Wednesday, November 25, 2015

11 LGBTQ-friendly films to recommend to your straight family and friends

You don't have to be gay to appreciate a good gay film. Here are my favorite LGBTQ-friendly films anyone can appreciate:

1. Brokeback Mountain:

Anyone with a heart will appreciate this film. Dad will love it for the scenic mountain views. Mom will love it for the tragic romance.

2. Stonewall Uprising:

Is your hippie aunt addicted to documentaries on PBS? Show her this incredible film featuring interviews with participants of the riot that sparked the modern day Gay Rights Movement. But watch out: she'll want to pinch your cheeks for the excellent recommendation.

3. Philadelpia:

Tom Hanks is a baseball and apple pie kind of actor. You know, the star of Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan? If someone says they don't like Tom Hanks, I seriously question their patriotism. Here he stars as a lawyer fighting his former employer for discrimination as he battles with AIDS.

4. The Crying Game:

Is your uncle a big fan of thrillers and political espionage films? Turn him onto The Crying Game, but be sure to keep the plot twist a secret so you don't spoil this incredible film about fighters in the Irish Republican Army.

5. Boys Don't Cry:

This is a beautiful film about a horrible real-life event. Recommend this one to your friends and family members who are true crime novel buffs.

6. The Kids Are All Right:

This film works for many of your friends and relatives. Alcoholics. Failed business owners. Overworked professionals.

7. Desert Hearts:

This is a great movie for classic car enthusiasts. When grandpa gets home from his trip to Sonic, slip this one into his DVD player and push play.

8. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert:

Does Grandma love Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, and The Tony Awards? Stuff this DVD into Grandma's stocking this year and you'll be on her nice list.

9. Milk:

Sean Penn's performance is stunning. If your cousin won't shut up about Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter, and other progressive causes, and if their favorite film is Dead Man Walking, they'll love Milk.

10. Gods and Monsters

Show your Lord of the Rings-fan friends this film and let them get their geek on with Sir Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser.

11, Best In Show:

Comedy fans will love this film by the great mocumentary filmmaker Christopher Guest. "Rhapsody has two mommies!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Romance on the rocks: 10 LGBTQ songs for the sexually frustrated

Gay people write some of the best music about sexual frustration. Could this be because many LGBTQ people have spent their lives equating love with shame? It's getting better, that's for sure. I hear songs celebrating all kinds of love nowadays. Still, heartbreak abounds. Gay or straight or bi or trans or questioning or whatever, every once in a while it feels good to lay face first in the middle of your bed with the speakers turned up, singing along to your favorite sad love song. You don't have to be gay to appreciate what heartache feels like. Here's a list of my favorite songs by LGBTQ artists singing about sexual frustration:

1. Somebody to Love by Queen:

2. Someone Saved My Life Tonight by Elton John:

3. Crying by k.d. lang:

4. How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths:

5. Smalltown Boy by Jimmy Somerville:

6. Pretty Persuasion by R.E.M.:

7. Lover I Don't Have to Love by Bright Eyes:

8. Romeo and Juliet by The Indigo Girls:

9. Lola by The Kinks:

10. The Man That Got Away by Jeff Buckley:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thankful Birthday

My birthday is always either on or close to Thanksgiving. I keep running into people with birthdays around Thanksgiving. Count back, and you'll notice nine months before is Valentine's Day. It's both disturbing to think about your parents having sex at all and flattering to know that you were conceived on the Day of Love.

I used to hate having to share my birthday with Thanksgiving when I was a kid. I wanted spaghetti for my birthday, not turkey. I wanted birthday cake. Not pie. Pie is old people dessert. I wanted a birthday cake and Jolly Ranchers and ice cream til we puke party, not a gathering of old people so big I was forced to sit at the kids' table far into my teens.

Now that I'm forty-five, I appreciate sharing my birthday with Thanksgiving. Everyone's a little bit more grateful than usual around this time of year, going around giving thanks and appreciating the little things in life. Everyone's excited to see loved ones and happy to gather around a big feast and talk about the good ole days. When you're a kid, you want the center of attention to be on you at your birthday party. When you're forty-five, you've lived long enough and been on enough wild rides that you enjoy sitting at the sidelines with the spotlight shining on others.

I want to thank my friends and family for giving me so many things to be thankful for, and for helping to celebrate my birth. Friday night we got to see the movie Inside Out, which was great. I love seeing Joy and Sadness working together. Saturday I got to see my mom, my brother Jay's family, and my sister Jenny's family. At church today I got to write a letter to a local Islamic Center, letting them know that I'm a Christian and I love them and that I'm sorry for their mistreatment. I got to watch our nine-year-old daughter, Katie, make crafts and play games during the Advent Fair. I got to see tons of adorable babies. The squee was high with Katie and me with all those babies around. Katie told me she wants to volunteer in the nursery. She got to take home a Christmas book, and after she chose one she told me that she's keeping it for Charlie, the boy we're trying to adopt through the foster care system. I am so thankful for my friends and family and my sweet girl.

When Will got home from work he and Katie baked me a carrot cake with cream cheese icing, one of my faves. He served it with vanilla bean ice cream. Yum. We ate dinner at Elsa's Ethiopian Restaurant. I got my favorite: the vegetarian combo. I got to see my father-in-law and my mother-in-law, who joined us for cake and ice cream. I got to hang out with Will and listen to Queen's Greatest Hits I and II. I have so much to be thankful for.

This song pretty much speaks for how I feel today:

Thursday, November 19, 2015


I am a mother of a student at Apache Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District. Over the years, I've been involved with the school and the students. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I volunteered weekly as the Reading Helper for her class. In first grade, I was the Mystery Reader. Each year I've volunteered as a room parent during school parties and other events. Just this year, I volunteered to work for the PTA during Family Science Night and for the school librarian during the Scholastic Book Fair. Each year, my family has purchased books from the book fair to donate to my daughter's teachers. This year, I'm proud to say, my fourth grader and a friend of hers took it upon themselves to spend their own money to purchase books from the fair for their teacher. Here's the thank you we received from her teacher:
"For a 4th grader to think so selflessly and use her money for someone else is amazing. She is such a special girl and has a huge heart. Thank you for sharing her with me, she always seems to brighten my day!"
For the most part, my daughter loves her teachers, her peers, and the education she's receiving from the school. She was nominated by her teacher last year, in third grade, to be on Student Council. She made the all-A honor roll during the first quarter of this year, and she recently joined a team to compete in the Battle of the Books program.

On the surface, my concern is not about academics. I've been pleased with what the district does with the too-often inadequate budget they receive. What I'd like to see the district improve is this: the students need more time allotted for lunch.

What a silly thing to complain about, right? Wrong. In order to perform their best, students need time to eat a healthy lunch each day. Their growing bodies and brains need adequate fuel to maintain their rigorous academic schedules. Emotionally and socially, kids thrive when they are properly fed. I get cranky when I haven't had enough to eat. Multiply that by 25 kids in a classroom and you've got a big behavior problem.

The kids at my daughter's elementary school get 30 minutes for their lunch period. That sounds decent. But keep in mind, those thirty minutes are not spent eating. Most of their time is spent waiting to get in line and then standing in line for their meal (10-20 minutes,) and cleaning up and waiting in line to head back to class (5 minutes.) This gives students 15 minutes to eat their meal, on a good day. On a day like today, when I joined my daughter and her classmates for their Thanksgiving Meal, not only did the cafeteria run out of turkey by the time we were served (even though had I contacted them ahead of time to let them know that I was coming to this event,) but by the time we sat down to eat our Thanksgiving Meal (chicken nuggets) we had five minutes left to eat. FIVE minutes before the lunchroom attendant forced us to get up from the table and dump whatever food was left uneaten on our trays (at least half of it) into the garbage.

When I complained that we didn't have enough time to eat, the kids at my daughter's table all said, "It's like this every day!"

Today was certainly a busy day for the cafeteria staff. I understand. Serving students and extra guests takes extra time. But I've had many meals in the school cafeteria with my daughter over the years, and not always on holidays. Each time it's been hectic and rushed, giving us only ten or fifteen minutes to eat, and each time I've thought about complaining to someone in charge, but I never wanted to make a fuss. Today, when we only had five minutes to eat, I changed my mind. I decided that our kids deserve for us to make a fuss over them.

Not only is five to fifteen minutes not enough time to eat a meal, it's a big waste of money. Mostly taxpayer dollars. Seventy-percent of the students at my daughter's school receive free or reduced priced meals. They are called "free" or "reduced price," but they are not actually "free" or "reduced price." They are paid for by tax dollars. Money collected from my paycheck. And gladly so. I think our free and reduced priced lunch program is one of the best services we can give public school students. Like I said, it's difficult, if not impossible, to be a productive member of society if you are hungry. I gladly pay my taxes so that kids have enough to eat.

They have enough to eat. They do not have enough time to eat.

My daughter is lucky. Our family is financially stable enough that I can send her to school with a sack lunch. Then, instead of waiting to get in line and then standing in line for her meal (10-20 minutes,) she can just sit right down and start eating her sack lunch. All she has to worry about is the five minutes at the end of the lunch period reserved for cleaning up and waiting in line to head back to class. Having twenty-five minutes to eat lunch is adequate. Anything less is a grave disservice to our kids. Especially those seventy-percent of kids who rely on the free and reduced price lunch program to achieve their nutritional needs.

Today, as we were dismissed from our Thanksgiving Meal, instead of feeling thankful, I felt sick to my stomach as I watched hungry children dump half of their meals into the trash.

Our kids deserve better. Please, join me in asking the Shawnee Mission School Board of Education, the superintendent, and the school principal to extend the time students are allowed to eat lunch. Here is the petition I created:

Give Shawnee Mission School Kids More Time to Eat Lunch

***Update, 4:09PM***

I spoke with the school principal. She assured me that the kids are supposed to have enough time to finish their meal, and if for some reason they don't have time, they can take their tray to the classroom with them. I've instructed my daughter to let me know if in the future she and her classmates are not given adequate time to finish their meal.

Thanks to Principal Griffith for her quick response and encouraging words.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Seriously Stupid Rant

Did you hear the one about the nation that bombed the fuck out of a hospital full of innocent citizens and then turned around and started criticizing the slaughter of innocents in Paris last week? Seriously. It's no joke.

Thank God I'm an American. Seriously. I am grateful to live in a country where I can freely voice my opinion about how our government leaders are fucking things up, worry free.

Merry Christmas, Governor Brownback!!!
Posted by Becky Carleton on Monday, November 16, 2015

Sure, I'm not worried because it's my First Amendment right to speak freely, but also I'm not worried because I know most of my fellow Americans aren't paying attention.

Nobody gives a shit when we're bombing brown people half-way around the world when our boys in blue just won the "World" Series and brought our community together for a big rally. I was there. I'm not saying I have anything against 800,000 of my closest friends showing up to celebrate the Kansas City Royals' victory. I enjoyed the giant kumbaya, too. I just wish 800,000 of my closest friends would show up to rally for peace with me, too.

Instead, since the Paris attacks last week, I'm seeing so many battle cries on my Facebook feed, it makes me want to cry. It's a sad sick deja vu. Yes, it's awful what the terrorists did to the innocent people of Paris. Yes, we should find a way to end the seemingly endless terror inflicted upon innocent people all over our planet. But bombing more brown people half-way around the world is not going to solve our problems.

There was this guy named Einstein who once lived on this planet. He had some big ideas. His intelligence was so revered, to this day if we're around someone smart we call him or her an Einstein. I like what this guy Einstein had to say about the definition of insanity:

At least I think Einstein said that. I saw it on an internet meme, so it must be true.

Please, stop the insanity. Stop the bombings. End this endless war.

Here's another internet meme guy who speaks the truth:

I understand why most of my friends and family and neighbors pay more attention to sports scores and celebrity gossip--Did you see that Charlie Sheen's going to talk about his HIV status on the Today Show?--than they pay attention to our nation's foreign policy and world news. Sports and celebrity gossip are cut and dried. Nice and easy. Good and bad.

We lost! Oh, no!
We won! Hooray!
Charlie Sheen has AIDS? Well, that's what he gets...

The world wages more wars as I sit safe in my comfy chair in my living room far away from the battle zones and murder sites. From my safe distance, I try to figure it all out.

I like to search for meaning in many different ways. I am a Christian. I attend a Presbyterian church in the middle of this here God Blessed U - S - A, and yet it's not jingoist and Lee Greenwoody at all. My church is full of skeptics and intellectuals and moms and dads and seniors and teens and young people who like to ride on this journey along side others with an open mind.

But still. I call myself a Christian, and so I am a Christian. I'm not your "typical" Christian, but do you honestly know any "typical" Christians once you get to know them as people? Once you sit down at the table and talk and share a meal together? Human beings are far more complex than the labels we assign ourselves reveal. Sit down and have a conversation with someone before you think you know them.

I'd like to sit down and have a conversation with this Muslim writer, Professor Reza Aslan. I've seen him speak on various talk shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher over the years. I once put a hold on his book, Zealot, about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but I never got around to reading it. After seeing this clip of him responding to the question of whether or not Islam promotes violence, I think I need to start paying more attention to him.

Of all the talking heads, Aslan makes the most sense. From the video clip above:
LEMON: "...There is nothing particular, there's no common thread in Muslim countries, you can't paint with a broad brush that somehow their justice system or Sharia law or what they're doing in terms of stoning and female mutilation is different than in other countries like Western countries?" 
ASLAN: "Stoning and mutilation and those barbaric practices should be condemned and criticized by everyone. The actions of individuals and societies and countries like Iran, like Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia must be condemned, because they don't belong in the 21st century. 
"But to say Muslim countries, as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same, as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though somehow what is happening in the most extreme forms of these repressive countries, these autocratic countries, is representative of what's happening in every other Muslim country, is, frankly -- and I use this word seriously -- stupid. So let's stop doing that... 
"...Again, these kinds of oversimplifications I think only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS is a problem. Al Qaeda is a problem. These militant Islamic groups like Hamas, like Hezbollah, like the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn't actually help us to deal with them when, instead of talking about rational conflicts, rational criticisms of a particular religion, we instead so easily slip into bigotry by simply painting everyone with a single brush, as we have been doing in this conversation, mind you."
I'd love to sit down and have a conversation with Professor Aslan and talk show host Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks. Aslan is a Muslim, and Uygur is Agnostic. I highly recommend everyone, including my Christian and Atheist friends, to watch this interview. If you want to see two intelligent, rational, thoughtful people debate in a meaningful way, here you go:

Here's my favorite part:
Reza Aslan: "This is the problem. The reason why Sam Harris is a fundamentalist, like any other fundamentalist, is because he reads the scripture the way a fundamentalist reads the scripture. He reads the scripture and believes that it is literal and inerrant and if anybody who disagrees with the literal inerrancy of it then they are not really a Muslim, they're not really a Christian. You know who else believes that? Fundamentalists believe that. That's who else. Scripture is just words on a page. It has everything that you need. If you're a feminist, you can look to the scripture and find plenty of things to justify your feminism. If you're a misogynist, you can look at that exact same scripture and find plenty of things to justify your misogyny. Only a fool or a bigot follows only half the verses of the scripture and ignores the other half. That's what Sam Harris does. It's what ISIS does. It's what all fundamentalists do." 
Cenk Uygur: "Why do you choose to believe Islam if you know that the text isn't really true?" 
Aslan: "First of all, I don't 'believe Islam'. Islam is a man-made institution. It's a set of symbols and metaphors that provides a language for which to express what is inexpressible, and that is faith. It's symbols and metaphors that I prefer. But it's not more right or more wrong than any other symbols and metaphors. It's a language. That's all it is."
What do you think? I'd like this seriously stupid rant to spark some conversation.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Imagine There's No Pastor

We returned to church today after a few months' absence. It was a good day for a do-over. We got to see what it's like without a pastor. We didn't have a guest pastor or anything. No sermon. Several people got up and talked about what Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church means to them. We sang hymns. We prayed together. It was nice.

I'm a little surprised that I decided to return. I've sworn off religion more often than not during my life. And, still, it's not religion I seek. I seek community. Brotherhood. Sisterhood. Family.

Like a kid worried about the breakup of her family after Mom kicks Dad out of the house, I wasn't sure how a church with no pastor would work. Especially when I thought I was on Dad's side...uh, I mean the pastor's side.

See, the pastor and my church broke up recently, and the experience made me feel like a kid torn between Mom and Dad. I dealt with the breakup like a runaway adolescent. I got the hell out of there. I focused my thoughts and attention on myself and what I needed, which apparently was a lot of sleeping til noon and ignoring my email and voicemail, choosing only to communicate with the pastor and the church members via social media.

After a bit of introspection and discussing it with my nine-year-old daughter Katie, the Bonnie to my Clyde in all things spiritual, we decided we enjoy the feeling of community more than we enjoy slacking around the house on Sunday mornings. We missed our church friends. We were ready to try again.

We felt right at home. Which is weird, because I didn't think we would. I anticipated awkwardness. I mean, our church has literally no pastor. We even lost our associate pastor during the time I was avoiding everyone. She got a full-time gig out south, which was a decision she'd made long before it was revealed that our church and our head pastor were going separate ways. The congregation is literally on its own.

What would a pastorless church look like?

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

That's Jonas Hayes, the former pastor of my church, up there in the video clip, quoting Fitzgerald. That's his last sermon at the church. That's him, Pastor Jonas, having the audacity to sing a John Lennon song about a harmonious world with no religion to a congregation of self-declared Christians who elected to offer him a severance package, a pat on the back, and a "thank you" as he saw himself out the door.

What pissed me off the most about the breakup of my church and our pastor is that I had no idea there was a problem until it was too late to voice my opinion. We were informed that Pastor Jonas was leaving the church, and there was nothing I could do about it. I hate it when there's nothing I can do about something. I'm a teeny tiny bit of a control freak. I hate it when things don't go the way I want them to go.

I felt like I had no control over a big part of my life. I already have trust issues with many religious people. Pastor Jonas was the only person I ever trusted enough to baptize me. Wouldn't it be disloyal of me to continue to go back to the church he was asked to leave?

So, why did I return?

I don't know. There's no rational reason. Which makes perfect sense. Church is not the place I turn to when I need my rational needs met. Church is where I turn to when I need my emotional needs met. And right now, at this point in my life, I need to feel like I'm part of something bigger than me. I need my church family.

I had coffee with my friend Sarah this week. I think that's what did it. Sarah's just such a nice person. She's a charter member of Grace Covenant. She's the one who invited us to this church two years ago in the first place. My step-father had just died. His religious funeral both scared and intrigued our then seven-year-old, Katie. While discussing how she felt, Katie asked if we could go to a church. I said, "Sure, why not." It's a thing in our family.We like to keep an open mind and give all kinds of things a try.

Never in a million years would you have convinced me that I would not only join the church, but become a Sunday School teacher. Never in a million years would you have convinced me that I would allow someone to say a prayer and sprinkle water on my head in some holy rite. But I did. All of that. I fell in love with Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. I felt like I belonged.

I'm a lousy religious adherent. Getting me to go to church takes an act of God. Not only am I not a morning person, I don't wear pantyhose. I believe the stories in the Bible are metaphors, not the word of God. I think many religious leaders over the years have let the power go to their head and it's fucked up their idea of what it means to be a good person. I don't think people need religion to act morally.

And yet, I feel drawn to this particular community of churchgoers. Mainly, because they're cool with questioning. They're cool with people like me who aren't quite sure what's going on or why we're all here or any of the mysterious meaning of life kind of stuff, but who enjoy the company along the ride.

I might not ever know the reasons why things went sour between Pastor Jonas and our church, but everyone tells me it was a mutual agreement. I don't know. I'm going to take Pastor Jonas' advice from the video clip above. I'm going to hold these opposing ideas in my mind and try to work through it. I've found at this point in my life, I function best in a community of imperfect people who understand when I need time away and yet whose doors are always open when I'm ready to return.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Becky Dent

Kansas City Royal's Rally, November 3, 2015

My daughter Katie and I are in that photo up there, a bit to the right of the Liberty Memorial at the top. Can you see us? We're the ones in blue. Us and about 800,000 of our closest friends.

A couple of years ago, before I got back on my Sertraline, I never would have been caught dead attending something like this. A baseball rally? Are you kidding me? I'm not into sports.

People who know me now, who didn't know me as a kid, probably have a hard time thinking of me as a jock. I'm a librarian, for God's sake. I'm a reader. A writer. I spend most of my "active" time in my comfy chair. My brain is fit while my body fails to cooperate with me most of the time. I'm middle-aged, nonathletic, fat. No judgment intended. I'm just telling the truth.

I do like to get a rise out of people by telling them my jock-day stories. When I brag to our nine-year-old daughter about the time I won the layup contest in seventh grade, the jock girl inside me cringes and rolls her eyes, but I can't help myself.

me, age 13 in my badass basketball days

I'm like one of those dads who sits at the Thanksgiving table with a beer resting on his belly, talking between bites of pumpkin pie about the good ole days when he used to be the star quarterback in high school. His kids probably aren't even listening. His kids are probably outside playing football without him.

Even though I long ago shed my jock-girl persona, I actually tried to coach my daughter's third grade basketball team last year. When none of the other parents offered. I'm proud to say we won one game. All season. Sure we came in last place in the league, but didn't we have fun, girls? Girls?

One of the girls on my team was actually honest enough to say what all the other girls were thinking when she told me that her mom was going to put her on another team next season. When I asked her why, she said, "I guess she wants me to learn how to actually play the game, you know, instead of just having fun."

I didn't take it personally. It's not my fault if that family doesn't have its priorities straight. Fun is the only thing I get about sports these days. Fun, and camaraderie. A sense of belonging.

I like to brag about how athletic I used to be not because I care about winning, but because I like to challenge people's assumptions. When people look at me today, middle-aged, nonathletic, and fat, their first thought is not often, "I bet you were quite the baller back in the day, Becky." It's generally, "Hey, Miss Librarian, could you recommend a good book for my son who likes basketball?" So when I tell people I was once a great athlete, it's more because I get a kick out of surprising them and less because I give a shit about the score.

I was always an active kid. I always liked to play outside. I got bored sitting still. One of my first memories is looking out the window of my parent's bedroom, where Mom was folding the laundry, and listening to Mom sing this song:
Rain, rain go away
Becky Burton wants to play
I hated to be stuck inside on a rainy day. Our house was sooooooooo boring. It was just Mom and me at home during the day, and she was busy watching TV and doing housework. My dad worked from sunrise til sunset. I guess even though he was an accountant, he couldn't get over his farm roots. My siblings from my mom's side of the family, who range in age from nearly 8 to nearly 13 years older than me, were all in school and at after-school activities. My sibling on my dad's side of the family, 15 years older than me, was already away at college. We lived on the top of a hill with no other kids. My best friend Kristin had moved the year before, so I had no one to play with. I couldn't wait to start school so I could be around kids my age.

It wasn't all sad and lonely, though. Nights and weekends were fun with the family all at home, eating dinner together around the big dining room table with the leaf in it to expand to fit our huge family. I'm the youngest of six kids, although technically I'm an only child. It's complicated. My dad was married before he married my mom, and his first wife and he had one daughter, Glenda. My mom was married before she married my dad, and her first husband and she had four kids--Jay, Kitty, Pat, and Jenny. Then they all divorced, my parents met and married, and I was born one year later, the BABY baby of the family.

I loved it when everybody was at home. I loved being part of a big family. Feeling like I belonged to something greater than myself.

Then my siblings, one-by-one, began moving out. Going to college. Living with extended relatives. Getting married and starting families of their own. By the time I was twelve, I lived alone in the house with Mom and Dad and no other siblings. It felt so strange. Not only because Mom and Dad did not get along, and ended up divorcing a decade later, but because I began life surrounded by people and in twelve short years our big family crumbled til it was just the three of us.

Mom, Dad, and I moved to Overland Park, Kansas--a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri--in May 1983. I don't remember the exact day, but let's just say it was May 1, 1983. It was a few weeks before school would let out, so Mom drove me back and forth to school that last month so I could complete sixth grade with my school buddies, the same kids I'd known since we moved to the district a month after first grade started. When we had moved there, the month after first grade started, I was devastated. I didn't want to move. I had no friends. I felt shy and awkward. I never thought I'd make new friends, but I did. By sixth grade, I had tons of friends. I played team sports--basketball and softball. I was friends with everyone at school, never had a shortage of friends to play with at recess. I hate to brag--oh, who am I kidding? I love to brag: I was always the first one picked, if not the team captain, whenever we'd play a game of kickball at recess. I had friends in the neighborhood. We'd play baseball in the street. They nicknamed me "Becky Dent" after MVP Bucky Dent. I'd finally felt like I belonged once again to something bigger than myself.

In a flash, it was gone. Again. When we moved to Overland Park it felt like my foundation had completely crumbled. I was back to square one. No friends, No teammates. And to make matters worse, no siblings at home to share in my misery. It was one of the worst summers of my life.

And also, one of the best. I had my Royals. On May 1, 1983, the Royals played the Cleveland Indians. They lost, 1-2. Not that my memory is all that great. I'm a librarian, remember? All these years of working at the public library have turned me into an all-star researcher. See, I'm even a wiz at citing sources.

I have no idea if I listened to that game, but I certainly began my obsession with listening to the Royals on the radio sometime at the beginning of that summer. They became my friends. The family I wished I had. I fantasized about running away and becoming the first professional female baseball player. George Brett and I would get married and have kids. Life would be full of fun and family and friends.

Too bad I suck at baseball. Actually, softball. Overland Park didn't have a girls' baseball team, so I signed up for softball the summer after seventh grade. I completely and totally sucked.

I had completely and totally sucked the first time I tried to play softball on a team, when I was an anorexic eleven year old:

me, age 11

I had assumed I sucked at softball because starvation and athleticism don't generally go together like peanut butter and chocolate. More like Tab and chocolate.

Turns out I still sucked at softball, even after I had stopped starving myself. I was the worst player on the team. I was terrible at catching and running. I had once been a fast runner, but now my growing boobs were in the way. They hurt every time I'd run hard, and I didn't have the sense to ask for a sports bra. I was fairly good at hitting, but only when I wasn't flinching at the pitch. I was terrified of getting hit by the ball. A softball is much smaller and harder than a basketball. It stings when it makes contact with your skin and bones. A basketball is easier to catch and bounce away from your face.

I simply didn't fit in with the girls on the team, who were all jock-girls who'd been playing on the same team together for years. I felt left out. I had been such a great basketball player, I didn't know how to be a sucky softball player. It was the first time I knew what it felt like to not be the "star".

The coach made me play right-field. Not because I had a great arm to throw from right-field to home or anything. Because I sucked at catching fly balls, and most of the girls on the opposing teams were right-handed. It was out there in right-field one day, that summer of 1984, that I realized my career as the first female professional baseball player had ended before it began.

me, age 13

It was one year after my obsession with the Royals began, and soon my love for them would wane.

I considered signing up for basketball that fall, but my big boobs protested that idea. And anyway, I'd recently reunited with my friend Gina from my old school. Her parents were getting divorced and her mom moved close enough to us that it wasn't a pain for our parents to drive us over to each other's house for sleepovers.

Gina was "artsy" and not athletic at all. She had no interest in sports. I had more interest in having a real life friend than fantasy sports team friends, so I stopped paying attention to sports. My obsession with the Royals, and specifically with George Brett turned into an obsession with the band Duran Duran, and specifically with the drummer Roger Taylor. Gina had introduced me to Duran Duran and Star Hits magazine. Soon, instead of fantasizing of running away and joining the Royals, I began to fantasize about running away and joining Duran Duran. I could be their backup singer. I could marry Roger Taylor and have his babies and we'd be one big happy family.

Too bad I can't carry a tune. It hasn't stopped me from singing though. Sure, I took a thirty-year break from singing when I felt too awkward, but, with the help of my meds, I discovered I have a talent for singing goofy kids songs. I'm a children's librarian and I get to sing and read with preschoolers every week. I met a great guy. We got married and had a kid. I've built my own family. I'm happier than I've ever been. My life has turned out way better than any pubescent fantasy.

Which is why now, after a thirty year dry spell, I can look at my Royals with warmth and esteem. I'm in a good place in my life, so I can afford to relive a joyful childhood interest I had long ago. Maybe it's my midlife crisis, but it seems like a relatively harmless one. I'm no longer obsessed with the Royals, but I enjoy following them, and I had a blast at the rally after they won the World Series this year with my kiddo and 800,000 of our closest friends. It felt like I belonged, to something bigger than myself.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King (book review)

I Crawl Through ItI Crawl Through It by A.S. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish Kurt Vonnegut were alive to read this masterful literary homage. I'm not the only one who sees the connection. Margaret Wappler writes in the October 23, 2015 issue of the New York Times Book Review: "King’s devotion to a passionately experimental style, in a genre often beholden to formula, is inspiring. Kurt Vonnegut might have written a book like this, if he had ever been cyber-bullied on Facebook."

I'm telling you: get your hands on this book. RIGHT NOW. Make yourself some tea, grab your favorite blanket, and get ready for a sensational, surreal ride in which you never leave your comfy chair. First off, King's inventive and playful use of language is brilliant. Metaphorical, but sparse, not flowery, never cloying. She sucks you in. She's the candle at the bottom of the small-mouth bottle. You're the hard-boiled egg atop the small-mouth bottle, getting sucked in. At first you might be thinking, "I'm not a hard-boiled egg. I'm a human being and this is just a book." Let go of that thought. Allow yourself to be a hard-boiled egg for a while. It's the only way you'll get through the it King's asking us to crawl through. Follow along and don't ask too many questions. Pay attention, but don't worry if you don't understand. That's kind of the point.

Not knowing can be scary. It can also be thrilling. The great physicist Richard Feynman says it best:

"I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things I don't know anything about. Such as, whether it means anything to ask why we're here. And what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit. If I can't figure it out, then I go on to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things. By being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose. Which is the way it really is as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me."

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Katie's Report Card

The most helpful parenting book I've ever read was written by an educator who hates tests, a critic of our culture's emphasis on punishments and rewards, a father who has the audacity to recommend we listen to our kids rather than scold them when they make mistakes. Here's my full review of Alfie Kohn's excellent parenting book, Unconditional Parenting:

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and ReasonUnconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most helpful parenting book I've ever read. Education critic Kohn goes into lots of detail, using stories of his own children as examples, which you'll find in the book (and on the DVD lecture video as well), but let me sum up what I got out of it:

Treat your kids with the same patience, love, and respect as you treat your best friends, your most cherished family members, your honored guests. Don't worry about "spoiling" your child. Repeat: do not worry that your kindness will spoil your child. Smash that outdated idea like a bug and move on with your life. Talk less, listen more. Scold less, have problem-solving conversations more. Treat your kiddo the way you would want to be treated, with caring, calmness, and empathy. Trust kids to make their own decisions. When things don't work out, have a discussion about what worked and what didn't work, and what they could have done differently. Worry less about academic achievement and hitting developmental milestones "on time". Remember what it was like to be a kid. Step back and reflect. Don't just assume your kids know you love them unconditionally. Tell your kids you will love them no matter what and that they can talk to you about anything.

Seriously. Parenting is hard. We all need help. I've read lots of parenting advice, and for me, Kohn's words ring the most true.

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Needless to say, Kohn's not a big fan of the type of education most of our kids get in public school. With their budget cuts, especially here in Kansas, public schools often struggle to give our kids the individualized attention they need to build bigger brains and kinder minds. Due to chronic underfunding, public schools over-test, over-lecture, and overlook the potential in most kids. I'd rather see our schools focus on critical and creative thinking rather than on test scores and percentiles and lexiles and all the miles and miles of bureaucratic bullshit kids slog through each day.

But, what can I say? Our kiddo goes to public school. Our kiddo started begging to go to school by the time she was four. Staying at home alone, with no siblings or peers to play with, bored Katie to tears. Even now as a nine-year-old fourth grader, she loves going to school. Most days. Sure, like most kids, Katie also occasionally excels at couch potato-ing: binge watching DanTDM, iHasCupquake, stampylonghead, and other fun, gaming YouTubers. But she's also a big fan of Cosmos, VSauce3, and CrashCourseKids, all three epic educational shows on YouTube.

Katie goes to the public school in our neighborhood. I always told myself that if she begins to show signs of struggling with her public school education, if she gets bored, if she stops thinking for herself, if she asks for a change, I'd take her out and homeschool her, or, more likely since I'm a total slacker, I'd unschool her. Which is kinda what we do now, when Katie's at home. When she's at school, she takes tests and follows rules and has a routine. When she's at home, she's mostly free to explore her own interests, catering to her creative mind. As long as she harms no one.

Neither Katie's father, Will, nor I were gifted students. We're both bright, independent thinkers, but we're also rather unmotivated when it comes to listening to other people's lectures and, you know, remembering to turn in our homework. We're both the youngest siblings in our families, and youngest sibs generally have it the easiest. After a try--or five, in my parents' case--with our older siblings, our parents gave up pushing their kids and pretty much ignored our academic achievement.

Which was good in some ways, and bad in some ways. As life always is.

Neither Will nor I have finished college. Will took a couple of classes that interested him at the community college, but he dropped out when his interests waned. I got my Associate of Arts degree from that same community college. It only took me eleven years to finish that two-year degree.

We're both allergic to hypocritical bullshit, so I can't see how either of us will ever have the leverage to push our daughter academically. How can we encourage her to try hard in school when we never did? All we can tell her is to do her best and we'll love her no matter what. Which, honestly, I think is the best advice parents can give their children.

I loved school until my messy life got in the way. I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade. In fifth grade I passed out at school one day. Mom took off work to take me to the doctor, who diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa. I missed a lot of school that year, and every year thereafter, dealing with my eating disorders and undiagnosed at the time post-traumatic stress disorder. My grades began to slip. I remember in sixth grade we were sent to different rooms according to our reading level. It was the first year I wasn't in the highest reading level. I felt embarrassed. I thought reading was my thing. From that day forward, I still loved to read, but you'd never know it by looking at my report card. If all I had to do to get an A+ in reading is love to read a ton of books of my own choosing, I'd have been the valedictorian of our school. But "do you love to read" was never a question on our standardized tests. The closest I got to being the valedictorian was sharing a bottle of Boone's Farm with her the summer after graduation. My standards are high when it comes to corrupting the best and brightest minds.

But Katie is not me. It's a difficult fact to remember. Maybe it's because this person used to reside inside of me. Sure, the doctor might have severed the cord connecting us, but I still feel like she is a part of me. And she's not. It's the hardest lesson for mothers to learn, I think. So when Katie talks about her education, the lesson for me is that it's hers and not mine.

Katie's school had an assembly last week to celebrate the end of the first quarter. She was called up in front of everyone to shake the principal's hand and get this certificate stating that she made the all-A honor roll. Because I'm so hesitant to emphasize the importance of grades and test scores and all that academic achievement stuff, I didn't say anything like "way to go!" or "I'm so proud of you" or "good job" or any of that, first thing. I said all that later in our conversation, but when Katie first told me she'd made all-As, the first thing out of my mouth was, "So how did that make you feel?"

I know. I sound like her therapist instead of her mom. But it's honestly what I wanted to know. My goal in parenting is not to have the most certificates of academic achievement from our daughter lining our walls, but to have the most interesting conversations, hardy laughs, and soul-filling hugs from our daughter throughout our time together on this planet. If I were going to write a book about parenting, I'd call it Big Picture Parenting. When you'd open the book, here's what it would say:

Don't worry about the details. Let your kid know you love them no matter what and that they can ask you anything. Be the person you needed when you were a kid, but also be the person your kid needs now.

That's it. Not really much content, sure, but at least it's easy to remember.

So when Katie told me she got called up to shake the principal's hand in front of the assembly and praised for her good grades, I asked how she felt.

Katie said, "I felt like I was going to cry tears of joy."

That's what makes me proud--that my kiddo's life experiences are filled with joy. That, right there, is the highest honor. I took a picture of Katie, smiling proudly as she held up her certificate and commenced to facebragging to all my friends and family on Facebook.

If you're wondering who the little dog is in the picture, that's our foster dog, Señorita. Well, she was our foster dog until we found her family. We kept her comfy for a few days until her owner saw our "found dog" ad in the local paper and gave us a call. The first night Señorita stayed with us, Katie didn't want her to feel lonely, so she pulled out her sleeping bag and slept on the floor next to Señorita's kennel. Well, it's not Señorita's kennel, but you know what I mean. Let's just say she's not the first little dog we've fostered. 

That right there is what makes me proud of our daughter. She's so kind. So caring. So concerned with the welfare of others, whether they're little dogs or her peers in school.

Will and I had our first parent-teacher conference with Katie's fourth grade teacher. She gushed so much about our daughter I felt like I was floating on a nirvana-like cloud of proud parenting when we left her room. 

She's bright.

She's kind.

She's genuine.

That's what Katie's teacher had to say about her. Sure, she showed us her test scores and talked about her grades, but mostly, she beamed as she told us how much she loves our child.

"She's just so kind. And genuine. I mean, lots of kids will help others because they think there's a reward in it for them, but Katie helps others just because she wants to. I've seen other kids drop things and Katie's the first to stop and help them pick things up. She's so genuinely caring. I love her."

They're all things I've thought myself about our daughter over the years, but it's nice to hear a third-party's perspective. I might be a teeny tiny bit partial.

It's these types of stories I like to share about my daughter. Yes, she works hard and follows rules and does her homework and gets good grades. But what makes my heart soar is when I hear how kind she is to others.

OK, one last thing to top off this outlandish bragfest. It's not a great photo. I broke my good camera, so until we can afford to buy a new one, I'm stuck with the crappy camera on my old dumb phone.

Hopefully the content will impress you more than the presentation. Here's a worksheet Katie filled out for us to read at her parent-teacher conference. Below, I'll type out the questions and answers in case you can't read them in the photo. 

Welcome to my conference!
My favorite part of 4th grade is "to read challling (sic) books on Epic because I love reading."
In class, I am really good at "1. Rounding because I have been practicing for one year. 2. Turning in my homework because routines grow on me easily. 3. Reading because I read a lot and my mom read me books since I was a baby."
 My goals for the rest of the year are "1. Read one hundred books on Epic so I can become a better reader. 2. Be friends with everyone so everyone can be happy. 3. Go to subtraction on XtraMath so I can be better at math."
You can help me reach these goals by "practicing math with me, make sure I finsh (sic) one book every day or more, and helping me with life situatiens (sic)." 
When I looked up from reading the worksheet, I smiled. Katie asked,"do you know why I wrote 'helping me with life situations' on my list?"


"Because sometimes I need help with life situations and that helps me do better at school."

Wiser words I've never heard. I'm so proud of our Katie.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy (book review)

Dumplin'Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

AH-mazing! So realistic, it felt like I was reading my high school diary. The one I tossed into the dumpster in a fit of embarrassment one day in my late-twenties after I'd made the mistake of re-reading it when I was in a bad place in my life, madly in unrequited-love with someone who could never love me back. I thought I was done with love. Now, I'm middle-aged, madly in love, married to the perfect guy for me. I would love to read over my old diary from high school. To reconnect with my younger self. To see how much I've grown. What was I thinking all those years ago, giving up hope, unable to imagine the love I'd find some day? Tossing out thoughts like they were trash.

Grownups in our society too often ridicule teenage girls. Silly things. So easily upset. So emotional. So moody and self-absorbed and myopic. We brush off their thoughts and feelings as if they are insignificant.

That's what I love so much about young adult fiction. Good young adult fiction, like Dumplin'. It takes teenager's thoughts and feelings seriously.

Guess what? When we're experiencing first love, we all feel awkward. And exhilarated. When we're not kids anymore, but not adults yet either, we're caught between feeling independent from our parents (I am NOT going to be like Mom and Dad!) and wanting to cling to them and have them assure us that everything will be OK.

If you don't remember what it's like to be a teenager, you probably won't appreciate Dumplin' too much. But I do. I feel like I've found my long lost self, and I just can't help but keep smiling and cheering her on.

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