Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Getting My Irish Up

Years ago, ten in fact, as my husband and I sat through an unpleasant parent-teacher conference that went from bad to worse and downhill quickly, the teacher referred to one of my children as “intense”. Now this may seem a bit odd, but this name-calling as it were, outraged me. Intense? Clearly she had no idea who my child was. Not a clue! Clueless creature that she was had no right referring to my child at all if she didn’t have the decency to at least get to know this particular child of mine. Intense! The very thought! This child was cherubic. Sweet, round-faced, gentle, little muffin of all children from here to the land of Nod.

My association to the word intense was um, intense, and I was so put off by this encounter. Fiddle-de-re! How did this woman receive certification? She wasn’t cut out to be in the presence of children, let alone tell me anything about mine. The mention of her name would send me a-dither. It took about 2 years to come to terms with this. Two years went by before my sweet child was called to the office for a bit of a tousle, as-it were. The child apparently would not let go of his friend’s lei. Or the friend wouldn’t let go of his lei. Some lucky set of grandparents brought it back and bestowed it upon, Oh yes now I remember-the year we all received matching tropical outfits, shirts, sundresses, leis. So the child had the lei on, the friend wanted to touch it, or stretch it or pull it to see if it would rubber-band and snap my child’s neck and so this child of mine reasoned there was nothing else to do but bite- at a time when biting should have been about 4-5 years out of the problem-solving toolbox. Intense. Now I was starting to get it. “Robust” would have garnered familiarity and mutual understanding. Intense sent me down the wrong path. But intense it is, and apparently it is genetic.

I bring all this up to stress my new-found wisdom about myself. My Irishness, as it were. I come from a time and place when the first thing you said on the playground was, “What are you?” When the fool you were talking to said, “Duh, I’m a boy (or girl)” You added and repeated, “No, Duh, but what are you?” They would finally get it and say, “Irish” or “Italian” or “German” or sometimes, “Jewish”. Some combination thereof was becoming more possible and even probable based on the immigration cycles. There wasn’t much diversity beyond this small sampling. It was not quite acceptable to admit: Puerto Rican, or Cuban, Mexican or any other Hispanic allegiance. If you were Black, or African-American, the likelihood that you knew your original heritage was pretty slim. At the very least it wasn’t being shared in the classroom or playground. Certainly not with us Euro-American types. The reality is, most of us were from families that were just surviving, making ends meet and having a difficult time achieving this. Your relation to your ethnicity was a source of pride, and honor that allowed you to feel better than, more important than, and a sense of belonging.

When I first heard the term “Getting your Irish Up”, I thought it was a compliment, a source of pride. Roll your sleeves up and get dirty or feisty or prepare to give or take a tongue lashing! That’s how I have always associated the meaning. I looked into it and stumbled upon its association with negative reactions such as, anger, being quick tempered, short fused. I don’t feel this way. I prefer the concept of an inclination to challenge anything that he considers a slight or a violation of his rights. Well, maybe the part about a violation of rights. Not just mine but anyone’s rights that are being violated, unduly and intentionally violating of rights, really gets me going.

These terms and concepts really came home to me over the past couple of weeks. A friend was sharing an opinion about a neighbor,(for instance) let's call her "Mary Margaret" (just for laughs), another friend attempted to smooth it over by saying, "Oh that’s just how she is, she’s Irish, you know, opinionated, but she's really ok". I got it right away; my eyes glistened and danced the devil’s jig. I smugly thought, "Oh I’m sooo evolved". I used to carry on that way, let my Irish out like I was airing dirty laundry. Now I’m a bit more reserved, collected. We had a good laugh and went on our way. Then we got together again, I was carrying on about some work scenario or another. We started talking about gender differences and leadership qualities. Big, Hairy topics. My Irish can’t be contained. It can go beautifully or very poorly. Quickly. Intensely. Teetering near angrily, depending on what side of the topic you sit on. Depending on whether you just want to sit back and enjoy the company of others or get into a political diatribe that can almost assuredly choke the Blarney and leave it sucking air on the side of the gently rolling hills and green meadows of your desire not to take a stand on something in a moment of peace. My freak flag was flying.

So now what? How do some groups of people, races, genders figure out how to assert themselves appropriately, in a way that garners respect and success? Why do some groups continue to get in their own way and fall prey to the stereotypes and negative connotations? Do I embrace my ethnicity and throw on my Tam-o-shanter and woolen jumper? Do I tamp it down and find the balance of living in the moment?

I may do more research and attempt to more fully understand the ancestral predisposition. The Irish have been an oppressed people for centuries. They have been straightforward, aka, simple, farm people with an appreciation of life. Self-sustaining. Strong and hardy. Quick-witted to ease the challenges and burdens bestowed upon agrarian, early pagan cultures. Robust. Intense. Quick tempered to cope with the threat of tyranny and captivity. Maybe I’ll limit my fighting to the weeds in my garden for a bit until I can come to terms with this. I’ll enjoy life a bit robustly and master my wink while I manage my opinion.

Maybe my afore mentioned child was just attempting to ensure that rights were not being violated, but surely fighting or even biting isn’t typically the best approach. Irish or otherwise, but hearty just the same.

The fourth definition for intense is simply understated and agreeable to me: Deeply felt; profound, Tending to feel deeply.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stay-free and Clear- Shiny Happy Products to be Proud Of

I have noticed this fairly new product, or product line lately. I've noticed it for two reasons. The product is boldly and brightly placed on the center aisle of several local grocery stores and I imagine many others throughout the nation. Maybe it's a worldwide advertising campaign. I don't know. Bright. Bold. Colorful. I think the product itself may be dyed to match the packaging. The brightness made me notice, do a double take. Disbelief runs through my mind, briefly and then I continue on, only slightly bothered, or perplexed and later somewhat offended. I also noticed because of the glaring placement on the center aisle. A big stand in way of grocery store marketing. Almost like airing a commercial during The Superbowl.

The product is a "feminine" product. A "sanitary" product. I recall with much humor the advertising campaigns for these "products" of sanitary fame from my own youth. No brightness, no boldness. We didn't even feel safe naming them or using them. We alluded to the use. We downright denied the purpose. We attempted to disguise them as tennis equipment or horse-lovers accessories. We could use this mysterious unseen, unnamed product only while wearing white pants or shorts and we might know the brand name but not the product. Pad, pantyliner, tampon- never. Kotex, Stay-free, Modess. Free and Clear would have been a more appealing product.

According to Advertising Age magazine, "Until the 1930s, Western doctors treated the female menstrual cycle as a disability and advised menstruating women to refrain from participating in rigorous physical activity." Ads from the 1950s gently prompted American women to avoid using their periods as excuses for being remiss in their responsibilities. "Tending the home, cooking, caring for children, playing hostess or serving their working husbands" could no longer be shirked because of this disabling infliction. I think we needed to be convinced that we could safely take showers during this menacing monthly interlude through advertising or magazine articles. Imagine that? (There may be more to this avoidance and showering thing in relation to that serving-those-working-husbands thing, but maybe that's just my spin.)

For heavens sakes, we just finally stopped needing the belt and harness in my youth. Nursing staff brought that mechanism out post childbirth. I didn't know what to do with it being born, or at least reaching "maturity" in those early stay free days. I do remember my sister behaving as though she had a secret that I would not be allowed to know for a looonnnnnggg amount of time. She is 2 years older than I am, but in early childhood years that makes dog years a bit easier to calculate. Assuredly the word mature was bandied about with her name attached much more often than mine. I, being the late bloomer in a few regions of development. She remained smug in her secret knowledge. She was one freed from the belt system to the beltless stay in place magic. I never felt the honor. I find it unbelievable when some of the "real" women out there attempt to promote some love of the menstrual experience. They are probably part of the current marketing campaign.

Now, we need color, and flash for our woman products. Why? I have two theories but maybe someone else has an inside connection. Until I get the scientific data, here goes:

Young girls who have recently reached maturity need bells, whistles, texting features, and apps to do anything. Or at least that is believed of them. U. This is the branding name because they can't understand Y-O-U. U. Because ""better u than me. U. Because "u have your period and are moody but I'm free and clear". These tampon, pad, panty liner wearing young ones can be marketed to do and buy just about anything and need that tease in order to attend to basic needs related to health and hygeine. We older ones were frightened to death by Toxic Shock Syndrome, TSS, and suffer PTSS along with PMS or PMDD we wanted freedom from belts sooo much we ended up dying from, or threatened by tampon use. No color, no dyes, no fresh scent. How did that fresh scent work anyway? Lipstick on a pig for sure! These young women may also believe (through marketing devices) that we should not need to hide our femininity. We should excitedly profess the need to catch our bodily secretions with fervor. (Did you catch the word secret embedded in secretions- subliminal hogwash? or blatant directive?)

My second theory is based on the hormone enhanced milk, dairy, and chicken products leading to cause our daughters to mature at a much earlier rate. How else can you get hormone-enhanced prepubescent girls to want to use products in their private parts that they just recently discovered? They are menstruating soon after they are potty trained. Check Out the New Line of U by Kotex* Thin Pads for Girls Today! That is the web based tag. Note the use of the word girls. Are they training sanitary products? We all know this is what separates the girls from the women. This is THE launching of womanhood. I'm surprised they don't come with toys in the box or hidden in the products.

The hormone-enhanced chicken and milk and dairy products might want to consider launching a multi-faceted campaign with the feminine products. Color coded for heavy days. Red dye tampons with reddened chicken fingers and rasberry colored chocolate milk. Blue sanitary pads with blue whipped cream covered cream puffs for those medium to light days. Yellow popcorn chicken and yellow panti-liners for those just-because or you-never-know days. No longer do we need to feel embarrased at the checkout line. Even the men in our lives will feel empowered to buy these products. Soon they will have their own boldly colored products. Did you know jock-itch is secretly cured with athletes foot cream? Why the tricks? I say go out there and sing about jock-itch. Hair-festers, warts, hemoroid suppositories- celebrate, feel the love.

All of this for U but not for me. I'm done- free and clear. The chicken, you can see, never enhanced my development.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Be the Change- Better yet be the history changer.

I am many things but undoubtedly the most surprising is history dork. Today I had the opportunity to go to Social Studies Facilitation Training to assist with the scoring of state history tests. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a colleague. She rolled her eyes and shook her head gently and said, “Can you believe some people actually like being here?” I snarkily thought,“Could she believe she was singing my tune?” but weakly submitted (not letting on that I was that very people). Finally, my tribe, my people. History. Conflict. Struggle. Victory, defeat. And all back again and over and over. Repeating itself, but not entirely. Changes, some minute, but others far reaching and emboldened.

If anyone has read even one of my blogs, surely you could read between the lines and determine that I am a history geek. I love the struggle. Most of all I love the suggestion of fighting adversity and winning. Big, glorious, celebrated wins and minor progressions along the way through history appeal to me. Honestly! How do we do it? How do we get up each morning and face the oil spills, the oil wars, the fight for oil? How do we face our children during the economic crises, the common bouts of genocide, the religious hostilities? How do we survive the natural disasters enhanced by the deteriorating geographical characteristics? I love the gumption of mankind or, a-hem, humankind. The very hope and ingenuity. How did we go from Stone Age to this? How far have we come? How much further can we journey, explore, design and implement?

I’m not sure if submitting to the colleague has a real bearing on my place in history. Would I make it, come out on top? I think so. A battle plan. At times we need to keep a low profile, infiltrate the front lines. Sometimes we need to stay the course and tow the line, store our resources for the real fights ahead. Count our losses and regroup. Maybe my place in history won’t be on top. Maybe my place is to keep things moving. Feed and clothe the troops. Sustain. Maybe my own gumption will be the inspiration for another.

But really, who wouldn’t want to be at the facilitation training? Learning about history. Taking part in history, really. We may stop administering this particular test. We may have learned all that we could from exposing young children to dated and difficult manuscripts from the past. Maybe we will provide more difficult manuscripts as a way to filter future oil tycoons or discover the geographical importance of the Gulf wetlands to stabilize a famous port city. So famous in fact that Napoleon Bonaparte was invited to hole up there for a bit during his exile, but never made it. How’s that for history buffiness?

Today I learned more about the Slave Narratives they were inaccurate and minimized accounts of slave history. The information was garnered in a way that did not illicit honest accounts of life as a slave. They were shocking nonetheless and evoked change. More shocking- we include these as primary documents and manscripts for our Document Based Questions. Most shocking- we don’t explain the important detail about how they were created to our students in this particular test and expose them to inaccurate and racially biased data. In essence, we create the cycle for history to repeat itself by not providing ethnically genuine records. Again, today I was taking part in history, but also given the knowledge to invoke change. Me. My fellow teacher's gave me that morsel of power today. Next week I will reveal this information to my students, they too will share this power. Can you imagine someone would not want to be around other professionals sharing knowledge, feeding this great monster called History?

Imagine the other amazing truth about me: Daughter of a Marine, proud and few, I am a peace-loving passivist. Opposed to war and against the use of violent means of all shapes and sizes. Semper Fi and visit forts. Learn about history and keep on keeping on. Be the Change- Better yet be the history changer. Above all else, embrace your geekiness- loudly or to yourself, and always pick your battles wisely.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Garden of Eden This Is Not

My garden and I have a love hate relationship. At times we are in sync and glowing in the light and love we reflect back and forth upon the other. Other times, not so much. Tumult, rage, disgust and despair. We fight each other for time and space. We each know what’s best for the other and still we fight till the end, of day, at least. I assault it with fury- yanking at weeds and invasive flowers that seem to be attempting to overthrow or stage a coup on the less hardy cultivars. Occasionally small air raids are launched as the insects join in the counter attack. Ants seem to have the nastiest bite when you are relocating a small army that had been unwilling to surrender despite the certain defeat.

I don’t generally like to water or use chemicals. I make all efforts to let nature run its course and allow for natural cycles of precipitation to provide liquid refreshment. This year I have succumbed and watered during the driest days. I feel like a woman possessed or obsessed. I know the assorted woodland creatures will pick and choose their favorites. I have previously thought of this as a shared community in a little habitat. My little piece of the circle of life. I have been contemplating chemicals to deter the deer and night creatures from grazing so freely, but I still have time to experiment with organic, home-made concoctions. Last year I tried a bizarre mixture of milk, eggs, salt, cayenne pepper and dish soap- it seemed to help.

I try my best to choose the right mix of perennials. Slowly adding pricey contenders. About ten years back I read a gardening book that suggested, no, aggressively stated brazen contempt for annuals. (The author must have lost a battle with her own garden.) She ranted and raved about the tawdry colors. She regarded them with disdain. Disturbed by their neon like garishness, she certainly convinced me for quite some time that they were pretty close to evil. Fortunately, I was delighted with the results when I decided to purchase a couple of flats to bring color into my garden for a graduation party a few years back, while awaiting the inflexibility of my honored perennials. I now enjoy experimenting with varieties of annuals to enhance and complement my garden as the perennials remind me who’s boss. I think of it this way; a few temporary “employees” have enhanced many a company, a few temporary annuals are doing wonders in my garden.

From the earliest signs of spring I start to live and breathe for this garden. I plot and plan. I pore over books and try to learn the names and functions of plants and flowers. I start to clean up last years stray leaves and overturn the soil. I buy seeds, next a few perennials, annuals, a new tool to replace a damaged or worn one. I await the growth, and attempt to name some from their shoots. I am admittedly not very good at this. A few get yanked as weeds, a few weeds reach maturity only to get yanked later.

This garden is therapy, stressor, distraction, and bane. I love it. At least when I’m not hating it. By July- I give in and up to the heat and the work and start to entertain the other delights of summer, like hiking the rest of the Adirondack High Peaks- 3 down, 43 to go.....

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Key to Leaving Home

My oldest son left home this morning. His smile clear and wide, across his face. The smile read; excitement, a little nervous glee, maybe uncertainty, should my face be so happy and joyous as I say goodbye? Yes, I believe it should be so happy to go. To embark on one's life after graduating college. Success, celebrated.

We have no honored, tried and true rituals, rites of passage for this event as a culture. As a family, we spent the weekend together in the Adirondacks in a tiny cottage, close quarters, fragile and tender. We had a special dinner and went out to the local ice cream shop last night. This morning, I awoke, made banana muffins and was forunate enough to have one before our high strung beagle managed to scarf down three. ( No love lost here.) We had a group hug, my husband and I embraced him tightly. My younger son said, "See you in a few years for my graduation!" as he ambled off to school. His own excitement and anticipation of moving on loosely masked by his manly, unemotional goodbye. His emotions typically are warn on his sleeves, in full view. My daughter said goodbye with enough love emanating from her very being to surely keep him from harm on his journey.

He left. I finished readying myself for work. Sat briefly with my daughter, who gently asked how I was. Ok. I thought. I moved through the house, with eery ease. Couldn't find my keys. Frantically searched, asked and then demanded help, accused the sweet daughter. Couldn't hear a word she said as she attempted to make sense for me. Through my projected panic and transferrence of loss I stomped around, sighing, searching and after enough distraction, remembered that I went to the garden after the ice cream setting my keys on the table that my son recently brought- home.

The rites and rituals need a little adjusting, the heart, the home is easily transported and forever connected. We did it. We launched our first son, safely, happily, with much love.