I have an unfortunate habit of internalizing other peoples bad behavior. I witness an objectionable, selfish act and it immediately triggers a full body/behavior scan to evaluate if I am guilty of said behavior.

I am very easily embarrassed on behalf of others – strangers, acquaintances, TV actors – doesn’t matter. For years I couldn’t watch an episode of Happy Days because the characters embarrassed themselves every other minute and it killed me. I would get up and leave the room. Continue reading

The following was written for the online newsletter of the Middle School my daughter attends. The principle asked for a “parent column” that would engage parents on relevant topics, but insisted that I decide what topics to write on. The first one about discipline was ok, but this one had to be vetted by the district Communications Director and was deemed “too edgy for the newsletter.” I thought it was quite tame.

This was what I had submitted as my Black History Month column – talk to your kids about the words they use. It matters.

“Mean Mom: Episode Two

I am the swearing mommy, I confess.

I have been managing my impulse to use profanity with mixed results since my daughter was born. Swearing while driving is especially challenging. It’s not like I have a long commute (I live 10 minutes from where I work), its just that those 10 minutes can take up to 30 minutes if there is “weather” or some hang up on Cedar Hill.

During camp car pool one day last summer I reacted badly to being cut off in the drop off line by a massive SUV who pulled in at an angle blocking two rows of cars. I said loudly and reflexively –‘What a *BLEEPING* cow!’ — only to hear a kid in the back say “Where? I don’t see a cow.”

A better person would have been embarrassed. A calmer person would have apologized for her temper. I however, said to this tween that cows often drive shiny Escalade’s when they live in the suburbs. It’s just that their windows are tinted because they are Very Important and don’t want anyone to see them.

Kids who visit our house are used to me always having baked goods handy and swearing occasionally. They must not mind because I’ve never heard about it from any parents. I would hate to be considered a bad influence on anyone except my own kid, who for the record, inherited her father’s restraint with swearing.

I overhear my daughter and her friends talking about swearing one day and a girl bragged “You should hear my Dad!” so I felt a little better. I know a lot of kids use profanity when there are no adults around. I also know that despite the rules and the heroic efforts of the school staff, there is some swearing in the halls when students change classes. Since I was dipping into their conversation anyway, I decided to ask them – ‘What is the worst swear word someone uses at your school?’

They looked at me and without hesitation said “The N-word”.

I hadn’t thought of using the N-word as swearing before but I understood their reasoning immediately. Not just a charged word, but profane and unforgivable. We had a short talk about when kids use it at school, and how some people think its okay for black people to call each other the N-word and some think it should not be used by anyone, ever.

It was a deep discussion trying to help them to tease out how the power and meaning of the word changed in different situations. I’m not sure they got my somewhat complicated explanation about cultural analysis and how it is possible to linguistically reclaim an epithet, but we did talk about why its important to know Why a word has power.

I don’t shy away from any discussion, especially the sticky ones around “-isms”, because I think that’s part of my job description as a parent. I also truly believe that knowledge is the path to understanding, tolerance, acceptance and inclusion. And I would be surprised if I am the only parent concerned with language used by students at school, on the street or at home. Middle School is a time when boundaries are tested and using “adult language” is an easy line to cross.

Obviously the common curse words don’t faze me, but a kid using B**** or racial and religious slurs, triggers an automatic lecture from me. Even if we are in public and even if it embarrasses my daughter. I would bet that we all have words we consider to be, not taboo exactly, but unacceptable for our children to use, but some words – fag, homo, lesbo, stupid, retard, ‘That’s so Gay’, fatty – aren’t always considered unacceptable. The impact of their use may not register as hurtful until your kid is on the receiving end.

Do you talk with your child about the N-word? About name-calling or cursing? How does it come up and what do you say? Where do you draw the line with word choice? Do you ever talk about these things with other parents? I am wondering if we shouldn’t be having conversations about this subject as a community.”

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I have been on a months long quest to figure out how to better interact with a person who is driving me up the wall with passive-aggressive behavior while also developing “my personal career plan”. At first these seemed like separate tasks, but they converged pretty quickly.

As is my habit I dove into piles of books on psychological profiling, enhanced communication and other equally sexy topics. A am very predictable when faced with any problem or question – first, find a book. Continue reading

I was deleting old text messages today and I came across one from a number I didn’t recognize. It was my daughters old cell phone so I started reading the texts. There was a hilarious string of commentary when she was stuck one evening with some relatives that were less than pleasant.

She reported at one point that her Uncle was threatening his children by saying “Don’t make Mr. Slap come out!”

I immediately pictured a character from those bizarre Little Miss books from the 1970’s – Little Miss Sunshine, Mr Tickle and now introducing Mr. Slap! A cautionary tale for parents to read to their children before they Get On Their Very Last Nerve.

All joking aside, talking about hitting children is always controversial. The line between what some folks call discipline and others call abuse can very fluid depending on your perspective.

I have never spanked my child, and, although my husband and I blow off steam to each other by saying ‘Let the beatings commence!’, I can’t imagine what would actually push me to hurt her.

I grew up watching people hit their children and each other out of anger, frustration, defeat and/or a misguided idea that they were “beating some sense into them”. Nothing about it ever looked effective.

I remember a woman my mother played cards with that lived on our street who never went anywhere without her two boys and a six-pack. Tall, beautiful, with Crystal Gayle hair and an easy laugh, she was a benign drunk rather than violent. Her method of disciplining her older boy Mikey, who was “always bad”, was to tell him to hit himself. And he would. He would slap his own arm and carry on with whatever he was doing.

I don’t know if this relative of ours ever brings out Mr. Slap or not, as we are not very close. But since I have witnessed this couple threatening consequences that they didn’t deliver, it is likely that Mr. Slap is also an empty threat.

Makes you wonder which is worse violent language or the violence itself. One problem I see is that most folks don’t call violent language abuse. A parent (or other adult) can beat on someones self-worth everyday and never leave a visible bruise. Little Mr. Vicious Insult maybe.

Something to think about.

I had to buy a new car.

It was time. The old one was putting the mechanic’s kids through private school, sucking up money with a straw, and complicating our modern lifestyle by forcing us to have ONLY ONE CAR during random breakdowns and repairs.

Once upon a time I didn’t own a car. I lived for about ten years without a car. I was working at a small nonprofit and living unbelievably close to the bone (I found out later that my salary would have qualified me for food stamps), so I rode the train, the bus or walked. This usually worked just fine and I always managed to cadge rides to and from parties and clubs. Helps that I was living in the inner city at the time. Poor people housing is always on a bus line.

Now its impossible to imagine such a thing. One carless day in my highly regulated suburban life and I am crabby and irritated. The irony is that I live in a neighborhood with a high “walkability score.” This means that I could, if I want, walk to the bank, grocery store, library, restaurants, coffee shops and a movie theater among other locations. And I do sometimes. But of course as a two-parents-working household its not that simple on a weekday. That’s what makes me crabby.

A full schedule of errands to Target, Whole Foods, CVS, grocery store, dry cleaner, shoe repair, hardware store and post office gets jammed into the weekend and is now shared with every other irritated working person trying to get life done on Saturday. Poor me. Middle-class pity party.

The fact is that my life has expanded to expect two cars. Like a can of expanding insulation foam I fill all the time cracks and spill messily over the edges in an effort to “get everything done”. [An aside – Am I the only one incapable of tidy caulking, or is this a universal problem?]

So we bought a car. A new car. Our First New Car ever. While we were in the process it seemed logical, practical, a good investment and we discovered that we could afford it. How about that! And its a great car. Turns out its a “car of the moment” as I see around ten of them in my parking lot everyday now. I really like the car. And it took a whole 14 hours post delivery for me to start weeping secretly and uncontrollably. My husband finally busted me and talked me down a day or so later when he discovered the weeping.

Rather than classic buyer’s remorse that we paid too much or can’t afford it, this was all about jumping from one socio-economic class to another.

“This is not me! I’m not someone who owns a new car!” With a whole lot of – “We are just keeping up with the neighbors, but we’re not really middle class like they are” thrown in – it was a period that my husband now refers to as “The Terrors of Pleasure”.

I got over it and (vaguely) forgave myself for being successful and acknowledged that I am in fact ‘someone who can buy a new car’. I know I will backslide and hear my mothers voice telling me I’m “acting like I think I’m better than everyone else”. But not about the new car. I like my new car.

I came across this definition of self-esteem as “being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness.”

“Self-esteem is a person’s overall judgment of him/herself pertaining to self-competence and self-worth based on reality. Competence is knowing one is generally capable of producing desired results, having confidence in our mind and our ability to think, and making appropriate choices and decisions.

  • Self-esteem is cognitive as one consciously thinks about oneself as one considers the discrepancy between ones ideal self, the person one wishes to be, and the perceived self or the realistic appraisal of how one sees oneself.
  • The affective element of self-esteem is the feelings or emotions that one has when considering that discrepancy.
  • The behavioral aspects of self-esteem are manifested in such behaviors as assertiveness, resilience, being decisive and respectful of others.”

A good and useful explanation. Now someone please explain “based on reality”.