Watching the students who survived the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School become activists has both been beautiful and heartening. Seeing their grief and outrage evolve into a national movement that is shifting thinking and promoting action makes me feel hopeful for the future of our democracy.

Last week I read a blog post about those students that shook me up. It wasn’t the nasty vitriol accusing the students of being crisis actors or “deep state operatives”, whatever that means. It was a point of view that I hadn’t even considered. And it made me feel ashamed of myself.

Ashamed that I was guilty of exactly what the writer described.

Ashamed because I could see I had a blindspot.

Shame is something that we not only generally avoid experiencing, but we try not to talk about it either.  But shame is a really useful feeling that helps us to understand when we are wrong, or when we act wrong.

I mulled over this vague feeling of shame in the days after I  read the blog post. I might still be mulling except I happened to have a conversation this week that helped me put my finger on it. We were talking about how blindspots are part of implicit bias which reminded me that my discomfort – my shame at my behavior – meant learning.

I am glad to now have perspective that I was previously blind to. I’ll try to keep shining a light on my blind spot in the future as well as trying to remember to dig around occasionally and see what I’m missing. We are all only human.

I invite you to read the blog here.

Why It Hurts When the World Loves Everyone but Us

 

“What would you say if I asked to have my boyfriend sleep over?”

My daughter and her friend asked for my reaction because the friend had just convinced her parents to allow her boyfriend of several years spend the night. The argument was two fold:  first that anything they were doing, they were already doing without spending the night and second, it would be nice to just fall asleep together after hanging out rather than one of them going home at 2:00 in the morning.

The request was actually to sleep rather than a euphemism for sex.

My first reaction was “Well that a perfectly logical request and I see your point.” Not allowing them to sleep together restricts a perfectly benign level of intimacy. My second thought was “Yeah, but do I want to be that parent?”

We are extremely permissive with our daughter and have been since she was about 12 and was clearly capable of making choices against our wishes and without our knowledge. It started because all her friends lied about their ages and got facebook pages before they were legally (or parentally) allowed. We told her (and continue to tell her) our perspective and wishes on her decisions, and said we know that we have zero ability to “make her” do anything.

So we trust.

She has no restrictions on where she goes, who she goes with or when she returns, but we ask her to be safe, make smart choices, and tell us where she is and who she is with. Trust but worry.

We lucked out. She isn’t a party girl, likes to go to bed before midnight and considers waking at 8 am sleeping in. She’s never violated our trust so why did I hesitate when she asked the “sleeping together” question?

As I discussed with her and her friend – she insisted it was a purely hypothetical question and she wasn’t really asking – it came down to my feeling of vague discomfort. What would condoning that level of intimacy say about me and my husband as parents?

I’m not sure either of the girls perceived it as the intimacy that “sleeping together” signals to me. Their interest was in the practical aspect of not having to drive or be driven home late at night after hanging out by the fire pit or watching movies.

Later when I relayed the conversation to my husband he had an immediate “Absolutely not” reaction, followed by his pointing out that it wasn’t just our decision the boyfriend’s parents would have a say as well.

It’s weird because my daughter and her friends are all 18 years old at this point and a legally “adultish.” Meaning they can buy cigarettes, enlist in the army, get a tattoo and a whole slew of previously age-restricted things, but we still feel funny about this mature concept of “sleeping together.”

There is no defined age for maturity that I can see. Some people are able to be on their own at 16 and others can’t be trusted to water the plants at 27. But whether or not my daughter or her friends are mature enough to have boyfriend/girlfriend sleep overs is only partially relevant.

What makes it such a tough question is a combination of societal expectations and our personal comfort level acknowledging our children as sexual beings.

I don’t know what the response would be if this wasn’t hypothetical and our daughter was really asking for our permission. I can’t imagine saying no to this request if/when she visits from college with a boyfriend in tow, so what’s different now?

Still thinking. Comments welcome.

An uncomfortable truth is hidden under the national discussion about music being played too loud, and the hoodies that criminals wear. Racism is not going anywhere.

I feel this observation needs to be made especially in light of the recent Academy Award’s presented to Lupita Nyong’o and John Ridley. I don’t wish to minimize their achievements, just to point out that they will eventually be used by someone as an example of our post-racial society.

I’ve written this particular post several times since mid-February when the trial of Jordan Davis’s killer was in the news. I filed rather than published because I’m always weighing the relative merits of my opinions about racial justice issues against the fact that I am white, female, suburban and part of the “chattering class”, which may actually be a generous stretch for this blog.

I hesitated because as good as it feels to vent, or in this case Rant, self-righteousness and hyperbole are rarely positives. I care too much about these issues to be flip or off the cuff.

It is the impact of these “Stand Your Ground” self-defense cases that is haunting my thinking at the moment. Specifically the no duty to retreat provision.

The institutional racism of our judicial system, or any kind of systemic oppression, is a hard sell when people are not willing to acknowledge their own biases. So anyone talking about how the killings of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin are racially motivated is derailed, shouted down and marginalized.

The national discussion of the Stand Your Ground laws invariably skirts racism by focusing on an individuals right to protect themselves against a perceived threat. Self-defense is at the core. Rarely is the fact established that the act of being a black male in our culture IS automatically a perceived threat.

If you are afraid for your safety, and there is no need to de-escalate, a “reasonable person” would be justified in protecting themselves. Media generally presents black men as dangerous, so a “reasonable person” can be expected to be afraid of black men. Except that second sentence is never stated.

Klappstecker_SicherheitNo duty to retreat is the linchpin to this specific kind of institutional racism. Subjective perceptions of threat trump evidence and facts. My feelings about your potential to hurt me justifies necessary force. It’s quite disheartening.

I have heard some folks saying that the celebrating of 12 Years a Slave by the Academy shows that we as a culture are ready to talk about race and slavery in an honest way. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe its true.

If we are ready to talk about race in the US, let’s start the conversation by believing that racism still exists, there is no such thing as the race card, and actions count more than intentions. My recommended moderators for this national conversation:

Onward and upward.

My daughter asked the other day if I thought that being a mom was a big sacrifice because you have to do everything for your kid. I said I didn’t because I never felt “selfless”  and didn’t considered having a child to be the ultimate accomplishment of my life.

She was a bit insulted by that information.

My daughter (along with my husband) is one of the most important and interesting parts of my life. But she is not my whole life. Nor am I hers.

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of my identity being tied to being a Mom. Not because I have anything against my child or actual parenting, but because the tradition of dismissing other relevant information about a woman once her mother status is revealed is disturbing.

Membership in the Mom Club is automatic and accompanied by a million rules. It seems to be a Club full of clichés, assumptions and ideals designed to highlight my inadequacies. For instance, I am not a crafty Mom. I didn’t make my own baby food, knit things, or do kitchen science experiments.

Nor was I the fun Mom. I didn’t make blanket forts, pack the van full of kids for sledding or throw fabulous birthday parties. Ditto for Sports Mom and Classroom-Volunteer-Mom-that-all-the-teachers-adore. And I certainly didn’t qualify for Doing-whatever-it-takes-Mom, being lucky enough to enjoy a decent income and husband who co-parents.

I’m not sure what prompted my daughter’s question about the self-sacrifice involved in parenting.  To my mind, it’s not a sacrifice if it’s what you want to be doing. Anything I gave up I chose to give up. We chose to have a child and I chose to work full-time rather than stay home. I hope every member of this club enjoys the same choices.

Good days, better days and all the tough ones in between add up to living your life as a parent. Although I am now fifteen years in, I may never reach advanced membership in the Mom Club.

And I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Sometimes the future arrives when you aren’t even looking.

The other night we attended the fall concert at my daughters high school and I got to see the future up close. The school has a tremendous music program so the evening included chamber music groups, concert orchestra, concert band, symphonic winds and two jazz ensembles. And they were all outstanding.

In the concert band trombone section a girl who identifies as a boy was allowed to wear the jacket, trousers and bow tie boys uniform rather than the floor length black dress that the girls wear. No one blinked when she made the request. No one remarked when she performed.

Later during the jazz ensembles I remarked how the pretty (and talented) drummer would be a good match for one of the boys and my daughter said “No, she’s a lesbian.” And no one blinked.

I remembered the boy in my daughters middle school that came out as bi-sexual in seventh grade and the girl who came out as a lesbian, and thought this is why I live here. This is my community.

In this one place, for these children, it is okay to be gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. There may be other problems in their lives but hiding part of who they are at school is not one of them. That’s some kinda progress.

And I am thankful.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and continued progress.

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Over the last six months my daughter has had her friends over more often. Especially her friends who are boys. This is not a problem as they are all perfectly nice, well-mannered kids who are even sometimes amusing to listen to and/or hassle.

Two things that took getting used to with teen boys: First, they seem to take up so much more space than girls. They are all a lot bigger than my petite sized daughter but even the ones who only as tall as me seem to take up more space. In my opinion, three boys are a crowd. Continue reading

Of all the things going on in the world I don’t know why this one thing made me so sad. Our local paper today picked up a story about Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) being attacked for their Mix it up Day program.  The American Family Association (AMF) is saying that mix it up day, programming to prevent bullying, promotes a homosexual agenda to elementary school children. And 200 schools cancelled their participation based on this.

Teaching Tolerance being demonized seems to be a new low. AMF has notified parents that their children’s schools are involved in subversive behavior and they have listed Southern Poverty Law as a hate group. That’s a petty retaliation for being listed themselves because of these kinds of campaigns, but it still gets reported. And repeated. All this when the SPLC is an organization founded to fight hate and bigotry.

I’m not even sure about the efficacy of Mix it Up Day – my daughter has a hysterical story about her experience of it last year – but I know it’s not evil to promote breaking down social and racial barriers at school lunch. There are many layers to cliques and popular groups that we all remember no matter how far removed from our K-12 years – looks, money, brains, sporting skill, sexual skill (or the promise therein) with other variables thrown in like class, race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. You get locked into who you are pretty quickly.

There is probably no more dangerous or difficult time in your life to attempt to change groups than school years. Teenagers are incredibly rigid in terms of what they believe is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, cool or uncool. This goes for people, places, and consumables (music, clothes, movies etc.), no matter how much they insist on their individuality. I speak from experience. Even rebellion is rigidly sanctioned.

I think I’m feeling this attack so personally because I benefited, in a very convoluted way, from an enforced Mix It Up Day. During my middle and high school years there was a court ordered desegregation plan for my school district, which meant that black kids were bused to white schools and white kids were bused to black schools. I’m old so the Hispanic population was relatively small at that point and didn’t come up much.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” meant that for the first time there was more than one black kid in my school. That kid moved by the way because as the notices were getting mailed to everyone about what school they would go to a small cross was burned on his front lawn. His name was Frank and he was the only black person I knew up to that point.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” also meant that I now attended High School in a part of town I had only visited once before. Because that’s where all the black people are. It was also where all the museums were but that was beside the point. The majority of white kids I’d been attending school with for my entire life transferred to Catholic Schools, or the bizarrely named and unaccredited “Freedom Academy”, so they didn’t have to go to the black school. They did however have to take a GED to graduate.

I was one of about 20 white kids in my class. This was no hardship. It was interesting. I got a terrific education and took AP classes. I met people I would never, ever have meet. I got to be the guest weirdly patronized by the grandma at my friends wedding (“Isn’t that nice Loretta invited that white girl!”), and had a glimpse of what it means to be a minority. Just a taste.

I know what it is like to experience prejudice because of various parts of my identity but I will never claim, because of this or any other experience, to know what it’s like to be a minority in the US. So if I was walking around in my white skin, looking indeterminately well-off in the way that white people do, and never had my Busing “Mix It Up Day”, how would I get around to expanding my world view? Why would I bother? What would compel me? Where would that information come from?

I don’t have those answers. Lots of folks call themselves life long learners but I wonder if they mean this kind of learning too. It appears that SPLC’s program Teaching Tolerance is one means to present ideas that might not otherwise see the light of day in some schools & households. Alternately, I would bet money on the the fact that limiting experience based on a religious or moral agenda does not reduce prejudice.

Teaching Tolerance offers this definition from UNESCO’s Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance:

“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.”

They go on to say “Tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling — but most importantly, of acting — that gives us peace in our individuality, respect for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them.”

Which do you think is more perverted – teaching tolerance to our children, or the AMF’s attack on Mix It Up Day? You know my answer.

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We went to see Moonrise Kingdom the new Wes Anderson movie yesterday. It was a lovely movie. A vast improvement on the usual young love, Romeo & Juliet story line. Based on overheard comments as we left the theatre, I think you either love Wes Anderson movies or you don’t get them at all.

Our daughter was with us as she is also a big fan of Anderson movies. She is a great person to see a movie with because she suspends belief, gets totally into the story and doesn’t hide her reactions. She will laugh uninhibitedly, cry at the oddest moments and unashamedly cover her face during scary parts. And I can’t reliably predict any of those reactions. Continue reading

My daughter was lamenting last night that her lack of a “best” best friend which was defined by her as “someone you automatically hangout with, end up each others houses, call everyday, that sort of thing.” I think we all crave that kind of closeness.

I pointed out that she has good friends and has had these relationships in the past, but I suspect her dissatisfaction stems from duration. All around her are kids who have been fast friends since birth or kindergarten, and I can see how it might be difficult to make room for a “newcomer”.

Her best friend in preschool lasted three years. Her best friend in elementary school didn’t survive her switch to a new school in 4th grade and her summertime best friend is only around six or eight weeks of a year. Its sort of a non-problem problem in that you can’t force that kind of closeness. So I lend a sympathetic ear.

But I know what she means.

A similar dynamic happens in adult friendships too. Everyone is so busy that making new friends, or moving from acquaintances to friends, takes effort and seems like a major commitment. A friend recently said to me “I only have so much time, I’m not going to waste it on someone I don’t know!” which, instead of feeling like the compliment she intended, made me feel like I had a somewhat tenuous membership in a privileged circle.

I am lucky enough to have one old “warts and all” good friend, and I am usually cautious about leaning too heavily on other friendships. Most people already have a “best” best friend and don’t have room for anyone else (and God forbid I should appear needy). Which brings me back at my daughters dilemma, how do you get a “best” best friend if you aren’t lucky enough to have one through longevity?

During the same conversation someone else remarked, “Who needs more friends? You only need one or two” and it went through my head – ‘Who doesn’t need more friends?’ I started thinking about my friend categories – friends I lunch with, friends I see movies with and friends I shop with. Then there are the different levels of socializing with friends who are couples and friends who have children. Some friends have the high-res retina display view of my life and others the 140 character thumbnail depending on the space they have available in their lives.

Could I call any of them in any kind of emergency? Many of them, without a doubt. Would I feel comfortable calling any of them just to chat or share something funny? No, just the one.

By a 13-year olds definition that must be my “best” best friend. I am lucky indeed.

When my daughter was a toddler she developed a fascination with Band-Aids.

Every scrape, bump or tumble required attention. In response I bought a couple of boxes of character Band-Aids, like Elmo and Hello Kitty and put them in a cupboard in the kitchen where she could reach them. Anytime she felt the need, she could help herself, unrestricted.

This worked so fabulously to lessen the attraction that I deliberately tried the same with sweets. She had (and still has) a treat box in the kitchen with whatever candy she is into at the moment. Sometimes its Twizzlers or Now & Later, sometimes its Kit-Kats or Twix, lately its Dove moments. She has free access to sweets at all times, and knows she can have a dessert every single day. There is no forbidden food, just food with or without nutrition.

The result of this seeming insanity is that she doesn’t act greedy with treats. She can stop eating when she has had enough cake. She can put down half a cookie. The jury is still out, but it is possible I have succeeded in not passing on my food compulsion. On the other hand it may just be her personality. Other parents hearing about this policy look aghast and insist it would never work with their children.

Her newest fascination, now that Band-Aids and candy have been demystified, are smelly soaps and lotions from a body store at the mall. This phase will require some stamina. I have to remember to add fortitude to my parenting logic model.

She has a collection of a dozen hand lotions each smellier than the last, and half a dozen kinds of body washes and hand sanitizers. The clash of fruits, flowers and foods is stunning. S’Mores and Fresh Baked Cookies are but two examples. I tried to gently explain how using the same wash and lotion layered your scent and she gleefully replied that she liked smelling like two or three kinds at the same time.

I would love to forbid her spending her babysitting money on yet another flavor of lotion, but I will stick with my system of benign acceptance and hope she settles on a “signature scent” very soon. It may be that its the shopping and buying she really likes, in which case there could be worse choices.

I am not sure how much longer the self-regulating/not forbidden system will apply as she encounters more complex choices as a teenager. I am hoping all that work and attention during the toddler years laid some kind of parenting foundation we can lean on in the future.

For the time being, I just smile and breath through my mouth.

I never liked Valentines Day, not even as a kid. While not as blatantly manufactured as Sweetest Day, it is still pure show biz.

First there were the years where you had to give everyone in your class a valentine, followed by the years where only a few girls got all the valentines. Or cookies, or candy or roses, or whatever the scam was to raise money at the school that year. The ritual of having the purchased “valentines” delivered to girls during their classes only served to stoke the collective hatred for the already despised popular girls.

Please.

Even though we are out of school and have left the cheerleaders behind, we have graduated to women who get flowers delivered at work. Or worse, giant stuffed animals. I have nothing against public displays of affection, but I do have a problem with being a captive audience for the terminally cute. Especially when its all about the show.

I keep trying to figure out the equation to explain why Valentines Day is so darn romantic. Here’s my best guess:

a dozen roses, long stemmed delivery at work, followed by fancy dinner, multiplied by high heels, sexy lingerie and a blow job = marriage proposal or [(R + (L+W) + D] x [(H + L) =B] = MP.

Since there is no Grinch for Valentines, I will have to settle for being a Cynic.

My daughter revealed yesterday that her boyfriend broke up with her.

I am still not entirely clear on the concept of dating at her Middle School. It seems that a person is “dating” and “going out” with someone because they say so. There does not appear to be any actual joint activity required other texting each other and telling your friends that it is so.

Even while this is a bizarre, surface relationship I know her feelings were hurt by how it happened. The boy went to some party without her where a girl kissed him. He instantly broke up with my daughter in order to date this other girl.

I was tempted to reiterate her father’s advice – “When a boy asks you out, you say three words to him. Drop. Dead. Creep.”

It was really hard not to say nasty things about the boy, who I normally like, and the male species in general. I told her I was sorry that he was so stupid and that he didn’t deserve her.

What I wanted to say was that boys lose the ability to think rationally when all the blood drains out of their heads. And that some boys never grow up but continue to think that their desire for sex justifies all sorts of bad behavior to women (see Gingrich, Newt for source material).

Instead I told her my #1 rule for boyfriends, which was half a lie because I never called anyone I dated my boyfriend until I had to introduce my now husband to my family. That was the only relationship I ever bothered defining for obvious reasons.

My #1 inflexible rule for dating:

  1. No second chances. Ever. Someone who cheats on you, doesn’t respect you or themselves and its not your job to teach them how.

I have a few more rules but they wouldn’t resonate with her right now. I am sure there will be other bad boyfriend moments in which to share my scorched earth policies. For now it is enough that her friends all say he deserves to be beaten up for treating her this way. I don’t condone violence but her friends being bloodthirsty on her behalf was clearly cathartic.

For a more definitive closure to this boyfriend chapter I will recommend she requests Celo Green (the clean version) at the Valentines Dance and sing along at the top of her lungs.

It broke my heart yesterday to watch my gorgeous, fit and shapely daughter look at herself sideways in the mirror the other day and say she needed Spanx because her stomach sticks out too much.

I know it is likely a fleeting teen anxiety because normally she thinks she looks great. And she has been raised on heaps of feminist pro-body image language from me, her father, New Moon magazine and Ms. to mention a few.

She and her closest friends are all pretty clear about their unique beauty; they regularly remark how awesome they are. And they know how the media manipulates women and girls perceptions about their bodies. Not to mention airbrushing. They are savvy kids.

But negative body image still manages to infect like airborne virus.

Why should a 13-year-old girl think she needs Spanx? Which, by the way, is an irritatingly coy, vaguely S & M name for a freakin’ girdle. All mother subjectivity aside, this kid has a washboard stomach and so little body fat that she can’t float in water.

But her stomach is not flat or concave and if she has anything snug on it bothers her. It bothers me that her head goes there at all.

I don’t think she is in any danger of an eating disorder or long-term damage to her self-esteem, but it pisses me off that we never seem to get past this manufactured idea of beauty. Has the progress of feminism been reduced to a right to openly embrace the fact that you wear Spanx, a la Oprah?

I have always been a “lipstick feminist” meaning I didn’t think the dress up bits of being a girl should only belong to Schlafly’s and the transvestites. But maybe that’s a mixed message. Without throwing my hands in the air and shouting “Where did I go wrong!” I think I need to reconsider what my choices are saying to my kid.

I feel crappy about how I look on at least a daily basis. How about you?

I don’t think this is a “do as I say, not as I do” moment.

Its 30 degrees and snowing outside and I am not wearing a winter coat.

I am wearing a lined raincoat with a pashmina, leather gloves and a very cute beret. I am not really warm, but I am dry. And I don’t have a heavy coat on so its all good.

I absolutely hate wearing a winter coat. More than snow, ice, blizzards and folks who can’t drive in bad weather, wearing a heavy coat is the thing about winter that makes me crabby. I have a system for avoiding the coat for as long as possible. The lined raincoat, wearing a wool blazer, even pulling out my rabbit fur hat and scarf – anything to delay pulling out the Winter Coat.

I rationalize that I am only going from the house to the car and then the car to the store. Why bother with a heavy coat you have to drag around while you shop or worse, wear and get overheated. Its worth a few minutes of discomfort to not carry a coat.

I have always hated wearing a coat which drove my mother crazy when I was a kid. I spent the entire winter of seventh grade wearing my maxi length toggle coat unbuttoned. My mother would scream at me and I would button it up, and immediately out of her sight I would unbutton it. I would arrive at school with wet clothes from not buttoning my coat.

Now, as an adult, I spend a fair amount of time shrieking at my own kid to put on your winter coat!, take a hat!, wear gloves! where are those boots you had to have! And, much to her mortification, I yell out the car window at her friends to put on the coat they are carrying.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I do wear a coat … eventually. It just pisses me off.

I would cheerfully wear a coat if I could find the right one. What I want is some kind of high tech astronaut clothing that is very, very thin and weighs next to nothing, is warm to -20 degrees and does not resemble or feel like a horse blanket. I have a new, fancy down-filled coat I bought end-of-season last year but even that makes me feel like I am zipped into a sleeping bag. At least its not a horse blanket.

I will put the coat on when a before-school argument includes the indignant “But you’re not wearing a coat!”, because I am supposed to be the example.

It will just be a puffy, thick, crabby example.

My daughter currently has a hate-hate relationship with clothes. She wants to look hip and in-style, but refuses to look “different” or odd. She also hates to shop. This may be a symptom of being 12, or it may be that she will always hate shopping. Either way, no matter what I do I. Am. Wrong.

I buy her the wrong jeans, I make the wrong suggestions, I fix her hair wrong, like I said before, I am just wrong.

I now its a middle-school struggle to figure out how to stand out so you are noticed and yet not stand out too much so you become marginalized. Her struggle is made tougher by the fact that her mother’s impulse is to flaunt it, be original. Probably a symptom of shopping in thrift stores and antique shops and being “shabby chic” before it was chic.

I am sure back to school shopping will provide endless blog fodder this year.

Oy.