last three weeks with a different perspective.

I believe the hate-filled tweets and executive orders have led many folks not to fall into lockstep with our authoritarian leaders or to cower in fear, but to become empowered. They’ve inspired hope.

Consider this. The executive order that restricts immigration and halts the resettlement of refugees was signed on a Friday. By Saturday, there were massive protests all over the country. Attorneys descended on airports to offer services to immigrants legally trying to gain access to our country, many of them green-card holders who were swept up in the confusion over the order.

That night, a judge ordered a temporary stay, followed later in the week by another ruling against the order.

That’s hope – a desire for a particular outcome to happen.

Last week, as I watched and read about the immigration executive order, I thought of all the immigrants and refugees I know. Surprisingly, for a white girl living the middle of the country in a heavily white town, I know quite a few.

And I wanted to do something to help. But I’m not an attorney. I couldn’t do anything tangible by going to the airport. I’m not an interpreter. I’m wasn’t sure what I could do.

But I’m not one for hand-wringing, so I decided to find a way to use whatever skills I have to help immigrants and refugees.

So I did that Wednesday night when I attended a volunteer orientation at Jewish Vocational Services in Kansas City. And so did more than 20 other Kansas Citians.

There were so many folks there to learn about how they could help refugees that the JVS employees had to bring in extra chairs and copy more volunteer applications.

Martin Okpareke, the outreach manager, gave an overview of how the agency helps refugees. JVS began in the late 1940s to help resettle Holocaust survivors and WWII vets returning home. Since 2004, in Kansas City, the agency has worked with one of nine national volunteer agencies charged by the United Nations with resettling refugees.

Refugees are people who can no longer live in their homelands because of persecution or real or perceived threats of bodily harm. They don’t leave their homes because they want to – they have no choice, said Okpareke, himself a former refugee from Nigeria.

Eighty percent of refugees are women and children – often the men in their families have been killed. Close to 70 percent of refugees have spent about 17 years in United Nations refugee camps, waiting either to return to their homes or to get lucky in the lottery that chooses who gets to the leave the camp for a home in a safer country.

JVS aims to engage refugees in becoming integrated into the United States, educate them about their new home and empower them to take control of their futures by finding jobs and becoming settled.

It’s difficult, Okpareke said. Many suffer post-traumatic stress from what they have been through. Others find the cultural differences between their countries and the United States difficult to overcome. Most worry about their families pulling apart as everyone works toward building a new life in a foreign land.

JVS uses volunteers to mentor newly arrived families and to help others who have been here longer study for the citizenship exam, for example. There were many more volunteer opportunities before the executive order halted everything.

Now the future is uncertain, Okpareke said. Last year, JVS resettled 518 refugees in the Kansas City area. Since January, they’ve welcomed two families.

Still, Okpareke said as he surveyed the potential volunteers, he has hope. Because the people gathered in that room had compassion.

And that gives me hope, too.

In my despair at the ugliness that has been a staple of American life for the last year, I had to do something to help. And so did all the others sitting in the room with me.

Keep calm and non-violently protest on

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Wow, guys. So much has happened. Where do I start?

I’ve been trying to write about the Affordable Care Act for the last 10 days, but I keep getting interrupted by the Crazy Train running amok through Washington, D.C. Immigration. Abortion. Healthcare. Misplaced white nationalists. Absurdly inaccurate inaugural crowd estimates.

I once was a fan of the circus. As a child, I marveled at the trained lions, and men soaring across the rings as they were shot from cannons, and beautiful women hanging by their ponytails as they performed a mid-air ballet.

But now, the circus seems déclassé. No one wants to see animals, who might be treated unfairly, jumping through hoops and dancing around rings. Don’t even get me started on the clowns.

And yet here we are, every day and night spent glued to Twitter and Facebook and the cable news channels as we seek to make sense of the biggest American circus of all – the federal government with Donald J. Trump in charge.

I don’t know where to start. I am making my daily calls (thanks, Daily Action!) and contemplating other ways I can become involved and remain a force for good.
But it’s difficult.

On election night, when it became apparent that Hillary Clinton had lost, I posted a status on Facebook, asking everyone to remain calm. We didn’t really know what was going to happen; Donald Trump had been anything but predictable during the election season, so I did not feel that assumptions would be helpful.

Man, did I get a virtual earful that night from my friends who were rightfully scared. They detailed all the ways that a Trump presidency could ruin life as they knew it, and many had valid points. He could strip away hard-won rights for members of the LGBTQI community, he could appoint a radical justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, he could pick a fight with another country and launch World War III.

All true, to be sure.

I guess I was trying to convince myself to stay calm. As a psychotherapist, I spend much time explaining to my clients about the havoc chronic anxiety wreaks on our minds and bodies. It contributes to stress within our families and workplaces. Chronic anxiety leads to inflammation, the underlying cause of autoimmune disorders and possibly cancer.

I work with my clients on mindfulness, living in the moment, letting the past go and facing the future with a clear mind.

So I was trying to practice what I preach.

That’s difficult these days, though, with the three-ring circus coming out of Washington, D.C. Yet it remains even more important now that Donald Trump has been inaugurated that cooler heads prevail among those who resist his misogynistic, racist, nationalist agenda.

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Next executive order?

His daily executive orders and manufactured feuds with the press and Twitter bullying are meant to do one thing – keep us in an uproar. And when we’re upset and anxious and fearful, the amygdala takes over. That’s the part of the brain that governs the limbic system and regulates emotions. When the amygdala is in charge of the brain’s functioning, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that controls critical thinking – cannot work.

It’s like a governor on a machine – something that regulates something else. The amygdala can overrule the prefrontal cortex when we’re in danger, telling the body to give us the shot of adrenaline to jump out of the way of a speeding car, for example, or to spring into action when we or someone we love is threatened.
The amygdala is an awesome thing, but when it works too much, it overheats and starts telling us we’re in danger when we really aren’t. Only by remaining calm can we think and analyze whether the danger is real or perceived.

Do you see what I’m saying? The current administration seeks to keep us in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear, so that we can’t stop and analyze what’s going on, such as sneaking a highly politicized and completely inexperienced white nationalist onto the National Security Council or demanding the resignations of many experienced career diplomats at the Department of State.

We must remain calm.

That does not mean we can’t react – we just need to do so in a thoughtful way that reflects that we have thought critically about the situation. Knee-jerk reactions will be dismissed and ineffective.

So here’s what I know:

1. Calling your senators and members of Congress is the most effective way to make your dissent heard.
You can write letters and e-mails, too, but daily phone calls get noticed and aren’t as easily discarded as postcards or e-mails. Your phone calls should be sincere and polite. You don’t want to give your elected officials any reason to say you’re histrionic. Ask questions. Ask for positions. Ask that the staffer you reach take down your name and ZIP code. And say, “thank you.” Being nice disarms someone who is expecting a fight.

2. This is a marathon, not a 5K.
It’s only Day 12 of a four-year term. Donald Trump has issued at least 20 executive orders since Jan. 20. You will wear yourself out if you attack every day with the gusto you did on Jan. 21. Do what you can. Give yourself time to rest. Read something other than the Huffington Post and Twitter. Turn off MSNBC every once in a while. And then come back to the issues recharged enough to keep going. You don’t want to flame out by March.

Here’s something a friend posted on Facebook, and she gave permission to share. I think it is heartening:

For everyone who DID something, small or big, your efforts have been successful.
Because of you:
1. Federal hiring freeze is reversed for VA (Veteran Affairs).
2. Court order, partial stay of the immigration ban for those with valid visas.
3. Green card holders can get back in country.
4. Uber pledges $3M and immigration lawyers for its drivers after #DeleteUber trends on Twitter.
5. Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) enrollment ads are still going to air.
6. The ACLU raised $24 million over the weekend (normally 3-4Mil/year).
7. HHS, EPA, USDA gag order lifted.
8. EPA climate data no longer scrubbed from website.
9. More people of different career/religious/economic/race backgrounds are considering running for political office than ever before.
10. MOST importantly, since we live in a participatory democracy, the people are engaged.

While more is needed, sometimes you have to celebrate your wins.
Stay vigilant, but also take self-care seriously. Activist burnout is a thing. Marathon, don’t sprint.
#resist

3. Love trumps hate.
Yes, the phrase is too precious. But it’s true. You cannot fight hatred with more hatred. It will consume you. You can only fight it with love.

What does that mean? How do you fight hatred with love? For me, it means that if I attempt to extract vengeance, I risk harming myself more than I do the person I’m aiming my vengeance toward. To fight hatred with love, you must remain calm. You must stare the hatred in the face with a calmness of spirit and a prayer in your heart that the hater will receive grace. You must outlast the hatred.

It’s not impossible as long as we keep this in mind while we’re striving to resist the hatred: Whatever we do should be out of love.

Love for our neighbors – those who are less fortunate, who come from other lands, who need our help.

Love for our children, who are watching how we handle this uncertain time. They’re watching and learning, and if we want them to forge a better future, we must show them how to love in the face of hate.

Love for our country, a deeply flawed place full of the children and grandchildren of brave men and women who fled persecution and hatred and economic hardship to build better lives for their families. They made mistakes along the way, of course, but everything they did, they did for the future. They made this place for us, and we should love it and cherish it and continue to speak out and fight with dignity for what we know is the way forward, not backward.

You can do it. Just keep calm.

Want to resist? Here’s how

The campaign officially ends Friday.

That’s when the vaunted peaceful transfer of power occurs in Washington, D.C., and Donald J. Trump assumes the mantle of president. POTUS.

(Personally, in my opinion, he won’t be able to pull off that acronym with the coolness of Barack Obama. But whatevs.)

Maybe you’re feeling down about this. Maybe you’re thinking this week will be the last good week of the next four years. Maybe you’re thinking all you’ve got to look forward to is Alec Baldwin on Saturday nights.

But wait. You can do something, and it’s as easy as making one phone call a day.

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Daily Action began a month ago, the brainchild of Laura Moser, a D.C.-based writer. She felt blindsided on Nov. 9, unsure of the world and anxious, for the first time ever, to really do something. But what?

Here’s how she explains it:

Then, while scrolling through yet another despairing Facebook thread, I had an idea: What if I could help curate the controversies and use technology to keep people engaged in holding the new administration accountable?

As The New York Times recently reported, phoning legislators is the most effective way to make our voices heard—but phone calls can take up time that many of us don’t have. What if a service made placing these calls so easy that we had no excuse not to do it? That’s where the Daily Action alerts come in. The idea is, with the help of the progressive digital media agency where my husband is a partner, to provide a sort of clearinghouse of actions we can collectively take to resist extremism.

It works this way: You text “DAILY” to 228466. You receive a response asking for your ZIP code. You give it, and you’re in.

You’ll get a daily text alerting you to the issue of the day, along with a telephone number. You dial that number, listen to talking points and get connected. Sometimes you’ll be connected to your senator or representative to share your concerns about a particular issue. At other times, you might be connected to other members of Congress who chair various committees or have sway over certain issues. You even could be connected to folks who influence Congress, such as businesses or policy groups.

The text alerts arrive in the morning. You can call and be done with it within 15 minutes. It’s so simple. And it’s effective.

As of last Friday, Daily Action counted more than 38,000 recruits. Along with other progressive groups, Daily Action’s calling campaign might be making a bit of a difference. Phones in Congressional offices are ringing off the hook. Some Congressmen, such as House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have stopped taking messages. Some phones go straight to voicemail. Other mailboxes are full.

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You have the right – nay, the responsibility – as citizens to let your lawmakers know your stance on these issues. They work for you, not each other and certainly not the president, whoever he or she is. Almost 40,000 is a lot of people making calls. But just think how effective we could be if that number were twice or three times that.

Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., definitely a man of action. How would he join the resistance if he were here today?

Tune in, tweet on, text much. This is not the time to be silent or immobilized by inability to take action.

And luckily for us, Daily Action makes it as easy to get involved as sending a text.

*Please, please consider joining Daily Action and raising your voice. For more information, click here.

Stop hating on the media, y’all

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Kids, today’s lesson focuses on the First Amendment.

You know, those pesky 45 words tacked on to the end of the U.S. Constitution that provide protection for citizens to worship whomever or whatever, as they see fit and to speak as they wish; and for the press to publish what it deems fit; and for folks to have public meetings and rallies; and for all of us to tell government officials what we think they’re doing wrong (if you remember your U.S. history, you’ll recall that last one was a big deal to the dudes who wrote the Declaration of Independence, which you can read here.)

The First Amendment separates the United States from other countries, makes us a little edgy, guarantees that we are a bunch of loudmouths who, occasionally, get shit done and change the world.

To quote Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal.

I’m no expert on the First Amendment, although I did study it extensively during my years at the University of Missouri School Of Journalism (the oldest and best.) Most of my 20 years as a journalist were spent attending public meetings, interviewing public officials, asking unpopular questions and, when needed, generally pissing off both sides of an issue as I strived for impartiality.

And here’s what I always knew, from my very first journalism classes with Jane Clark and Don Ranly, Ph.D.: The Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment as a gift and a responsibility.

One particular part of that amendment, the part protecting freedom of speech and the press, was deemed so important that it earned the press the unofficial title of the Fourth Estate, or the fourth leg of our checks-and-balances system (the other three are the executive, judicial and legislative branches.)

Just consider this from the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and the Newseum:

     The First Amendment was written because at America’s inception, citizens demanded a guarantee of their basic freedoms. Our blueprint for personal freedom and the hallmark of an open society, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition.
Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens could not mobilize for social change.

So I watch with horror as President-elect Donald J. Trump and his political organization continually trash and degrade practitioners of this profession, even as they use newspapers and broadcasters and digital publications for free advertising, saying outlandish things to get attention and then blasting as unfair anyone who reports on what they have said.

In my current profession as a licensed clinical social worker, I would suggest this behavior indicates possible borderline personality disorder, but I digress…

Today I happened to be in the car during the much-hyped Trump press conference, his first in 167 days. I turned on the car, and NPR came on, just in time for me to hear Trump deny a CNN reporter the right to ask a question. He made a snarky comment about the BBC.

first-amendment-rightsThe new president continually lobbed zingers at the reporters peppering him with questions about important issues, such as his policy priorities in the first days of his presidency and whether he was going to release his tax returns so that Americans can judge for themselves the extent of Donald J. Trump’s monetary obligations.

My jaw hung limply as I drove toward my office. Even now, more than 18 months after Trump announced his candidacy for U.S. President, I continue to be stunned when I hear how he treats journalists. And I’m frankly fearful when I hear and read regular, ordinary folks pile on the hatred.

I’m scared because I fear many people could be easily convinced that freedom of speech and press should be curtailed. There’s so much hatred.

OK, sure. Freedom of speech is messy. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes feelings get hurt. Sometimes there is cursing. Sometimes there are rumors and lies.

But as Don Ranly, Ph. D., always reminded his J300 students, a wise man (John Milton) once said (and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to plagiarize) that when all sorts of ideas and rhetoric compete freely on a level playing field, the truth will emerge every single time. That’s the “marketplace of ideas” concept, also mentioned in John Stuart Mill’s book, On Liberty.

And what that means – this is me talking here – is that our Founding Fathers thought the citizens of the United States were intelligent enough to call “bullshit” when they see a big, fat turd (which you cannot polish, as my esteemed father likes to point out.)

So, anywho. Here’s the thing. You can hate journalists all you want and compare them to that scourge of the Earth, lawyers (jk, all my lawyer friends…just making a point.) But you do not want to live in a country where their rights are curtailed. You don’t.

Here’s a test for you. Name some countries where journalists aren’t allow to question leaders, where their stories are censored, where they are jailed for speaking truth to power. Can you think of some?

Here are a few, courtesy of the Committee to Protect Journalists. This list is from 2015:

Eritrea. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia. Azerbaijan. Vietnam. Iran. China. Myanmar (formerly Burma.) Cuba. These are spots where journalists routinely are jailed for reporting news that government officials determine reflects unfavorably on the government.

Hmmm. I’m down to visit some of those spots, to be sure, but sure wouldn’t want to live there.

The press is the Fourth Estate. It’s the watchdog over our three branches of government. We might not like what we hear or see from journalists, but we need that information to make informed decisions.

That’s why those guys who wrote the U.S. Constitution put press freedom in the FIRST Amendment, not the Second or Third or Eighth. It’s first. It’s important.

People have died protecting that freedom again and again since the United States began. You know this. This, at least, should be old news.

Changing for the better

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Hey, there. It’s me.

It’s a new year, that time when we all make promises to ourselves to do things better, to make different choices, to improve ourselves. Some call them “resolutions.” I prefer to think of them as goals.

I generally make several goals as the year changes. Almost every year, for example, I set a goal to be more organized. Mixed results on that one. Sometimes I tell myself I’ll work out more. Again, mixed results.

This year, I’m pledging to speak out.

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this space. I can make up all sorts of excuses, but they don’t matter. I just didn’t write.

This year, I’m pledging to write about the things I’m speaking out about.

Here’s why:

I’m a Democrat. I’m a liberal. And I was – I am – an unabashed, unapologetic Hillary Clinton supporter. I like Hillary Clinton. I wanted her to win. I donated money to her campaign. I slapped a “Clinton-Kaine” sticker on my car and planted a “Clinton-Kaine” sign in our front yard.

And I was so convinced that Hillary Clinton would win that I ignored all the signs that pointed otherwise – the anger of those who supported Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the fear among many whites of immigrants and minorities, the hatred of a certain segment of the American population for the Obama family and liberals in general.

I lived in a bubble, as so many of my fellow liberals did. I felt like a country who could elect Barack Obama twice could never elect someone like Donald Trump. And I truly thought that people would not vote against their own best interests.

But I didn’t speak out. I let others lift their voices, but I didn’t speak out. I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of my friends and relatives who are more conservative than I. I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable around me, although I felt very uncomfortable when they spoke untruths about the Obamas and Clintons. I didn’t speak out.

So when Donald Trump won the Electoral College and it seemed like hatred suddenly oozed from every crevice in America, it felt like a punch in the gut. I never saw it coming.

And when people I know and like and maybe even love laughed at my visible discomfort and told me to “get over it,” it hurt. It hurt. How could someone find delight in others’ pain? And how could someone who did ever be or have been my friend or relative? It hurt like hell.

Had I treated my more conservative friends in this manner when my candidate won in 2008 and 2012? I didn’t think I had.

So I didn’t speak out before Nov. 8. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that had I engaged more I could have changed the election’s outcome. But I didn’t really do much to effect that outcome except vote.

But starting today, I’m making a change.

I will speak out against intolerance and racism and xenophobia and hatred and bullying and just all around meanness. I will speak out against these things when I witness them. I will speak out against these things so that I can stand in solidarity with those who are disenfranchised and mistreated and look differently than I do and come from different backgrounds and places. I will speak out so that my children know that bullies will not prevail in our neighborhood, in our town, in our state, in our country, in our world.

I will speak out so that I can sleep at night knowing that I tried to make a difference. And I will speak out in this space as often as I can because that’s one small thing that I know I can do to try to make the world a better place.

Some folks who read this blog might be offended. They might stop reading. I hope they don’t because I think we need to try to understand other points of view. You don’t have to agree, but you should be able to respectfully listen to someone’s ideas and viewpoints.

I invite civil discussion and want to hear what others have to say. If you’re one of those readers who disagrees with my views, I invite you to stay but understand if you can’t or won’t. If you leave, I’ll be sad.

But I won’t stop speaking out.

Please stick around.

 

Elf, Schmelf

It’s 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 22, and what am I doing? Making a list of everything I need to buy to pull off our annual family Christmas morning brunch (well, after I write this missive, of course.)

I know I’ll be scrambling to find everything I need at this late date, but screw it – I’m a linear thinker, and I can only handle one crisis at a time.

Every night since I don’t know when has found me baking something or photo shopping something or ordering something or going to a holiday performance of something. That’s why there are no wrapped presents under the Christmas tree but why it looks like Christmas got drunk and vomited all over my house – because when I’m stressed out, I overcompensate somewhere. And this year, it was with the decorations.

So anywho, I’m completely up to my ears in the holiday, which makes me just so thankful that my hubs and I completely and utterly missed the Elf on the Shelf trend.

Not that I’m judging those of you who embrace the whole Elf deal – because I don’t. I absolutely do not judge. No way.

I mean, sure. I’m jealous of your little carefully constructed tableaus of the Elf getting into mischief while he spies on the kiddos to report any of their mischief-making to Santa, the Elf godfather, who apparently will have a sit-down with any kids not toeing the line.

I wish – nay, I yearn – for the time to thoughtfully plan and carry out the whole story line AND to keep my kids’ attention while doing so. That would really be a feat for me. As it is, we cannot even successfully conquer the traditional Advent calendar. We generally quit the whole thing by about Dec. 15 – a little later if it’s one of those chocolate-filled calendars.

elf on shelf
An example of a Christmas failure — it’s Dec. 22, but I’m two days behind.

And who am I kidding? The hubs and I were half-assed Tooth Fairies at best. Sometimes, teeth would be under pillows for entire weeks before the Fairy got around to finding spare change to slip under the pillow.

If we were responsible for maintaining the Elf myth, our kids would have given up on Santa and what have you years ago.

This year, the youngest of our little darlings announced that he no longer believes in Santa. As is our custom, my hubs and I neither confirm nor deny such suppositions. Our mantra is that, “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.” So to my knowledge, the 19-year-old has yet to declare himself Santa-free. And it might be that the youngest is testing us, as is his wont.

I generally take a “less is more” attitude with my children on these matters and others of a delicate nature. As adults, we want to delve deeper into their questions and give them well-constructed answers when most of the time, they just want something more superficial.

I might be in the minority, though, judging by conversations I’ve overhead among younger mommies lately, as they worry about what to say when their second-grader’s best friend stops believing in Santa, or whether perpetuating the Santa story constitutes lying to your children.

That last one sometimes comes from folks who are wearing themselves out setting up their blasted Elf on the Shelf in fantastical poses every night.

Seriously, people? You’re worried that going along with a centuries-old story about a dude that visits children around the world once a year on Christmas Eve, delivering presents, is lying, but you’re OK with moving a creepy elf around your house and pretending that he spies on your kids and narcs on them when they’re jerks, as kids often are at this time of year?

So, yeah. I’m stressed out and way behind on my baking and wrapping and only half-way through this bottle of wine. But I’m raising a glass to the hubs and me and giving us a fist pump for eschewing that elf.

 

Microaggressions, Missouri and what have you

Several times this week, I missed the UPS driver who was trying to deliver some wine to my house.

He or she tried three times, but never at the same time of day, to deliver the box. Someone 21 or older needed to be home to sign for the delivery, but the sticky note left on our door never gave me a sense of when the driver would return.

Three days in a row, I second-guessed wrongly. On Thursday, the note left behind warned there would be no more attempts.

So I called UPS and found out I had five days to hoof it to the customer center in Kansas City’s West Bottoms to pick up my parcel. Mama needs her wine, so I went on Friday.

Which is what brings me to my post today. I presented myself and my government-issued ID and asked for my box o’ wine, please. There were two middle-aged (and by that, I mean my age) white dudes working the counter. One pleasantly told me he’d go find my box.

The other gave me the once over and left the room, too. But I could hear him in the next room, talking to a third person whom I never saw.

These guys proceeded to make small talk, which revolved around a woman pulling a gun on a man in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Then one guy started talking about his own concealed-carry class, telling a story about a woman who was in the class with him.

He launched into a narrative about the “black lady” and mimicked her accent while the other guy laughed. I couldn’t quite get the point amid all the laughter.

I guess someone else walked by back there, because the first guy then said clearly, “I cannot stand her. Dragon lady. She really thinks she’s something.”

To which the other gent replied: “Well, she’s the chosen one. So you’d better watch out.”

And those, my friends, are examples of microaggressions.

Much has been said about microaggressions in light of the recent protests at the University of Missouri and elsewhere regarding how minorities are treated.

Mu protests

Sure, as a society we’ve come a long way since 1950, the year black students first gained entry at MU. By and large, we don’t have lunch counters that won’t serve minorities or separate drinking fountains. On paper, we have integration everywhere from schools to churches to neighborhoods.

But the reality is that it’s the everyday, casual racism that’s gnawing away at the progress our parents and grandparents made and that threatens to create massive unrest across our nation.

If you’re white and middle class (and male, especially,) you might not recognize a microaggression. It’s a term coined by Columbia University Professor Derald Wing Sue to describe “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Like this one that I’ve encountered personally, aimed toward me, when I was a young journalist: “A female reporter? I don’t get it. What does a woman reporter do?”

I was so shocked at the question that I couldn’t come up with a snarky comeback.

Or how about this one, asked of me during a job interview at a major metropolitan newspaper by someone who now teaches journalism at my alma mater: “So you’re interviewing for the night cops reporting position. What does your husband think of that?”

Who the hell cares? And why would that ever be any of that guy’s business?

Those are egregious and pretty obvious. My friends of color encounter many more subtle microaggressions, such as being referred to as “articulate” when he or she is able to succinctly and intelligently express himself or herself. Or someone expressing surprise when he or she finds out a person of color’s parents went to college. Or are married.

In her excellent essay about her days at MU, Mashable.com political editor Juana Summers describes her attempt to gain entry into a white social sorority. She matriculated at Mizzou 20 years after I did, yet that bastion of college life still had not opened its doors to people who looked like her. She was made to feel that she was the wrong person in the wrong place.

If you’re a member of a marginalized group, you learn you can’t become angry at every slight. To do so would drive you completely nuts. You’d become paranoid. So you brush them off, you work harder, you tell yourself you don’t care what others think because you are better than they are.

But every little microaggression hurts, like a tiny drop of acid rain on the hood of a shiny new car. After years and years of rain, the finish gets worn. You get tired. And you don’t want your kids to have to go through the same things you have.

That’s what students are protesting about at the University of Missouri and Yale University and Claremont-McKenna College and Southeast Missouri State University and colleges everywhere.

Click here for a two-page guide to recognizing microaggressions.

Let’s use some critical thinking skills, folks

Let’s use some critical thinking skills, folks

PLAYING SOCCER

For two years, the once-vibrant St. Mary’s High School building and grounds have sat empty in the middle of my neighborhood – the oldest neighborhood in Independence. Poised to become one of the area’s greatest eyesores, the empty building and grounds can only deteriorate property values. Each day that it’s empty makes it less appealing to many potential buyers.

I’m a social worker, so for a while, I dreamed of turning the school into a shelter for homeless families and single adults, complete with programs like GED and budgeting classes; reliable, 24-hour daycare to encourage and enable homeless parents to work; a massive food pantry; and a large community garden.

I dreamed, but I knew that idea would go over like a ton of bricks in my neighborhood, where residents routinely call homeless folks “vagrants” and look for ways to discourage them from using things like public parks and sidewalks.

Then last winter, my 17-year-old daughter’s Blue Springs-based soccer club discovered the St. Mary’s gym. It was a perfect spot for the team’s winter practices. My daughter was ecstatic – no more driving to Blue Springs for indoor practices. She could walk the five or so blocks from our house near the Truman home to St. Mary’s if she had to.

The first night, though, she came home perplexed. Many of the girls on her team told her they were nervous coming to our part of Independence, just blocks from the Square. Maggie, my daughter, got the feeling they seriously thought they were slumming.

So when I heard that her soccer club, Alba FC, was considering purchasing part of the St. Mary’s complex, I crowed with delight.

Finally, I thought, a chance to bring suburbanites to this historic Independence neighborhood at a time other than Labor Day Weekend, when it’s difficult to really get a feel for what we’re all about here in the Queen City of the Trails.

I’ve been extremely disappointed to hear the negative take some of my neighbors have of this idea of soccer coach Chris Dean’s. Dean wants to repair bathrooms and locker rooms in the gym and possibly offer fitness classes for adults. Outside, he wants to replace the grass field with turf and install some lights, which would allow for outdoor practices and possibly tournaments.

Some of my friends and neighbors worry that allowing soccer practices and games on the grass field will cause a “ruckus,” and that streets will fills with cars and trash during soccer events.

I’m thinking maybe they don’t know much about the soccer crowd. We’re talking suburban (mostly) parents with children, some of whom routinely only think of Independence when they read about another high-speed chase or meth-house bust. Law enforcement here has been on top of the meth scourge for years now, but it’s hard to live down that reputation.

This is a chance to do that. It’s a chance for Independence to shine, to show those folks who abandoned their hometown for Blue Springs and Grain Valley and Oak Grove that we’ve got something special, from the historic homes in my neighborhood and others near the Square to the Square itself and its bustling businesses.

A few years ago, before Studio on Main opened, I had to drive miles and miles to find a quality yoga studio. A student at the studio I frequented in Midtown Kansas City turned up her nose when I mentioned I lived near the Independence Square.

“Oh, the Square,” she said dismissively. “It’s always so dead there. There’s nothing going on.”

Au contraire. There’s plenty going on. And we’ve got the perfect chance to show those who left for greener, newer pastures what they’re missing. If they drop off their kids for soccer practice, they can head to the Square to shop. They can drive around our neighborhood and admire the work we put into our historic homes. They can remember the myriad Square restaurants the next time they’re thinking of a cool spot for dinner.

I urge the Independence Planning Commission and my neighbors to challenge the status quo and take a chance on this soccer facility.

Progress doesn’t happen by standing still!

A tale of two sons

Display_with_Racist_Quote_from_Murderer_of_Emmett_Till_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USA
Display with a racist quote at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (Credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons)

Today marked my oldest child’s first day of college classes.

I intended to blog about my ambivalent feelings, sending my firstborn into the world, how I’m happy for him that he’s chasing his dreams but sad for myself because his departure means that a certain phase of my life has passed.

Over the summer, my mind raced, trying to decide if my husband and I had imparted all the wisdom we needed to give him to make it on his own.

But today, as I ruminated on those themes, it seemed like so many first-world worries. Woe is me, the white suburban mom sending her privileged kid to college, while across the state the mother of another 18-year-old boy was planning a funeral.

A Ferguson, Mo., police officer shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9, a Saturday. That day, my husband and I were helping our 18-year-old son, Joe, pack for college. That night, while Michael Brown’s family grieved, my parents and inlaws joined us for a special send-off dinner for Joe.

On Monday, Aug. 11, we packed Joe and our other two kids into the car and headed for the small liberal-arts college a few hours away, where Joe now is a freshman. That was the day Michael Brown was to have started classes at Vatterott College, a technical school in Ferguson.

Two 18 year olds. Two young men on the cusp of adulthood. Two sets of parents.

Two very different stories.

At times like this, I am intensely aware of my whiteness.

My husband and I chose to raise our children in a neighborhood that’s less affluent than some in the Kansas City area, among families who are not all white and middle class. We’re smugly proud of that choice and quietly judge those who flee the urban core and inner-ring suburbs for the greener pastures of exurbia.

But are we really much different? We still enjoy certain privileges that come merely because our skin doesn’t have as much melanin as that of others.

The advice I gave my son as he left home was so pedestrian. It was along the lines of making sure he doesn’t mix reds with the whites when he does laundry and to ask for tutoring help as soon as he has questions about what’s going on in class.

I’ve never had to sit either of my sons down and tell them that people are going to be afraid to enter elevators if they’re the only ones in there. I doubt many people will cross to the other side of the street if either of my sons walks down it.

I don’t have to impart to my sons the lesson that if the police stop you for any reason, keep your hands visible at all times. And God forbid you’re wearing a hoodie.

As I watched coverage of the ongoing problems in Ferguson today, I realized that I didn’t send my son out into the world with those words of advice because it’s likely he’ll never encounter any situation in which he’ll have to use them.

I don’t know if Michael Brown robbed a convenience store early in the day on Aug. 9. If he did, was his killing justified? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

This is what I do know – he was 18. He was starting life, just as my 18 year old is. He had dreams and aspirations, just like my boy. He had a mother and father, just like my son. He had a life.

And now he doesn’t.

Miss Invisibility

Last week, while we were on vacation, my young adult niece jokingly told me she doesn’t think she’ll live past 30.

Now, I think her comment was mostly aimed at inspiring shock, but I think there’s a little bit of truth in it – as in, she can’t imagine what it’ll be like to be 30, which seems half-way to dead to her.  I mean, she’s just echoing her grandparents’ generation, in which youngsters vowed to never trust anyone over 30.

And she made me think, because I’m decidedly over 30. Way over.

And then I was reading this book during our trip, and a middle-aged character described herself as reaching the age of invisibility – she’s there, but no one notices. She’s not young and beautiful anymore, and she doesn’t inspire the awe that the longevity of senescence does. She’s just…there.

That’s how I feel much of the time these days.

Not that I was ever a raving beauty. And I’ve certainly not reached hag stage (unless you talk with my teen-age daughter.) But I’m definitely feeling invisible.

The week before vacation, I had a bunch of errands to run. And one of these was partaking of a sale at a well-known store that specializes in ladies’ unmentionables, if you know what I mean. Victoria’s Secret, if you don’t.

I’m definitely not the VS type – maybe if I were, I wouldn’t be so invisible. But they do have really nice underwear that is a particularly good buy when they’re on sale. So I dashed in there between trips to Old Navy and Bath and Body Works to grab the 5 for $26.50 panties.

I was the store’s sole customer that Monday night. I wandered for a bit, looking for the aforementioned panties. All I saw wherever I looked were various other items of lingerie at ever-increasing price points. Not a salesperson in sight.

Finally, I happened upon a couple of VS clerks near the PINK merchandise , deep in a discussion about the finer distinctions between 54th Street Grill and Bar and Chili’s. I cleared my throat and looked appealingly toward them. Nothing.

In another room, I found another young clerk, humming to herself as she straightened out a table of thongs (not the sandal kind.) She never looked my way as I, the store’s only customer, walked past on my way to the table of 5-for-$26.50 panties I’d finally spotted.

For a good 10 minutes, I pondered my choices – patterned or plain? Hip-huggers or high-waisted? Regular bikini or low-rise bikini? No one bothered me.

Finally, selection made, I headed for the cash register. A tall blond in her early 20s glided over. Never making eye contact, she asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for. I assured her I had. Then she asked – again, never looking at me – whether anyone had helped me.

“Not a flipping person” was what I wanted to say.

“Nope” was what I ended up responding.  And that sealed my fate as an invisible person as Miss Congeniality put my receipt in my little pink-striped bag and pushed it toward me.

It might not be all bad, this invisibility thing. Today, I saw a young woman, the daughter of an acquaintance, in a store with her new husband – the one she dumped her previous husband for. For some reason – I just like watching train wrecks, OK? – I wanted to know what they were buying. So I began perusing the items on their aisle. And they never noticed me. Never even looked my way. It was awesome.

So, yeah. Middle age sucks in so many ways. Stuff is starting to sag. I will never, ever be able to eat an entire medium pepperoni pizza ever again. I have to measure everything I ingest – even my wine – in order to attempt to maintain my weight. Don’t even get me started on why it is always SO FLIPPING HOT in here.

But this invisibility thing…I definitely could use this to my advantage. Stay tuned.

The Volunteer Score Card

Love me some Snarky in the morning!

Snarky in the Suburbs

12316(I wrote this opinion piece for my local newspaper last week and as of today I’m still getting hate mail. I’m a little confused to what ticked people off so badly. Oh sure, I knew it would tick some people off but just wow on the number of emails I’ve been getting.)

As a parent you scribble your name on a lot of stuff – everything from reading logs to band practice sheets. But one thing I won’t sign my name to is anything that has to do with volunteering or community service. I won’t sign a piece of a paper, a diary, a journal, a ledger – basically if it tracks and tallies up how many hours my kids spent doing “service” I’m not interested. It’s not because I don’t fully believe in giving back and I’m certainly not anti non-profit – my husband works for one. What I’m against…

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When a bully isn’t a bully

Something’s been bugging me, and I’ve got to get it off my chest. And it’s going to sound crass at first, so hear me out before you start calling me insensitive.

I’m not sure there really is a bullying epidemic.

I know, I know. Just about every morning of the world, you can probably find a news story on television about some horrific incident linked to bullying. Kids have started cutting themselves, committing suicide, committing mass murder – you name it – because they’re the victims of bullies.

I’m 100 percent sure those kids were bullied. I’m not debating that.

What I do question, though, is the statistic put forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that one-third of kids in the sixth through 12th grades has been victimized by bullies.

Bullying is defined as repeated aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power. So what that means is that the bully is perceived as being more powerful than the victim, and the aggression happens again and again over time. This aggression can happen at school or at home, with relative strangers or family members. Some of the worst cases of bullying I’ve seen involved parents bullying their own children.

But during the last few years, as I’ve worked among elementary students as a social work student myself and now as a psychotherapist, I’ve noticed a pattern: Kids who have normal, everyday interpersonal conflicts with other kids claim that they’re being bullied. And I don’t always think that’s the case.

I think “bully” is a victim of its own success. Children and parents are so familiar with the term now, so well-versed in the horrific tales of bullying gone wrong, that they view any kind of disagreement or conflict as bullying. And that, I think, is wrong-headed.

Take, for example, an older elementary student I worked with last year. He was somewhat socially awkward but had some friends at school. However, he often didn’t perceive when he overstepped his bounds and intruded into other students’ space. He would get excited and impulsively hug his friends, or take a game of tag too far and tackle another student instead of merely touching his arm. When the student he hugged or tackled asked him to stop – sometimes not in the nicest of ways – he would run to the teacher on the playground and claim he was being bullied. In time, his cries fell on deaf ears, and he earned the reputation of a whiner who cried foul when things didn’t go his way.

I found it extremely difficult to work with this kid because his parents backed him up. They referred to his being “bullied” and never pointed out his own role in instigating the behavior of the other children. I was perplexed about how to help the child see the pattern of his behavior and his misuse of the word “bully.” Time and again in our weekly sessions, I attempted to challenge his use of “bully.” We talked about how friends act, how he wanted his friends to act, and how he could be a good friend to others. The child used all the right words, but he couldn’t differentiate between bullying and just plain not getting along well with others.

And there is a difference. We all have people who rub us the wrong way, people who routinely disagree with everything we say. Maybe we’re the cantankerous ones who always disagree. But when your co-worker doesn’t like you or disagrees with something you say in a meeting, does that mean he or she is bullying you?

Not in my book.

As a parent, it’s easy to assume our children are the ones being singled out for being different, being picked on by mean kids, being made fun of. Sometimes those things do happen. And when they happen routinely and are perpetrated by kids who hold power in some way over our own, that’s when our kids are being bullied.

But when our children, in course of their growing-up years, run into folks who think differently, who act differently and who don’t think our kids are the greatest things since the iPhone, they are not being bullied.

Instead, they are learning to live and deal with other people who are different from them, and that’s a valuable life lesson that I think too often goes by the wayside in this era of the bully.

It’s quantity, not quality

Way back in the misty, far-away time that was my early 30s, a slightly older friend gave me a bit of sage parenting advice.

I was debating whether to spend an upcoming holiday schlepping my little preschoolers to a fun family-oriented festival at the art museum or to let them run through the sprinkler while the hubs and I putzed around the yard and caught up on some chores.

I didn’t want to waste the day off, I explained, and I could make the case that I was with either of those scenarios.

“It’s quantity, not quality,” my friend said, turning on its end the parenting mantra of the day. (He was also locally famous for this assessment of our local Labor Day street fair: “The gene pool’s pretty shallow there.”)

Quantity, not quality. That flew in the face of everything I had strived for during my first five years of parenting, when I worked long hours as a newspaper reporter and my children spent their days in daycare. Back then, I slept little but threw the most outrageous birthday parties, if I do say so myself. Only now do I realize that the princess birthday party with the homemade castle cake and the pirate birthday party complete with a treasure the hubs and I buried were symptoms of my overfunctioning.

I wasn’t around much, but by golly, when I was on, I was ON!

But by the time my friend suggested short spurts of quality weren’t enough, I was already past that stage. I had quit my full-time job a year before because I wanted to slow down and spend more time with my kids. And pretty quickly, I had realized that the days were l-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g when you had to figure out something to do with a 3 year old and a 4 year old every.Single.Minute.

So a year in, I was running out of ideas. I feared I’d become one of those mommies who watched soaps all afternoon (they still were on then,) cracked open a cold one around 4 p.m. when Oprah came on and let the neighbors worry about my kids.

Quantity, not quality. What did it mean?

I really wasn’t sure, but I kept it at the front of my mind when I began stressing over whether I was enriching my children enough. Should I be teaching them to read instead of reading to them? Should I enroll them in a kiddie cooking class instead of baking cookies with them? What about signing them up for Ceramics for Children instead of letting them just play with the Play-Doh at the kitchen table?

Quantity, not quality.

And then we had a third child, and I really didn’t have as much time for my neuroses because the older two entered school. And life got busier. And frankly, the birthday parties became quite a bit less elaborate. And “quantity over quality” faded from my mind.

Until a few weeks ago, when I was driving my daughter, younger son and a niece home from the mall. My daughter and my niece began talking about a mutual friend who had been in their Girl Scout troop.

“Wait a minute,” my son said to my niece, “you were in Girl Scouts?”

“Duh,” she said.

“Why aren’t you still in it?” he asked.

Before she could answer, I piped up. “Because she had the worst leader ever. Didn’t even like kids, really.”

Then my daughter spoke up. “Mom,” she said, “you were our leader.”

“Exactly,” I said.

And then…

“I thought you were a good leader,” my daughter said. “I loved it when you were our leader.”

I was so stunned I almost hit the car in front of me.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked, flooded with memories of the dread I felt each week as I prepared for the Girl Scout meeting, my panic when the cookie money didn’t add up, the sore on my tongue from the many times I had to bite it to keep from snapping on a hyper kid.

“Yeah,” she said wistfully, “it was great. We had fun. I always thought you planned fun stuff.”

Quantity, not quality. My friend was right. 

Santa’s white? Yeahhhhhhh, right!

Megyn Kelly, your little mind is wrong. It has been affected by the pea-brained ideologues with which you surround yourself at Fox News.

You claimed a week or so ago on your show, “The Kelly File,” that Santa, along with Jesus, is a white man. You said it was a verifiable fact that we all just need to accept – kind of like acknowledging that if your dad and granddad went to Yale, you’ll go there, too, regardless of how you score on the SAT.

I’m not even going to touch the Jesus comment, but I’ll let you do the math, Megyn.  Jesus was born in the Middle East, and by all accounts (and by all I mean the Old Testament,) his mother’s people were from the same general area. And his Dad’s peeps – well, I mean, his Dad was God. So it’s pretty safe to say that Jesus looked more like Omar Sharif than Orlando Bloom (yes, I know Omar Sharif is Egyptian, but you get my point.)

Image
Omar Sharif in his younger days

And I know that rationally, Santa Claus no doubt is white. He’s from northern Europe, right? Well, not so fast, Ms. Smartypants Kelly. St. Nicholas, the third-century bishop who lived in a small town in Turkey and who is Santa’s forebear, was Greek. He no doubt looked like this ancient painting of him:

Image
St. Nicholas

So, yes. He looks a little like Omar Sharif, too.

Not black, I know. But closer than the lily-white, red-suit-wearing jovial red-cheeked Santa from the Clement Clarke Moore poem and whom you, no doubt, invoked in scolding writer Aisha Harris for pining for a black Santa.

I’m here to set the record straight. Yes, Megyn, there is a Santa, and he (sometimes) is black.

One December day in 1979, my family drove north from our little town in southeast Missouri, searching for snow on our way to my grandparents’ house. In tow we had my 16-year-old cousin, a Florida native who wanted to see snow for Christmas. No luck in our part of the Midwest, so we headed north.

We stopped in St. Louis to show my cousin the big city and to see the lovely decorated windows at downtown stores like Famous-Barr and Stix, Baer and Fuller. At Famous, we set out to find Santa. My younger sister was 7, my older sister a jaded 15. I was 11 and still a believer.

Famous-Barr’s Santa held court at the end of a winding path through Candyland, full of toy trains and beautiful automated displays. As we inched nearer, I remember, my heart pounded, wondering if this was the year I’d get that coveted Tuesday Taylor doll whose scalp swiveled, allowing her to change from blond to brunette in seconds.

When we hit the front of the line, we hit a fork in the road. A nattily dressed elf asked whether we wanted a photo with Santa, and my parents declined. Not sure why – maybe we’d already seen Santa elsewhere. But when we said “no photo,” the elf pointed down one hall and said we could find Santa there.

So we filed down that hallway, turned a corner and went through a door and came face to face with Santa – a black Santa.

I remember the look on his face – utter surprise. Maybe that was aimed at us, because I’m sure the faces of my sisters and me (and maybe my Florida cousin, too,) registered complete and absolute shock.

We lived in a southern town where sharecroppers still existed. Black people and white people didn’t live in the same parts of town. They didn’t even go to the same churches.

Yet there we were, three little white girls and their Florida cracker cousin, climbing onto Santa’s lap and telling him our Christmas dreams.  It was just like all the other times we’d sat on Santa’s lap, only this time, Santa looked like Flip Wilson instead of Mickey Rooney.

So that was that. We promised to leave cookies for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph and bid Santa good-bye. He told us to be good.

And we were. And I did receive the Tuesday Taylor doll, who took up residence in the sorority house that was the Barbie Town House in my room.

And I frankly forgot the incident until recently, Megyn, when your ignorance caused my brain to cough up this memory.

So yes, Megyn, there is a black Santa Claus. And probably a Latino one and an Asian one, and maybe a redneck one, for all I know.

Why is the most wonderful time of year so depressing?

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I remember when I loved this time of year.

My memories of Thanksgiving are peppered with car trips literally over the river (either the Mississippi or Missouri, depending on which side of the family we were visiting) and through the woods to a grandmother’s house.

I close my eyes and can see through the VW van windows the trees rushing past, many still clinging to their golden and orange leaves, some already stark wintry silhouettes against a cloudy November sky.

My memories are of good smells and laughter, cheek pinches from elderly relatives we saw only once a year, too much pie and the dim roar of a parade or football game emanating from an ancient television.

My birthday fought with Thanksgiving for attention, and some years, they shared the day. Those were the special years, the years my mom would tell me the whole country was celebrating my birthday with a day off from work and school and a New York City parade to boot! I felt pretty special.

And then I grew up. And the grandmothers died, along with the other relatives we saw on Turkey Day. And it became not as much fun to mark each passing year, to realize I’m now the age my maternal grandmother was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

When November dawns each year, my heart feels heavy. I never wanted to feel this way, to struggle to celebrate the present because I can’t forget the past. I spend my working life now helping others leave their pasts behind so they can move forward, but I’m having a hard time doing that myself.

One thing my new career as a therapist has taught me is that I’m not alone is clinging to these idyllic visions of past holidays. Many folks wish for what they remember as the salad days, happier times when no one fought and the turkey was perfect and the whole scene looked like something out of a painting.

And for that, I’m blaming Norman Rockwell.

He’s an easy target. For one thing, I don’t know him personally. And for another, he’s dead.

But seriously – think about it. He painted scene after scene of an idealized America. His paintings showed the America we always wanted, and the one that stands out in my mind is that of the Thanksgiving holiday:

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This is what I think of when I remember my childhood holidays.

Yet a few weeks back, I heard an interesting story on NPR about Norman Rockwell, best known for his idyllic images of America that graced so many covers of the Saturday Evening Post.

Rockwell grew famous painting life in Stockbridge, Mass., which became a stand-in for Anytown, USA. The neighborly police officer. The schoolteacher. The kindly doctor. The postman.

Rockwell lived with his family in this quintessential New England town – that fact is well known. But what isn’t so well known is that he moved his family there so his wife, an alcoholic who also suffered from depression, could receive treatment at the Austen Riggs Institute, a psychiatric facility.

And Rockwell became an Austen Riggs client, too, seeking treatment from the renowned psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, whose Theory of Psychosocial Development became a cornerstone of the study of human behavior.

In the NPR story, author Deborah Solomon explains what Rockwell was doing when painted his famous depictions of American life: “”I think he painted a view of America as a caring, concerned place,” Solomon told NPR report Robert Siegel. “He certainly was not painting his own reality, but he was painting, I think, his longing.”

His longing is everyone’s longing, though. Don’t we all want to only remember the good times or think of life as it should be, not how it sometimes is?

This year, our immediate family had to change our Thanksgiving plans. For the past several years, we’ve had the main meal with my husband’s side of the family, then driven to my parents’ farm for the rest of the weekend.

But a variety of events conspired against us this year, and we aren’t going to the farm. Which was OK with my husband and me, since we could use the extra time at home to catch up. But our elder son expressed deep disappointment.

“Honey,” I said, trying to comfort him, “sometimes it’s crazy there. And it’ll be cold, and we’d all be stuck inside. Remember how you and your cousins sometimes fight?”
Nope, he said. He didn’t remember that at all. He just remembered the good times.

Which made me realize that’s what I’m doing, too. If I try really hard, I can remember the Thanksgivings past when we had some family debacle in the middle of dinner, or the time a distant uncle showed up drunk, or the year my mom dropped the turkey on the floor (much to my dad’s delight, since he can’t stand poultry anyway.)

Maybe Norman Rockwell had the right idea. Just long for the good times and try to forget the bad ones.

Think I’ll try that next year.

You don’t have to support this tax

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It’s difficult not to support raising money for research into curing our most horrible diseases.

After all, that’s like saying kittens are ugly or all those videos of laughing babies are time-suckers. I might as well start yelling, “Get off my lawn!” right now.

But sorry, folks, I cannot support the proposed half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 5 ballot in Jackson County. I’m not an anti-tax person. I rarely meet a tax I can’t get behind.

Except this one. It’s unfair, it’s regressive and it’s not the right tax.

The proposed 20-year sales tax would raise $800 million for translational medical research. “Translational” is defined as creating new drugs and devices to combat disease based on research. The Hall Family Foundation has promised $75 million toward the building of a new research facility at Children’s Mercy Hospital if the tax passes.

The Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures promises the tax money will:

  • Attract top research talent to the Kansas City area.
  • Create the Institute for Translational Medicine on Hospital Hill, a collaboration between Children’s Mercy, St. Luke’s Hospital System, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.
  • Help the local economy by luring companies here and generating “hundreds of millions of dollars for our community.”

Sounds like a plan, right? Who doesn’t want to cure cancer?

I do, of course. I’m a huge fan of Children’s Mercy – the hubs and I write a check every month, paying off our kids’ latest ER visit. Love St. Luke’s, too. That’s where all my docs are. And both Matt and I are proud graduates of UMKC.

But I can’t support this tax because it’s unfair. It’s a tax ONLY for Jackson County – not the rest of the state or even the area. To be sure, Johnson County, Kan., has a similar tax, but it’s one-eighth of a cent. And the folks who dreamed up this current tax proposal – the elite Civic Council in Kansas City – are, I believe, out of touch with the real economic hardship a half-cent tax could wreak on the regular folk in Jackson County.

Let me throw these numbers at you (they’re from www.city-data.com; the U.S. Census website is offline because of the government shutdown):

  • 66208 – that’s the ZIP code in Johnson County where many Civic Council members live. While they might work in Jackson County, you can be certain they’re not buying their groceries or everyday living items in Jackson County.
  • $233,599 – that’s the 2011 median household income in Mission Hills, Kan., in the 66208 ZIP code, home to the Halls of the Hall Family Foundation and to several Civic Council members. The median per capita income there is $101,863.
  • $45,886 – that’s the 2009 median household income in Jackson County.
  • $41,487 – that’s the 2009 median household income in Independence.

Consider those numbers and decide for yourself who is hit harder by an increase in the sales tax – the person clearing $100,000 annually, or someone making less than half that?

A sales tax is regressive – it hurts those with lower incomes far worse than those at the upper end. Unlike property taxes, which rise with a property’s worth, sales taxes are blind – they are tacked onto purchases regardless of who’s purchasing.

And should a government that’s already spread too thin trying to pay for roads, infrastructure, parks and facilities even get into the research game? Isn’t that best left to the private sector? Who will own the patents on the research that’s generated here? Who gets that income?

I’m sorry, Civic Council. I applaud your intent, but there’s got to be a better way.

My friend and former Kansas City Star colleague Jim Fitzpatrick of Kansas City has some ideas. He’s started the Committee to Stop a Bad Cure (which I have joined – full disclosure.) At stopabadcure.org, you can read about his research on this tax proposal and his alternative idea:

The Hall Family Foundation, instead of challenging taxpayers to fund this research, should issue that challenge to corporations, foundations and the wealthy (hello, Civic Council members…) to raise the money the tax would raise. With private money raised, the county could seek a much smaller sales-tax increase of one-eighth cent for 15 years.

And that would leave some wiggle room for light-rail proponents to ask voters in the future to approve a sales tax that would pay for much-needed upgrades to our public transportation – which would help everyone from low-income fast-food workers to corporate executives to those who make their money from tourism.

It’s a win-win.

Life on the launching pad

Our oldest is a senior in high school.

As the hubs and I navigate these uncharted (for us) waters, we find ourselves focusing on every “last” event. The last first day of high school. The last band show. The last back-to-school night.

We will drive ourselves batty if we don’t stop, but how can we? We look at our oldest, and all we see is the chubby little baby we brought home from the hospital 17 years ago.

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But now, along with the lasts, we’re dealing with the firsts, too. These are a little easier to handle, though, since with Joe, life has always been full of firsts.

He was the first baby. The first child we potty trained. The first kid to get braces.

Last weekend, the hubs helped Joe submit his first college application, to the University of Missouri, our alma mater. We hold no illusions that he’ll end up there; he’s told us it’s a little too big for his taste. But he humored us, as all good kids do their parents, and dutifully applied to Ol’ Mizzou.

After they completed the online application, Joe wandered off, no doubt texting a buddy or his girlfriend to tell them what dorks his parents are. Matt came into the kitchen, where I was folding clothes.

“I can’t believe our baby just applied to MU,” he said, a little emotionally. “Where did the time go?”

I felt the same. All those years when Joe and his siblings were babies and toddlers and preschoolers – while they were happening, they seemed so long. The nights were so long. Some days were, too.

And then – blip. They’re gone. And here we are.

I nodded sympathetically.

What makes this even more emotional for us, though, is that we know how much our boy has overcome. Not as much as some kids, to be sure. He’s not homeless. He hasn’t lost a parent. He’s not chronically ill.

But from the get-go, Joe was a sensitive soul, full of anxiety. I was, too, and I remember holding him as an infant, willing myself to calm down so my baby would be calm, too. But I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was scared I’d break him.

Childhood was sometimes fraught with peril for Joe. We watched as he navigated things that caused him angst, rites of passage that didn’t throw his younger siblings or his cousins for a loop. We sought professional help and learned to help him develop the calming skills he needed.

And we watched when he wasn’t always able to implement what he had learned. It’s painful to watch your child learn from natural consequences, even as you know it’s the best way.

Elementary school was rough at times, but with each passing year, Joe matured and learned from his past. And he paved the way for his sister and brother, who don’t share his disposition but who nonetheless benefitted from the trail he blazed.

Now he’s facing his first jumping-off point, and we hope and pray he’ll be able to use those skills he’s learned over the years as he takes his first steps into adulthood. He’s grown into such a great kid. I know all parents say that, and I hope they all mean that. I am proud of my son for the person he has grown into despite his parents’ ineptitude and because of the strength of his character. If he weren’t my kid, I’d still want to know him.

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When I think of him leaving for college in less than a year, all I picture is the little boy I took to kindergarten in August 2001. He was scared. I could see it in his eyes. But he was brave, mostly for his dad and me, I know now.

He found his desk that day and waved good-bye. I went out into the hallway and waited where he couldn’t see me. I wanted to make sure he didn’t cry.

His bottom lip quivered. He wanted to cry. But he stood tall as the principal announced on the intercom that it was time for the Pledge of Allegiance. He never looked back, even though I’m sure that he knew I was there watching, praying and crying just a little.

This time next year, he’ll be gone, having left willingly to spread his wings. But I’ll still be there, watching to make sure everything’s all right.

And I think he knows that, too.

The mysterious case of the Dinner Plate Dahlias

It has come to my attention that perhaps I watch too many crime shows.

I reached that conclusion after the recent destruction of my prize dahlias.

These lovely yellow flowers produce blooms the size of dinner plates – hence the name, Dinner Plate Dahlia. I am appropriately self-deprecating about the lovely blooms these bulbs produce, acting as if it’s nothing when in reality I have lovingly pruned and fertilized and babied these beauties.

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“Oh, it’s nothing,” I have said, smiling smugly.

Well, in reality, it is nothing, because not only did I just toss these bulbs – which my friend Cynthia gave me – into the flower bed outside my side door but I also did that in spring 2012. Yes, these bulbs should not have made it through the strange winter of 2012-2013 to bloom another summer.

But they did. And they are miracles. And I will take all the credit, which is, after all, the American Way.

Now these dahlias reside, along with some other miracle plants like the Gerbera daisy of 2003, which comes back year after year, and last year’s annual purple salvia, in a small flower bed outside my side door, next to my driveway. Also taking up space there are a couple grape tomato plants because it’s the only consistently sunny spot in our yard.

Anywho. The basketball goal also is in the driveway, as basketball goals are wont to be. This has been a bone of contention for many years.

Often I have found the tomatoes threatened by a wayward basketball, or the rudbeckia Goldsturm west of the door along the driveway bent down by a playground ball or hastily discarded basketball.

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In early August, in fact, I completely embarrassed my 17-year-old son and his soccer friends by frequently interrupting their basketball game to warn them about the consequences of messing with my flowers.

Mama has a long fuse, but it ain’t that long, people.

So on the evening before the first day of school, the hubs and I took the kiddos to eat their last supper before heading back to the salt mines. We got home about dusk.

As I approached my side door, I saw this:

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And this:

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I stopped and stared. Each of my children gaped, wide-eyed, at the carnage, then turned slowly to look at me. Almost in unison, they declared their innocence.

Well, of course, they didn’t do this. We were gone. And when we’d left home at 5:45 p.m., the three dahlias stood tall, their ginormous blooms smiling at me.

Now, they were bent toward the driveway, their sturdy stalks bent and broken.

There were several suspects, most of them relatives. I grabbed my cell phone and started dialing.

It was so strange. Each of my three nephews had been playing basketball on the driveway, they said, but none had seen anyone trampling the flowers. Unless it was the two little neighbor boys. Yeah. It could have been them. But maybe not. Gee, they were sorry.

It was a case for Unsolved Mysteries. Or maybe Dateline: NBC. Or Major Crimes. Or Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

The next morning, my youngest and I headed to my parents for the annual back-to-school breakfast my mom prepares. She’s done this for years, sending her grandkids in grade school back to class with a hearty breakfast in their stomachs. This year, there are only two youngsters left who don’t leave before 7:30 a.m.: my younger son and my youngest nephew.

He’s a genial sort, loquacious to the nth degree. If you want to find out any scoop on anyone who lives on our block, you just ask this fellow the right question, and BOOM! You know about it. He’s like our own personal town crier.

So I pulled my best Brenda Leigh Johnson and prepared for some answers.

As my nephew gobbled up his French toast, I made small talk about first grade and recess and what have you. Then I pounced.

“Hey,” I said, “you know those giant yellow flowers that grow by my driveway?”

“Yep,” he said, shoving a forkful of syrupy bread into his mouth.

“It’s so weird,” I said. “When we got home last night from dinner, those flowers were knocked over. Broken. And I found a green-and-purple rubber ball stuck back in the tomatoes.”

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“Hmm….,” he said, continuing to eat.
I paused. You have to let the silence do its work.

“Say,” I said, “what do you think happened?”

Fork in the air as if he were thinking really hard, he puckered his forehead. Then he looked at me.

“I know,” he said.

YES!! I thought. I KNEW I could’ve been a cop.

“You do?” I asked, all Brenda Leigh-like.

“Yep,” he said, picking up a piece of bacon. “It was the wind.”

Yeah….only there wasn’t any wind.

But I didn’t bother.

Each day after that, my flower bed suffered assaults, all mysterious, all without witness. It’s as if there’s a vandal specifically targeting my side flower bed for destruction.

My family tires of my complaining about such a first-world problem. One of my elders suggested that perhaps I should move the dahlias. Others maintain that someday, there will be no kids playing in my driveway and I can grow all the darned flowers I want there.

Sure, they’re right. I certainly don’t want to go all “GET OFF MAHHH LAWN!!!” on any young ‘uns.

However, when a body has asked and asked if the kiddos will be more careful and the basketball goal is MOVABLE, for Christ’s sake, I think I have a right to be upset when my flowers are destroyed.

So today, I struck first. I grabbed my pruners and cut most of the plants waaaaaaaayyyy back. Then I watered the bejesus out of them.

And I hid all the basketballs. For now.

Stop the competition already

These days, I pretty much get all my news from Facebook.

Probably what happens when you ditch journalism. I am no longer beholden to getting all my news from the New York Times and other erudite sources. Now that I’m no longer an official member of the Fourth Estate, I can start quoting sites like the Huffington Post and (gasp!) Yahoo news.

So that’s how I came across this little gem (click here.)

New moms are getting spray-tanned, made up, etc., while or shortly before they go into labor so they look awesome in the inevitable Facebook and Twitter photos.

And we wonder why other countries hate the United States.

Seriously. As if women needed another venue in which to compete with each other. I am so over this I’m about to go all Jamie Lee Curtis and stop dyeing my hair and start eating that yogurt that makes you poop.

As a female human, I have been dealing with this idiotic competiveness since I was born. However, I didn’t pay much attention to it until I was in my early 20s. That’s about the time I was graduating from college and getting married.

You know how we women like to one-up each other with our weddings. No need to rehash that one since Bridezillas does it most nights on cable. I was in a lot of weddings back then. I’m not even sure how many times I was a bridesmaid or how many taffeta dresses of differing colors still hang in the back of my closet.

But it was a lot. And I observed a lot. And so by the time I got married the summer after the hubs and I graduated college, I knew what I wanted our wedding to look like.

But really, that was just the beginning of the ongoing reality show of life. We were still newlyweds when the hubs joined a softball league with some buddies he’d known in high school and college. I was a newspaper reporter by then, but on nights I didn’t work, I dutifully sat on the bleachers and watched a bunch of guys play slow-pitch.

I didn’t know many folks and was lonely for friends, so I generally sat amongst the other girlfriends and wives.

Oy vey. It was an education.

Two of the women talked of nothing but trying to get pregnant, who was pregnant, what they were going to name their as-yet unconceived babies, what the nurseries would look like, what kind of car they needed to cart the infants around, buying a house, buying a bigger house, blah, blah, blah. It was exhausting to listen to. This must be what it feels like to be brainwashed, I thought.

And the one time I tried to change the subject to, I don’t know, the 1992 election, they looked at me like I was speaking some weird Balkan language.

So then a few years later, most of our married friends started actually having babies. Like good childless friends, we visited them in the hospital. For the ones we were especially close to – there were maybe two – we even sat in the waiting room until the babies popped out.

That’s when I learned about how you know if your kiddo is exceptional from the minute he or/and she is born: the Apgar score.

Apgar. What is it? The hubs and I looked at each other. One mom saw our confusion and explained that it’s the first test a child ever is given and proves whether the baby is alert. She said “alert” with a certain gleam in her eye, which I took to mean, “My baby is smarter than any kids of yours can ever hope to be.”

So, of course, by the time I actually became pregnant with our own little kiddo, I was all stoked about the Apgar. But then I started to realize that the Apgar would likely be affected by how I chose to give birth. And by how, I mean what childbirth method I used and whether I received an epidural to numb the excruciating pain that comes from forcing something the size of a watermelon through a hole the size of a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

One well-meaning friend suggested against Lamaze because the father wasn’t involved enough. She said that to the 27-year-old version of me, who thought, but did not say out loud, that probably the father had already been involved quite enough, thank you very much. (For the record, the 44-year-old version of me would just say it out loud. And for the record, three epidurals AND three Apgar scores of 9. Ahem.)

A new baby presents many, many opportunities for competition, from whether and how long you breastfeed to when and how many words the kiddo can say before he or she turns a year old to how much you spend on daycare (“OMG, it’s like my whole check goes to the Montessori. But it’s worth it if little Haven can speak French and Spanish at 3, right?”)

I could go on and on. However, the older I get, the less I’m generally inclined to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the uber-competitive mommies I encounter, mainly because I just don’t give a !@#$% anymore.

More women should adopt this attitude because frankly, this competition over stuff that doesn’t really matter is killing us, making us strive for a perfection we can never attain. We have only ourselves to blame, too.

Sprays tan or new ‘do while you’re in labor? I can’t imagine anything worse. Here’s a photo of me in labor with my first child.

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Don’t ask.

If you would have come at with some self-tanner or a hair dryer, I would have cut you.

Use Paula for good

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Paula, Paula, Paula.

What were you thinking?

Clearly, Paula Deen wasn’t using her brain when she talked to that attorney who was deposing her. I mean, she definitely didn’t spend a lot of time working on spin.

Otherwise, pretty sure she would have come up with a better answer than the one she gave when the lawyer asked whether Ms. Bacon-wrapped Doughnut ever used the N word or any other racial slur.

“Of course,” she said, and the country erupted in riots all over social media.

At least give Paula points for honesty.

This situation presents an interesting opportunity for the rest of us to engage in dialogue about race and language and understanding, but the cynic in me thinks it’s doubtful any real change will come about because of Paula Deen’s racist utterings, be they past or present. She’s lost a dozen business deals in the last two weeks, as businesses from Wal-Mart to Smithfield Ham to the Food Network drop her like a twice-baked shrimp-stuffed baked potato.

But here’s the thing, people. This whole deal, erupting like a chocolate volcano cake, shouldn’t surprise anyone who either grew up in the South or pays a modicum of attention to race relations in the United States.  Just because Americans can elect an African-American president does not equate to the end of all racial issues in the United States. We aren’t “over” racism because it’s so insidiously present in most aspects of American life.

For parts of this country, it’s not so readily apparent. There’s a lot of political correctness going on all over the place, a lot of righteous indignation. But while everyone’s up in arms over Georgia restaurant-owner/TV chef/cookbook author Paula Deen performing a mea culpa, the Supreme Court of the United States basically threw out the Voting Rights Act. Which one of those acts does greater harm to minorities?

Not that I’m minimizing the whole Paula thing. I’m just not surprised that she said and did those things. I’m not condoning it, but it doesn’t destroy my image of the Southern-fried cook because I just assumed she thought and acted that way.

I’m basing that, naturally, on my own experiences growing up in the mid-South.

I grew up in a small town in southern Missouri. There were equivalent numbers of whites and African Americans living there, but society was anything but equal. When I was a kid, black families only lived in certain parts of town. Schools had not been integrated for too many years when I started kindergarten. When my parents moved there, a nice older lady sent her black maid over to my parents’ house to help my mom, and then advised Mom to hire her own maid so everyone would know what rung of the social ladder she occupied.

Folks of different races got along in that town, and still do, but for many, it’s an uneven relationship. It’s paternalistic, magnanimous, a landowner-sharecropper situation. Not unlike how Paula Deen herself no doubt feels about many of her African-American employees. She likes them, she respects them, but she really doesn’t consider them her equal.

It’s easy for those in ivory towers to say that slavery ended more than 100 years ago – get over it. But it’s hard to get over it when the oppression is so much a part of the system, and this is what drove Paula Deen.

It explains why she didn’t put any spin on her honest answer to the attorney who deposed her for that discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit. She can’t understand how she is part of the oppression.

For that, I feel sorry for Paula. She really doesn’t understand how just by virtue of being born white, she enjoys privilege. I believe her when she says she never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings or offend anyone and that she’s appalled that others think she would act that way.

She didn’t and doesn’t make racist comments to be racist. She has said them because that’s so much a part of her Southern identity, just like corn casserole and fried chicken.

It doesn’t make it right. It will never be right.

The better response for all those companies who are firing Paula Deen? Band together to mount an educational campaign. Teach those who’ve never lived it up close about systemic oppression and racism.

Fight ignorance with information and teach America a few things.

Charms of the boating life

sun on boatWe are boat people.

Well, to be honest, one of us is a boat person. Or, to be more precise, wants to be a boat person.

That would be the hubs. He became the captain of his own one-boat fleet five years ago, and ever since, he and the kids have had a fairly good time about twice a summer, once the boat is unfettered by its trailer and me, the fun sucker of the family.

Hey, someone has to do it. And I can’t get the memories of previous voyages out of my head. Trips such as this one, which I blogged about several summers ago.

This summer, as usual, we took the boat to the northern Missouri lake we frequent infrequently. We generally make it there over Memorial Day weekend, when the rest of my extended family visits my parents’ farm in Brookfield.

Last summer, we actually took the boat to Longview Lake for Joe’s birthday, taking him and some friends tubing. Putting the boat in the water there is a little stressful, what with the large numbers of other weekend water crafters waiting to plunk theirs in, too. For the life of me, I could not back the Suburban and boat trailer down the steep ramp, having instead to rely on one of Joe’s buddies, a 16-year-old boy, to back it down for me.

This year, though, when we made it to Lake Nehai we were looking practically like pros. We didn’t inflate the tube until we got to the little country store across the road from the boat ramp. While the hubs filled up the three-person tube, the kids and I went into the little store and bought sodas, snacks and two bags of ice at highly inflated prices.

Finally, we were ready and headed for the boat ramp. Our timing was perfect – no one ahead of us, no one waiting. Matt backed the truck and trailer toward the water, put the Suburban in park and hopped out. He climbed into the boat and instructed me to back the trailer into the water. Like the good little boaters they are, the kids told me when we’d gone far enough. I turned off the trucked and hopped out, and Maggie and I unclipped the boat’s bow from the trailer.

We pushed it a little and waited for it to set adrift. Matt turned on the motor and revved it a little, but the boat went nowhere.

We were perplexed. What was going on?

“It’s like it’s still connected to the trailer,” I said. “That’s weird.”

Matt grimaced. “I forgot to unclip the belts on the back of the boat,” he said. “It is still connected to the trailer. Pull it out.”

So I jumped back into the truck and pulled forward enough for him to unhook the back end. I had to pull it far enough out that backing it in was a doozy. It took me two or three tries and stops to remember that I had to turn the steering wheel the opposite direction of where I wanted the trailer to go.

It was starting to feel like last year all over again.

Eventually, the trailer made it back in to the water, we unhooked the bow, and Matt was off. While he and kids docked the boat and attached the tube, I parked the truck and trailer.

Life on Lake Nehai
Life on Lake Nehai

Two of the kids decided to stay on shore and fish a while, so four kids and I joined Matt in the boat. Two of them hopped onto the tube, and away we went for a nice, leisurely jaunt around the little lake. It was a glorious 30 minutes or so, and then Maggie and her BFF decided it was their turn in the tube. My niece stayed into, too, but Tom jumped back into the boat.

He doesn’t weigh much, and with two teen agers in the tube, the boat had a hard time planing. Matt assured Tom we weren’t going to capsize, but he was scared. Petrified, really, as he huddled on the boat’s floor in the fetal position.

I didn’t much like the ride, either, so I told Matt to take Tom and me to shore, where Joe and his cousin were finished fishing (nothing was biting) and could take our places in the boat.

When we docked, Tom and I climbed out, and the two boys got in. Matt took off.

jumping off boatTom asked for the keys to the Suburban; he thought he’d left his iPod in there. I gave him the keys with a stern warning: Don’t lock them in the truck. The other set was in the Suburban in my purse.

He headed up the hill, and I sat down on the dock to sunbathe. Pretty soon a pontoon boat full of fairly inebriated folks headed toward the dock. Most of the five occupants disembarked to use the portable toilet near the boat ramp. We chatted amiably about whether a storm was brewing as dark clouds gathered to the north of the lake.

Then they left. And I waited. And I realized that Tom had been gone a long time. The city girl in me wondered if he’d been kidnapped, but the more practical maternal side had another foreboding thought.

I took off up the hill. When I reached the Suburban, I found Tom with a stick in his hand, trying to pick the lock on the driver’s door.

“Stop!” I said. “What happened?”

He hung his head and told me he’d locked the keys in the car. He’d been in the back and thought he saw a ginormous spider, so he jumped out and slammed the door shut, leaving the keys and forgetting that he’d already hit “lock” on the key fob so he wouldn’t forget to lock the truck when he left. Tears stained his dirty little face.

I just sighed. Was I surprised? Not in the least.

I headed to the guardhouse to see if they had a phonebook. For once, I gave thanks for my mobile phone. Eventually, I reached AAA Missouri, who promised me a) Tom wasn’t the first kid to try to pick a car lock with a stick and b) a guy with a Slim Jim would be there in 30 minutes to two hours.

It was more like 90 minutes by the time the country mechanic from Meadville, a town about 45 miles away, made it to the lake.

He had the Suburban unlocked in about 20 seconds.

I thanked him profusely and headed back to the dock to wait. Eventually, the boat returned, and the kids said they were bushed and ready to head back to the farm.

I’d been on the water all of 30 minutes the whole day.

But the Captain was happy, and his little crew of kids and cousins was worn out. And I guess that’s about all you can ask for when you’re a weekend warrior.

Make a difference for Lucas

Last fall, I read with dismay the news of 4-year-old Lucas Webb’s death, purportedly at the hands of his parents. And now I read with equal horror that workers with the Missouri Children’s Division had failed to remove the boy from his father and stepmother, even after repeated calls to the Child Abuse Hotline by daycare workers.

lucas barnes webb
Lucas Barnes Webb,
courtesy of The Kansas City Star

The knee-jerk reaction likely will be to blame the child service workers and the Department of Social Services. To be sure, mistakes were made, and the state already has fired two workers involved in the case. Surely there will be calls to crucify others.

But that will be the incorrect response to such a tragedy. If you’re outraged and want to make a difference to ensure that young Lucas didn’t die in vain, you should turn your ire toward the Missouri General Assembly. Ask your legislators how they justify spending much of the precious five-month session, year after year, debating how to curtail abortion, or setting up roadblocks for women seeking birth control, or slowly but surely dismantling the state’s safety net for those living in poverty.

Or spending time on frivolous legislation, such as passing a bill allowing drivers to show proof of insurance by smart phone.

Instead, legislators should turn their attention to taking care of the children who already are here, who live in Missouri. Thousands live at or below the poverty line. Our representatives and senators don’t seem to care about those children, though. How else to explain the continual cuts to services that benefit them, such as Head Start and Medicaid, the elementary and secondary education budget  and, yes, the Children’s Division?

Please, be angry about Lucas Webb’s death. Be very angry. And then do something about it. Contact your state representative and senator and demand that they address the systemic breakdown that ultimately caused Lucas Webb’s death. For a list of Missouri legislators, go to www.house.mo.gov or www.senate.mo.gov.

If Kim Kardashian legally can marry, everyone should be able to

rings

It’s so good to know that people change and evolve over time.

In my graduate classes, we talk often about the capacity to change and grow. That’s a tenet of social work, that people can reach self-actualization – their full potential. We have to believe that people can do this for society to move forward.

But it’s one thing to read about it in a textbook and another thing entirely to see it in yourself or someone really close to you.

For the past few days, most discerning eyes and ears in this country have been riveted to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the nine justices have been hearing arguments on two cases regarding who has the ability legally to get married in this country. On Tuesday, the justices heard arguments about the California law, Proposition 8, that disallows gays and lesbians from marrying. On Wednesday, it was the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, a 1990s-era law that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Talk of this case is everywhere you turn – newspapers, broadcast news, magazines, sitcoms, dramas, movies, the salon, the teachers’ lounge. You can’t get away from it.

So on Tuesday, as my 10-year-old was eating breakfast, he watched as talking heads on the Today show discussed what might or might not happen at the Supreme Court.

“That’s so dumb,” he said between bites of his Nutella waffle. “People should be able to get married.”

I agreed.

“Yep,” I said. “I think people should be able to marry whomever they fall in love with, just like your dad and I did.”

But as I said those words, it hit me that I hadn’t always held such a clear-cut opinion on the matter. For years, I just didn’t think about it one way or the other.

I can so clearly see myself at about 4, following my pregnant mother through the short aisles of a little family-owned grocery in my hometown. I don’t know what possessed me, but as we neared the butcher counter at the back of the store, I asked really loudly, “Mom, can two girls get married to each other?”

My mom froze, then continued walking and said, “No.” She said it in such a tone that I knew better than to ask why. So I didn’t.

And truthfully, I didn’t think about it again until I was an adult – and then only because of DOMA.

Yet that piece of legislation, flawed as it is, opened my eyes to those around me who couldn’t lawfully marry their true loves because they happened to be the same gender – a reporter at my newspaper, a photographer I knew, a shoestring relative, a neighbor.

Each time I learned another person I knew was enduring this systemic discrimination, my view of marriage came into sharper focus, like my worldview was being refracted.

I wonder if that’s how it happened for my dad.

See, on Tuesday night, he and I sat next to each other at a concert at my kids’ high school. As the orchestra left the stage and the choir prepared to take it, we made idle conversation. In time, of course, it turned to the topic before the Supreme Court.

My 73-year-old dad said the arguments against allowing gay people to marry are unfounded.

“It’s just cultural,” he said. “They say marriage is between one man and one woman. But in other countries, you can have one man and four women. “

He’s got a point. And he made another cogent one when he said that many of those who oppose same-sex marriage are basing their logic on the Bible and religious teachings, nothing else. They need to be honest about it, he said.

But what a difference 25 years makes. My dad, while never homophobic, didn’t exactly preach marriage for all when he was raising his kids. I’m not sure he personally knew anyone who was out of the closet until he was in his 40s or 50s.

Attitudes change when the abstract becomes concrete, though. It’s easy to dismiss people en masse but less so when you work with them and go to church with them and sit on the sidelines of soccer games with them.

These days, almost every heterosexual I know has a homosexual friend or family member who is out of the closet. The times are changing.

And my dad’s viewpoint has changed, too. A few weeks back, he and my mom met an old friend one Sunday at a funky Kansas City brunch joint. Their friend was in town visiting her son and his partner, who live around the corner from the restaurant. Mom and Dad told me all about the son’s gorgeous old rehabbed house, his success as a teacher, the ginormous dogs he and his partner have.

They might as well have been talking about meeting anyone for lunch, which is as it should be. The times are changing. And they’re changing fast.

That’s what dad said as the lights went down before the choir took the stage for its performance.

“The main reason these guys give for not allowing gays and lesbians to marry is that it’s a change that’s happening too quickly,” he said. “But doesn’t that define conservatism – not wanting any change to happen?

“It’s happening,” he said.

It’s about time.