Saturday, March 27, 2010

Zero Tolerance for Sarah Palin’s Subversive Activities and Threats

We live in a time and place where violent acts are carried out and innocent lives are lost. University of Alabama-Huntsville, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Jonesboro instantly bring to mind the violence and loss of lives of innocent people. Because of these horrific events, safety procedures are carried out in many schools whenever a threat is made public. Yet, Sarah Palin has 20 virtual gun-sights aimed at government officials and violent, militant rhetoric in an effort to rally votes on her internet sites. I believe the outrageousness of Sarah Palin’s recent Facebook page needs to be taken seriously and viewed as threatening. Investigations and Safe Legislative procedures are called upon immediately after a school receives or discovers a potential threat. Students in our public schools are held to higher standards and consequences. Sarah Palin instead, receives media coverage and additional accolades while inciting various hate groups to take action.

As if the Facebook decision wasn’t offensive enough, Palin went on to add "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" on her twitter account. When called out on it she weakly defended the statement as a call for “votes, not guns”. I don’t recall ever having to RELOAD bullets, or anything after casting my ballot. I am unclear of the reference. While she may be facing some criticism for these choices, I believe criminal investigations would be more appropriate. The United States Code specifically outlines federally recognized criminal activities related to threats and acts against the government. Read more in United States Code, Title 18, PART I CHAPTER 115 2383. Rebellion or insurrection, 2384. Seditious conspiracy and 2385. Advocating overthrow of Government.
The ground swell of hate crimes and violence that has increased is not only disturbing but it seems to be a threat to our so-called Homeland Security. I believe these actions need to be addressed and dealt with in a more serious manner.

This type of bullying and aggressive behavior is reminiscent of the type of tension and violence perpetuated during the Civil Rights movement, ending in the death of several great leaders. Recent death threats made to Reps. Louise Slaughter and Bart Stupak could surely be related to the militant rallying that Sarah Palin and her like-minded quasi-militia have been making at their tea parties.

Do we need to spend additional monies to defend the nation from internal threats to our national security? Hasn’t everything else been jeopardized enough by the irresponsible spending, war debts and continued expenditures, and bail-outs that Bush relinquished to President Obama? If Sarah Palin and her conservative pit-bulls are truly interested in the greatness of this country, why are they working so diligently to stop its functioning?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rebirth, Seeing with New Eyes

I have been enjoying a bit of a rebirth lately. A nice tie in to the season of Lent. I am at this funny place in my life when I suddenly have some time for myself. Trying out a little yoga, writing, being creative when time allows. A rebirth. Although, my rebirth is more to do with aging than sacrifice, there are definite overlapping precepts here. As I have aged up to this point there have been many sacrifices, this much is true. I sacrificed my time, blood, sweat and tears to provide for and support my children- ohhhh the suffering I could lament, but truly for the most part, I have really enjoyed being a mother and watching my children grow. I am one of those Kahlil Gibran fans:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

Maybe having the children grow the way they do, and what with all the enjoyment I was having, I hadn’t realized or had any bit of time, to enjoy pursuits of my own. Simple things, and easily available. I am in a good place right now. So good, in fact that people have noticed and commented. I am liking this aging thing. Right now.

One of the oddest perks of aging is starting to reveal itself. My vision has changed. The idea that I can’t read anything without glasses anymore isn’t a perk. There are, however, two vision related benefits that I am really enjoying and they seem somehow connected. The first one works like this, you see someone from your past and you can’t believe how old they look. Wow, have they aged! Boy life must have been hard on them. You start to feel a little better about yourself, you appreciate the simple things, your health, your good fortune. (Of course, the vision of that person works the same way, he or she can’t believe how old you look!). You can see how much everyone else ages, but you don’t see it in yourself as harshly. You actually look pretty good in comparison! You walk off from the experience a little taller and straighter, with your gut sucked in.

The second vision perk is not quite as ophthalmologically related. It is more about an outlook or more pointedly, a glossing over. Things you can’t bare to see just yet, start to have a fuzzy, Hollywood blur to them. This one I didn’t see coming. I am more the pragmatic, stoic type. The "put it right out there in broad daylight so I can deal with it" approach is more my style. Lately, I have been very accepting of this fuzzy view. My bleary sightedness hit home this week when I received my son’s College Commencement schedule. I didn’t eagerly rip it open and start planning. I glanced and then put it aside to let the dog out. I noticed an event or two and brought up the imagery of the setting and then went about my business. I thought how beautiful the garden would soon be…. My son is graduating from college in two months. He will be relocating a couple thousand miles away. While I suck in my gut and feel a little cocky about how great I look, I don't need to look so closely at anything else.

I finally "see" the benefits of denial. Of course everyone else around me is looking a little to the side of me as they wait to watch me grasping my son's ankles as he pulls off and drives into his great future. I can't imagine why they "see" me this way. I'm going to go out and rake and watch Spring come into bloom. A rebirth. A new life. See? Aren't the forsythia beautiful just about now?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pedantic Semantics Around Change

Today, being an historic day, it is worth mentioning the passing of the Health Care Reform Bill. I don't understand all of it's complexities but I have been seeing most of the nation's politics of late, as a large scale game of 3-card Monte or a Shell game of sorts. Keep your eye on the prize and watch very closely.

If you are interested in Shell number 1, you have been let down by the unconstitutionality of "forcing" citizens to pay for a service, unless you call that service "freedom", or the defense fund and then you don't mind being forced to pay for a service, but you call it "taxes". Some of us call it health insurance, and that can also be called "freedom".

If you believe shell number 2 has the prize, you are somewhat elated and relieved that your support and determination paid off and now we may all have health care benefits. You are happy that we all have the freedom to choose. Wait, look closer, if you are a woman and you want to make a reproductive health choice, you still may not have the right shell. That choice may no longer be available to you because the health insurance that you have to pay for, decides what is deemed an appropriate choice, maybe you can pay for an additional plan. Maybe that plan is under shell number 3.

If you want shell number 1, you can yell, "baby killer" if you don't get the right shell, although you are funding wars and supporting the killing of babies, children, and adults. But maybe you believe babies are cute especially the unborn ones. Keep the focus there. You don't generally seem to notice that without the availability of health insurance, many more babies, unborn or otherwise have died or "been killed" if you will, because the access to health care for women has always been disproportionate to men based on issues around gender inequality in the workforce and other little nuances. Women have been denied health insurance because they tend to somehow make those babies, crafty little buggers aren't we? That's a bit expensive for the health care providers and it really isn't right to force other people, like men, for instance, to pay for all those babies is it?

Those darn disproportionate number of men, and a few women in Washington will figure out a way to stay focused on the pedantic semantics of the health care reform bill instead of moving onto the next big issue like bail-outs, bonuses, economic stimulus, debt relief programs to help the economy. Or maybe we can start to focus on green energy, off-shore drilling, nuclear power and wind-power for reducing oil dependency. Oh but that might get us to strengthen our economy and give us a reason to stop wielding our democracy and freedom to gleen capitalist gains for a new tomorrow. Is that possible? Could we be innovative and productive and pave the way for the future? Could we do this and remain true to the democratic ideals and values highlighted in that constitution? Oh, heavenly day, I think we can, but we will all somehow need to get along and give in a bit for the greater good.

I am hopeful that the healthcare reform legislation will create opportunities for continued dialogue about women's health issues and eliminate gender discrimination. I am also hopeful that some of the disruptive and devisive oponents of equality and constitutional rights for all may be exposed and held accountable for their unprofessional and I dare say, "unpatriotic" behavior. That might mean the death threats that are being issued to Democratic Representatives and their families might need to cease and desist.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Potty Chart Parenting

There is a commercial that I have been thinking about lately. It’s for a large greeting card corporation. My first viewing was positive. It was sweet. The premise; an angelic little girl named Molly is about to start a test in her Spanish class. (Lucky child, she has Spanish at the elementary level.) She is a little anxious but suddenly a multi-media movement to equal a presidential campaign ensues. A truck drives by with a motivational banner, the chalk board has a personally encouraging message, video message, and t-shirts with inspiration abound. The idea is to get us parents to purchase cards to encourage our children to study? Believe in themselves? Imagine they are the most important person in the world? Ummm, study?

So I get to thinking, as I do. And remembering. When I was a young-un the commercials on tv, back when you had to actually walk across the room to change them, went like this: "It’s ten o’clock, Do you know where your children are?" And, "Have you hugged your child today?" Maybe we were so depraved as children that we not only want to hug our children, but we want to encourage and support and influence every aspect of their lives. We want to watch every minute of their spectacular existence. We practically want to chew their food so it will be easier for them to swallow. We call other parents and demand to know why our perfect child wasn’t invited to their imperfect child’s party. We help them do their homework because their little hands get tired. Sometimes we demand that their grades get changed or their classes re-assigned, if they are not up to the image we have projected onto them. We call their bosses and demand that they get to do the work, wear the clothes, take the breaks that they want to. It typically goes south here, but unfortunately, not always.

So, where the heck were we at ten o’clock at night that public health services had to pay millions of dollars to remind our parents that we were missing? Obviously, we were in some sort of capitalist merchandising cult being brainwashed on how to deem our own children virtually incapable of doing much without a full orchestra, expensive prizes, a public relations campaign and catering trucks to encourage them to what? Ask us to purchase more products to reward them for breathing through the night?

Children need to be hugged, no doubt. But there are definite stages of development that they typically move through that are generally in place to ensure that they may be able to do so many things on their own. Once you move past the potty chart, potty movie, and potty behavior modification program count yourself a verified trainer and do the new potty dance, Oh there is one-just google it! You can apply the potty chart to just about any behavior. The trick is to pull out the stops a little sooner and limit the reward system. Can you imagine giving a twelve year old a sticker for producing anything on the potty? No thank you! So, why then, do we need to provide this level of support if they do their homework or make their own lunches?

Some may believe I am a bit too harsh, or strict. When my oldest son was in 8th or 9th grade, he rode his bike to a student organized theater group. I had community members call me because my son was “caught” riding his bike to this extracurricular activity. Granted it was about 2 (gasp) miles away from our home, but I have 3 children and at that time, they all had different needs and schedules. I was going to school and working at the time. My husband was also working. Somehow we did not get the home by 2:10 to drive your children anywhere they want or need to go schedule from the work gods. He was able to be a part of the decision making process. “You can join, but I will not be available to drive you there”. I didn’t think having my son ride his bike was particularly wrong or cruel, he was advised and instructed how to do this safely and he had strict orders to call when he got there or he would not be able to go the next day. It taught him to problem solve and be self-reliant. I hope it also helped to plant a seed that sometimes when you want something you have to work at it. I think exercise and riding a bike are basically ok and a nice part of youth. I also think he actually felt a little proud that he was able to do this independently. I did pick him and his bicycle up after rehearsal, because I was available at that time.

My youngest son is now in high school. He tells me that some of his friends still don’t make their own lunches or clear their plates at dinner. Of course he has been telling me that since he was five. I think if you can turn a door knob, wipe your face, and clap your hands, you are developmentally adept at throwing together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Twist off the top, spread the soft spreads, clap them together, Voila! That’s not how I presented it to my children, but honestly! I carried on and made my voice sound overjoyed- as though they were the very first children to make something so extraordinary. My youngest wasn’t quite so impressed with my pride and joy in his independent skills. He enjoyed the thrill but only the first couple of times, or maybe once. It quickly becomes a task or chore after that. The first born, he could at least impress his younger siblings and gloat about the independence and get out of Dodge on that bike of his.

Looking back my oldest does sometimes laugh at the idea. He reminds me how far it was. But there is still pride in his voice and he also wonders why other kids aren’t allowed or sometimes expected to do things on their own. I think back too. Remember when we had to stand in the kitchen attached to a phone? Ride our bikes to have adventures and freedom from our parents? Turn the channel on the tv? Walk to a community bus stop instead of getting picked up in our own driveways? Went out into the world without cell phone umbilical cords connected to our parents and usually made it home for dinner? Got a low grade and only then, understood the importance of studying? Got in trouble and our parents didn’t make it easier on us because they knew it was more important for us to learn from the error than to come out of childhood unscarred. Find the balance. Don’t allow the trouble to get so deep that the wounds are incapable of healing, but let your children experience their own mistakes so they may learn and grow and improve. When they get their first speeding ticket do they truly need a lawyer? If so, there's a bigger problem here.

It’s ten o’clock, did you allow your child to function independently at least once today? Teach your children well. Sit back and give yourself a pat on the back and 2 gold stars.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Advice for Eliot Spitzer’s comeback campaign: Attend Sensitivity Training

I am an unapologetic dyed-in-the-cotton type democrat. (wool seems uber Republican) I stand strong for the philosophy and programs that are frequently presented and backed by the Democratic party line. With that said, however, it is getting harder and harder to feel valued and respected as a voter, who happens to be a woman, by these fellows that I often help vote into office.

For me, it started with Clinton. Eliot Spitzer brought it closer to home. New York, that is. I was a big Clinton fan. Yet as much as we want to believe the Monica Lewisnsky scandal was more about his sexual appetite then, say, his political leadership qualities, it bothered me a great deal. We’re all adults though, and everyone has sex, or most of us, at some point. So why can’t these men be honest and upfront about their sexual needs? Oh, it’s private you think? Great, keep it private. It becomes everyone’s business because often these acts are done dishonestly and disgracefully. They often involve secret meetings, financial disclosure issues, obstruction of power, and a vast umbrella of other character destroying behaviors.

And if that’s not enough we have to see the sad wives and distraught children who suffer the public humiliation, we have to see unattractive photos of sleazy, scantily clad women and photos of evidence, undergarments, cigars, hotels and apartments where the notorious dalliances take place. Because after all, this has nothing to do with the role of a leader and this is so much more interesting then important issues like the economy, war, education and healthcare. This, of course you remember, is a private matter.

I believe being honest and upfront are pretty important character traits if you are the president, or the governor, or senator, or everyman, and ahem, everywoman. Being a faithful spouse is not part of the job description, but I imagine somewhere there might be something to do with how one behaves regarding their views on human rights. The way all humans are treated, even women. I think it might be interesting to find out specifically how these candidates and elected officials view women. This of course would be difficult to determine, what with all that privacy. What evidence would absolutely qualify how a man views women? We can’t exactly ask and expect an honest answer. Can we?

In the case of former Governor Eliot Spitzer, we don’t need to. Someone else did, according to Time Magazine, Spitzer was asked why he didn't simply have an affair, he explained that buying sex from prostitutes was less of a "violation" of his marriage than a love affair with an "emotional component" would have been. Spitzer explained, "I know this is parsing it very thin, but the emotional component would have in some ways been a worse violation." Spitzer thought it best to have sex with women that had very little value or importance to him. In this way, he was somehow more respectful to his wife and daughters and all the other women out there, except the less valued ones. Some women are worthy of emotional attachment and some are simply sexual objects. Who gets to decide this and what must us little women do to become worthy? Exactly how worthy can you be if your husband is out there sleeping with prostitutes in an effort to not violate your marriage too much?

It probably isn’t found imbedded in the Politician’s Handbook, but treating women with dignity and respect, equality and value should be a given, or at least a real ambition at this point. Constituents are voted in based on their views and beliefs and how they best represent those that vote for them. I should be able to know if a candidate is blatantly treating women as sub-humans. A little strong? Yes I agree, but I feel strongly about this. I don’t agree with the idea that this behavior can be separated from the character and leadership ability of someone in public office. I don’t expect that we should all be flawless and perfect individuals. I can’t dictate how someone else’s marriage should be structured but I don’t imagine in most of these situations the wives are informed and complacent partners to these crimes.

I don’t imagine the women that were of little importance were in this position because they hoped or believed they were not valued. Although I am certain they were not innocent bystanders, either. I don’t imagine the young intern had the emotional wisdom to know that she was not ever going to be an equal partner in her relationship. I have very little tolerance for women that contribute to this model and the men that continue to disregard the value of women.

It’s time to push for Equal Rights for women. It’s time for more women to run for office and represent women’s issues. It’s time for men to be able to look at their daughters and wives and expect from themselves the same they expect for their daughters. How many politicians would ask that their daughters be mistreated, devalued and thought of with little regard? It’s time for a new round of sensitivity training with measurable outcomes. It’s time for me to carefully consider if the candidates I vote for truly value my vote, if not I will be looking for someone who does. And please, keep your privates private!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Keep Hospice Care, Give Academic Expectations a Shot in the Arm

Early civilizations spread their ideas and concepts through cultural diffusion. The early members of an agricultural society shared their methods with members of the Iron Age and the steak and pepper kabob was invented. Before you knew it the best pasta chefs from China had influenced and changed Italian meals for eternity. Or something to that end. In this global economy we are all one click away from each other. The sharing of ideas, technology and system specific workstyles are evident all around us. Walk into any Old Navy and see how their employees can deal with a folding, or stocking crisis, land a plane or do back-up dance moves for The Back Street Boys. I don’t exactly know what the head gear is for, they may all be voice-to-texting their own blogs for all I know. We function from the boardroom to the bedroom scheduling meetings, utilizing different motivational principles in our conversations, and use various tools that originated from a variety of fields throughout the world. Web-based businesses, hospitals, education systems, auto companies, and every industry in-between share concepts and ideas to make things work more efficiently and strengthen the end product. Some of this industrial diffusion is good, others not so much.

I work in an economically deprived middle school. Rather than go on and on about how no one in particular and everyone in between is hurting our children’s future and the nation's as well, I am looking within the system at a growing issue that is infiltrating our schools and our communities. I don’t know how it started or who introduced the concept but we need to keep it out of our schools- hospice care. Hospice Care is invaluable to many. Hospice, in its beginning, offered shelter and rest, or "hospitality" to weary and sick travelers on a long journey. Today, hospice care provides compassionate care and support for people and families suffering from the last phases of incurable disease. I can not imagine what life and the process of death and grieving would be like without Hospice Care.

In this middle school setting, however, and I am certain in others, the hospice philosophy is applied to students that appear to have no hope, their interest in education has been suffering a slow painful death. It is generally a small group but it seems to be growing. These students are no longer expected to get to classes on time. They won’t be able to do the work anyway. Why bother making life more uncomfortable for them? They don’t always get reported if they are missing. Oh they will turn up, don’t worry the small stuff. Who wants to babysit them or heaven forbid have the other students see what they can get away with. They don’t get disciplined. Aren’t their lives already so difficult? They don’t do their homework, it doesn’t matter, there aren’t consistent or tangible consequences for homework anymore anyway. And we all know they don’t have support at home. Oh, except mine, and probably yours too.

I believe we may be able to trace some of this type of hospice-like philosophy sharing to the cross-cultural integration of the Oprah and Dr. Phil counseling techniques that everyone is now custom fitted with and able to provide to others. We need to support and nurture these children. This is true, but I don’t know about the statistal data to support the impact of ignoring-by-nurturing. We need to validate their feelings and empower them to share their feelings. “Sweety, tell me again why you couldn’t open your text book? Oh punkin, I hear you saying, because you hate school? Oh I understand. Tell me all about that, we can go sit and I can help teach you how to professionally avoid work because darling, when you don’t graduate from high school, you get a big old box of money that appears on your front door step any time you want it”.

I am so much a proponent of tough-love techniques, (probably introduced to me on The Phil Donahue Show). Oh, Phil wasn’t soft. Old school. Clear expectations and immediate consequences. If being in the classroom doing work is the goal, discipline should not feel good or be attractive. Leave that for education, sure there’s work to be done here. Don’t get me wrong I am all about love and support. At the right time and in the right place. Anyone with a toddler knows, all the love and hugs in the world won’t stop them from wanting a bag of candy at the checkout line. And, We all know if you give in now, just count yourself a Walmart statistic. Oh, honestly we’ve all been one checkout line away from a CPS call at least in our inner thoughts, when the baby is screaming and you forgot to pack a bottle because you would just be a minute, and your 4 year old will NOT stop asking for a bag of m &m’s after you already gave in to the sugary cereal and the lunch snack pack processed pizza. You can’t find your debit card and you are a screaming mimi away from letting loose to tell that four year old just what you might do if they ask for the candy one more time. You need to take control and sometimes stay firm because the lesson will be learned with time and consistency. A firm stare down goes a lot further than a huggy, mushy kiss to get a toddler to stop something.

But back to the school based tough love strategies. If you constantly give in and allow a child or student to do what they want a funny thing happens. They constantly want you to give them things. They come to expect that from you. They prolong the behavior and fail to learn that the universe doesn’t operate this way. They also miss out on learning that they have strengths and skills and something to offer. You can’t just walk around asking for things without offering anything in return. I think a big old sip of reality is important. If there are students that don’t want to do their school work at the middle school level, it is not going to get a whole lot easier at the high school level. College won’t be an option without the diploma. If they don’t really like the hours now, there are not too many entry level positions that give them weekends off and allow them to choose their own preferred schedules.

Of course it is much deeper than this. There are so many issues in schools and homes and society. At times figuring out effective non-confrontational way to deal with an adolescent isn’t always easy. Sometimes it may feel more effective to use the old hospice technique. Make them comfortable. Avoid pain. Go further-if I am nice to you, you will be nice to me, colleagues and/or staff will be happy that I am getting you out of their hair and everyone’s a winner! Right? Wrong, it happens again tomorrow and the next day. The messages that are really being sent to these students include: “I want to make this as easy as possible", "You don’t have much to offer so why put you in a class with engaged learners and ruin it for them.” “I don’t value your worth.” “I don’t expect different behavior from you.” “I feel sorry for you, because I am better than you.” “I don’t have the time to invest in you or your future and that’s ok because no else seems to care enough to do that, at least I am (seemingly) happy to see you.” The students don’t understand that there may be underlying meanings just yet, they think they are outsmarting the system. A firm stare down, a clear expectation goes a long way here, too.

The classroom and school expectations don’t have to be impossible, and they typically aren’t , but they should offer clear guidelines and tangible rules. Being expected to do work that is sometimes challenging and maybe even difficult or unpleasant will be long term expectations. They need a level of skill and expertise to pull this off. Getting along with others and being able to follow directions will be utilized far more than hanging out in hallways and bathrooms. Self-control needs to be taught and expected and then practiced. Being prompt and punctual are also life skills for all jobs and many commitments. The academics will carry students far. The general social expectations are needed regardless.

None of this is rocket science, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to encourage and support an unlikely rocket scientist and let them know they have what it takes to go out in the world with value? We need to stop venerating the problems and enabling students to disengage in their educations. We don’t all have to know or imagine that these children have tough lives to determine whether we are going to provide hospitality to these weary academic-avoidance travelers. Seriously, if they do have tough lives maybe we can provide them with extra skills rather than fewer. Don’t they need them the most? Shouldn’t we teach them about clear boundaries and the rewards of meeting goals and expectations? We could teach them about self-respect and dignity so they might learn how to be respectful and expect more from themselves. We can provide experiences they may not otherwise have and begin to understand their true worth.

Keep the headsets in Old Navy, the Hospice Care in the Health domain and check for those hall passes and homework assignments. You can still say hello and smile sweetly.

“You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it. And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future."
President Barack Obama 2010

So much for that box full of money dream!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Facebook status: Live everyday like its your midlife crisis.

My 18 year old daughter posted this 2 days ago. I initially had a worried, nervous, practically maniacal response to this. Not only because I have been watching those around me, leap, run, crawl toward, and flee from this very real status recently, but because I have been poking and picking at my own mid-life review process of late. I wanted to immediately explain this was not a good goal or ambition. People's lives are turned up-side down by this life stage. This was not something to joke about, or post. Men have been advanced in this domain, but my God, women are going for it with the same reckless abandon in spades!

I breathed through it. I did not hit the comment button. I decided to give it more thought. I attempted to see it through her eyes. Buying a fast sportscar, staying out for all hours, looking for an attractive, interested diversion to the daily grind, making plans to travel without thought of anyone else's needs or plans, ending a relationship that has gone sour, dressing like you're 16 again....and not having concerns that you look old and foolish. Ok these all seem pretty appealing well, most. I don't have to tell her anything. There is no need to impart great wisdom or fear in her. Truth is, I might title this blog "Woman in Control", but I don't always maintain control. I posted something to the snarky effect of "Oh, act like a selfish adolescent, I get it."

I recently bought new living room furniture. It was an "I'm getting new living room furniture, damn it" moment. The old set was ten years old. It wasn't very comfortable and I was tired of avoiding the living room. I decided to order the furniture and shared the news after the fact. I did offer to send it back if my husband didn't like it, but it was a bold move for me just the same. I told my daughter it was my mid-life crisis act. Purchased with abandon. A little pathetic on the mid-life crisis scale. But I've never really fit in or followed the crowd, I generally don't know where the crowd gets the directions from and so I just avoid the crowd. Anyway, my daughter brought home a friend and said, "Do you like my Mom's mid-life crisis furniture?" I felt a tad embarrassed. As though we switched roles and she was sharing dumb things I said with her friends as if it was funny to report to others the dumb things I say. I guess I was feeling like an adolescent. (It would be different if the furniture was commissioned from Maarten Baas, but noooo it's big, soft, paisley JCPenney eye candy.)

I do get some of the appeal of the usual mid-life crisis distractions but I prefer to conduct myself with some of that afore mentioned control just the same. I wish that I got to this stage and everything was in order. My friendships strong yet relaxed. My marriage, always a safe port to come home to, with just the right amount of mystique and intrigue, I wish I had relaxed a bit more all the way through, especially during the times I took things so seriously and worked myself into a tizzy. Thinking my convictions so important and necessary to enact change, has made me a little tired. I wish I hadn't exerted so much energy on problems that weren't so important and would have settled easier had I not kept at them. Maybe it would have really been ok if my children took a day off from school just once for pleasure. I kinda think we would have survived that. And the bedroom cleaning might have been taken more seriously if I wasn't engaged in the -standing in the middle of them, screaming with my hair on fire and the pea soup projectile vomit routine. Who could relate that to making your bed or picking up laundry?

This is my mid-life review. Crisis is ever so dramatic. I prefer to review what's working and what's not. I want to make some changes in myself and be ok with that, and maybe change again if it doesn't quite fit or feel right. I have slowly been realizing, I can't really do a lick of change to those around me. That really gives me a lot more time to focus on my own needs and desires. (Ha! A mid life mini moment! Attend to myself!) I don't currently have the urge to buy a fast car. I do want to go out dancing, even if I look foolish. I want to spend time with my husband and behave a bit like adolescents, dorky and with abandon. Oh I mean, really cool, phat, and amped. I def want to move my badonkadonk on the ba dancefloor. And if someone gave me the keys to a Dodge Viper, I would sooooo drive away in it. But I would come back and curl up on my new couch and maybe read a book, or call a friend, or smile at my husband, just to keep him guessing.

Oh and by the way, my daughter was having a conversation with some friends when one shared, "I'm having a mid-life crisis." She scoffed at him and informed him that he couldn't be having a mid-life crisis, he was only 19. To which he questioned- "How do you know this isn't the middle of my life? I don't know how long I'm going to live. I need to make some changes. " So they got to talking about it....great idea really- make changes, grow, repair. Do it all along the way. Don't wait until it has turning-lives-upside-down crisis stamped all over it and you end up squeezing your big old badonkadonk into a little bitty Viper looking not so much like Demi Moore as you might like to hope.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Men: Wear your pants, or not.

A woman in control is a powerful entity. Yet woman, control, powerful in the same statement connotes negative imagery for many. After watching a few commercials aired during the Superbowl, I recently had a conversation with a psychologist who noted that the role of men in our society is in a transitional phase. Men are being advised to "Wear the pants" as though women have taken them away. They are being told they need to put the toilet seats down, as if that is a bad thing. They are being given permission to get in their fast cars and drive away. They deserve it after all they have to put up with. Unfortuntely, I imagine an out-take of a woman dancing through the house on the news of his departure. The ads didn't exactly provide a motivator for any changes in women. The men were not so appealing.

The women's movement of the 60's and 70's changed the way women saw themselves and provided some guidance to how we function in many areas of our lives today. It has taken years for us women to realize the impact this movement has had. We are still writing the script and revising it to fit different phases of our lives.

The male bird, however, is a different species altogether! There was a weak attempt at getting men to eat quiche at one point. This would somehow prove their masculinity once and for all. An egg pie presented to provide nourishment and sustenance for men, real men, not Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "girly men". Sensitive men ate it and felt empowered to do so. Strong and brave souls, they! It didn't get embraced by the masses and men seem to continue to be struggling with their roles. The egg pie didn't solve any problems although it is certainly enjoyed and featured on many tables. Most acceptable for brunch though, not a "real" meal even.

The term "sensitive men" has a similar feel to "powerful women". Not typically thought of as compliments. We seem to be a cross generation of people that want to change some of the rules and roles modeled by our parents but we don't seem to have the internal compasses needed to bushwhack the trails. We make some headway and then we run to the false safety of the known. For the most part our fathers worked and brought home money. The equivalent of going out in the wilderness and killing something dangerous and dragging it home to eat. Survival of the fittest, brought to you by "man". Rules and guidelines were a bit clearer. You fit or you didn't. You defined yourself by rigid expectations. If you didn't you kept quiet and faked it. This belief system continued through the ages. Only recently have we started altering these constraints. Listen to my great sigh of release here, "Sigh!" I believe much of this is a result of the women's movement, the slow aftershock. There may be more hope to come.

The role of women has changed drastically on some fronts but not so much on others. While most of us have a job, or career, outside the home, we are still quietly and not so quietly expected to manage the inside of home. Take care of the children. We contribute financially, and some of them in turn help-out with a few of the household tasks. Not all of us operate this way, but statistically speaking-most. The line is dug deep in the sand, but "women's work" seems to take up a greater proportion of the sandbox.

Some of my most ambitious friends work long hours in stressful jobs. They are leaders in their fields and valued employees and yet they go home, after picking up the kids, make dinner with the food they shopped for, clean-up or request help in cleaning, supervise homework, sports events, extra-curricular activities, cajole, prod, calm, and prepare all to start again the next day.

We are viewed as harpies. Nags. We emasculate. We made chicken, again. We did not ask the right questions or put enough effort into really listening. Who do we think we are? We didn't put on a nice outfit and pour a martini. We also didn't feel listened to or attended to. We are all so busy and so challenged in understanding the new roles. And we are in a bit of a crisis. We want change.

We all, men and women alike, want to be taken care of and heard. We all want to be valued. Here lies the problem: If our fathers went out and returned with a slab of meat and our mothers cooked it up for dinner, we all got to eat. If we both bring home the slab of meat, or the egg pie, who cooks it and who's hungry anymore after setting up opposing camps to determine who cooks it? Who cares about the details and why?

We put so much time and effort into understanding how we are being short-changed by the other side. Maybe we need a new game plan. Why don't we assign roles, mutually? I love to fix thinks. Regretfully, I started to view this as another thing I'm doing, that he's not. He didn't ask me to. He would have paid to have someone else fix it (I would have had to make the phone call-but that's another day). But I like to fix things. Man's work? Not so much. He cooks some incredible meals with food he shopped for. We got here too begrudgingly. It might have helped along the way to have sat down and looked over some of the jobs and decided how to cooperatively share them. Instead at times, we kept track of the disproportionate share of responsibilities one had and the other didn't. I am hopeful that we could still meet and discuss new ways to tackle the jobs and celebrate the outcomes.

If we only look at how our fathers operated and millennia of men before them, how do we start to make collaborative changes? Long term and healthy changes? We can each assign or take on roles or at least be aware of them. They don't need to be rigid and they can be shared and altered and redesigned to fit the lifestyle we personally determine as a couple and a family. We all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table, let's enjoy whatever feast is available. Someone put the martini mix in the freezer and decide whose turn it is to serve it tomorrow. Throw some ham in the quiche, someone cook it. Enjoy! Wear whatever suits you. Men can wear their pants, or not. Just because skirts for men have not caught on doesn't mean it's a bad idea, yet, maybe? Whatever, try not to get so caught up in the details.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cher and Madonna- The One-Named Wonders of the World of Women Role Models Et Al

A show down between Madonna and Cher.I have been toying with this idea for quite some time. (Almost 20 years in fact.) I imagine a dividing line forming between women. A call to feminists and the revival of feminism. I'm not sure how it might be conceptualized. A media blitz competition for sure, Roller Derby? American Idol? A panel of women discussing more relevant feminist issues and enacting change? Ah, the notion. Women in control taking control of their lives. But not so quick.

It may seem strange to focus on Cher and Madonna, but stay with me. Two weeks ago, I saw Love, Loss and What I Wore on Broadway (or a little bit to the SW of Broadway). There is a line about Madonna and her various phases or resurrections if you will; Desperately Seeking Susan, Like A Virgin, Vogue, and the connection that any woman over or under a certain age has, based on a Madonna-inspired clothing item of her past. I was pleased to be over the designated age to relate, but admittedly enjoyed many a night at Danceteria with my asymmetrical coif and black leggings pre-Susan. Cher's wardrobe has its own connotations and opened the door for many after. But I digress. I am not so interested in the feathers and beads, or the conical undergarments. Two women, inspiring so many. Yes, inspiring, but here is where they differ, who they inspired and how.

The very mention of Madonna tends to infuriate me. My husband gets very concerned about my reaction and in turn, my well being. He doesn’t understand and he’s put off by my intense reaction. He believes women are generally equal to men, at least for the most part. He doesn’t experience the everyday subliminal, coercive, and at times blatant reminders that we are not. So I decided to write my thoughts and lay my feelings to rest or share them with the virtual world at the very least.

I was born in 1963. In the early 1970's I was too young to understand the works of Gloria Steinem or Betty Freidan. Watching The Sonny and Cher Show was amazing to me. Here was a woman, exotic, funny, and taller than her husband. Wow! Through my 9 year old eyes, I was seeing and hearing a woman that seemed to have a voice of her own. She spoke her mind. She was witty and intelligent. She sparred with her husband and he sparred back. He did not humiliate or belittle her for having her own opinion. She sang with him and she sang alone. Here was a role model for girls. The very possibility that a woman could be an equal partner in her marriage was incredible for me to witness. It was truly inspiring. I had no dreams of becoming a movie star or a singer but I dreamed of having a strong voice, my voice and the freedom to use it.

I was raised at a time and in a place where women were not equal, not even close. Myself, and many of my female college friends were the first women in our families to attend college. We knew we had an opportunity not available to our own mothers. Many ambitious and interesting women starting their journeys in the world. For once, a world beyond the kitchen, and the laundry room. Some women were undoubtedly still attending to find a husband, have babies- start, (or end?) lives of their own. My roommate actually had to drop out when her family was no longer able to support her and her brother. Her brother, however, did not have to drop out. These notions surprised me. My own mother was determined to see her daughters complete college and benefit from the possibilities that alone might provide us. It was probably also imagined that we would marry and have children but our wedding day was not promoted as the “biggest” day of our lives. This was the early 1980's. I wanted it all, a career, a family- a husband, or more accurately, an equal partner, and children. I had the absolute belief that I would be sharing the load and sharing the benefits. I would have a voice and it would be used. It would not be used singing Cherokee People, but it would be used.

In the mid 1980's and throughout the 1990's and here and there since, Madonna has inspired. Little girls running around in lacey leggings and fingerless gloves crying about keeping their babies, or being touched for the very first time was not uncommon in the 1990’s. Many of my friends and peers have argued, unconvincingly, that Madonna promoted the concept that women can be strong and sexy, as if this was not already known. We didn’t have to be manly to be powerful, they asserted. Was expecting equality manly? I must have missed that memo. Did we have to look like prostitutes or chamber maids to be powerful?

It seemed that we were being told to stop trying to be too strong and use our sex appeal to get what we wanted. This works if we want sex and some sort of compensation. This works better if we fit some sort of predetermined idealistic physical paradigm. In most sectors of the workforce, it is difficult to gain credibility based on how much desirable sexuality we exude.

Madonna seemed to market toward, and target young girls, tweeners, prepubescent girls. So many ate it up and asked for more. The new feminism. The pretty girls feminism. Where do these sexy, sexualized young girls utilize this inspiration? How do they use their purchased, packaged sexuality for power? Britney Spears was mentored by and followed Madonna, the not quite so innocent tease. Oops, we did it again, we targeted young girls and taught them that being attractive is all we have to offer, that being intelligent is not feminine. We are supposed to believe Britney was able to use her sex appeal intelligently. She sold it, gained millions and with that, power? She got married, divorced and married again. She married someone that enjoyed her wealth, and other women. She divorced him. Partied every night and shaved off her hair. Oh, and her husband got the kids. All that sexuality and feminism, so little power. But wait, she grew back her hair, she lost weight, she may or may not have found her panties and for this we may love her again. We continue to give our daughters the financial means to support and emulate these images and models.

I did not need to be convinced that women can be strong and sexy. Why would this be a surprise, a goal or ambition, in and of itself? I believe we have lost sight of all the other qualities we have as a result of being disillusioned by the notion that stereotypical external sexual characteristics equal power. I have often felt sexy and powerful, simultaneously and separately. I hope these are human characteristics that we all experience. I don’t want my daughter or any girl to believe being sexy is the way to gain power.

In our society 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18. Where is the power in that? Where is the power in being blamed for these statistics because of the way we dress, or were taught to behave? More importantly why do we continue to ignore these statistics? How can we educate our daughters about self-respect and boundaries? How do we empower them to take control of their sexuality? Most importantly, when do we teach our sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, and colleagues that they cannot abuse girls and women without dire long term consequences? That it doesn't matter how we look or how we dress, we are not to be treated abusively or dismisively because we are equally important and demand to be valued for more than our appearance, real or imagined.

While it may seem that Cher and Madonna aren't that different, the difference lies in the timing. Cher offered a glimpse at the possibilities. We were just gaining some equality. We were just beginning to enjoy the possibilities held out for us. Girls who watched and idolized Madonna had no idea that having the choice to go to college, have a career, and make their own decisions, was a fairly new concept for masses of women. These girls believed it a birth right. While Madonna probably isn't really the front woman for some conservative, anti-feminist movement, she certainly has not helped to move equality ahead. Why offer so little at a time when we could have gone so much further?

Who will be the role model for the next generation? What will be the important qualities promoted for girls and women? Who will determine them? Let’s value intelligence, responsibility, respect and equality. Intelligence may be perceived as threatening, or gasp, controlling. But let’s go for it anyway. Responsibility, respect, equality. They seem to go hand in hand, balanced and interconnected. These qualities can be promoted to boys and girls alike. No sexy undergarments needed, but please keep that to yourself and your loved one(s).