Monday, March 23, 2015

Smells Like Omega Spirit

This article got me thinking: Sense of smell reveals fat prejudice, study shows

Evidently many people assume fat people smell worse than thin people. Without even thinking about it. Just blind acceptance of a social norm.

My racist grandmother told me that black people smell bad, because their hair smells like wet sheep. I thought she was an idiot, so I didn't believe her, even though she owned a beauty shop and was a licensed cosmetologist. Later, when I had a girlfriend who is black, my assumption that my grandmother's ideas were not based on factual evidence proved true when I discovered that my girlfriend's hair smelled like shampoo.

Lux soap advertisement from my grandmother's young days
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Beauty lies are not reserved for racists. Corporations peddle their wares to anyone they can convince will be better off with their product. The company that sells Lysol used to run ads aimed at housewives suggesting they douche with Lysol to cover up their feminine stench. Lysol. Seriously. Ouch, I can feel the burn vicariously just thinking about it.

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Guess what, Ladies? There is nothing wrong with your natural smell. You don't need to buy chemicals to have an inviting vagina.

Companies tell us stories to convince us that we'd be better off with their products. The narrative goes like this: black people smell bad, and women smell bad. And now, fat people smell bad, too.

Question: Does Jes, the hot fat chick, smell bad?
Hint: this is not a scratch and sniff screen. 
Answer: Who the fuck knows?

Blacks, women, and fatties. We must be too wild, too uncivilized to live amongst the well groomed upper echelons of our human pack. The fair skinned. The men. The thin.

When I visited the wolves at the conservation center in Colorado, the tour guide asked if anyone had a question. I raised my hand and asked, "What's the purpose of the omega wolf in the social order?"

"The purpose?" The tour guide asked. I nodded. "The purpose of the omega wolf is to give the other wolves someone to pick on."

I love wolves. I admire their ability to collaborate and work as a pack to hunt, and to care for their young. But I don't understand the idea of the omega dog. Just as I don't understand the idea of the underdog in our human social order. Black, women, fat folks, we are, too often, the omegas of the human pack.

The difference? Humans are not wolves. We are not wild. We are not destined to succumb to our base needs. We can rationally think, what is the purpose of picking on the omega human? To make me feel better? What if I don't feel better? What if we could ask around the others in our pack and see if they feel the same? Does it really make you feel better to pick on someone else? Or do you feel better when you stick up for the omega and let others see that we've evolved past needing an underdog to kick around?

I understand the purpose of an Alpha. Every social group needs someone's decisions to blame bad outcomes on. I understand the Betas. The keepers of social order. The worker bees and hunters in a wolf pack. But the Omegas? Whose purpose is solely to give the others someone to pick on? Eh, let's do away with that role in our human social order. Shall we?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"The Basketball Is the Moon" by Kate Carleton, 8

"The Basketball Is the Moon" by Kate Carleton, 8

Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann

Having to deal with my fat-phobic father lately was getting me down. I needed a little help from an old friend. Whenever the fat haters' voices get too loud, I turn to one of my favorite books, Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann. This amaze-balls book started out in the 90's as a zine, way before Health at Every Size® was a movement and body acceptance became a cause. Wann is a leader in the fat rights community. She's funny as hell. Super smart, vocal, and inspirational. You. You reading this right now. You must read this book.

 has evolved into a website, which is fun to peruse. I still recommend reading the book, full of "the best of" the zine and website. It's especially fun to read the book in public, since the cover is so in-your-face with fat spunk attitude. It's a great way to show the world you're not going to put up with their anti-fat bullshit.

Fat-haters: Hey, fatty, get back in the closet! 
Me: Nope, I'm such a rad fatty I like to show off that I read Fat!So?

Most Americans I know feel shitty about their bodies enough all by themselves. When our loved ones heap on the insults, it's just too much. Please, the next time someone tries to make you feel like less of a person for being a person of substantial size, read this book. I got this copy at my local library. If your library doesn't own it, ask them to purchase it, or to get it for you through Interlibrary Loan. Or, if you can afford it, buy a copy for yourself. 

Here's an excerpt from page 62:
Here are some of the ways that a desire for weight loss can destroy the benefits of eating right and exercising:
  • You only eat right and exercise when you're trying to lose weight.
  • You eat right and exercise for a while, but when you don't lose any weight, you give it up.
  • If you do lose some weight, you stop eating right and exercising.
  • You lose a few pounds by eating right and exercising but not as much as you'd hoped, so you eat less and exercise more. You keep this up until you're in a real pickle.
  • You think that eating right and exercising is only something that thin people get to do.
  • You figure it's hopeless, you're always going to be fat, so why bother eating right, etc.
In all of these cases, worrying about weight comes first and healthy habits come last. The real hope lies in breaking the connection between these two powerful forces. Focus instead on the habit that's guaranteed to be good for you, no matter what the number on the scale. Eating your veggies is always going to be good for  you. Getting some joyful movement on a regular basis will always be good for you, too, whether you're fat or thin, whether you lose weight or not. Do these things because you love who you are, not because you want to make less of yourself.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dad's Radical Daughter

When I was a kid, the worst thing my mom could say to me was, "You're just like your father." She didn't say it very often. Just when I was being a total brat. I was rarely a brat. I was a good girl, never wanting to upset my mom. I imagine Fred Rogers' kids felt the same way about their dad. It's hard to act bratty around someone who generally treats you with such loving kindness.

Some of my friends' mothers handled their brattiness by slapping them, or yelling at them, or ignoring them. My mother wasn't like that at all. I have no memories of my mom ever hitting or yelling at anyone, and certainly not her own children. She was an expert at ignoring my dad and any other grown-up who was acting like a jerk, but her baby? No way. One time she grounded me for participating in some group teepeeing shenanigans, but that lasted about half a day. By mid-afternoon the doorbell rang and I asked if I could go outside and run through the sprinkler with the one kid on the block who had been at CCD while the rest of us were busy getting into trouble, and Mom caved.

"Sure, Hon. Have fun," Mom called out from the couch.

"Gah, you have the nicest mom," my friend said as the front door slammed shut behind us.

"Yeah, I know."

Mom was so nice that I wanted to be just like her. No matter how hard I tried, though, I wasn't. I couldn't even copy her handwriting. In sixth grade I heard about graphology and how these people called graphologists could study your handwriting and see what your personality is like without even meeting you. I spent loads of time looking through letters and lists my mom had written, trying to copy her handwriting, thinking that if I could only change my handwriting to match hers it would change my personality, too, so I could be more like Mom.

The experiment failed. If anything it had the opposite effect, forcing me to see how much I had in common with my dad. I remember slamming my pencil down on the table and wadding up my paper and throwing it across the room in a fit of anger when I couldn't form my letters just like Mom. Which is exactly something my dad would do if he got frustrated with his own incompetence.

By my teen years I gave up trying to be nice like Mom and embraced the angry, intense, emotionally unstable personality I had inherited from my dad. Which did wonders for the atmosphere around our house. By then all of my siblings had moved out--or had gotten kicked out by my dad--so it was just me, Mom, and Dad stuck in the house together, Dad and me screaming at each other and Mom calmly walking down the hall to the spare room where she kept her TV, her books, her sewing machine, and her art supplies, what I've grown to think of as her version of art therapy, shutting the door behind her.

I mistakenly thought my dad and I fought so much when I was a teenager because we had so little in common. He's a Conservative. I'm a Liberal. He's a grumpy old man, nostalgic for the good ole days. I'm a young, vibrant woman, hopeful that if we work hard enough the world will be a better place in the future. He loves money and stocks and paying bills on time. I think that the love of money is the root of all evil and that people who care about finances and bills and all that are so incredibly boring. Needless to say, Dad has always had a fat bank account and an excellent credit score. I filed for bankruptcy by the time I was thirty after my ex-girlfriend maxed out my credit cards with promises of a beautiful home, exciting vacations, and a happily-ever-after lifestyle. I love literature and philosophy and art and all the "ologies": anthropology, psychology, sociology, primatology. People and ideas thrill me. It excites me to try to figure out what makes people tick. Dad thinks all those "ologies" and art are a big waste of time and that the people who like that kind of stuff are weird. He doesn't care a lick about what makes people tick. Dad's a numbers man, not a people person. People are useful as dance partners, bridge partners, house cleaners, cooks, but to Dad the rest of that touchy-feely crap is simply beyond his comprehension.

"We're such opposites," I used to think when I was a teenager. But I now know what Mom was getting at whenever she called me out on my brattiness. Dad and I aren't opposites at all. We're just alike. Our interests oppose each other, but our innate temperaments are two peas in a pod. We're both charming on the outside, but get on our bad side and watch out! We're both full of anger and anxiety. We're both critical, of ourselves and others. We're both intense and passionate about our beliefs. It's just that Dad is angry and critical and passionately believes the pinko commie hippies are ruining the world, while I'm angry and critical and passionately believe that the unenlightened mainstream are destroying it. I'm angry at The Man, and dad is the epitome of The Man. White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, middle-class, privileged man. I'm I'm a total pinko commie. Dad's nightmare. When we used to watch "All In the Family" on our living room TV, it was like watching home movies. Dad was Archie Bunker. Mom was Edith. And I started out life as a good girl Gloria, but by my teen years I had evolved into a ferocious Meathead. Both Archie and Meathead insisting that THEY are the ones fighting the good fight.

These last few years Dad and I hardly fight at all, mostly due to both of us following doctor's orders by taking our anti-anxiety medication. But also, I've matured and he's gotten soft in his old age. And, it's easy to get along with someone you're hardly ever around. We spend far less time together now that we no longer live under the same roof, his roof. I no longer owe him money. The only time I need him now is when I want to pat myself on the back for being a good daughter and putting up with him for an hour here and there during birthdays and major holidays.

But things are getting weird. Dad's starting to need me. And I don't know how I feel about that. I mean, I get it. I understand that it's natural for aging parents to depend on their children. It makes sense to me, rationally. It's the cycle of life. Your parents care for you when you are too young to care for yourself, and then it's payback time when they grow old and need your care. Only horrible people put their parents in an old folk's home, right? Paying strangers to clean up after them and make sure they're fed, taking their meds, and looked after following surgery.

Dad's been getting sick more and more lately. Duh. He'll be 88 at the beginning of next month. He was 56 when he had his first triple-bypass heart surgery. The doctor at that time told my mom to not expect him to live much longer than five years, tops. We spent the next five years tip-toeing around him, tolerating his explosive temper, his selfishness, his verbal abuse because, although we'd never say it aloud, we were waiting for him to die so we could move on with our lives, free from his control.

Nine years after Dad's surgery, Mom finally divorced him. She'd given him nearly double-the-time the doctor said he could expect Dad to live. She didn't want to have to do it. Her first marriage had ended in divorce and left her feeling like a failure, even though it was due to her first husband's adultery. My mom has a strong faith and believes that when people get married they should take their vows seriously and stay together "through sickness and in health as long as they both shall live". But damn. There's only so much abuse one person can take, even if the abuser is sick.

I remember one of the last fights they had. They rarely fought during their twenty-two years of marriage. Usually Mom walked away before things escalated too quickly. But this last fight they had, wow. Somehow Dad had trapped Mom in her chair and he was leaning over her, wagging his finger in her face, screaming at her, calling her "stupid". It was awful. I wanted to step in and defend her, but I was afraid. So I stood there feeling helpless despite the fact that I was an adult. I was twenty-one when my parents finally divorced and it was one of the happiest days of my life.

That was a long time ago. 1992. Mom remarried a wonderful man. She moved on with her life, free from Dad's control. Time's healed her wounds and she no longer cares one way or the other about my dad. She doesn't need him, and he doesn't need her. "Que Será, Será."

My relationship with Dad is not that untethered. See, when two people decide they don't want to be married anymore, they can divorce and they never have to see each other again. But offspring can't divorce their parents. We can move far way and never call and focus on our own needs, but most people, no matter how awful their parents are, never fully sever ties with them. Most of us at least adhere to that one ancient tablet rule to honor our mother and our father, at least when we get that call that Dad's being taken by ambulance to North Kansas City Hospital because he's having trouble breathing. Most people, no matter how much they dislike their parents, if they live in the same city at least, they love them enough to stop by the hospital to remind them that despite everything they still love them.

Liking them? That's an entirely different thing.

And so you sit there in the hospital room with him all day and you become this strange combination of helpless child and responsible caretaker. When your dad can't pull up his own pajama pants, you rush over and help him, even if most everything about him brings out your lifetime of simmering anger.

You bite your tongue and ignore him and try not to take it too personally or conjure horrible childhood memories of Dad calling you fat and sending you to Weight Watchers when you're in third grade when he himself has always been fat. You respectfully disengage from the potential shit-storm, because what kind of asshole argues with a dying old man? Even if he makes hateful comments about how he doesn't trust his cardiologist because he's fat.

"I mean, the guy can get around and all, but he's HUGE. I mean, have you ever seen a fat cardiologist? I mean a big ole fatso? I just don't trust him. I just can't trust a fat cardiologist," Dad said way-too-loud from his hospital bed. I stood there trying to decide if I wanted to strangle him right then and there to get it over with, or if I wanted to rush out into the hall and call out, "I disagree with everything this bigot says - I'm a Health at Every Size advocate, People!" so none of the staff or patients would think my decision not to speak up had anything to do with my not having anything to say. It's just that, I don't know. I'm certainly my dad's daughter, and my dad can be an insensitive jerk, but I can't imagine even he'd get into a fight with someone in a hospital bed.

I can't help but love the old son-of-a-bitch because somehow, right or wrong, dysfunctional or self-affirming, I just can't help it. It's like loving myself. Without him, there'd be no me. I have to love him on some irrational, primal level. For survival.

Dad's back home after having heart surgery again. I disagree with his decision to go back home because he didn't trust his fat cardiologist to run any more tests after they went through with the surgery and found no evidence of blockage. I myself would stay in the hospital and allow the fat cardiologist to run more tests to see why my lungs keep filling up with fluid. But as much as our personalities are alike, we are separate people. I am not my dad. His medical care is his decision.

Now my sister Glenda's playing nursemaid to dear ole dad. Glenda is Dad's daughter from his first marriage, before he married my mom and had me. She's fifteen years older than me, and Dad's always relied on her to be the responsible one, the caretaker, the chauffeur. Thank God Glenda takes after her mother. She's nice and caring and selfless. Nothing like our dad. Nothing like me.

I want to help my sister take care of our dad, and I also want to suggest that maybe it's time that we put dear ole dad in an old folk's home. But so far I'm only fantasizing of being THAT daughter. The horrible kind who puts her dad in a home. Right?

I don't want to be a horrible person. I want to be nice and caring and selfless. But it's incredibly hard to be nice and caring and selfless to someone who is mean and uncaring and selfish.

Someone at church said something that made me feel like my tether had loosed a bit from my dad. She's this beautiful soul who was telling the congregation about this organization she volunteers for where they go into hospitals and sit in the rooms with patients who are dying. Kinda like how in old movies they'd call a priest to come perform the last rites, only these volunteers bring along no dogma. They're not trying to save the person's soul. They're not trying to change them. They're not trying to save them. They're not asking them to confess their sins or ask for forgiveness for any wrong-doing. They don't ask why they are lying there in a hospital bed, terminally ill with no friends or family beside them. They believe that each and every human being deserves not to die alone. So they sit with them, without judgment, and let them die in peace.

Oh, I want to do that! I thought as I sat there in the pew, listening to this beautiful soul speak of how grateful these lonely dying people are for their unconditional love. I should volunteer to sit with lonely dying people! I thought. Then I caught myself.

Wait a minute. I don't even want to be around my own father when he's lying in a hospital bed. Why would I want to be around some stranger?

You know why? It's easier to love someone you don't know. They haven't hurt you. They haven't disappointed you or made you feel like you're crazy, worthless, or stupid. It's so much easier to love people when there's no tether between you.

I started to feel like a total asshole. What kind of horrible person wants to put her dying dad in an old folk's home so she can go spend time with dying strangers? Me, that's who.

I wish I could pretend that my dad is a stranger. Wipe the slate clean with him. Untie the tether between us. It would be so much easier to sit with my dad and let him die in peace if we had no history between us. If I could somehow forgive him. If I could somehow forgive myself for being like him.

That's when it takes radical forgiveness. We're talking forgiveness on the level of Jesus and the Dalai Lama and dogs. Love that will never cease, no matter how awful you are.

Jesus didn't command us to love just people who are nice to us. Thanks a lot, Jesus! It's easy for you to forgive everyone. You're perfect. Way to set us mere mortals up for failure, asking us to follow your path!

But maybe Jesus wasn't punishing us by commanding us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Maybe when Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, he wanted us to think harder. To think of ourselves.

I've mistreated people in my life. Don't I still want them to love me, to forgive me? If all people deserve to be loved, then that includes me. And if horrible me deserves to be loved, that means all unlovable people deserve to be loved. Because maybe, when we love the unlovable, we become more lovable ourselves. Is that selfish? To love people because we want to be more lovable?

Yes. No. The important thing is to love.

I'm Dad's radical daughter. I'm the feisty one. The intense one. The one who gets upset about things I can't control, just like he does. It's time I try radical forgiveness. When his time comes, and I sense it's coming soon, I want to sit with him and let him die in peace. Maybe see that the two of us are not so bad after all.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Congestive Heart Failure

My eighty-seven-year-old dad's in the hospital again. I spent the day with him. I'm glad I did because I got to talk to his doctors and nurses. He's going to be fine. They have him on a complex cocktail of medications and minerals and a low-sodium diet and they're shooting oxygen up his nose and doing all these healthful things to keep his heart beating as long as it can.

Dad has congestive heart failure. I was ignorant about what that is, exactly, until today. I thought having heart failure meant certain, sudden death. It does mean certain death--none of us will live forever--but it's not necessarily sudden. If well treated, someone can live quite well with the disease. Well, at least until something else kills ya.

When I'm stressed out and worried about things beyond my control, I enjoy doing research. I'm telling you: being a librarian has kept me out of Osawattomie.

This is a fantastic article that explains what congestive heart failure is in an easy-to-understand way.

All I know is, I chose the salad bar in the hospital cafeteria this afternoon. I always become overly concerned with my own health when my dad is sick. It's so weird. Our aging parents are so goddamn good at reminding us of our own mortality. Jerks. Thanks for giving us life, then making us worry about death.

So I sat there and munched on my lettuce leaves and beets and olives and tomatoes and onions and carrots and chick peas and green peas, and Parmesan cheese while I added "up my walking regimen" to my mental to-do list. After lunch I went on a walk and made a mental grocery list that would read like food porn to the American Heart Association. More kale. More Brussels sprouts. More broccoli, cauliflower, olives, and whatever the-next-big-thing-in-the-produce-section is.

I know kale won't keep me from certain death, but I'm hoping it slows the pace down a bit. I want to prevent the pain and suffering that accompanies disease and death. But life does not exist to give me what I want. Life exists. No reason. And then it ends. Just like that. Without bothering to consult anyone about it. That is so scary. We need each other to get through it.

My dad is eighty-seven years old. I must face the fact that he's not going to live forever. My time with him is limited. It was weird to spend the day with him. It felt strange for him to defer the doctor's and nurse's questions to me, like I was the one in charge. My dad and I had such horrible fights when I was a teenager exactly because I wanted to be in charge of my own life and Dad was such an authoritarian back then. But not now. Today I helped my dad change into pajama pants.

Dad's simmered way down over the years and with the help of sertraline. He's this tiny old man with a huge survival instinct. He pays attention to his body and goes to the doctor when something seems not right. Like when he was gasping for air while sitting in front of the TV, not just while out on the dance floor with his single senior lady friends. Oh yeah, he dances. My eighty-seven-year-old dad is a dance fiend. I should dance more, too.

Dad takes great care of himself. He's been a great role model for me to witness ways to take care of myself. Perhaps I shouldn't see my concern for my own health as selfish. I'm taking care of myself, which teaches my daughter to care for herself. Survival of the family tree, long after individual branches have fallen to the ground.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sloth Mom

image by Stefan Laube (Tauchgurke) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I'm not a morning person, and I need more sleep than most people my age. My circadian rhythm is offbeat. After a quick google search, I have diagnosed myself with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, which is a much nicer term than the one I grew up with: lazy bum.

I don't see it as a disorder, just a difference. However, over the years my teachers and bosses and friends who appreciate punctuality would disagree.

If I have no commitments, my body naturally prefers to sleep from about 2 a.m. til noon. I didn't fully consider this when I decided to have a child. The first few years weren't that big of a deal. I was blessed with a "good sleeper". Kate began sleeping through the night at four-months old, and she routinely slept around thirteen hours. So even if she fell asleep earlier than I did, say at 8 p.m., she wouldn't wake up until around 9 a.m., which is way better than the nightmarish stories I'd hear from friends with kids her age. Some of those little monsters would want to go to bed by 7 p.m. and arise by five or six in the morning. I can't even.

I was also blessed with a husband whose circadian rhythm is the yang to my yin, so on days when I simply could not haul my ass out of bed even by nine in the morning, he was there to help our daughter with her needs. And for those days when he had to be at work earlier than I could get out of bed, Will taught Kate how to push the button on the remote to activate our electronic babysitter. I'd wake up refreshed late in the morning and find our sweet girl sitting on the living room floor with her books and toys scattered around her and "It's a Big Big World" on the TV.

Some days I'd look at the screen and sigh. I wish I were a sloth like Snook, the protagonist on the PBS Kids show. Life would be so much easier if I'd been born a sloth instead of a human. Everyone accepts that sloths are slothful. It's just the way they are. Not as many people understand human slothfulness.

Luckily, Will understands, or even if he doesn't understand, he accepts. He's a workaholic, full of energy and drive, but he doesn't bug me to be more like him. Like a person gifted with a high IQ doesn't expect someone with a low IQ to understand complex thoughts, Will understands my need to sleep.

Will himself needs just five or six hours of sleep each night. He's one of those "early birds" who hops out of bed and flits around like it's going to be a great day or something. Once, when were were first dating, I went on a camping trip with Will and his parents. I was appalled at the entire family's morning chipperness. I'd stumble out of my tent with the sun high up in the sky, only to be greeted with such obnoxiously friendly comments as, "Good morning! Or should I say good afternoon!" and "Did you sleep well?" and "Would you like some eggs with your coffee?" The nerve. Who are these people? What kind of weirdo wakes up happy to start a new day? Oh, seemingly everybody but me? Well shit.

Kate began foraging for her own food in the mornings at a young age. Occasionally she'd get a hankering for something she couldn't make on her own. Don't all three-year-olds request broccoli for breakfast? But usually she'd find something within reach on the counter to eat. I remember feeling so proud of her the day I awoke and discovered that Kate had figured out a way to get a banana out of its peel, despite not having the strength to twist the top off, by slicing the side of it with her fingernail.

Our morning routine worked fine until Kate started school. I was hoping she'd get assigned to afternoon kindergarten, not realizing that must have been a Seventies thing. Like playing hide and go seek with your friends until the street lights came on, and standing up in the back seat of your mom's Vega as she drives, arms outstretched, pretending to fly until--whack!--Mom has to brake for a stop sign and you go flying into the seat in front of you. Nowadays most kids go to all-day kindergarten, and even the ones who go a half-day only have the option of going in the morning. I was screwed.

Kate's in third grade now, which means I've been chronically sleep deprived for four years. I guess it's karmic payback for sleeping so soundly during Kate's newborn years when my friends' kids were turning their hair grey. Maybe I'll catch up on some sleep when Kate's a teenager.Yeah, I know. I doubt it, too.

8:10 a.m. That's what time Kate has to be at school. Which doesn't bother her at all. In fact, just this morning on the way to school she said to me, "I like mornings!" I tisk-tisked under my breath and told myself she can't be just like me. She's half-Will, too.

Plus, I couldn't exactly scold her for being so chipper in the morning after she let me sleep til 8:00. "Mom, it's time to get up," she said brightly while gently tapping my shoulder. When Kate was little I'd often awake with her lying next to me, face-to-face, staring into my eyes, saying, "Mama, ti' ta git uh now." It was mostly sweet and a tad creepy.

"Oh, Honey, I'm sorry I slept so late," I said, looking at the clock. "Why didn't you wake me earlier? Do you need me to make you breakfast?" I swung my legs over the side of the bed and used my feet to find my slippers, trying to rub my eyes awake.

"Nope. I made it myself," Kate said, cheery and bright.

"Good," I said. I coughed up some nighttime phlegm and rose from bed. "I'll pack your lunch in a minute. I gotta pee," I said, walking toward the bathroom.

"You don't need to pack my lunch," Kate said, following behind me.

"Oh, are you gonna eat the school lunch?" I asked.


"Well, Honey, you can't go without lunch. You'll be too hungry--"

"I packed my own lunch," Katie explained.

For a moment it was as if time stood still, we were in no rush to get to school on time, no alarm clocks beeping in our ears. Just my daughter and me, standing there in the hallway.

"Look at you! Big kid," I said, poking Kate in her soft belly.

Her smile was proud, confident, strong. She needs me to take care of her less and less each day. Which makes me feel both happy and sad. It seems only yesterday I still had to tie her shoes and remind her to brush her hair. Now I'm standing here looking at this bright girl, hair neatly pulled back in her butterfly hair clip, dressed in clean clothes, sneakers tied, ready to greet the new dawn.

We made it to school on time. No tardy slips today.

"Have a great day, Punky," I called out as Kate headed toward the front doors.

"You have a great day, too, Mom," she briefly turned and waved, then stepped inside her school.

On the way home I had a sudden burst of energy, as if I took Katie's words as an order. HAVE. A. GREAT. DAY! I began planning all the things I'd get done today. Dishes, laundry, dusting, sweeping, mopping, bathing the dogs, cooking dinner, writing, reading, walking. So many things to do. Oh, and I need to go to the grocery store, and email the basketball team I coach, and call my mom, and pay our credit card, and oh, what's that last thing I'm forgetting?

By the time I got home, I was so exhausted just thinking of my "to do" list I immediately headed to bed and enjoyed a nice, long nap.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

This is what democracy looks like!

Will, Kate, and I joined the rally at the Kansas State Capitol today. It was great to see so many people show up to stand for love. You can see us in the crowd toward the end of this video clip!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Normal has changed over the years

I was talking to two co-workers about the time my friends and I got chased out of Godfather's Pizza by a group of homophobic jocks back in 1988. They both gave me this look like "I'm so sorry that happened to you" and "that's awful". I kept rambling on, telling them the story, which I had always thought of as a funny story since it shows what an awful driver I am in a car chase, but I could tell that, to them, it was a sad story of being the victim of bullying and hatred and homophobia.

Homophobia was just a given when I was growing up. It wasn't even called homophobia. It was called normal. It's amazing how much normal has changed over the years.

I got to thinking, "You know, this would be a good blog post."

So on my day off, I opened my blog and began to write the story. Then a tiny voice in the back of my mind whispered a reminder to make sure I hadn't already written about this incident.

Sure enough, I had. I wrote it nearly one year ago and I had forgotten. Our memories are so tricky. How is it I can remember so vividly the incident of getting chased out of Godfather's twenty-seven years ago, but I can barely remember having written about it just one year ago?

You know how you read so many books that sometimes you get through a few pages before you realize you've already read that one? I've been blogging for over three years now, so much so, I sometimes forget that I've already told a certain story.

So, as the incomparable Morrissey sang, "stop me if you think you've heard this one before". Here's the story I wrote last year about getting chased out of Godfather's by a group of homophobic bullies:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Is Governor Sam Brownback Bizarro Robin Hood?

Kansas is broke. Governor Sam Brownback lowered taxes on the wealthiest Kansans a couple of years ago, hoping it would stimulate our economy. It didn't work. Now our state has a huge budget deficit. Governor Brownback has another great idea. He announced yesterday that he will cut education spending. Big shock. 

Go after the kids. They don't vote. Those bums just mooch off the state. They don't have jobs. They don't contribute to society. They just take and take and take and take, and what do they give back to the state?

Well, how about this, Governor Brownback? Kids give our state its future. Or are you too short-sighted to see it? I don't understand someone who robs from the poor and gives to the rich. It's as if our governor is Bizarro Robin Hood.

When my eight-year-old, Kate, was sick a couple of weeks ago, she woke up one morning and announced that she wished she could send her germs to her enemy, our governor, Sam Brownback. I laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea. "We don't wish illness upon our enemies, Sweetie," I said. I felt like we were back at the playground, learning how to get along with bratty kids. My parental advice has evolved from "we don't hit other people" to "we don't practice germ warfare" as Kate grows and experiences unfair attacks. 

Kate's been mad at Governor Brownback ever since he won re-election in November. She hears her father and me complain about his policies which aid the wealthiest citizens and ignore the neediest. She becomes righteously indignant. She needs help channeling her anger for good. 

"Try to remember Ruby Bridges," I tell Kate. Last year she binge read books about that brave little girl who was the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. "Remember what her mom told her to do: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

I admit, though, it's hard to pray when you're angry. I certainly didn't feel very loving toward our governor when I read the news yesterday.

I find that when I don't know what to do, when I feel helpless and powerless and voiceless, when it feels like my prayers go unanswered and my love isn't strong enough to pierce my enemies' hardened hearts, the best thing I can do it write.

Here is the letter I sent to Governor Brownback this morning:

My daughter is a third grade student at a public school in Overland Park, KS. Her school needs more funding, as do all the public school across our great state. We need to prepare these young minds to be competitive in a global marketplace. We need to give public school students the opportunity to learn and increase their brain power so they can come up with solutions to the many problems we will face in the future. These students will be in charge some day. They will be taking care of us when we are old. I want them to be fully prepared to lead, and to come up with innovative ways to strengthen our communities. The best way to prepare a child for the future is to provide her with an excellent education. Excellent public schools need funding to operate. If you cut funding to already under-funded classrooms, our future leaders and innovators will not receive the education they need to do their future jobs. I understand that our state needs to balance its budget. To alleviate the financial crisis, please raise taxes on our state's wealthiest citizens to the levels they were before you took office, rather than raiding the institutions that serve our most vulnerable citizens: public school children.

Feel free to use my letter as an example when crafting your own letter to Governor Brownback. You can email him here. Maybe if enough of us contact him he'll start to listen. After all, he asked for it. This is the response I received after submitting my letter to Governor Brownback:

It is an honor and a privilege to represent you the citizens of Kansas as Governor, and in order to help our great state continue to move forward I want to be responsive to your needs and concerns.  Please help by contacting my office and sharing your views and concerns about those issues facing our great state. Thank you for contacting my office to express your views and concerns. I always enjoy hearing from my fellow Kansans, for there is no better guide to decision making. --Governor Sam Brownback

Let's see if he keeps his word and uses it as a "guide to decision making".

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mom, Dad, and Kate

"Mom, I want to tell you something that you're probably not going to like. About your parenting."

So began our discussion last night as I tucked our eight-year-old daughter, Katie, into bed.

"Eight-and-a-half," she would correct me if she saw what I just wrote. Why are children in such a hurry to grow up?

I couldn't help but smile. Not that I'm a masochist or anything. I hate being criticized for anything, especially my parenting. But I love how Katie exudes calm confidence when advocating for herself. I was raised to think that children should not "talk back" to adults. Adults know what's best and kids should be quiet and listen and not argue.

It never occurred to me to question this power struggle until I was a teenager. My dad and I screamed at each other so much during my young adulthood that it eroded our relationship. It's only been in the last decade or so, after both Dad and I were prescribed at separate times by separate doctors the anti-anxiety medication, sertraline, that we've been able to pick up a few crumbled pieces of our relationship and build another foundation.

I still struggle with self-advocating my needs, but each year gets better. It's difficult to unlearn destructive habits such as ignoring your personal needs until you feel like you're going to explode and so you default to screaming at someone rather than calmly stating how you feel. But if I want a kid who calmly talks to me about how she feels and not some screaming banshee running loose in the house, I've got to set an example.

Stay calm. Listen to what she has to say before jumping to conclusions, I told myself. "What do you want to tell me?" I asked Katie.

"Well," she said from under three layers of covers, all of which have chew holes from the dog. "I want to tell you to quit calling Dad 'Daddy' when you're talking about him," Katie explained.

"What? Why?" I asked. I totally wasn't expecting that response.

"Because I like to call him Dad now. Like how I like to call you Mom," she explained.

"Oh, so you want me to call him what you call him?" I asked.

"I just don't want to feel like a baby," she said, lowering her eyes.

"I understand," I said, sitting on the edge of her full size futon. When I was a baby, I shared a bedroom with two of my older sisters. Our only child has her own room and her own bunk bed. With its full size futon as the bottom bunk, it sleeps three people even though she only needs a bed for one. We wanted her to have something for sleepovers. We need her friends to feel comfortable, to like us and stick around and be there for our daughter in the way the sibling we can't provide her would do. In the same way Will always goes out for donuts the morning after a sleepover. Bribery. As long as you stay loyal to our daughter you will always have access to a comfy bed and donuts the next day.

"I remember I was in third grade, too, when I decided to start calling my dad Dad instead of Daddy. 

"What made you decide?" Katie asked. She loves to hear stories of what it was like when her dad and I were kids. I think it reassures her that we really do understand what it's like. We've been there. We know how much it can suck to be a small person in a big person's world.

"My sister Glenda came over to visit," I explained. "You know, she's fifteen years older than I am, so she was a grown up when I was in third grade."

Katie nodded.

"She kept calling our dad Dad. Not Daddy. I thought that sounded very big. I wanted to sound big too, so I stopped calling our dad Daddy," I said.

"Yeah, that's why I want to stop calling Dad Daddy," Katie said. "I don't like it when people treat me like a baby."

"Well, just so you know, lots of people still call their fathers Daddy throughout their life. My mom still called my grandpa Daddy when he came to live with us the last few weeks before he died. She was in her fifties and she still called him Daddy."

"Yeah, but no one in my class still calls their Dads Daddy," Katie said.

"No one? How do you know."

"Because when they talk about their dads they say Dad," Katie said, like duh, Mom. "And when their moms drop them off at school, they don't say things like, Daddy will be here to pick you up this afternoon." Katie raised her voice in an artificially sweet version of my own voice. I felt the sting of that shot.

"Oh, I see," I said. "OK. I get it. I'll try to stop calling him Daddy. Give me some slack, though. It's hard to change what you've been calling someone for eight years," I said.

"Eight-and-a-half, Mom."

I sighed. "Well, goodnight, Katie--hey, wait a minute. If we have to start calling each other Mom and Dad, not Mommy and Daddy, that means we get to start calling you Kate, not Katie!"

I figured Katie would immediately protest. When she was four, she began insisting that we call her Katie, not Kate. When Will and I decided to name our child Katherine after my sister and great-grandmother, we decided on the nickname Kate to eliminate confusion. My sister's nickname is Kit or Kitty, which is the same nickname our great-grandmother had. I wanted my daughter to have her own nickname.

Will and I both love the name Kate. Will said, "It seems like all the pretty girls at school were named Kate." I said, "Kate Carleton sounds presidential."

But when Baby Kate turned four and began forming her own opinions, she informed us that from there on out she would be known as Katie, not Kate.

I admit, I was disappointed at first. Katie Carleton sounds like a great babysitter, or cheerleader, or romance novelist. Katie Carleton does not sound presidential. But I also understand that the best way to raise a kid who has the confidence to lead a nation is by letting them make important decisions when they are little bitty. So I caved and started calling her Katie.

Over the years I've slipped up a few times and accidentally called her Kate. Each time she has corrected me. "It's Katie," she'd insist.

But this time was different. This time, when I pointed out to her that if she gets to call us the more mature versions of our nicknames, then it's only fair that we get to do the same with her nickname.

"OK," she said. "You can call me Kate again."

"Hooray!" I shouted. "I've always loved the name Kate."

"I know, Mom." Kate smiled. A little too maturely for my taste.