Saturday, February 15, 2014

That Time I Chose Racial Taunting Over Rape

It was broad daylight.  I was headed from a meeting at a local coffee shop and decided to take the alleyway behind my office back to work.  I had walked that road a million times without incident, but today my gut was telling me something different.   I tell women all the time that they should listen to their instincts.  I don't always take my own advice.  As I approached the alleyway, I saw two men walking towards me.  They happened to be African-American.  At that precise moment an epic internal battle erupted in my head.  You are NOT turning around and walking the other way. You are NOT perpetuating every stereotype about black men in dark alleyways.  You are NOT going to let on to these men that you are approaching them with unfounded, media-induced fear.  You are NOT going to clutch on to your handbag.  But, you are going to subtly take your cell phone out of it and hold it in your hands.....just in case.  The funny thing is, if these men were white, and hadn't been subjected to centuries of racial profiling and stigmatizing, I would've turned the other way, guilt-free, within seconds. 
And so, with a confident smile, I began walking towards my office, and towards the two men.  I smile and say hello.  You know, the kind of hello that we, as women have been trained to say, so that we don't get ourselves in "trouble".  The kind of hello that is devoid of any hint of flirtation, sexuality, but exudes matter-of-fact professionalism, and has that huge unspoken, invisible, wall of protection built all around it.  You know, the kind of hello that someone conducting a job interview would say.  And that's when it started.  60 seconds of pure, non-stop racial epithets.
Ching, chong, chang.
Me love you long time.
Show me your ninja moves.
They seemed to like those last three a lot.
So for some reason, at that moment, I wasn't scared.  I actually paused, wanting more than ever to have a conversation with these men, who were probably just misinformed, lacking experience being around "my kind".  I played it all out in my head.  I would say, "Gentlemen, my name is Mae and I work right over here in this community, in this neighborhood.  Do you live around here?  You know, I'm not really Hawaiian, or Japanese, or Chinese and those words can be pretty hurtful."  I wanted to use this opportunity to perhaps, break down racial and cultural divides, maybe even foster community relationships with the residents who surround my office.  And just as I was about to extend my hand with a conciliatory handshake, this French video popped into my head.  The piece is a brilliant depiction of a world where gender roles are reversed and women hold all the power.  I had just watched it two days earlier.  The one scene in particular that I just couldn't get out of my mind was a scene when the oppressed male spoke up to his street harassers, and was violently sexual assaulted in a dark alleyway. 
And so I remained silent.  And walked on by them, even as the racial taunting continued the entire time, until the two men were clear down the street.  I knew in my heart that I was missing a rare opportunity to dialog, to repair and reconnect with people outside my race.  But my desire to break down racial barriers was silenced, reluctantly quelled, because my vulnerability as a lone woman, in a quiet alleyway, in the presence of aggressive men, trumped everything.  I had to choose not to provoke. I had to choose not to "ask for it".  Like so many of the women that I work with every single day, I had to choose silence, so that I could walk away with only a bruised soul.

Friday, February 7, 2014

How We Survived Our Seven Year Itch

A love story about monotony, depression, and dead flowers
Yesterday, I walked into my bathroom and found a beautiful bowl of dried flower petals just sitting there on my counter, near my sink.  I recognized the black ceramic bowl from my kitchen, but I couldn’t really understand what on earth this bowl from my kitchen was doing there on my bathroom sink.  It was filled to the rim with fragrant dried rose petals, leaves, and other flower parts that I did not recognize.  And lying gently on top, right in the middle of the bowl, was a single fresh, bright yellow daisy.  I later came to find out that my husband, Adam, had taken the dying bouquet of fresh flowers he had bought me a week ago for our seven year wedding anniversary, and painstakingly picked out those flower petals that somehow remained perfectly preserved and intact.  His thought was to surprise me with homemade potpourri and to extend the life of the bouquet, or rather the joy that it brought me on the day he first handed it to me.  In the process of weeding out the rotting from the perfectly preserved, he managed to salvage that one fresh yellow daisy that became the centerpiece for this rare love offering to me.
Why would I, or anyone for that matter, make such a big deal about something so ordinary, so “done”, such as the act of a husband bringing his wife flowers?  I hear that’s what a lot of couples do for anniversaries. 

You see, the thing is, I wouldn’t know. 
Because for the first seven years of my marriage, my husband never once brought me flowers.  Now, you should know, that I am married to a deeply compassionate, reflective, brilliant, loving, funny, sarcastic, and witty human being.  One who is a feminist, an equal parenting partner, and one who always, always has my back.    But up until about three months ago, my husband was not capable of buying something as simple and beautiful as a bouquet of fresh flowers for me.  Not because he was thoughtless, or cheap, or clueless, but because he was not capable of seeing the beauty in flowers…..or in much else.

I’d like to tell you the story of our seven year itch.  Actually, we (I have my husband’s blessing to write this of course) wanted to tell our story in case it might help others also going through the itch.  Our seven year itch culminated about four months before our actual seventh wedding anniversary.  We just had a houseful of lovely and diverse dinner guests over, and Adam and I were washing dishes after everyone had left.  I was on cloud nine, doing what couples typically do after a dinner party – rehashing the highlights of the evening, commenting on how the bread was just not crusty enough, but how the coconut ice-cream was divine.  And Adam, was well….silent.  So I asked him questions like:   Are you feeling OK?  Did you have too much to drink?  Why don’t you go sit down and let me take care of these dishes?  And much to my surprise, he did.  That’s right, the man dried his hands, left the kitchen and plopped himself on the couch, leaving me with mounds and mounds of dirty dishes.  What is this?  1952?  I looked over expecting him to be lying down or buried in a book, but I was startled to see him just sitting there on the couch, staring dead into space.   And it was at that precise moment that I knew that something was terribly wrong. 
And so our week-long seven year itch conversation commenced. During this time, I reflected deeply on the past seven years of my marriage.  I wasn’t really UNhappy I guess.  Adam was the doting, engaged father to our six-year old son.  On various occasions during our marriage, because of my work schedule, he actually ended up serving in the primary parent role.  He was attentive and took interest in things that mattered deeply to me.  He was supportive of my personal and professional goals and aspirations.  He was my rock when I almost lost my father, and when I walked out on my job two years ago.  I didn’t really have anything to complain about, did I?  But somehow over the years, life got in the way and I failed to notice that while Adam was always present and in the moment for our son and for me, he was no longer present and in the moment with himself.  When we first got together, we developed this crazy bucket list that most people would certainly mock for its lack of sophistication:  Enter a gingerbread house in the National Gingerbread Competition in Asheville, North Carolina;  Audition for a part in the Thriller zombie street dance performance for Halloween;  Take a photography road trip to capture church signs like “What’s missing in ch_ _ch?  UR!”  (Get it?)  Somehow, somewhere, Adam completely forgot about that bucket list……along with countless other things that used to bring him joy like movies, road trips, tinkering with cars and electronics, video games, you name it.  The only hobby that he held on to, and almost lost himself in every night for hours at a time – was reading (Adam’s first and only therapist would later explain to him that it made perfect sense for someone like him to lose himself in fiction, rather than to confront the mundane existence of his real life - but more on that later.)  So slowly and steadily, without even realizing it, I came to expect less and less “living” from Adam.  Sure we still had our family movie nights and Sunday dinners, but for those parts of me that longed for deeper fulfillment, I began looking elsewhere.  Slowly and steadily, my dreams and my bucket list became more and more separate from Adam's. I of course still loved him, but had resigned myself to the possibility that maybe this was one of the many different ways a marriage could work – two responsible, loving people coming together to build a responsible, loving life.  But I’d have to find that deeper passion for living through my own work and my own personal interests.

I guess it is fitting that we spent seven entire days scratching our seven-year-itch.  And boy, those days sure were wretched.  We’d wait for our son to go to bed and we’d suddenly start diving into impossible questions, with answers that we feared hearing like “Are you even happy anymore?”    It is during this time that Adam confessed to me that since he can remember, as early as his teenage years, he often felt hopeless and overwhelmed.    There’s this picture that hangs over our bed of a rope bridge set over a pond in a thick, dense fog.  Adam explained to me that for some time, he would  get up every day and get lost in that picture for several minutes.  But then when he snapped out of it, he would find himself still stuck in that fog, on that bridge, and the bridge just kept getting longer and longer, with no ending in sight.  He shared with me that he would often feel guilty for feeling this way, because he had everything he ever wanted in life – a stable home, a son and wife he was crazy about, a job that occasionally challenged him.  All he ever wanted was to see the beauty in all of this, for he knew it was there.  But try as he might, he just couldn’t feel the beauty.
And so by the end of the week, Adam had an appointment with a therapist.  A few weeks later, he also made an appointment with his family physician, who prescribed him a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor – more commonly known as an anti-depressant.  And over the next three months, Adam learned to become acutely aware of his emotions and how they have come to define his personality.   He learned to anticipate triggers that might set him back like work stress, interpersonal conflicts, and unplanned life events.  And he has, to the best of his ability, structured his life in a way that minimizes these situations.  He has come to terms with the impact that chemistry and family history has had on him.    Over the next three months, Adam also had the best Christmas ever, checked off multiple unfinished projects like fixing the front burner of my mother’s stove, finally watched the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, and bought a djembe drum. And over those same three months, I learned what it is like to be pushed to the depths of your marriage vows.  I’ve learned to care enough to keep asking questions.  I learned that a person is not always the sum of his emotions.  And probably the most important lesson I learned is that it’s not always about me.  It still terrifies me to think that if we hadn’t scratched this itch, if we just slowly let things decline and decay, we would have never faced or treated Adam’s depression. It is very likely, that I would have grown increasingly resentful of him, and he of me, for my inability to understand him.  We would have likely grown further and further apart and ended up like those dried flower petals, with no life sustenance, perfectly preserved, but really already dead inside.  

And that brings us to January 20, 2014, our 7th wedding anniversary:  a.k.a. the day I walked into the house to find a beautiful vase full of flowers that had absolutely no rhyme or reason.  There were yellow daisies, and pink roses, and purple lilies and they were wild and extraordinary.  And there were baby’s breath, and random other green leafy stems tucked neatly thoughout the bouquet.  Adam had talked the florist into letting him inside the huge walk-in cooler so that he could personally pick every single flower himself.  He just couldn’t choose, so he got one of each. Because for the first time, in a long time, he saw the beauty in all of them.   And for the first time, in a long time, I was reminded of that glorious day seven years ago when the universe brought together two imperfect, ridiculously flawed, but forever evolving individuals.  And that is the story of how we survived our seven year itch.

Note:  The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 18.8 million American adults have a depressive disorder. The disease is not discriminating, seeping into all age, race, gender, and socioeconomic groups. Depression  can stall careers, strain relationships, and sometimes even end lives.  If you know someone suffering from depression, or if you'd like to help break the silence and lift the stigma around this devastating and common disorder, visit know I've blogged about this before, but the single most impactful piece that has helped me truly understand depression has been this brilliant comic strip:


Friday, January 17, 2014

Dear Son: I Pledge To Hug You Like It's the Weekend Every Day

I would never call myself glamorous or particularly high maintenance when it comes to personal style. And while I gave up such grooming habits like eyebrow waxing and pedicures when I turned 40 (and in the process saved $500 and 30 hours a year), I do still find  comfort and confidence in a simplified beauty regimen that consists of a 60-second make-up ritual of Mac Studio Fix powder (it took this brown girl 20 years to find the perfect complexion, don't judge), some black eyeliner, and a quick application of lipstick.  So when a six-year old boy with sticky syrup face comes at me for a morning hug before I head off to a board meeting, my response has consistently been, "Let's go wash your face first, dear" (a.k.a. the "conditional hug"). Painful as it may be to admit, often times, even when there's no syrup, I only offer up the "restrained" hug.  You know the kind where you hold them back gently, adeptly controlling the embrace so that their faces land perfectly on your shoulder (but not on your neatly pressed, stain-free blouse) rather than your face, thus perfectly preserving the beautiful make-up that you just painstakingly applied.  I justify this all in my mind by telling myself, I don't want to leave lipstick marks on his precious face or get any of my Mac Studio Fix on his school clothes.

Of course on the weekends it's utterly magnificently different.  When my son, Jack awakes to hear the sounds of me typing away on my laptop, he runs to the top of the stairs, and I meet him at the bottom.  We then throw our hands out towards one another with dramatic flair and embrace in a full-fledged make-up free, "weekend special" extended hug.  The kind where he buries his (sometimes boogery and slobbery) face in the crook of my neck and I breathe in the baby scent that he still hasn't shed.  He then grabs my au natural face with both of his hands and plants the world's worst morning breath kiss on my lips, and we embrace again.  This time with me burying my face in the strands of his wild morning mop of a head.  It is indeed magnificent and one of my most soul-gratifying moments of motherhood.  One that I know I will long for deeply, when he has left our nest.

And then one day it suddenly occurred to me.  Considering that I'm usually headed out to work 240 out of 365 days of the year, by the time my son graduates high school, I will have given him 4080 conditional or restrained morning hugs, but only 2125 weekend specials.  And so my board of directors always gets a fresh-faced, not-a-hair-out-of-place, wrinkle-free, "confident" employee, and my only offspring, gets to choose between a "conditional" hug or a "restrained" hug.     

So dear boy, from this day forward - for the remaining 12 years that we will share a home, I pledge to always accept without fear, your stickiest syrup face.  Even on those days that I'm headed to important meetings.  I pledge to leave Mac Studio Fix remnants on your pristine school clothes and random faint lipstick marks on your precious face, as long as you will allow me to do so.  I pledge - for every single remaining day that we are gifted to wake up to one another - to hug you with no conditions....and with no restraints. To give you the weekend special every day.   After all, a little syrup never killed anyone, but regret and jumbled priorities, just might.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On Vaginas, Black Babies, And Redemption

Last month the news and entertainment industry successfully sucked us into a downward spiral of controversy, contention, and separation.  In case you were living under a rock and missed it all, here's what went down:
Phil Robertson's (Duck Dynasty) interview with GQ magazine...

If you're not a Christian, you are a murderer.  All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus.  Look at their record. Uh, Shintos?  They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists?  Zero.  That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups.  Just look at the records as far as murder goes among these four groups.   

Black people celebrate oppression  (with song and dance).  Oh, and they're all on welfare too.  I never, with my eyes saw the mistreatment of any black person.  Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them.  I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash.   We’re going across the field.... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, "I tell you what:  These doggone white people" —not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare,  you say: Were they happy?  They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.    

Vaginas are prettier than buttholes.  It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There's more there!  She's got more to offer.  I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC panel captioning Romney family Christmas card...

Holy moly, there is a black baby on that Christmas card!  Actress Pia Glenn, started singing lines from the song popularized by Sesame Street:  "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others."
....but there aren't many black babies in the Republican party.  Another panelist, comedian Dean Obedidallah, said the picture "really sums up the diversity of the Republican Party."
Bi-racial babies should stick know, keep all that cuteness in the family.  Host Melissa Harris-Perry described the baby as "gorgeous," before predicting Kiernan would one day marry North West, the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, "Can you imagine Mitt Romny and Kanye West as in-laws?"
Both, in the name of free speech, (with or without intending to) caused pain to individuals solely because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

One was defended by Sarah Palin, while the other was crucified by her.  More specifically Ms. Palin said,  "Free speech is endangered species; those intolerants hatin and taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all" on one occasion, and "Media hounds are not expressing an opinion with this attack; they are expressing a prejudice" on the other.

Both elicited public outrage, and scores of people demanded apologies, boycotts, and resignations. One apologized immediately, tearfully, and publicly via social media and on-air. She also used the opportunity to further a dialog on race, privilege, and bipartisanship.  Not to mention that much of her own career has been devoted to deeper conversations about the intersections of race and poverty. The other maintained that his beliefs were "grounded in the Bible", that he is a "Godly man".  He was suspended for a few weeks before being invited back to continue contributing to the highest rated program on A&E network history. 

One shares the racial and religious background of the subject of her targeted comments (African-American father and a White Mormon mother). The other is Christian, straight, and white who has no shared experiences or personal insight to the lives of his targeted subjects (African-Americans, non-Christians, and the LGBTQ community).   

Just something for us all to ponder as we sit our judgmental selves in front of the television tonight.  Better yet, maybe we should instead try turning off the T.V. and maybe having a real conversation with someone we might be inclined to target?


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Only New Year's Resolution I've Ever Kept (And Why You Can Keep This One Too)

Act #365:  Keep it going.

Exactly one year ago, my husband Adam and I were laying in bed in the early morning hours, staring at the ceiling, lazily contemplating the power and lure of the clean, blank slate that was before us.  New Year's Eve:  the one day in the entire year that the world gives us permission to hit the re-set button on life.  Never mind that you just ate half a jam cake eight hours ago, tomorrow the allure of the other half will pale in comparison to your new found willpower.  There may be dirty laundry piled high up to the ceiling, but tomorrow it will all be freshly cleaned, neatly folded and organized along with the rest of your life.  Today, you may feel burned out, yet resigned that the place you spend eight hours every day depletes you to your core.  Tomorrow, however, you will either see that same place in a brand new light, or you will finally have the strength to access an untapped source of motivation....and you will seek out a different kind of place that replenishes your soul.  Over the next 12 hours, we will magically transform from a wandering, indulgent, chaotic species to determined individuals with new found purpose, intention, and focus.  And within a week, the clock will strike midnight again, and the majority of our golden chariots of possibility will turn back into comfortable, ordinary pumpkins of our own habits and routines.  For the last 20 years I have been desperately trying to figure out a way to harness and store the power of possibility that only reveals itself during those precious final hours before the new year begins, in hopes that it might feed me for the next 365 days.  And every year, within a few weeks, sometimes a few months, I find my new stair stepper shoved in a corner, my resume still untouched, my child still staying up past his bedtime. 

But this past year was different. 

My single resolution evolved from despair and grief for a future world that my son would inherit. My single resolution evolved from desperation, helplessness, even fear, that as his mother, the best I could do for my son was to pass on to him an unkind, unjust world of dissent, discord, and separation.  The best I could do was to continually succumb to the rich, indulgent jam cake and the piles of dirty laundry, day-in, day-out, without even trying to make things better.  And so I resolved to live the next 365 days with intention, and purpose, and focus, but this time, not for myself.  I knew that 365 days later I'd still not be able to fit into that royal blue size 4 dress I ordered from Modcloth a year ago.  But that was OK.  Liberating, actually.  Because for once in my adult life, I had resolved to embrace being myself: you know plain, kinda boring, painfully ordinary.  But instead of fighting tooth and nail to change those things (like I have been for the past 20 years), this time I embraced them.  I accepted them.  I celebrated the fact that there was probably a world of kindred "ordinary" spirits out there who also believed in a kinder, gentler world.

And so on December 31, 2012, I harnessed the energy of New Year's Eve possibility and I became a plain Jane, one who finally decided to believe in her own simple power to make things better.  One who finally stopped spending her life trying to figure out how to save the big, wide, broken world...or her big, wide, broken self.......and who finally saw that it was indeed those small, seemingly insignificant, but intentional every day acts towards others that truly mattered in the large scheme of things:  acknowledging someone's existence, giving voice to someone who lost theirs, speaking out against injustice, protecting those most vulnerable, and returning personal power to every living being.   A year ago, I resolved to be ordinary.  To care.  And to do my little part in making the world a bit kinder, a bit gentler, a bit safer.  Can you imagine what would happen today, if all 7 billion of us resolved to do the same?  Let us ponder that as we indulge in our final piece of cake of the year.


A Personal Note:  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for joining me on this year-long journey.  For your public comments and dialog, for your private e-mails and messages, for including me in your book chapters, for letting me contribute to your on-line publications, for publishing my op-eds, for believing in me enough to think I should write a book?...or a journal....or to continue this blog.   I am humbled that you have been willing to listen to my simple, ordinary voice.  I see the world differently now that I've discovered that so many of us share the same extraordinarily ordinary voice despite our different journeys, paths, backgrounds, and yes, even political parties.  What next, you ask?  Besides learning to play the guitar and finally trying to fit into that Modcloth dress, I plan to contribute to this blog on a weekly basis, or as I feel so called by the universe.  I'm confident that a year from now, I'll at least be able do an Old McDonald sing-along with my son, and there's at least a 50% chance that I'll be wearing that royal blue dress to a swanky New Year's Eve party.   If not, for the remaining future New Years of my life, I will simply celebrate, the year I became ordinary.  The year I learned to care for something other than myself.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ringing In the New Year By Waiting For Someone To Get Raped

Act #364:  Scope out the party.

Obviously, I'm not hoping that someone will get raped tomorrow night.  In fact, I would give just about anything for every human being to lay safely down in their beds on the last day of the year, without experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence, drunk driving, or any other form of violence.  But the statistics, our records, the anecdotes all challenge this notion...and New Year's Eve has historically been one of the "busiest" work days for those of us who work in rape crisis centers.  Tomorrow night, I join colleagues and volunteers across the nation in staying close to home, in not indulging in a glass of champagne, in keeping our cell phones right in front of us, waiting, praying, hoping that maybe, just maybe this year will be different. 

But it probably won't. 

And while the rest of the world is wearing little festive 2014 party hats, we will most likely be walking somebody through their legal options on our 24-hour crisis line......or sitting in an examination room in our local emergency room......or helping someone breathe during a trigger-induced panic attack.  Unless of course, we all collectively decide we no longer want to live in a world where this is the norm.  So as you countdown, as you toast, as you ring in a blank slate of possibility tomorrow night, go ahead and make sure your one friend gets home safely....and that your other friend doesn't drive home someone who is drunk and vulnerable.  Pick up the phone when your friend with the abusive boyfriend calls you in the middle of the night.  Ask a total stranger if they need help getting a cab. Cut your obnoxious pal off when it's clear that he's reached his alcohol limit.   By all means, have fun tomorrow night, but consider also taking note of your surroundings, and lending a helping hand when needed.  Because unfortunately, there are no holidays or "days off" in our business.  Because more than anything, we'd like to someday join you in ringing in the new year without waiting anxiously by the phone.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Had Everything In Common With This Guy Until I Noticed His Ron Paul T-Shirt

Act #363:  Walk your own talk.  This one's hard.  Really, really hard.

So there I was at a quaint bed and breakfast miles and miles away from civilization.  My husband and I decided to grab a cup of coffee and sit by the fireplace for a few moments before the 9 a.m. breakfast bell rang.  Almost immediately, a father with a baby carrier and a diaper bag plopped down next to me - no mother in sight.  And I immediately thought to myself, "Great!  A progressive, equally involved dad who isn't afraid to carry around a flowery diaper bag!" We all ooh-ed and ahh-ed over his adorable 4-month old son and began doing the small obligatory chit-chat: Where are you from?  What do you do? What brings you here?  It turns out he and his wife were on a little getaway from Indianapolis.  They also had another 3-year-old who they left at home with grandma.  We quickly commiserated about those early sleepless baby years, shared our love for the Indianapolis Children's Museum and how it was so cool, we'd even go without our kids.  He and my husband started talking about their love affairs with insanely compact, quirky, difficult to maintain European cars.  And then his wife joined us and she was just as delightful.  Like me, she had been to this bed and breakfast before (on a "girl's trip with her mother and daughter) and wanted to share the experience with her husband.    And then the breakfast bell rang and I was actually looking forward to sharing a meal with perfect strangers with whom we seemed to connect so well.  And then my new friend got up and handed his baby to his wife revealing in all its glory, a blue and white Ron Paul 2012 t-shirt. 

Oh.  My.  God. 

I was on the verge of "liking" someone who desired to see the "Godfather of the Tea Party" run our nation.  Someone who believed the U.S. should withdraw from the United Nations, who opposed any kind of immigration reform, universal healthcare, or a woman's right to choose....and who believes that the Civil Rights Act was a federal interference with individual liberty.

I was so devastated with this realization that I could barely enjoy the beautiful gourmet breakfast sitting in front of me.  At that point, everything kind of went south, at least in my mind.  As the biscuits and oatmeal were served, the Ron Paul couple held hands and prayed over their food.   And I thought (aka "judged") to myself, "Of course they are fanatics.  Clearly, we can't invite them to play Cards Against Humanity with us over bourbon and coke later on."  And then I got irate in my own mind because the Ron Paul supporter (that is all I reduced him to at that point) just sat at the head of the table and didn't assist his wife with that baby once.  He just kept eating and eating, while she tried to get a bite of her oatmeal while juggling their 4-month old on her lap. Of course he's one of "those" dads.  If he doesn't believe in a woman's right to choose, why would he believe in shared caregiving responsibilities for their child?  Keep in mind, it was less than five minutes ago that I saw this very same man as a cool and progressive dad.  And just when I was about to completely write them off as "people who couldn't possibly have anything in common with us", the wife did something awesomely unexpected and amazing.  Her baby cried.  And so she whipped out a beautiful scarf......and her left breast - and by golly, she nursed that child right there and then at the breakfast table.....all while smiling and enjoying her farm fresh eggs.  And for the remainder of the breakfast, I managed to reserve judgment long enough to actually enjoy the company of people with whom I had at least one thing in common. Probably not much else, but it was certainly a start.

Photo credit:  cypresskid

Friday, December 27, 2013

What To Do When Someone Calls Your Son A Wimp

Act #361: Redefine masculinity.

Last week I woke up and watched this 3-minute video calling attention to the way we talk to our boys about masculinity.  

A few hours later I found myself among people who are very close to me. And in the course of a one-minute span, a well-meaning man in our lives said these words when playing with my 6-year old son:  Don't be a wimp.  You better man up, boy.  I'll take you home with me to toughen you up. 

At first I was furious at this man.  How dare he talk to my child like that.  Then I went into panic mode.  Sure, we have never used this kind of hyper-masculine, aggressive language with our kid, but there is a whole world out there that probably does.  How will our influence outweigh the influence of the world?  Then I thought about this man, and how that's probably all he knew.  His father probably talked to him exactly like that.  He himself most likely grew up believing that his value as a man was tied directly to his ability to demonstrate his physical strength.  And so I became very sad... for him, for my son, and for every single boy in America.

And so I spoke up.  Heart racing, in the middle of people who I can't really name, but who I probably should have exhibited more self-restraint and respect.  Probably.  And I said, "Jack is not a wimp, and neither are you.  Neither of you need to toughen up.  A real man, or human being rather, is gentle and kind towards others.  Something that Jack already is and we are so proud of him."

And awkward silence fell.  And the playing subsided.  And I felt uneasy for the rest of the night.  But my boy did not leave that room believing that he was a wimp.  And for a few minutes, all the women in the room were given permission to value a different kind of man - a kind they didn't grow up knowing.  And probably for the first time in his life, that man was (reluctantly) given permission to consider valuing himself differently.  The awkward silence was a small price to pay.

Photo credit:  Diary of A Wimpy Kid

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Why I Didn't Post Any Pictures Of My Cute Kid Opening His Christmas Gifts Yesterday

Act #360:  Show grace in elevators (and other places).

Seven years ago I found myself in the elevator of a hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I had just landed from the longest 4-hour flight of my life and was on my way to see my father, who had had a heart attack the day before, and who I was told would likely not be alive when I arrived.  I hadn't slept in over a day.  It was a devastating and unexpected blow to face the threat of losing my (then) 57 year-old otherwise healthy father.  And at that precise moment, I remember kind of hating the world.  And then the elevator stopped to let on an adorable pregnant woman and her husband.  They were beaming.  They were laughing.  They were talking about touring the hospital where they would be giving birth to their child.  And I remember kind of hating them.  How could the world continue to revolve, business as usual, when my father was dying?  How lucky that couples like this one had the option to be happy and hopeful and excited about their future, while mine (and my mother's) was about to crumble.  Miraculously my father survived and I almost forgot about that dark day in the elevator....that is until a year or so later, I found myself 9 months pregnant, riding up a hospital elevator, waiting to give birth to my son.  This time, I was the one beaming, and happy, and hopeful about my future.  And just when I was about to ask my husband something about the color of the nursery, or whether or not we had already tested the car seat, a woman and her mother stepped on to the elevator.  And I saw the exhaustion, the strain, the fear, the sheer hopelessness in their eyes.  God knows what kind of sadness, threat, loss they were facing that day. And so my wide obnoxious grin, became a more gentle, more subtle smile.  My conversation about preparing for the arrival of my new son turned into a simple knowing nod and earnest "hello" to the mother-daughter pair.

Yesterday, people asked me what my son got for Christmas, why I didn't post any pictures of him in his jammies, him tearing open gifts, the beautiful brunch and appetizer spread I prepared for my family, the looks of happiness and contentment on our faces as we were fortunate to be celebrating yet another Christmas with my father.  Yesterday I didn't post any of those photos on Facebook, because I just didn't know who would be getting on the elevator with me.  A newly divorced single mother, a man facing his first Christmas without both of his parents, another disowned from his family when he came out a few years ago, a family spending Christmas in the hospital with their terminally ill son, a couple facing years of infertility and yet another Christmas without a child?  Even though I am so very grateful for all that is good in my life right now, I know there are plenty of people on my friends list who are experiencing sadness, hopelessness, and despair - and how particularly difficult it is to be experiencing those things during the holidays.  And I know that one day, when life cycles back around and it is me feeling those things again, I'd probably appreciate a little grace.