Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green: A Review

I do not need to make John Green any more famous than he already is. I recently discovered The Greens, John and his brother Hank, also known as The Vlogbrothers, when my husband showed me their YouTube channel Crash Course.   John covers World History. Hank covers Biology. According to their Wikipedia article, “As of May 17, 2012 the CrashCourse YouTube channel has gained over 200k subscribers and over 4.9 million video views.

That same article also points out why I like the channel so much: “In Crash Course World History, John frequently tries to get his viewers to not look at history through Eurocentrism, but in a broader context.” I thought history was boring when I was required to study it in school. Now I understand it was just me being me, thinking my own Eurocentric public school history lessons were boring. But worse than boring, I felt like I was getting some kind of Disney version, like it was fancy and well crafted, but it didn’t tell the whole picture. The author of this article seems to agree with me.

I’d been enjoying the Crash Course videos immensely. My husband and I gave up cable last year. All of the three TVs that have been given to us are so old they don’t have the ability to broadcast digital television. So the TV shows I once watched have mostly gone unseen this year, other than when I take a break from Facebooking, something I view as a type of participatory reality TV show. I watch clips of The Daily Show and Bill Maher occasionally, but nothing very regularly. Until I became addicted to Crash Course World History, which now uploads a new episode every Thursday!

Because the show is all of twelve minutes long, I find myself jonesin’ for some John Green throughout the week while awaiting the next episode. So I turned to his books.

I began reading them in order. I finished Looking for Alaska a couple weeks ago. It was very good. I was kind of underwhelmed with the ending, but that’s my husband’s being clever at fault, not John Green. My husband had long before told me his philosophy of life, which Green’s protagonist shares too in Alaska. So by the time I read it from Green’s character I was like, “Well yeah? Tell me something I don’t already know.” Again, husband’s awesomeness at fault, nothing to do with a lack of awesomeness on John Green’s part.

"As they say in my hometown ‘Don't Forget to be Awesome!’” -- John Green

I finished An Abundance of Katherines today. It was even better. The sophomore effort surpassing the freshman release? Yes, it can be done. Go read it for yourself.

And don’t let its Young Adult classification throw you off track. You don’t have to be a quirky character to love the quirky characters in this book. For example, Colin Singleton is a child prodigy. I was not a prodigy. My parents were not big on education. Mom was more apt to knock on my bedroom door to see if I’d come out and watch “Dynasty” on TV with her than to see if I was studying Chinese dynasties for my World History class. Little did they know a YouTube world history show would pique my interest in a young adult story about a child prodigy having a post-adolescence-crisis when he starts to lose faith in his ability to matter.

When the story begins it is the beginning of a new season. Just graduated from high school but before starting college in the fall, Colin gets dumped by his nineteenth Katherine.

His best friend--his only friend--finds Colin despondent on his bedroom floor, soaked in his own vomit. Thus, they do the only natural thing: they take a road trip. Go with them.

I don’t want to give too much more away because it’s a gloriously geeky-fun read. Get in the car and just "keep going and not stop” as one of the characters who matters reminds us matters most.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pedro Hernandez Arrested After Confessing to Killing 6-Year-Old Etan Patz 33 Years Ago

Update to this post about Etan Patz.  Police have arrested Pedro Hernandez, who confessed to killing the boy.  Here's the report on NPR.  Check the Wikipedia article for continuing updates about this sad story.

National Missing Children's Day: Has Etan Patz's Killer Confessed?

Tomorrow is National Missing Children's Day. First news report I saw when I logged onto my computer this morning was that a suspect has admitted to strangling Etan Patz, the boy who went missing his first time ever walking the two blocks to his school bus alone on May 25, 1979. His father was a photographer. His photo of the missing six year old was the first to appear on milk cartons, starting that campaign in the mid-80s.

A friend of mine at work recently told me about this show on Dateline called "My Kid Would Never Do That". I haven't watched it yet, and I probably won't ever get up the nerve. If, unlike me, you'd like to subject yourself to its stark reality, you can watch it here.

From what I understand, researchers with a hidden camera show various parents how easy it is for a potential child abductor to trick their child into coming with them. Parents who are certain their children know about stranger safety sit there horrified as they watch video of their children falling for dangerous tricks.

I'm too wussy to watch the video, but the accompanying article has some invaluable tips for teaching our kids to stay safe. In my opinion, the first step is the most important: It's ok to say no to an adult. And I would add, it's ok to say no to anyone, since many kids are left in the care of other, older kids who can hurt them too. I'm not saying let's teach our kids to routinely disrespect people. But it's important to teach children from a very young age that they should listen to most grownups since we've lived longer and have had more experience with life, but that ultimately, they are the boss of themselves.

from the article:
STEP 1: Empower Your Child to Say “No!” If you want your kids to stand up for themselves, don’t get in the habit of speaking for them. Doing so, can rob a child from developing the very skills she needs to look and sound determined. Instead, find opportunities for your children to practice using strong body language and a firm voice, so they can learn to defend themselves.

•Give Permission to Say “NO:” Studies show that kids under the age of nine rarely say “No” to a sexual offender because they were told “to obey adults.” So give your child permission to yell NO! “If someone tries to touch you in places your bathing suit covers, makes you feel at all afraid or uncomfortable, say ‘NO!’ You will not be in trouble. If someone tells you to do something you know is not right like get in an ice cream truck say ‘NO!’”

•Use your gut instinct: A “fear factor” can be powerful in keeping kids safe, but often isn’t used because we fail to help our kids learn to trust their gut instincts. Teach your child that if he ever feels he could be in danger, to use that fear instinct and leave immediately. You’ll support matter what!

•Teach 9-1-1: Make sure your child knows her first and last name, your first and last name, phone number, and address. Program your home phone so your child can reach you and 9-1-1 instantly. Put a sticker on the “0.” Then teach how to dial “operator” to reverse charges, so she can call you from any phone anywhere.

•Establish a family secret code. Choose a memorable code like “Geronimo,” to give only to family members or trusted individuals responsible for your kids in your absence. Then stress: “Never leave with anyone who can’t say our family’s secret code.” Create a texted code (like “111” or “123”) to be used by the child to contact you if in danger. It recently saved a California teen from abduction.

•Teach: “Drop, Holler, and Run.” Teach your child that if he ever needs to get away quickly, he should drop whatever he is carrying, holler, and run. If possible, he should run to an adult (ideally a woman with children) screaming, “Help! This isn’t my dad!” If grabbed, he should hold on to anything (such as his bicycle handles or car door) holler, and kick an abductor in the groin or eyes. Dropping to the ground and kicking tantrum-style, makes it more difficult to be picked up. Stress: “I’ll never be upset if you hurt someone if you’re trying to protect yourself.”

But being the boss of yourself is not the same as being left alone. Kids need our guidance and attention. I want to teach my daughter to trust herself but to also know she has trusted grownups to turn to if she ever finds herself in a tricky situation.

Like little Etan in 1979, I walked two blocks and waited for the school bus when I was six, back in 1976. I made it safely to where I am now, a middle-aged mom with a soon-to-be six year old of my own. But Will and I don't let Katie walk to school by herself. If we can't accompany her home, we get a family member or good friend to pick her up and wait with her until we get home. We're very lucky we have such support because we're just not ready to have a latch-key kid.

Free-range kids advocates would probably call us helicopter parents. I don't care. I enjoy the time I spend walking with my daughter to and from school. I'd rather get some fresh air and exercise together than have that extra 20 minutes to myself to sit and worry about my kid being one of the 115: "Over at the think tank, where they examine the way the media use statistics, researchers have found that the number of kids getting abducted by strangers actually holds very steady over the years. In 2006, that number was 115, and 40% of them were killed."

So I ask you, my friends, at what age do you think most kids can handle walking by themselves two blocks to wait for a school bus? Leave your comments below.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lucky Girl

Katie rode her bike to the school playground.  I walked behind her, dribbling a basketball.  Once we got there I couldn't get her to shoot hoops with me though.  She was drawn instead to two older girls sitting under the playground equipment, picking at the pieces of recycled tires spread around the playground to keep kids from breaking their bones.  Casts are a distraction in class.

The girls both looked about fourteen, but I'm guessing they were in fifth or sixth grade.  Kids seem to mature so much faster these days.  They were giggly, but still polite.  They treated Katie's self-invitation to their conversation with patient amusement.

"How old are you?"
"Do you go to school here?"
"Are you in kindergarten?"
"What do you like best about kindergarten?"

The same questions grownups ask five year olds.  They were probably asked the same questions not that long ago themselves.

I hung around in the background, letting Katie have her friend time.  I shot some solitary baskets.  When I realized I'd forgotten to wear my athletic bra, I sat down on the shaded bench and watched the girls talk.  I could hear sounds but I couldn't make out the words.  Their laughter brought back memories of my own childhood friends.

When it was time to go home and start dinner, I aproached the girls. 

"Katie, we gotta go now.  I need to make dinner."  I smiled at the two older girls and they instantly returned the smile.

Katie complained.  Told me she wasn't hungry.  Told me she wanted to stay and talk with her friends.  I told her I had to make dinner.

As Katie stood and despite her pouty lips proceeded to brush the dust off her skort, I smiled some more at the older girls and stuck my hands in my pockets, waiting.

"Is Katie your only child?"  One of the girls asked.

"Yes."  I smiled at Katie, walking toward me.

"Are you a single mother?"  The same girl asked.

"No."  I said.  And then I wanted to say, "A single mother?  What are you, an eleven year old sociologist?"  But as I contemplated the meaning behind her question, the girl replied:

"Ah, that's nice."  She tossed a tire chip a few feet off to the side and looked down.

I just finished reading Only Child, a book of essays written by people who grew up in single-child families.  I've been reading Katie books written for kids about this topic too.  So the subject of only children is fresh on my mind.  I began to get annoyed with this girl's question.  Assuming she was making a judgment about only children.  Until she said, "Ah, that's nice."  And then, instead of feeling defensive, I felt sympathy for her.  Her parents might be divorced, like many kids' are.  Or maybe she's never known both parents to begin with.  She probably thinks Katie is lucky to have two parents, regardless of her siblingless status.  It was I who had been judging siblinglessness as a disease to overcome.  This girl reminded me, once again, that healthy families come in all sizes.

I often worry about the family hand my daughter has been dealt.  When I was twelve I went from being the youngest sibling to being an only child when my last sister moved out of the house.  When I was born I had two brothers and two sisters living with me, taking turns holding me, sometimes literally tossing me back and forth to each other like a toy.  When they all grew up and moved away, I felt terribly alone.  I vowed to myself that I'd have a big family again some day.  I would have ten children when I grew up.  All one-year apart.  So no one would feel like an orphaned sibling at the age of twelve.

Now I'm getting old and my body has produced just one child.  Who I worry about incessantly.  How will she turn out?  I have just one chance at parenthood: Don't fuck this up.

But this girl at the playground reminded me to pull my gaze away from my navel.  Katie's life is not my life.  This is her childhood, not mine.  And her life is not her peer's life either.  She doesn't get to experience what it's like to live with a brother or a sister, but she gets to experience what it's like to live with a mom and a dad.  Unlike a lot of kids.  Her lot in life has its fortunes and misfortunes, just as all of our lives do.  I cannot guarantee her fortunes nor hide her misfortunes.  I can follow her home to dinner with her daddy, giving her a gentle nudge when her training wheel gets stuck in a crack along the sidewalk. 

Lucky girl.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gov. Brownback: Please Veto Kansas HB 2117

"As things stand now," explains Schodorf, "Schools definitely would be cut. Safety programs. Corrections. Social services." -- Republican Senator Jean Schodorf

What a lefty.  It's a strange day in the Land of Oz when I agree with a republican state senator who is criticizing  HB 2117 for being too conservative. 

I keep telling my husband we need to move to San Francisco.  He claims he wants us to stay to influence our conservative neighbors by our example.  To show our fellow citizens that progressives can be responsible, wonderful neighbors. I think he's actually afraid we'd get swallowed up by the Pacific from all this crazy climate change.  Instead, as parents of a public school girl, we're getting sucked up into the tornado that is the current Kansas state government.

The following statement comes from House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence:

“In my 10 years in the Kansas House of Representatives, I have never witnessed such an unprecedented disregard for democracy. Speaker O’Neal completely ignored legislative procedure to bully through the most detrimental tax legislation ever passed by the Kansas Legislature. The House of Representatives spent more time debating what would be the official state grass than it did discussing a tax bill that will create a $2.7 billion deficit. Within 4 years the rich will be richer, the middle class will have dissolved, schools will be decimated, the state will be bankrupt, and Kansans will have Sam Brownback and reckless, right wing Republicans to thank for it.”

It's even frightening those with an "R" after their name:

"Former legislator and former Republican State Chair Rep. Rochelle Chronister, R- Neodesha, who is leading Traditional Republicans for Common Sense":

"We 'denounce the reckless actions by Speaker Mike O’Neal and the Kansas House (and) demand answers from lawmakers for supporting the administration’s tax bill, Senate Substitute for House Bill 2117, that will jeopardize the state’s long-term economic success. 
Never before, in the history of our state, have we seen such reckless financial policy being made. It is hard to overstate the impact of what occurred today in the House. If Gov. Brownback allows this to become law, in just a few years, nearly half of the State General Fund will need to be cut. To be clear, the state will go bankrupt, property and sales taxes will increase and critical services will be eliminated.'"

Busy day? Yeah, me too. I've got to get off the computer here in a sec so I can get ready to go pick up my daughter from all-day kindergarten.  My husband and I live paycheck to paycheck, and yet we pay $300 per month so our daughter can go to kindergarten for seven hours a day instead of three.  The state will pay for three, but if you want your kid to go all day, like 5/6 of her classmates, you have to pay $300 per month unless you're so poor you qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.  The state used to pay for all-day kindergarten for all children, regardless of their parent's income.  Until Brownback and his gang took office.

So yeah, I'm super busy today.  I just got done arguing with a friend on Facebook about the ways in which President Obama and former Vice President Cheney are dissimilar.  When he asked me to defend my position and then four hours later claimed he heard crickets, this was my response:

"Some of us have volunteer jobs where we help kids learn how to read. Some of us have dishes and laundry to do, cat hairballs to clean up, nephews that need to eat. Some of us can’t afford cell phones let alone iphones. As much as I’d like to, I can’t just sit around all day at my laptop holding your hand, my friend."

And it's true.  Although I'd love to hold your hand, my friend who is wasting time in your busy day by reading my blog, as the great Katt Williams says, "I got shit to do today!"

Busy or not, it took less than one minute to call Governor Brownback's office to say, "I'd like to ask Gov. Brownback to please veto HB 2117 which will severely cut social services and public schools. Thank you!"

You can too!

Constituent Services / Government Affairs
Toll Free: 877-KSWORKS (877-579-6757)
Local: 785-368-8500

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pooh and The Cheshire Cat Are One: Sterling Holloway

Katie often wakes up and immediately starts talking mid-sentence, mid-thought, mid-dream.  It's often hilarious and seemingly nonsensical.  Which I love.  Sometimes it's accurate and acute.  Which amazes me.

Like this morning.  First thing out of Katie's mouth was, "Pooh doesn't have a heart!  Ha.  Ha.  Ha."

Her ha's were forced like she was reciting a play. 

"Why doesn't Pooh have a heart?"  Taking the bait is often the highlight of my day.

"Because!  Ha.  Ha.  Ha."  She rubbed her eyes.  "Pooh is 'stuffed with fluff'" she sang.

"Oh, yeah, that's right."  I smiled and extended my hand to help her out of bed.

"And you know one more thing, Mama?"  Katie asked, her bare feet just touching our bare "tree" floor.

"What's one more thing?"  I asked, holding her hand.

"Did you know Winnie the Pooh and The Cheshire Cat have the same voice?"

Really?  I hadn't noticed.

When I got back home from escorting Katie to school, I googled it to be sure: "Winnie the Pooh" and "Cheshire Cat".

It's true.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Judging Judgmental People

It started when I posted a link to this op-ed piece on my online political discussion group's wall and quoted from it:

"He was pointing out that it's easy to reconcile pro-gay sentiment and Christianity by just doing what Christians are already doing when it comes to shellfish and slavery, which is preferring their own moral judgment over the Bible."

As it turns out, I should have added a comment of my own after the quote stating that I'd agree with the author if she rephrased her remark to say, "He was pointing out that it's easy to reconcile pro-gay sentiment and Christianity by just doing what many Christians are already doing..."

Many Christians.  Not all Christians.  It's not fair to lump people together.  We must be specific in our arguments lest we might trample upon the Jesus-sandals clad toes of our Christian friends.  A couple friends of mine in the disscussion group felt like I was attacking them.  My worst fear in life is hurting someone's feelings, and yet I was born with this gigantic mouth and a brain full of opinions. 

I have to make amends.  Here goes.

I'm sorry if I've hurt anyone's feelings. When I posted that article I thought it would spark debate like our other debates. I didn't intend to have others feel like it was a personal attack. I think because I am irreligious I forget how deeply personal faith is for some people, and for my forgetfulness and thoughtlessness I am sorry.  Now, since you are a Christian, forgive me! 

My sister Jenny is a born-again Christian. She believes that the Bible is the true Word of God. I believe the Bible is not the true Word of God. I believe it is simply words from human beings who believed they were receiving the word of God.  On my more cynical days, I believe it is simply words from human beings who wanted an easy way to control and manipulate the masses.

Despite our differences, I love my sister dearly. She is one of the kindest people on the planet. She visits people in nursing homes who have no family or friends. She goes on missions trips to help poor people. She leads a women’s group and hosts seminars focusing on ways to help raise the self-esteem of young women in our culture.

Jenny acts in these kindly ways because she is a Christian. She believes it is her duty to care for others because Jesus commands her to do so. She wants to share the Good News with others because her life has been transformed by her faith.

We grew up in a highly dysfunctional family. Who doesn’t, right?  My siblings and I have struggled throughout our lives with depression, anxiety, addiction.  Jenny found solace in her faith. She's had a shitty biological father and an even shittier step-father, but she has a strong, loving relationship with her heavenly Father.

I am happy for her. I’m glad she’s found comfort and strength in her religious faith. As long as she doesn’t condemn me for living my own life the way that is best for me. As long as she follows the instruction to not judge lest she be judged.  Which she's actually better at following than I am.

When I criticize Christians who judge others I am not criticizing all Christians. I am criticizing judgmental people. Judgmental people who have been instructed to love their neighbors. I understand there are many Christians who love all people. Like my sister. Like my friends.

And just because I criticize others does not mean I think I am perfect. As my mother likes to tease, I’m one of the most judgmental people about judgmental people she’s ever known.   

I think we’re all trying to get through this messy life the best we can. Some of us find comfort by looking to God. I find comfort by looking within myself. That doesn’t mean I’m a sinner. It just means I’m introspective. Not better, not worse. Just a different approach to figuring out life, death, and the meaning of it all. 

I also find comfort in our children.  Our future.  It is our duty as parents, Christian parents and non-Christian parents, to teach our children to love each other.  Here are some awesome Christian kids proselytizing love

I think I'll see if Katie wants to make a card for them too. "The goal, according to Judson Church, is to let the children of Berean Baptist know that 'there are those of us in this world who believe God loves everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that there is no such thing as 'dispensation' when it comes to physical violence against any child.'"

Churches wishing to participate in "Cards Of Hope" can send them to:

The Children of Berean Baptist Church Sunday School
Berean Baptist Church
517 Glensford Drive
Fayetteville, North Carolina 28314

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ron Paul Vs. Paul Krugman

The bad thing about writing a memoir about my body issues is I have trouble getting that introspective about something so trivial compared to, you know, the global economy.  So I logged onto my blog, thinking, that's ok, I'll write about current events.  As it turns out, I have nothing interesting or unique to say about current events.  I needed inspiration.  So I turned to my Facebook wall where my friend shared a great video.  The reason for my shitty, practically auto-pilot, half-assed post today? 

Paul Vs. Paul.