My Tattooed Teenager

November 8, 2013 § 16 Comments

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She’d been asking for years.  My firstborn, with the red hair and creamy skin, wanted a tattoo.  For years she’s been asking.

The child who, if she could, would paint her room a different color every other month.  The child who, if her parents could, would ask them to rearrange the furniture in her room every other week.  The child who, as a pre-teen, declared matter-of-factly, “I require constant change.”  The undeniable implication was, “Is that so wrong?  Is that so difficult?  Why is nobody accommodating me???”

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“Were You Trying?” Well, That Question Certainly Was…

July 1, 2013 § 12 Comments

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We truly are an entitlement-driven culture.

I’m not talking about welfare or tax breaks–I’m talking about people feeling entitled to KNOW things they have no business knowing.  I recently wrote about politicians’ infidelity (and how it is or isn’t relevant) in this post at The Broad Side.  I could blame it on the internet, or too much information, or Facebook for encouraging over-sharing. Truthfully, though, this sort of butting in happened waaaay before the internet age made everyone experts on any number of things, including medicine, politics, and entertainment. My favorite examples, though, involve knowing (and judging) someone else’s childbearing decisions.

I have friends (in real life and online) who share stories of intrusiveness that give me a facial tic. A friend who has one child is routinely told her child needs a sibling. Another friend who is single and childless is reminded by well-meaning friends that thanks to science, dontchyaknow, she doesn’t actually need to be married or in a relationship to have a baby. What’s the hold-up?

That people feel entitled to comment on, let alone challenge, someone else’s child rearing (or any other personal) choices makes me seethe. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of such intrusiveness. I was absolutely floored by the first person who asked me if we were trying when I revealed I was pregnant. I’m sure many regard this as a benign question, and mean no harm. Still, I remained floored, embarrassed, speechless that someone I barely knew felt free to ask me what amounted to questions about the most private aspects of my married life.

My husband and I continued to be amazed through each of my three pregnancies how many people would ask us if we had been “trying.” I had pretty quickly developed a response that involved a cock of my head to the side, furrowed eyebrows, and a, “That’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think???” My husband, normally gentle and patient to a fault, had even less ability to tolerate this question than I did. When some poor, clueless, unfortunate soul asked him this at work about our third pregnancy, he finally lost it. “WHAT makes people THINK they have the RIGHT to ASK that question????”   To which his clueless co-worker responded, “Well, how am I going to find out if I don’t ASK?”  Head, meet desk.

Then there was the colleague who “caught” me eating saltines. Oh, she was a regular Columbo, that one. It was VERY early in my first pregnancy, and she happened upon me while I was alone in my classroom marking papers. “I knew it! I knew it! I knew you were pregnant!” she accused, pointing her finger at me. I hadn’t told anyone yet because we’d wanted to wait for the first trimester to pass uneventfully before coming out with the news. But no–she adopted a very haughty, “You can’t fool ME,” attitude and berated me for keeping the info to myself. The nerve of me! In fact, I had so much nerve, that I told her I was pretty sure it was MY decision when and to whom I revealed my being pregnant and that she needed to mind her own business and keep her mouth shut.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I was raised to NEVER ask a person if he or she had children (or its corollary, if a woman was pregnant) let alone question their reasoning and decisions. This may seem a little extreme to some, but my parents’ reasoning was this:

You never know if the question is going to cause someone pain. You don’t know if the issue is a source of contention between the spouses. Perhaps the person you’re asking has just had a miscarriage. Maybe the woman was raised in a violent household, and has vowed to never have kids of her own. What if a couple has been desperately trying to conceive, and have suffered countless heartbreaks and disappointment in their attempts?

Or maybe you might find yourself in the situation I did. (I am guilty of sometimes not following my own rules.) An old friend found me through Facebook and my writing. He had frequently half-joked in college that he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad and have six kids. I would completely-joke back, “I wish your future wife a lot of luck.” As we were re-acquainting ourselves after 20+ years, he told me he and his lovely wife have five children. “Five? I thought the magic number was six!” I teased light-heartedly.

His response? “We did have six.”

This post appeared in its original form at Kveller.com in November 2012.

Moral Limbo, Political Style

June 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

Capitol Hill

A couple of years ago, when former California Governor and movie icon Ahnohld Schwarzenegger’s revealed his dalliance with one of his domestic employees, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek response to the “shocking” news.  I framed it as a letter to those opposed to letting gay people marry, and suggested that the crowd to whom we should deny marriage is the group of people who, historically, had proven themselves really, really bad at it.

I am talking about superstars in the businesses of entertainment, politics and sports.  THESE are the ones for whom marriage is not natural. Of course, not all superstars in these fields practice infidelity, and not all of us regular folk stay true to our spouses.  Regardless, can we please just assume that once a politician, athlete, actor, musician, etc., reaches a certain level of success and fame that their ability to remain faithful to their spouse is seriously compromised?

Let’s go down the list of suspects, here:

  1. People whose careers involve staying gorgeous and taking their clothes off with other gorgeous people and pretending to be in love with a different person for each movie,

  2. People whose chosen paths involve lengthy absences from their families while they are worshipped and fawned over by people seeking all kinds of favors and favor,

  3. People whose prowess on the athletic field guarantees they will be showered with offers to demonstrate their prowess off the field, and

  4. People who actively pursue careers wherein success equals ungodly fame, extreme wealth, wielding great power, and obscene stroking of egos as a matter of course.

I’d like to strike a more serious tone, though, when talking about our elected officials.  Of course, they fall into categories 2 and 4 of the above list.  In “The Hypocrisy of the Powerful,” Dr. Robert Smither discusses how politicians caught up in sex scandals “do things that are completely opposite of the image they present to voters.”  That’s true of Eliott Spitzer and Larry Craig – both advanced their political careers by expressing loud moral outrage in public about behaviors in which they personally engaged in private.  Simply put, they were hypocrites.  They also broke the law.  Somehow, though, I don’t feel it’s as striking as Dr. Smither does.

This is because we have yet to come to terms with the obvious truth about which I joke in my list above.  Of course people in power consider themselves infallible.  Of course people in power have no trouble forgiving their own bad behavior while condemning others who engage in the very same behavior.  People don’t ascend to positions of great power – especially political power – because of their forgiving and humble natures.  In fact, I really think if you’re forgiving and humble, and somehow manage to ascend to great power, it is not because of those qualities, but rather, despite them.  I’m speaking in ridiculously broad generalizations, here, but you catch my drift.

Sincere apologies for sounding crass, but it doesn’t upset me when I hear a politician has been unfaithful to his or her (come on, though, you know we’re mostly talking about “him”) spouse.  It upsets me that  I hear a politician has been unfaithful.  Here’s why:

1.  I don’t think it’s any of my business.  It’s between the politician and his or her spouse and family.  And the third party, whomever it is.  And their clergy, their lawyers, and their therapists, should they have the inclination to consult such people.  I think primarily of the innocents in these scenarios, and how painful it must be to have their humiliation played out in front of hundreds of millions.

2.  I don’t equate fidelity to one’s spouse with the ability to govern.  Plenty of talented surgeons, artists, etc., might be unfaithful, but how often does that cost them their jobs?  Yet I know news of infidelity often ends a political career.  If it doesn’t end a career, it creates a huge distraction from it, and an opportunity for the opposing side to claim moral superiority.  THAT makes me gag.

3.  The fact we hear about it is reflective of the fact we have such an appetite for it.  I fear that speaks very poorly of our priorities and our national maturity.  I mean, I was embarrassed and ashamed during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal – not because our President had an affair, but that his lying about it led to his impeachment.  What a farce and waste of resources and energy that was.

Which brings me to Anthony Weiner.  Full disclosure – we’re from the same part of Brooklyn, his younger brother went to my high school and owns a restaurant where I once enjoyed a superb meal.  None of that, though, brings anything to bear on the fact that I find it tragic that such a smart guy with such great potential, fighting the good fight (in my eyes, at least) has lost his voice in Congress just because he tweeted d*ck pics to some college hotties.  I mean, here’s a guy who managed to SHUT Joe Scarborough UP about health insurance companies.  Here’s a guy who went on an epic rant in Congress making Republicans look like idiots for defunding NPR.  (Ironically, now that he’s running for Mayor of New York City, the endorsement that would help Weiner the most is the one he’s not going to get – the Clintons’.  They’re not going near him with a 10-foot cigar, for obvious reasons.)

I understand the argument of some that it’s hard to vote for a politician who exhibits such bad judgment.  If he or she is so careless in his or her personal life, how can I trust him or her with matters of great significance?  That’s a completely legitimate question to ask.  Again, though, I wonder why we don’t think infidelity makes a doctor less medically capable or a conductor less able to lead an orchestra.

I consider role model status for national politicians to be extremely fuzzy when it comes to their personal lives.  If we removed the specter of their personal lives being dragged through the mud, might we have a more focused Congress?  If we didn’t so delight in publicizing private lives of the rich and powerful, might we be able to then insist they concentrate at the work at hand that really DOES matter?  If running for office didn’t automatically mean subjecting themselves and their families to the media dumpster diving that is sure to follow, would more people who would make good politicians step up to the plate?  I don’t know what the answer is.  I’m not sure what is the right thing to do.   What we’re doing isn’t working, though, that’s for damn sure.  How else can we explain that Congress has a 10% approval rating, yet 90% of incumbents are re-elected?  To what degree are we, the governed, responsible for the incredible dysfunction of the government about which we complain so loudly?

This post originally published at The Broad Side on June 20, 2013.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Department of Defense

Rape Culture Round-up

June 24, 2013 § 3 Comments

Fearful woman

Well, folks, it’s June 24, 2013, and I’d like to welcome you to a little feature I call “Rape Culture Round-up.”  Progress on the War on Women front?  Let’s just say any moves have been lateral at best, rather than forward.

We can start with this little gem from conservative talking head Laura Ingraham.  When discussing how Plan B (emergency contraception) will likely soon be available over the counter, she opines thusly: ” It’s a good deal for pedophiles, a good deal for people who commit statutory rape against young girls.”  Right.  Because rapists and pedophiles are FIRST AND FOREMOST concerned about the consequences of their actions for their victims.  And the mentality of a rapist is such that he’s worried if a pregnancy results from the rape, he might have to stick around and raise the kid.  Let’s completely ignore how the availability of Plan B (aka the “morning after” pill) might actually help or empower a person who’s the victim of a rape or pedophilia.  Don’t mention that, Laura.  Instead, let’s introduce one of my favorite techniques (employed by both sides of the debate, by the way) the…drumroll, please…the false comparison.  

“These girls can’t get their ears pierced, they can’t take an Advil at school without parental permission. Yet, they can go into a pharmacy in this Brave New World of women’s equality and — quote — reproductive health — and get a morning after pill…I think it empowers men who want to abuse women.”

Allow me to enlighten this debate by sharing that while girls can’t take an Advil at school without parental consent, they also can’t take the morning after pill at school with or without parental consent.  If and when girls CAN go into a pharmacy and buy the morning after pill without consent, so, too, can they buy Advil without consent.  I’m not sure Ingraham understands this, but a school is a different place from a pharmacy.  They operate differently and under different rules. It’s complicated, I know.

Here’s another little factoid for those fans of false comparisons.  Girls and women get their ears pierced and take Advil for different reasons than they might take the morning after pill.  So, for example, if a 38-year-old woman finds her birth control has failed, and for whatever completely legitimate reason she has (which, frankly, is none of your damn business) she is not likely to take Advil to prevent the potential pregnancy.  Neither will a 15-year-old rape victim, battered, bruised, in shock and traumatized decide the solution is to run to the mall to get her ears pierced so that she doesn’t become pregnant.  We take Advil when our back hurts from too much volleyball.  We get our ears pierced for fun and fashion.  We take the morning after pill to prevent a pregnancy for a variety of reasons (which, again, are none of your damn business.)

Furthermore, the concern Ingraham and the others at Fox News show that the availability of Plan B emergency contraception may “empower men who want to abuse women” is, shall we say, disingenuous.  If they were truly concerned about empowering men who abuse women, they’d be talking about the following things in today’s Rape Culture Round-up:

1.  The Anonymous hacker who helped expose the Steubenville rapists might get more jail time than the actual rapists.  Let’s hope not, but way to discourage disclosure and reporting of rape, justice system!

2.  Facebook’s misogyny problem.  Thanks to the highly publicized social media campaign that threatened to lose FB some big advertising dollars, Facebook is finally tiptoeing around the notion that pages entitled, “Raping your Friend Just For Laughs” and “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she Won’t Make you a Sandwich” might constitute hate speech, rather than humor.  Pictures of women who have been pushed down the stairs, with the caption “Next time, don’t get pregnant” might not be permissible free speech.  DON’T, however – DO NOT – post a picture on FB of a woman breastfeeding.  It will be taken down because it is “indecent.”

3.  At Microsoft’s conference last week, one of the producers of (surprise, surprise) an extremely violent video game saw fit to make a rape “joke.”  In front of thousands.  To a woman.  A woman he was absolutely destroying and pummeling in this violent video game.  Yes, friends, he told her she liked it.  She said she didn’t.  He said, “Just let it happen.  It’ll be over soon.”  Hm.  The one bright spot is that this joke was not well-received by the audience, and the producer was quickly called out for it on Twitter – by a fellow Microsoft producer, and a male one at that.  Yes, in this case, the fact that the fellow producer was male is significant.  Makes it more of a Sister Souljah moment.

4.  Lindy West, a feminist and a comedian, spent a few minutes on a show discussing why comedy is not the most welcoming place for women.  Please click on this and watch the short video of her reading the responses she’s gotten for this in a post entitled, If Comedy Has No Lady Problems, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?”  Please do it.  I will wait.

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?

5.  Republicans in Congress continue to bring the crazy to the debate on abortion laws making exceptions for women who are victims of rape and incest.  Yes, Trent Franks.  You’re right.  Chances of getting pregnant from rape are practically non-existent!  My unicorn agrees with you.  Now excuse me while I run to the store to pick up my light saber that has been repaired.  Have to slay those dragons, you know!

Now, if any of you are hearing Fox News covering these stories in ways that demonstrate genuine concern for women and the appropriate derision towards rape culture, please let me know.  Somehow, though, I doubt I’ll be hearing from many of you racing to Fox’s defense.

I will leave you, though, with an absolutely brilliant response one woman had to her personal experience with rape culture.  She received a full frontal naked picture of a man wanting to date her.  She took screen shots of the picture and resulting conversation.  And sent them to his mother.  Please click on this to see it. Please do it.  I will wait.

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?

So, this ends today’s Rape Culture Round-up, folks.  While I hope I’ll never have to do another one of these, I know I will.  For as long as our society downplays the threats to women and enables rape culture, while simultaneously and perversely denying women the means to cope with the aftermath and/or control their reproductive lives, there will be a need for columns like this one.

This post originally published on The Broad Side on June 14, 2013.

Image via iStockphoto/Marjan Apostolovic

The Plan B Pill: If It Were MY Daughter…

June 22, 2013 § 4 Comments

Plan B pill

…I’d want Plan B to be available over the counter.

I say this realizing there are great moral complexities involved here.  I’ve thought about it a lot regarding under-age girls seeking abortion.  When it comes to abortion, I ask myself, “Would I want to be notified if it were my daughter?  Would I want the doctor to insist on my consent if it were my daughter?  My husband’s consent?  If my daughter was 15?  What about if my daughter was 13? 12?”  Of course the answer to all of these questions is “Yes.”  While most parents I know would also answer “yes” to these questions, I realize there are girls who aren’t living in healthy families.

I also, however, have done everything I know how – used everything in my parental arsenal – to make it clear to my daughter (and sons) that when they are in trouble of ANY nature, we are their allies.  Not their crutches.  Not their protectors.  Not their enablers.  Not their shields from consequences.  Their allies.  We know more, we’ve lived longer, we have better access to resources, etc., etc., etc.  “We will ALWAYS be prouder of you for calling/telling us you’re (insert a stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situation here) and you need help than we will be mad at you for having found/gotten yourself into (insert stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situation here) to begin with.”

So far, this has served us fairly well.  We’re not delusional – we assume there are still plenty of stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situations they have not told us about, and will be in the future.  There have been times, however, when we’ve gotten calls from them.  And as strange as it sounds to say, I hope we continue to get those calls.  I’d rather get calls from them than from the police or the hospital.  This is what we have hammered home, and hopefully has set the tone for the basis of trust and confidence they have in us.

I hope this would extend, for my kids, to sex and unwanted pregnancies.  In an ideal world, they’d come to us first.  In a slightly less ideal world, they’d go to a doctor first.  In an even less ideal world, they’d have their friend drive them to a drugstore to buy Plan B, also known as the “morning after” pill.  But in a world I’d consider unacceptable, they would have no access to Plan B.  And then, once a pregnancy results, they’d have no access to Planned Parenthood.   Safe abortion would be hard to come by, and god forbid, they’d seek a back alley.

Just because I think I’ve done a good enough job making my own kids comfortable coming to us with their problems and mistakes, doesn’t mean they would.  Just because I wish all kids felt comfortable going to their parents doesn’t mean they do.

What of the kids whose parents aren’t there for them?  What of the girls who’ve been raped and whose parents would throw them out of the house for being a slut in their eyes?  What of the girls whose fathers are womanizers themselves, but would beat their daughters if they got pregnant?  What of the daughter of a prominent family that cares more about outward appearances than helping their kid?  Just because my daughter is not in one of those families doesn’t negate the fact that other daughters are.

Plan B (and even more medically significant, abortion) is something of which I hope my daughter wouldn’t avail herself without my knowledge. If, however, my daughter is in a situation where she is too afraid/embarrassed/shocked/traumatized to come to us first, all the MORE reason I would want safe emergency contraceptive (and safe prenatal care or abortion) available to her.  And if I want it for her, how can I not want it for those daughters who are less fortunate than she?

 

This post originally published at The Broad Side.

Image via The Moderate Voice

So, Then I Covered the President…

May 20, 2013 § 3 Comments

Yeah, so I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of my writing published on The Broad Side lately, and the fabulous Joanne Bamberger (publisher and editor) added me to the Facebook group of contributors where she and others leave fodder for potential pieces for the site.

Last Wednesday, she posted a press release about President Obama visiting a manufacturing plant in Baltimore, and asked if anyone would like to cover it.  And I’m all, “Hey!  I live in Baltimore!” and “Hey!  I’d like to cover it” which I conveyed to her, and “Hey!  What the hell do I know about covering an event of any kind, let alone a Presidential visit???” which I did NOT convey to her.  Not until after she agreed to let me cover it, anyhow.

Sooooooo, once I was approved as media for the event, I waited in line here:

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Got one of these:

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Sat at a table like this:

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Then realized it was going to be a long wait, so I visited one of these:

 

 

 

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And then I’m all waiting around and trying to look busy like the other reporters around me, and I didn’t think it would look right to play Words With Friends, so I looked up stuff about the facility where we were (Ellicott Dredges – they built the equipment that dug the Panama Canal, dontchyaknow!) and ate my lunch.

So, then someone introduces the guy who’s gonna introduce the President, and it’s Duncan McTaggart!

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I’m all, “I know that guy!!!”  I know him from Catonsville – he’s heavy into coaching rec and park sports here, and my kids played sports!  Our kids have also gone to school together!  My friend, Tina told me Duncan worked there, but I had no idea he was doing the big, el presidente introduction!  So, then I’m all SCOOP!  SCOOP!  INSIDE TRACK!  And I’m wearing one of those hats with a press ticket stuck in the rim and I’m chomping a cigar and talking like Jimmy Cagney for some reason…

But I get a hold of myself and make a mental note to find Duncan’s e-mail address when I get home.

Then President Obama comes out and does just a STELLAR job with his speech, I have to say.  The guy is a born orator.

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When he’s finished, he does a little bit of this:

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And after the crowd thins out, I visit here again:

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And I go home totally excited.  I spoke to Duncan the next morning, and felt like I was talking to a great new friend, and decided that if any of his kids wanted to marry any of my kids that would be fine with me, because there wouldn’t be any arguments about politics at the dinner table.

Anywho, here’s the piece I wrote on The Broad Side, which by the way, is a great politics website.  I’m extremely proud of it, and grateful to Joanne for the opportunity to cover this.  I learned a lot and had so much fun!

p.s.  That was the cleanest port-a-potty I’ve ever used.

 

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