Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Congo Rapes and Kindergarten Kisses: A Pacifist's Battle

Dr. Andrew Weil is my favorite health advisor, but I disagree with him on one point. He recommends "news fasting" as a way of achieving optimum mental health. But I can't help myself. My husband calls my interest in the horrible aspects of humanity my "Rwandan Genocide Videos". Once, when were were still dating, he came home from work and found me on our couch sobbing. He ran over to me, threw his arms around my shoulders and asked, "What's wrong?"

I choked out between snot and tears streaming down my face, like a five year old whose toy had been snatched away from her, "Why do people have to be so mean to each other?"

He looked at the TV, back at me and asked, "Another Rwandan Genocide Video?"

I nodded cautiously like a child caught doing something she's been told not to do. Life's atrocities are like a car wreck I can't seem to look away from. Like this article about the mass rapes happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I don't believe in sin, so it's especially difficult for me to understand why human beings can be so brutal. What makes a person rape an infant girl? What makes a person cut up a husband's genitals and force his wife to eat them in front of her children? Savagery? Sin? Or something else? I don't know.

Sometimes I give up trying to figure it out and just let it go, which I think is what Dr. Weil is suggesting. But when I news-fast, it's because I've become overwhelmed with grief, not because I've figured out a way to get past it. I get too depressed thinking about such apparent evil.

My depression stems from the disconnect I experience since I don't believe the "Devil made me do it." Which makes the responsibility fall on human beings, from something wrong internally, not from any external supernatural force. But why? What makes some people on this planet - like Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, Mister Rogers, like countless unnamed healers and nurturers throughout history - what makes these people so special that they can somehow overcome what often seems like our species' violent nature to live so peaceably and wage love instead of war on humanity? What makes other people on this planet rape infants and mutilate each other? I just don't get it.

When I am able to pay attention to news reports of such atrocities, I want to do something. I want to hop in my car, drive through my comfortable suburban neighborhood to the airport and take the next flight to whatever region is in conflict so I can do something to try to stop the insanity. But I have a little girl to walk to school, a husband who needs me to make his lunch, dogs and a cat that need me to entice them off the couch to come into the kitchen and eat their kibble. I have a mortgage. I have laundry. I have dishes and floors and toilets to clean. I don't have time to save the world.

So what can I do? I can news-fast for the sake of my own mental health. But in the long run, that doesn't work. When I accidentally catch a glimpse of headlines alerting me to the world's brutality, it snaps me out of my comfy suburban daze and I feel even worse for having done nothing to help. It seems counter-productive, but I need to worry about the world for the sake of my own mental wellness. Ignoring others' suffering for the sake of my own sanity leads me headlong into the depths of depression far worse than paying attention and trying to do something about it. If I were a Christian I'd say "Fuck you, Devil! Jesus is in charge here!" I wish I were a Christian. It would be so much easier to give it up to God than to take responsibility to improve the world myself.

Last night I was having trouble sleeping after having read this particularly difficult news report. Forty-eight women per HOUR are raped in the Congo. How can I go to bed and fall asleep in the comfort of my own safe home when my fellow sisters across the globe are suffering so? What can I do? Donating money, volunteering my time, any measly thing I could think of seems so futile.

I've been blessed with two particular talents: parenting and writing. How can I incorporate my talents into ways to help this suffering planet?

This. Right here. What I'm doing now. I can raise my daughter and I can write about it. I can teach my daughter that it is wrong to view other human beings as either allies or enemies, which leads to never-ending battles when conflict arises. It is wrong to listen to people in authority tell you it is ok to hurt others because they are on the wrong side. It is wrong to partake of the spoils of war or engage in any action that steals from other people - whether you're robbing them of their goods or their souls. It is wrong to accept that violence is a part of human nature that we can never overcome. We must be strong in our belief that despite hard evidence to the contrary, human beings are basically good.

Damn, it's hard. I know the reason I'm able to flirt with pacifism is because I was born in the wealthiest nation on earth to a middle class, white privileged, educated family. I was born in 1970 in the Western world, during a time when my older sisters were fighting for equal rights for me and my peers. I come from a safe community, with a full belly and little outside obstacles to overcome. My family was far from perfect and I battled my fair share of psychological warfare internally. But I never had to decide between hiding but starving and getting raped while foraging for food. So it's easy for me, in my safe, peaceful world, to think the best of my species and believe we can evolve into kind souls. I suspect if I grew up in the Congo I'd have a different opinion of humanity's ability to spiritually evolve.

But it's what I've got, my optimism. My belief that we can all be Jesuses, Gandhis, Dalai Lamas, Maya Angelous, and Mr. Rogerses if given half a chance. So I wake up each day and raise my daughter to forgive her peers and show them how strong she can be by not participating in such nonsense as "an eye for an eye."

Yesterday Katie informed me that one of the boys in her kindergarten class doesn't like her. I was shocked. "How could anyone not like you? You're such a likeable girl?"

"He doesn't like me, Mama."

"Did he tell you he doesn't like you?" I wanted proof. I felt a rage rising within me. What is his problem? I wanted to hunt down this little punk ass five year old and beat the shit out of him for not liking my girl.

"No, but he says he doesn't want me to hug and kiss him."

I felt my internal rage dissipate and I smiled. As usual, this conflict arose from a simple misunderstanding. "Sweetie, just because he doesn't want you to hug and kiss him doesn't mean he doesn't like you. Some people are just not huggy and kissy people. He just needs his personal space and it probably embarrasses him to have some girl try to kiss in at school. Lots of kids, boys especially, don't like kisses and hugs from girls until they're much older."

"But Aiden likes to hug and kiss me." Katie reminded me. Aiden is her boyfriend, a fellow fan of PDAs at school. When I'm the reading helper for their class on Fridays, I catch glimpses of them holding hands and sitting next to each other during all of the group activities.

"Right. But not everyone is like Aiden and you. Some people need more time to warm up to others before they want to show them how much they love them. Some people don't feel like school is the right place to hug and kiss other people. They're just there to learn and not to spread the love. You have to respect their feelings, Sweetie."

It seems like such a small thing, teaching our children empathy. But the significance of it could change the world. You can't commit acts of violence toward others if you consider things from their point of view. The only thing that can conquer this violent world is the spread of empathy. And it starts right here at home, in school, with our children. Right now.

It's never ending, this pacifist's battle. Yet it's the only one worth fighting.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fun and Lively

My dad is generally not generous with compliments. He was born in 1927, grew up during the Great Depression, and was drafted into the army during World War II where he helped with the cleanup of Europe. Then, to top off a tough early life, at the age of twenty-two my dad discovered his dad dead in the shower after my grandmother left him for another man.

The only two stories I recall my dad telling me about my grandfather were not flattering. Once when my dad came home from school, when he was just a small boy, my grandfather found out that my dad didn't fight back when a bully attacked him at school. So my grandfather decided to "teach him not to be a coward" by beating him with his belt in the front yard in front of the whole neighborhood. The second story involved the local bar owner calling my dad at the age of fourteen to come pick up his dad, who was too drunk to drive himself home. My dad recalled this story as he was teaching me how to drive when I was sixteen. I remember driving down the road, my dad in the passenger seat explaining to me why he got to learn how to drive when he was only fourteen.

Yeah, I know, most of us had rough childhoods and many of us still manage to be nice. But I'm always reminded of my dad's early years whenever he's being a jerk.

When I was in junior high and my dad informed me that it would from then on be my responsiblity to cook and clean for the family since both my mom and dad worked full time, I wanted to retort, "Hey, my friends don't have those kinds of responsibilities on top of school work," but I knew if I did, Dad would once again remind me that my life was easy compared to his.

So I cooked and cleaned without complaint. But I longed for some kind of reward. I sought validation and was often denied. When I'd dutifully serve dinner, I'd wait for Dad to miraculously turn into one of those caring fathers featured in Father's Day greeting cards or old black and white movies. He'd take a couple bites of dinner. I'd wait. Finally I'd give up and ask, "How is it?" Mom would always say, "Oh, it's delicious." The most I ever got out of dad was "It'll do."

It's funny now. Who says, "It'll do?" But at the time I couldn't understand why I couldn't please my father.

Will likes to tease me now. At 41, my culinary skills peaked in junior high. I think it's psychological. Just as the probablity that I hate math is great due to the rebellion I felt against my two accountant parents, I learned to view cooking as an unrewarding chore. But since I've gone part time at the library, I feel like I need to earn my keep and save the family money by cooking more. So when I do make the effort, as Katie and Will and I sit at the table, we often go through the routine of my asking how it is and Will joking, "It'll do."

I gave up fishing for compliments from my dad years ago. So it was a tremendous surprise when he paid me one on Thanksgiving. He was an hour and a half early, sitting there at our dining room table. I was trying to help Will, the real chef in our family, get our feast together. Will was in the kitchen peeling the potatoes, the one measely task he'd given me after he assigned himself the bird, the gravy, and the stuffing. "No, no, Babe, I'll do that!" I said about five times while I kept getting distracted by the guest.

My dad was talking about his new girlfriend, describing her daughter, "She reminds me of you. She's fun and lively."

Not quite sure I heard him right, I put my hand on his arm and said, "Wait, so what you're telling me is I'm fun and lively?"

He laughed and said, "Yeah, I guess I am."

I have a vague recollection of Dad once telling me that I am smart like my mother. You'd think I would remember more vividly such an unsual thing, my dad paying me a compliment. But it's a murky memory so maybe I'm just making it up.

From what I recall, it was right after Mom had left him. I'd spent as far back as I could remember wishing my parents would get a divorce. When they finally were, I felt oddly sorry for Dad. His temper, his tightwaddery, had always made me side with my mom during their fights when I was growing up. But at that moment, when he finally admitted he had nice things to say about my mom and me, I forgave him for all the times he never did.

After this second compliment, as he sat at my dining table, I gave him a hug. I was startled at how boney his shoulders are. When I was a kid, my dad seemed huge and intimidating. Now he felt small and vulnerable.

I'm happy he's finally realized my good qualities. I'm even happier he's finally learned I won't turn into a coward if he pays me an occasional compliment.

One Nation Under God

Before we dug into our Thanksgiving feast, I asked Katie if she wanted to lead us in prayer. She said, "Sure!" and proceeded to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

I'm sure her confusion over the difference between a prayer to God and the words of Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy used to express loyalty to our republic stem from having Will and me as parents.

We're irreligious. If you look at Will's Facebook profile, he claims to be an atheist, but that's an oversimplification. My Facebook profile says I'm into the "Ethic of Reciprocity/Dudeism," which is close to my core beliefs, but still too simple.

When people ask, I tell them I'm an agnostic who loves Jesus but not organized religion. Which generally garners the same confused looks I get when I label myself as a bisexual who is married to a man, a flexitarian who eats little meat, or a philosophical relativist. I suspect people assume I just can't commit. But really, I'm just more comfortable dwelling somewhere in the middle. I should be a Buddhist, but I enjoy alcohol and other means of achieving non-sobriety too much. And I'd hate to associate myself with people like Richard Gere.

Even though Will claims to be an atheist, he's the one who first suggested to me that since energy cannot be created nor destroyed perhaps that is the case for all living things. Which is exactly how I feel. And although he perceives such an idea from its scientific aspect and I perceive it from its spritual side, we ultimately believe the same thing: we're all connected to the same energy force, aka God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it.

We're not alone. I'm reading an excellent book by Dr. Andrew Weil called "Spontaneous Happiness." It's one of those books I find myself saying, Yes, yes, yes" as I read it. I stumbled upon another yes-inducing quote from Dr. Weil this morning, "By spiritual I mean our nonmaterial essence, that aspect of our being that connects us to the essence of all other beings and to everything in the universe. Spirituality and religion share some common ground, but spirituality is not synonymous with religion." (p.63)

It reminds me of another yes-quote, this one from my favorite living religious leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama:

"Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home. If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another. If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self-worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others. I believe that at every level of society - familial, tribal, national and international - the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness. It is the practice of compassion."

Organized religion is generally too hierarchical and dogmatic for me, but I'm not completely opposed to going to church. Once I caught Katie pretending to belt out some traditional African-American gospel music as we were dining at a soul food restaurant. I asked the owners of the restaurant if they had a recomendation for a church that had good music. They invited us to attend their church. We have several times. We both love the music. Katie loves the crafts and singing they do in "children's church" down in the basement. I love geting hugged by at least fifty of my joyful, soulful black brothers and sisters at the beginning of the service.

We don't attend regularly, mostly because I like to sleep late on Sundays, but also because I get annoyed when the assistant pastor starts guilt-tripping the congregation into offering more than just five or ten dollars when they pass the hat so that we can send the pastor and his wife on a cruise. I'm all for tithing your income to charity if that's your thing. But I'm sorry, giving more money than you can comfortably afford so two human beings can go on vacation seems not very Jesusesque.

I answer Katie's questions about God and Jesus and anything else she asks because I don't want my daughter to be ignorant of the dominant religion in her country. I like to encourage her curiosity and spiritual development. But I always temper my answers with "Some people think..." and "But I think..." I want her to realize there is more than one way to know God and that ultimately no person on this earth has the answers to all quetions. Which can be confusing to a five year old who wants a definite yes or no response to life's complexities.

So I can understand why Katie would think I meant "recite the Pledge" when I asked if she wanted to lead us in prayer. It's one of the few places she regularly hears the words "under God." It's just funny that she learned these words at her public school in a republic that supposedly separates Church and State.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22, 1970

Today is my birthday. In honor of Mom's labor 41 years ago, I'll let her do all the work. Here's my birth story, from the primary source:

What a day for Stacey Anne Burton. She couldn't wait for the doctor so she surprised me at 4:45am, without labor pains, weighing 8lbs 1-1/2oz. Good thing we were spending the night at the hospital awaiting induced labor that morning. When the birth certificate lady asked for your name, she said "That's the third Stacey today." I said "Come back tomorrow." Jay suggested Billie Sue...I liked the Sue part. It was a good thing I had a McCalls magazine with a story about "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier. I found my name Rebecca Sue.

We took you home in a cute pink frilly dress on Thanksgiving Day. The first thing you did was poop on the pink dress. You've since never worn pink much. Your bassinet was in a room off the kitchen & living room painted orange with a piano and playpen I painted yellow. I played music to stifle the noise of your four older siblings using the back door. Everyone wanted to hold you. You were treated like their doll. Kitty was like your second mother because your bed was in her & Jenny's room. She gave you a bottle in the middle of the night and changed your diaper.

Because you were 7 years younger than your nearest sibling, you were like an only child in your teen years. This was difficult to adjust to, but it made you seek a lot of friends & companions, many of whom are still friends today. Your loyalty and empathy to others is one of your most admirable qualities. Another unusual thing about you is your ability to enjoy people of all ages.

What I enjoyed most was your including me in games with your friends and your visits when we lived near each other. You were my closest companion when I was alone, digging into my thoughts. No one asked before. Thank you Beck for being someone I could always depend on. I remember the millennium in the hospital when you spent the night with me, bringing me warm socks and New Years horns & hats. Whenever I was packing to move, you were always by my side.

Have a great 41st year and a very happy birthday today.

I love you, Mom

PS: Your talent as a writer and photographer are keeping me close to you. Good job!

--Guest Blogger Beverly Martinmaas

Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Achieve Immortality; or, Take the Advice of My Friend Dr. Andrew Weil

I ♥ Dr. Beard.

As I read Dr. Andrew Weil's latest book, Spontaneous Happiness, I find myself saying over and over, "yes." The amazing thing about written communication is its ability to connect people with similar values and ideas despite the likelihood they'll never physically meet. Having read most of Dr. Weil's books and using his website as my go-to place for all things health and wellness, I feel like he's my friend. If I met him, I'd throw my arms around him and invite him to sit on my front porch swing with me and catch up, despite the fact he'd have no idea who the hell I am. I have lots of writer friends like that. Harper Lee, Alice Walker, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, all are my friends even though they never return my calls. I don't care that two of them are dead.

I gave a speech on this topic once. I had to take Public Speaking at the community college in order to get my associate's degree. I was in my late-twenties, and despite limiting my consumption of beverages and being far more well-adjusted than I was if I had taken the class right out of high school, I still felt like peeing my pants. I got through it by pretending I had my writer friends by my side.

I was quite pleased with myself for having the gumption to tout the superior nature of written communication over verbal communication in a speech in front of my Public Speaking instructor. I played the song "Virginia Woolf" by the Indigo Girls and talked about its theme of how written communication brings seemingly unsimilar people together through common interests. Here I was, a middle-class suburban young woman living in the middle of the United States in an area known more for its slaughterhouses and barbeque than its literary feed. I would never physically meet Virginia Woolf, but because of my appreciation for a song by two women I'd also likely never meet, I became connected to her words and her life.

When the speech was over, I rejoined my classmates as I took my seat. I could feel my cheeks burning red under the layer of makeup I'd put on to hide the inevitable blushing. I remember breathing out and thinking to myself, "I did it." The instructor validated what I already felt when he stopped me after class and asked if he could have a copy of my speech to share with future students as an example of a good speech.

I was able to overcome my anxiety about public speaking by publically sharing how much I hate to talk to people I don't know very well and arguing that written communication is better at connecting people with each other's ideas.

"If you need to know that you weathered the storm
Of cruel mortality
A hundred years later I'm sittin' here living proof..." --Indigo Girls, "Virginia Woolf"

So let's weather the storm together, friends, even if we never meet. Let me share my friend Dr. Weil's advice about mental wellness so that our ideas and our friendship shall remain immortal:

"If you cultivate emotional resilience, you don't have to resist feeling appropriate sadness; you learn that your moods are dynamic and flexible and that they soon return to the neutral balance point, the zone of contentment, comfort, and serenity."

And here's another good one:

"I suggest that the ability to feel contentment is a key component of emotional well-being. It is also a goal of many religions and philosophies that recognize that the source of human unhappiness is our habit of comparing our experiences to those of others and finding our reality to be wanting. The choice is ours: we can keep on craving what we don't have, and so perpetuate our unhappiness, or we can adjust our attitude toward what we do have so that our expectations conform to our experience."

I'm only on page 18, so expect much more to follow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Voluntary Poverty

"Thoreau's Cabin" was originally posted to Flickr by Namlhots at http://flickr.com/photos/50907122@N00/292565874.

I have an interest in voluntary poverty. The starving artist kind, not the starving Ethiopian kind.

It's good I'm interested since I got my third rejection letter from a literary agent yesterday. This idea of cutting back my paid work hours at the library so I could commit more hours to my unpaid work trying to get my novel published isn't going as planned.

I was feeling low until I managed to rationalize happiness. I reminded myself I'm not in it for the money. I just want people to read my stuff. I want to share it. I don't want to make a profit off it. Anything beyond what I need to support myself and my family is money I don't need or want. I have witnessed nothing achieved with any inessential money but greed. I rationalize, therefore I'm happy. I must write, even if someone doesn't want to pay me to do it, therefore I blog.

"Bedroom in Arles" by Vincent van Gogh

Of course the term poverty is relative. What we in the United States consider poor is normal elsewhere on Earth. Which is interesting. People I know who lived through the Great Depression seem unfazed by the Great Recession we're living through now. People who live around other people who also don't have a lot other than food and shelter and the clothes on their backs don't expect much more. There are no richer Joneses with which to compete. You can't envy someone who is as bad-off or well-off as you. Someone reading this post in Haiti might scoff at my idea of living in poverty. But someone reading this post in Overland Park, Kansas might not understand why anyone would choose to live without a working television or cell phone. How could anyone be happy eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch nearly every day rather than dining on fine food at a restaurant if they had the opportunity?

It's about having the opportunity but rejecting it. There are literally ten good restaurants within walking distance of my suburban home. Not that anyone around here would walk. So who in her right mind would choose to stay home and eat peanut butter again? Someone who has figured out that free time is more important than more money.

When I use the word "poverty", I mean simply doing without much more than what you need. Not swollen-bellied starving children or malaria epidemics. No one in her right mind would volunteer for that kind of poverty.

The other day Katie and I were talking about what it means to "get fired." She's into understanding idioms lately. She's just now getting that when I say we're going to kill two birds with one stone by my brushing her hair while she eats breakfast, it has nothing to do with dead birds and it helps her get to school on time. So when I mentioned that someone had gotten fired, instead of assuming I was talking about someone getting burned up, she asked me what it means.

"Uh. Um. Well, it's when the place where you work decides they don't want you to work for them anymore."

Katie prodded, "Why they not want you to work for them anymore?"

"Uh. Um. Well, because you made a big mistake and they don't want you around making a lot more big mistakes."

This seemed to satisfy her, until I used the word "unemployed."

"What that mean?"

"That means you don't have a job anymore." We were driving in our ten year old car we still haven't finished paying for. We borrowed the money from my step-father who is fortunately for us but unfortunately for him too nice to send the repo man our way when we miss payments for months.

I could see Katie's face in the rear-view mirror. It was lit up as she gazed out the window. "Unemployed means you stay home and not go to work?"

"Yes. That's what unemployed means." I gripped the steering wheel, glad to have gotten through that little vocabulary skirmish without stumbling too much.

"You wanna be unemployed, Mama?!" Katie looked at my reflection in the rear-view mirror and smiled like it was her best idea yet.

I'm flattered she wants me to be home with her even more than I already do since I switched from forty hours a week to twenty-four hours a week at the library back in July. She's got a point. Twenty-four hours is a whole day. But I explained to her that we need me to work to help pay for our house and our food.

She did the normal kid thing of suggesting I "just go to the bank to get money" and "let Daddy pay for that." I had to break it to her it doesn't quite work like that.

When I had my hand on the front door getting ready to leave for work the next day, Katie's eyes twinkled as she called out, "Don't forget to make a mistake today, Mama!"

I laughed, but I knew she wasn't joking. She doesn't care about our mortgage payment or eating fine food. A roof over her head and some buttered toast would do this kid fine, as long as she has company.

Maybe that's my problem. My writing isn't yet publishable because I've lost that five year old's wisdom. I don't have that starving artist vibe. I bet Thoreau and van Gogh and other impoverished creators didn't worry about such silly frivolities as a ranch on a slab close to the interstate.

"Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind." -- Henry David Thoreau

"Thank God, I have my work, but instead of earning money by it, I need money to be able to work; that is the difficulty...and I have confidence I shall succeed in earning enough to keep myself, not in luxury, but as one who eats his bread in the sweat of his brow." -- Vincent van Gogh

But then again, those guys died under the age of forty-five of bronchitis and suicide. If only creative types could figure out a way to live a healthy life without needing lots of money to do so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Pledge of Allegiance

I might be the parent who actually hinders her child's education by assisting in her learning.

On our drive to Grandpa's Katie and I passed a forest of about fifty American flags on the side of the highway, next to a sign stating, "Happy Veteran's Day!" Katie began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

"Wow, Sweetie. I can't believe you've already memorized the Pledge since school started."

Katie shrugged it off, excited to have my undivided attention so she could quiz me, "Do you know what indivisible means?"

This is her thing lately. Whenever she learns a new word at school, Katie tests me to see if I know it too.

I play along. "What does indivisible mean?"

"Indivisible means the people in this nation are going to disappear!" She contorted her face like a silent film star staring at the impending train barrelling down the tracks she's tied to.

"I think you're thinking of the word 'invisible.'"

"Oooooh." She sighed, clearly relieved her fellow citizens are not going to up and disappear one day. "What's indivisible mean?"

"Um. Uh. Indivisible means we're not divided." Oh how I hate to lie to my child. My country feels more divided now than it did when I was a kid when we were still fighting in Vietnam. Making up this whole mess about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy already makes my maternal guilt pang. I don't need to be telling her lies about our country too.

"What that mean?" She wasn't giving up.

"It means we're going to work together to find ways to make this country a better place to live."

I didn't have the heart to tell her what the word "propaganda" means.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

P.E. Night

I had no idea P.E. Night at Katie's school included philosophical debate. About half-way through our circuit of games, Katie had a meltdown when she realized she had lost a sticker.

Me: "It's no big deal. Go get another sticker."

Katie: "Nooooooo. The teacher said only ONE STICKER for each game."

Me: "Honey, I think she'd understand you need another sticker to replace the one you lost."

Katie: "Noooooo. Only one per CHILD per GAME."

Me: "Katie, I'm sure your teacher would understa--"

Katie: "No, Mama! That's the RULE."


When I decided to have a child and I envisioned what parenthood would be like, I never imagined some day I'd be inside an elementary school gym yelling at my crying kid to have fun.

We sat at the sidelines and watched the games, watched the kids running around, watched the parents humiliating themselves trying to keep up with their children at the pushup station. We talked. Katie's mood rebounded. I regained my composure. It was time to kick the crap out of some shoes!

Such a simple game, yet it's so fun. Here's how you play: we each loosened one of our shoes, stood behind a line on the floor, and tried to kick our shoes about twenty feet in front of us so they would land on top of a table. Over and over we missed. We had to stop before we both peed our pants.

Definitely something we're going to have to play at home. Our long hallway was meant for a game of Shoe Kick Off.

Katie's favorite activity was dribbling a basketball on a bullseye taped to the floor. She was terrible at it, but for some reason she thought it was hilarious when she'd hit her shoe instead of the bullseye and the ball would shoot off across the room. She'd run after it, giggling all the way back.

I'm terrible at it, but I somehow managed to fight the urge to yell, "See I told you so! THE POINT IS TO HAVE FUN!" and instead enjoyed the rest of the evening with my girl.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Today We Fall Back in Time

Today we fall back in time. Time eludes me. Look at this picture of me when I was fifteen. I don't remember the photo. Back then we didn't have Facebook and YouTube to see images of ourselves uploaded by our friends. People took pictures of you and often you never saw the results of the developed film.

So I don't remember the picture, but I do remember feeling the way I look in it. No cares, giggly, full of what ifs.

Becky, May 1986 (photo by Kristine Matlock)

It's a good reminder that I wasn't always as miserable as my memory leads me to think. I guess my movie buff colleague was right. Maybe I wasn't so Allison Reynolds after all.

Memories are weird. I forget I stuck dinner in the oven an hour ago, but I can recall in vivid detail moments of my life as far back as when I was sitting in my high chair at the dinner table with my big family.

I look at this moment captured of me when I was fifteen. It makes me smile to remember how that moment felt.

Even though time tells me I'm turning forty-one this month, and my joints and energy keep nagging at me too, I still feel fifteen. I look at this picture, and that feels like me. Me now. Not some different me twenty-five years ago.

And to think Katie will be fifteen in another ten years. How can that be? As my mom is fond of saying, "How can my kids be getting so old when I'm so young?"

Friday, November 4, 2011

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

"The most important people in a child’s life are that child’s parents and teachers. That means parents and teachers are the most important people in the world." -- Mister Rogers

You don't need be a breeder to influence children. You don't have to have an education degree to teach children. Children learn at their own pace by observing adults' and older children's example. Anyone who encounters a child has an opportunity to share some wisdom with that child.

If you could teach a child one thing, what would it be? Leave your comment below.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Judge Beats Sixteen Year Old Daughter ***Caution, graphically violent video.***

Tell me how hitting helps teach anyone, regardless of age, anything.

Think back to when you were a kid. If your parents hit you, did you learn not to do whatever it was your parents told you not to do? Or did you learn not to do whatever it was your parents told you not to do when they're around?

I think physical punishment is good for two things, teaching children to fear whoever is hitting them, and teaching children that it's ok to do as you please as long as you don't get caught. If, like the girl in this video, my child stole downloadable music, I would want to teach her that stealing is wrong. I would not do this by hitting her. How is hitting someone going to teach them about morality? Causing someone pain so they don't forget a lesson? Yeah right. Hurt a child and the lesson they learn is that you want them to be in pain. There is no educational value in pain.

If my daughter steals, I'll sit down with her and talk to her about how stealing is wrong. It's morally wrong because think about if you would want someone to steal from you. It's also econcomically illogical because when people steal it causes sellers to raise their prices to compensate for their losses. So even if you don't care about stealing from the music industry, don't you care about some old grandma who doesn't know how to steal downloadable music? She wants to buy a CD to replace her Neil Diamond "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" cassette tape. She ends up paying way more than it's worth (anything over a buck) to cover your ass for ripping off your so-called favorite artists' work. Come on, if you like an artist, support their work by paying for it.

That's what I would say to Katie if I caught her stealing downloadable music. I would not beat her savagely into submission. No pain. Well, there's the pain of listening to your windbag mother explain to you over and over again why stealing is wrong, but that goes away once you understand the concept.

I don't want my child to fear me. How can you learn from someone you fear? If I have something new I need to learn for work, will I learn it any better or any faster if I'm afraid my boss will hit me if I mess up while I'm learning it? Anxiety hampers learning. Being hit produces anxiety. I'm horrible at algebra and even I can solve that equation. Don't hit.

I want Katie to know she has me to fall back on when she stumbles. I want her to feel loved no matter how big her messes can be. Support and love are much more fertile grounds for learning than punishment and pain.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Protozoa People

After our first parent-teacher conference with Katie's kindergarten teacher, Will and I talked about getting her one of those finger positioners you can put on the end of a pencil to teach a child the "correct" position to hold a pencil. I never put much emphasis on forcing Katie to hold a pencil in a way that felt unnatural to her, because I'm that kind of loosey-goosey parent, but also because she's a lefty and I'm a righty, so what do I know? Maybe the way she prefers to hold a pencil, sort of sideways and with all four fingers and her thumb, is a lefty thing?

But when her teacher said Katie might benefit from a pencil positioner, we immediately agreed with her and never questioned her advice. I really like her teacher. I think she has creative and effective ways to teach children, so I respect her opinion. If her teacher thinks holding a pencil correctly, with just two fingers--pointer and tall man--and the thumb, will improve Katie's fine motor skills, why should we question it?

Then I noticed how I hold a pencil. I don't write much anymore. My fingers fly across a computer keyboard, but my hand starts to cramp if I try to hand write much anymore. Then yesterday during a meeting I found myself taking notes. I looked down at my hand and there I was, holding the pencil the way I always hold it, with three fingers--pointer, tall man, ring man--and my thumb. I looked around the table at my colleagues. They were all holding their pencils with just two fingers--pointer, tall man, and a thumb. Oh, so that's where she gets it. I guess our decision to homeschool Katie for preschool might not have panned out the way we planned.

After the meeting, I returned to my desk. My desk that is covered with Katie's artwork. I can count eleven drawings without moving from my chair. From the time Katie picked up a crayon and held it sideways, she's loved to draw. Her artwork first populated with little protozoa people,

it has evolved into houses and flowers and hearts and suns,

as well as brilliantly original favorites such as "Daddy Throwing Up"

and poop sculptures made out of mud from our backyard.

This from the girl who needs to learn how to hold a pencil correctly? You know, I don't see that her technique needs corrected come to think of it.

Elder Eyes

My glasses broke the other day and I'm having trouble finding a replacement pair that lives up to the standards set by these lovely ones I've had for nine years. Fifteen minutes before I had to leave for work, I picked them up after my shower and, huh? The left ear piece remained on the shelf, like a detatched limb. I didn't have time to grieve them. I had to find the contacts I wear when I want to look pretty.

The last time I wanted to look pretty was Valentine's Day. Will and I had gone to a fancy, highly recommended restaurant for dinner. But they had the weirdest menu. Someone must have spilled wine on the printer. It was obviously drunk. Every letter on the menu was wavy and misshapen.

I looked across the candle at Will. He hadn't mentioned the weird font. He appeared to be actually reading it. Figures. Instead of 20/20 his vision is like 20/15. He definitely has a third eye, I'll attest to that.

"Can you read the menu?" I finally asked after watching him peruse it.

He looked up and smiled. "Yeah, you can't?"

I looked down again. I held the menu closer to my face, an action I was used to taking whenever I'd had trouble seeing. The print got blurrier. I looked up at Will. He was smiling even more.

I extended my arm exaggeratedly and read the menu like bad actors do when they're playing someone old. The print became clearer.

Oh shit. I'm forty.

I couldn't figure it out then. My brain was overworked thinking about what the hell I'm going to do now that I'm forty. But now I know why I couldn't read up-close while wearing my contacts. Because I can't read up close while wearing my glasses either. I've gotten in the habit of looking under my glasses whenever I need to see something close. I didn't even realize it until I wore my contacts to work. I kept lowering my eyeballs like I would if were wearing glasses, but it didn't work. There was no lens to look under. It was stuck to my eye.

I had to break out the magnifying glasses to read someone's driver's license. Yes. I did. I have old eyes. I looked it up on Wikipedia, where any respectable librarian finds answers.

I have Presbyopia, which "comes from the word presbys (πρέσβυς), meaning 'old man' or 'elder', and the Neolatin suffix -opia, meaning 'sightedness', giving rise to the laymen's definition often seen in consumer articles or medical glossaries, 'old eyes'".

Why can't we call them "elder eyes"? Why they gotta focus on the pejorative sounding "old man" definition of the word instead of focusing on the "elder" aspect of it? Elder. Elder sounds strong. Elder sounds wise. Elder sounds respected.

Too bad in our culture as we age we tend to get so myopic about our own beauty and wisdom. We lose our ability to smell the bullshit the media feeds us and succumb to uncritical thinking. We forget that beauty and wisdom resides within ourselves, no matter how many years we've been residents of this planet.

So, instead of feeling embarrassed when I use my outstretched arm to read fine print, I'll proudly show off my elder eyes.