Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Give Me a Nipple Or Give Me Death

Act #120:  Re-examine your personal hang-ups.

It finally happened. This past weekend, when we were out and about at the mall, my five-year old became hungry.  I knew I'd have to face this one day, so I was well prepared and stocked.  Before we left, I went through great lengths to fix him a nice, big breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast without the crusts.  I thought we could make it for a leisurely trip to the mall before he got hungry again, but who am I to question the incredible metabolism of a kindergartner boy. Like I said, because I had been anticipating this moment his whole life, I was proud at how well-prepared I was.  Tucked neatly into one side of my purse was a beautiful aqua and brown silk scarf that unfolded to the size of about half of a table cloth.  From a deep, hidden inner pocket I pulled out the freshly bought 6-pack of peanut butter and honey whole-wheat crackers.  We were so lucky to find a quiet, dimly-lit corner next to the sporting good store that had a comfortable bench for two that sat next to a humongous fern that was just about as tall as me.  The fern served as a natural shelter and because it was still early, there were only a few mall-walkers swiftly pacing the perimeter of the stores.  I made a quick tear in the wrapper and sat my five-year old between me and the fern.  I discreetly threw the beautiful scarf into the air so that it spread out like a kite and landed gently on his head, draping delicately over his entire body.  And for the next 10 minutes (my boy is a slow eater), we sat there in silence with nothing coming from under the silk scarf but the occasional crinkling of the plastic wrapper and the messy crunch sound of my son's baby teeth breaking off a piece of the cracker.  People walked anxiously around us and shot us quick glares, but they kept walking on, so I breathed a sigh of relief.

By now, if you don't think that we are complete freaks, then you probably are one yourself.  Why would the above scenario sound any stranger to you than a new mother breast-feeding her newborn infant in public?  Why do we expect unreasonable levels of "modesty" for women who are just trying to offer critical nourishment to a new life form, that so desperately needs it? Not to mention the fact that (man alert!) our breasts quite literally do magically become engorged with this life sustenance called breast milk when it is naturally time to feed our offspring.  I know, crazy, right?  And you know what happens if we pretend like it's not happening and we go about our regular routine?  Well, we leak.  We ache.  And our freakin' babies starve, people.  Females have been nourishing the lives of their babies since the beginning of time and kids have been hungry since they entered into the world.  So what exactly is the big deal again?  Does it make any sense at all that you want us to sneak around in dark corners and shadows, literally cover up and hide our children under blankets and scarves, just because you can't handle a little glimpse of our nipples?  If you can't keep yourself from getting aroused at the sight of me feeding my child, then you may need counseling.  If you are a sister who thinks it is unbecoming and not lady-like for me to whip it out in public, tough.  I'm pretty sure that my kid's survival trumps your prudeness.  If you are a spoiled kid who happens to walk by and points and laughs, let me tell you something little fella, you were sucking a nipple or two just a few years ago.  And your mommy probably hid you under a scarf.  If you're looking for things we, as a society should be more modest about doing in public, here are a few to get you started - shooting bullets at one another, belittling and degrading our kids and wives, dressing our pre-pubescent girls up like hookers, and tweeting pictures of our friends sexually assaulting passed-out drunk girls. 

But for the love of God people, let the infants drink their milk with some dignity.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Sometimes Fairy Tales Do Come True

Act #119:  Tell your kids about this fairy tale.

Once upon a time in a small Georgian town, there was a place where young people of all different colors gathered daily, a place called Wilcox High School. 

Note:  Last month, my blog "How We May All Be Contributing to Segregation"
(http://plainjaneactivism.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-we-all-may-be-contributing-to.html) challenged us to think about the unintended choices we may be making to self-segregate - prompted by Wilcox High School's history of  holding annual segregated proms -  one for black students and one for white students. The school district hasn't financially supported a prom in 30 years, leaving students to raise money for the events themselves.

Every year, the townspeople threw grand opulent balls to commemorate an annual rite of passage to prepare them for life beyond the great walls of Wilcox.  Every year, citizens of Wilcox with brown skin danced together one weekend, while citizens of Wilcox with white skin danced together separately on a different weekend.  This had been going on since their mother's and father's, grandmother's and grandfather's time.  So many people thought that this was strange, but no one ever questioned it because they were afraid of change.  One day, four heroic young girls - two brown and two white, found the courage to stand up to the kingdom.  They took matters into their own hands and began organizing one grand inclusive ball where brown people and white people could dance together.  Their efforts gained the respect from the great wizard of Facebook, who helped them raise enough funds for this new and exciting ball  And just this weekend, more than half of Wilcox High came together and danced, for the first time ever, in an event that was sure to make history. 
Now that's a fairy tale happy ending I can support.  Princess ball gowns, patriarchal dating rituals, coronations and all.   And of course no good fairy tale goes without a villain to demonstrate the age-old battle between good and evil.  Despite this wonderful turn of events, a non-sanctioned all-white prom still took place...organized by a group of white parents.  Happily ever after can't come soon enough.
Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you're young at heart.
For it's hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you're young at heart.

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes.
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
And life gets more exciting with each passing day.
And love is either in your heart, or on it's way.

Don't you know that it's worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart.
For as rich as you are, it's much better by far
To be young at heart.

And if you should survive to 105,
Look at all you'll derive out of being alive!
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart.
~ Frank Sinatra, Young at Heart

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Name That Faith

Act 118:  Look for your own headlines.

Can you guess the religions of these influential individuals who impact the lives of many of us daily through their cultural, artistic, humanitarian, medical, scientific, and political contributions?  Please read through all before peeking at the answers at the end.
1. Internet entrepreneur and co-founder of the popular video sharing website YouTube and many of the core components of PayPal, including its real-time anti-fraud system.

2. Associate Director of Equity and Social Justice, Advocates for Youth, a non-profit that provides capacity building services to community based organizations working with youth of color. An organizing powerhouse through her leadership in addressing the current needs and concerns of the international LGBTQ community.

3. U.S. Army Specialist who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Spurred by the September 11th attacks, he enlisted immediately after graduating from high school and was sent to Iraq in July 2006. He was promoted posthumously to the rank of Corporal.

4. Film producer and director, best known for producing the original horror series of Halloween.

5.  Radio personality and voice actor.  Host of nationally syndicated Top 40 countdown and voice of Shaggy in cartoon franchise Scooby-Doo.   

6. 15th director of the National Institutes of Health, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002. Former Executive Vice-Dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where his MRI division's imaging research led to major advances in CAT scanning and MRI research, credited with developing novel quantitative imaging methods used for diagnosing cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary disease.

7. Neurosurgeon, leading expert in traumatic brain injuries, and the inventor of the Ommaya reservoir, a ground-breaking medical device used to provide chemotherapy directly to the tumor site for brain tumors.

8. Former professional boxer, philanthropist and social activist.  First and only three-time lineal Heavyweight Champion.    

9.  Former columnist for Newsweek and editor of Newsweek International.  Editor-at-large of Time.  Host of popular CNN show and frequent commentator and author on international relations, trade, and American foreign policy.   

10. Democratic U.S. Representative from Minnesota since 2007. Former Executive Director of the nonprofit, Legal Rights Center, which specialized in the defense of indigent clients. Spearheaded an ethic complaint against representative Arlon Lindner concerning remarks about homosexuals in the Holocaust.   In his first week in Congress, voted to raise the minimum wage, for federal funding of stem cell research, and to allow Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices.  


1.    Jawed Karim
2.    Urooj Arshad
3.    Kareem Khan

4.    Moustapha Akkad

5.    Casey Kasem

6.    Elias Zerhouni

7.    Ayub Khan Ommaya

8.    Muhammad Ali

9.    Fareed Zakaria

10.  Keith Ellison

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What to Say at Your Highschool or College Reunion

Act #117:  Connect with people, not accomplishments.

I worked in college alumni relations for almost a decade and planned a good 20 or so reunions during that time.  I recall the nervousness that alumni felt upon returning to the place of their coming of age, cautious about confronting the expectations placed upon invincible, idealistic 20-year old versions of themselves. During my very first year as alumni director, the chair of the board of trustees was celebrating her 40th reunion and she told me that it was by far her best reunion.  When I asked her why, she told me that people finally didn't care what you did for a living, who you were married to, and how many kids you had.  After 40 years of post-college life, people were finally interested in you - how you spent retirement, what hobbies you were into, whether or not you've traveled lately.  The act of painfully assessing and comparing professional accomplishments and perceived personal relationship attainments seemed to finally be replaced with a nostalgic desire to recapture the very essence of the long forgotten dreams and aspirations of the 20 year-old self.  Ah....in just 22 years I'll have a reunion I can really look forward to.  Until then, here are some entertaining ways I plan on diverting attention away from accomplishments/attainments at my next reunion.  Feel free to test them out for me the next time you find yourself in a room with the Homecoming King.

What do you do these days?
Well just this year I lost and gained back 12 pounds, saw Madonna in concert twice, and sold the last remaining Twinkie on E-bay for $112.  Sucker.  Did you know that they started making Twinkies again?

Did you ever find love?
A few times, but not nearly as much as you did our freshman year at O'Rileys on Thursday nights.  Whatever happened to those daisy dukes of yours?   

Have you been blessed with children?
Why yes I have,  But I must admit, the real blessings in my life since we've graduated have been my family of Apple products, the Johnny Depp/John Travolta/Doogy Howser come-backs, and the invention of flushable wipes.  

You look nothing like you did in college!
I know right?  Good thing - you won't believe the pressure of being on your ex-boyfriend's top ten list all those years.  Let's go find the other 9 and see how they turned out, want to?  You are so lucky that you didn't make it on that oppressive, sexist list.  Disgusting.


Friday, April 26, 2013

10 People I Find More Beautiful Than Gwyneth Paltrow

Act #116:  Don't let the tabloids define beauty for you.

This year People Magazine named Gwyneth Paltrow most beautiful woman of the year.  Not that I don't think that her fresh, clean, blond,opaque, all-American look is appealing, but to me, just a tad, well....expected.  Over the years, despite what my childhood Barbie dolls and my favorite childhood TV show, Charlie's Angels told me, I've come to see beauty through a much broader lens.  I wish People Magazine would go ahead and catch up.  So I offer you, my list of "beautiful" female celebrities.  Who would you add?


Queen Latifah

Camryn Manheim

Annie Llonzeh

Emily Browning

Bai Ling

Rooney Mara

Yasmin Le Bon

Irene Bedard

Naya Rivera

Rosario Dawson


Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Letter to My Ex-Boyfriend's Ex-Girlfriend

Act #115:  Stop competing with, and start supporting other women. 

Dear Kelley,

I hated you the very moment I first laid eyes on you when I was a freshman in college.  Your perfectly long, straight blond hair, your body that always made me feel like a little girl, and the way you walked around in those spandex shorts and tank top, like you owned the campus or something. You were at least a foot taller than me even when I wore 4-inch heels.  Cheerleader and aerobics instructor.  Seriously?  So while we never once spoke, I was convinced that you had a brain the size of a pea.  And I just knew you had to have one of those fake, girly superficial laughs solely to benefit and attract the men around you.  Someone so drop-dead gorgeous couldn't possibly have a clue about anything that mattered like social justice issues or feminism.  The only reason my boyfriend was ever into you, because back then he wasn't mature enough to appreciate someone of substance, that is until he met the 18-year old me. 

So you can imagine how completely and utterly surprised I was when I found myself in a room with you 20 years later at an event back at our old college.  I hadn't thought about you in years, but I remember so vividly the many nights I spent overcome with jealousy about you.  The boyfriend was long gone, and all of a sudden I found myself walking over to introduce myself to the woman who unknowingly tortured me my entire college career. 

And by golly, I liked you. 

No, I mean like I would actually want to hang out with someone like you.  So turns out you can look like you just walked off the cover of a magazine AND have a brain a little larger than a pea.  Well, a lot larger actually.  And you were funny - and  not even the cheesy Bill Cosby kind of funny, but the witty, sarcastic, intelligent John Stewart funny.  And you had the deepest belly laugh ever.  But oh no, it didn't stop there.  You were also an attorney, a feminist, and a progressive political beast.  Turns out our ex had really, really good taste in women.

I can't believe that I wasted 20 years being jealous of a woman I apparently knew nothing about.  We have so much in common that we could have been friends for the last two decades if it weren't for the competition I manufactured in my head.   I wonder how many other women I've written off and kept at bay over the course of my lifetime due to my own insecurities.  Women that could have turned out to be great support to me, and women that I could have supported.  So it is with great enthusiasm that I look forward to our lunch date next week when I'm in town.   Because clearly we share a heck of a lot more than an ex-boyfriend.

The girl who no longer judges cheerleaders and aerobics instructors.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Kentucky is Really All About

Act #114:  Have our back.  Please?

The Bluegrass State
My beloved home for the past 22 years is known for secret recipes, unbeatable sportsmanship, thoroughbred horses, and polarizing senators.  Smooth spirits (the kind that comes in barrels), soul-touching music, and rich, blue pastures.  But the one thing that has kept me here for more than two decades is the unbridled generosity and spirit of its people.  As part of Kentucky Gives Day, today (April 24th), the Bluegrass State has set aside 24-hours for a powerful day of action - to raise much-needed funds for 368 non-profits across the Commonwealth. 

Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center
I am so fortunate to be professionally affiliated with an organization that dares to envision a world free of all forms of violence and oppression. Our work is guided by a vision of collaboration and engagement that causes people to see that sexual violence is everyone’s issue. We hope to engage individuals and communities to share in the ownership for the many faces of sexual violence. We work collaboratively so that all might benefit from living in a world free of sexual violence and human trafficking.  Our programs include:
  • 24-hour crisis hotline
  • Comprehensive clinical services: crisis intervention, therapy, and psycho-educational groups
  • Legal and medical advocacy
  • Community outreach to vulnerable populations
  • Violence prevention and awareness education
  • Community engagement for systems change to reduce power-based personal violence

Join the Movement.
Sexual violence affects everyone and we just can't impact real change without all of you.  Extraordinary volunteers already run our hotline.  Crisis work and prevention education is expensive.  There are constant threats of sequestering and funds are becoming increasingly scarce.   We're hoping to raise $5000 today.  Really, that's just 50 of you giving $100 or 100 of you giving $50.  We've got your back out there.  Do you have ours?  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What I'd Tell My 20-year old Self About Work

Act #113:  Let your life define your work - not the other way around.

1.  Start every morning reading your organization's mission out loud to yourself. 

2.  You will never know it all, run out of room to grow, or master everything.  Oh, yeah, in case you forgot, you're human.

3.  Apple cores and banana peels will attract gnats.  Don't throw these away in your office trash can.

4.  Always back up your files.  No seriously, just do it.

5.  If you find yourself in a leadership position, make sure you know enough about the jobs of those you lead.

6.  Schedule weekly time for reflection and planning.  One minute of planning saves you 10 minutes of execution.

7.  Always share credit when it is due.  Karma is a bitch.  Speaking of credit, I totally heard the last sentence in #6 from somewhere, but I can't recall where!

8.  Don't rush back from maternity leave.  Trust me, your colleagues will survive without you.  Your newborn however, won't.

9.  Being a boss is easy.  Being a leader takes a lifetime of learning.

10. Don't ever walk away from a jammed copier.  You should be hesitant about trusting people who do.

11.  Be prepared (but don't be deterred) to hear the following:  We always put the pretty college girls up front.  We'd like to know how you plan on fitting a baby into your career timeline.  Can you get me a cup of coffee dear?

12.  No one is too good to take out their own trash.

13.  You will not land your dream job the day after you graduate from college.  Your definition of "dream job" will change at least 3 times throughout the course of your lifetime.

14.  Surround yourself with women who are confident enough to empower you rather than compete with you.

15.  Never eat lunch at your desk. Fresh air is a temporary cure for just about anything. 

16.  Do not confide your deepest, most private thoughts with males at your place of work.  When you spend more time with male colleagues than you do with your own husband, boundaries are essential.

17. Show the same respect you have for your leaders (supervisor, boss, board) to those who make it possible for you to do your job (administrative support, technology support, maintenance staff.)

18.  There will be a time when no amount of money or job security is worth compromising your integrity.   You'll know what to do.  Listen to yourself.  It will feel good.

19.  Cherish the commute home.  Breathe out work.  Breathe in life.

20.  Don't let your work life define you.  Let your life define you.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Facebook Day of Peace

Act #112:  Remember all that is good in the world.

Happy Facebook Day of Peace.  Today I am joining thousands of others in refraining from posting negativity in any form. That's right - nothing political, nothing angry, nothing depressing, and at the event creator's request, "no whining, no bitching...just... peace."  What makes me hopeful?  The next generation who still sees the possibilities.  So Facebook Day of Peace creator, your wish is my command.

The International Children’s Peace Prize 2012 was presented to Kesz Valdez from the Philippines.  Valdez received the prestigious award for his efforts to improve the rights of street children in the Philippines, where more than 246,000 street children are subjected to abuse, violence and child labor.  An abuse survivor himself, on his seventh birthday, Valdez started the organization, Championing Community Children, teaching children in underprivileged communities about hygiene, food and children’s rights. 

Last week in Wilmington, Deleware, the students of Grace Church Preschool and Kindergarten painted bookmarks and  collected 1,243 books with the help of teachers, families and community members. The books are destined for Ghana as part of the African Library Project to set up small libraries for children and teachers across that country.

 Setting up shop just outside Luke’s Locker on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, TX, North Texas kids ran a lemonade stand and raised $700 to help victims of the Boston bombing.  Luke's Locker is a local running hub that trained and sent quite a few local marathoners to the race in Boston. They all came home safe.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Don't Worry Folks, There's Plenty More Violence To Go Around

Act #111:  Don't stop being outraged.

This week after the unfolding of events in Boston, culminating in the capture of one bomber and the death of the other, I've been left with an unsettling feeling of sadness and overwhelming emptiness.  I join the rest of the country in shock and dismay in the violence that took place and in the preciousness of lives lost and pained.  And like many of you, for the past week I have held the three victims and the countless others who were injured close to my heart and in my prayers. But while one part of me understands the collective protectiveness and unwaivering spirit of the American people - to stay glued to the FBI pursuit of the bombers and to celebrate in their ultimate demise - a larger part of me is just simply sad.  

I work at a rape crisis center.  For the past year, every waking hour, for sheer survival, I have had to learn to manage my feelings towards the bad guys.  I've had to do so because if I allowed the anger, disbelief, and hatred to consume me, I'm afraid I would not be an effective advocate to survivors, nor would I be able to focus my energy on long-term systemic culture change.  When I witnessed the country tuned in to watch the play-by-play in Boston, a part of me was jealous that as Americans, we don't seem to display the same anger over the thousands of other Americans victimized by violence daily.  That we don't demand the same justice for those who are brutally raped every day.  That we don't pour all of our resources into catching and stopping perpetrators of sexual violence, or healing the victims in the same manner that we did this past week.  And we could say the same for victims of every day gun violence, domestic violence, child abuse, hunger, homelessness, and poverty. 

I can't help but imagine what America might look like if we were all outraged by these things, and refused to turn away from them or go about our daily lives, until justice was served - and the perpetrators were stopped dead in their tracks.  I can't help but imagine what America might look like if layers and layers of government officials committed all of our resources to identify rapists, murderers, batterers, and child abusers with the same focus and gumption that we saw in Boston last week.  What would America look like if every single one of us just couldn't look away from all the warning signs of violence happening around us every day.  When a woman shows up to work with bruises.  When a child shows up to school hungry.  When an intoxicated teenager is left at a party with a room full of young men.  What if that's all we could talk about and our Facebook newsfeeds were inundated with outrage and disbelief that just last month, a woman in New York watched her 10-year old daughter brutally raped in her own car, and was then killed by her rapist in a struggle to let her daughter escape.  What would America look like if we all cheered when her killer was apprehended.  If we all then vowed to do everything in our power not to let our country be attacked by this senseless violence again, ever.  What if we all stood in solidarity by that 10-year old girl and offered her the outpouring of healing and support that she will need for the remainder of her lifetime?  What would America look like if our president got on national television to make a statement everytime someone was sexually assaulted?  That would of course be impossible - because he would be on television every two minutes.  Or everytime someone's life was shattered by gun violence?  He'd have to have his own cable network.  

Why are we more outraged when a Chechnyan immigrant hurts innocent runners, seemingly in the name of religion than when "our own" repeatedly, time after time, continue to hurt our innocent family members, friends, neighbors - every day, every hour, every minute - for no reason at all?  What would it look like if we were in solidarity behind a cause that might not get the same play-by-play television coverage, or the same law enforcement resources, or it's own Facebook profile badge?  America, I hope we don't let the capture of these two brothers end our outrage towards senseless violence.  I hope we don't let the solidarity we felt last week die down.  I hope we remember what we're feeling this moment - that as Americans we will prevail, we will overcome, we will support, and do whatever it takes to protect one another, and to ensure that the millions of remaining ticking time bombs hidden deep in the very fibers of our society, have no chance of being detonated....by our own worst enemy: 



Saturday, April 20, 2013

How My Son's Bully Taught Me a Thing or Two About Kindness

Act #110:  Seek to change the outcome.

At first my motives were less than honorable.  I just wanted my son to love school again.  For the first six months of his kindergarten career we were thrilled that he was flourishing and eager to go to school every morning.  He was skipping through reading levels, excelling in math and science, developing playground friendships, and forming a close bond with his homeroom teacher.   Mind you, this was the same child who couldn't read a single word, literally hid under my dress every time he met a stranger, and couldn't even open his own Ziplock bag when he first started school.  Then all of a sudden one day he told us that he didn't feel like going to school anymore.  After a whole lot of digging, we soon isolated his sudden dislike of kindergarten to one factor:  a "big kid" in his class named "Alex" (obviously his real name is not being used here).  Come to find out, Alex was placed in recess line behind him daily.  When his teachers weren't looking, Alex would pull the hair on my son's scalp so hard that he cried.  Sometimes on the playground, Alex would push him into the mulch.  Sometimes he would hit him.  We responded like any parent would, we attempted to teach our passive son some respectful ways to create boundaries and to protect himself, and we asked him to alert his teachers each time this happened.  We also talked to his teacher and asked her to keep a closer eye on our son.  But nothing worked and it didn't stop.  Finally one day I simply had enough.  I didn't want the next 12 years of my kid's perspective towards education to be skewed by this rotten bully of a kid who clearly didn't know who Jack's mom was.  It all came to a boiling point when I walked Jack to his daily assembly and nudged him to sit in the next open spot in his kindergarten line, and he refused to do so.  He looked as pale as a ghost and he pulled me aside and whispered as softly as he could - I don't want to sit next to Alex.   Enough was enough.  So I marched straight over to Alex, in full protective mom mode, ready to confront my son's first bully.  He was playing on the gym floor with another boy and didn't see me coming.  Towering over him, I tapped him lightly on the shoulder, You're Alex, right?  And then the bully looked up at me.  And smiled the sweetest toothless boyhood smile I had ever seen aside from my own kid's smile.  I was taken back at how much larger his build was than my petite-framed son.  I'm not sure what I was expecting - maybe some demon-child with horns growing out of the top of his head?  That would've been so much easier.  But instead I looked down on this child, whose eyes had the innocence of a baby, and who looked up at me curiously trying to figure out why I was taking an interest in him.  Pleased that someone was taking an interest in him.  So my well-rehearsed speech aimed to ask him to leave my son alone suddenly made no sense, and instead I asked Alex what he wanted to be when he grew up.  I told him I believed he could be a fireman one day.  I then asked him for a favor - to keep an eye out for Jack and asked him if he could be a friend to him.  I then told him I was counting on the fireman to be kind to his classmates, and I left for work.  The next week when I dropped Jack off, Alex's eye caught mine, and his entire face lit up.  And that is the day that my son's bully asked me for a hug.  So I awkwardly gave the kid who torchures my kid a hug.  Alex would ask me for a hug every day thereafter. We have somewhat of a morning routine now where I hug and kiss Jack good-bye, and drop him off with his friends in his place in line.  Then I walk over to Alex, give him a hug, tell him he's an awesome kid, and ask him to be kind to his friends.  He always promises me that he will be.  Alex's teacher later told me that his only father-figure, his 58 year-old grandfather died recently.  My son's bully is no longer his bully.  They aren't exactly best friends, but Jack regularly reports that Alex is no longer mean to him, and he also doesn't see Alex being mean to the other kids either. 

My son is excited about going to school again, and I get to start my day out basking in the presence of not one, but two spirited young boys who will be reminded daily that they have the capacity to love, and to be loved.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Apparently Fat Girls and Asians are Fair Game

Act #109: See people beyond their appearances.

I used to have one of those jobs where it was essential for me to remember names of thousands of people.  I was in charge of about 17,000 alumni at a small, private college, and twice a year during reunions, it sometimes felt like all 17,000 would converge back at the picturesque campus of their alma mater. 

Confession:  I'm horrible with names.  I went through great lengths to develop secret tricks to help remember people - like repeating their name back to them after the first initial introduction:  "It's so nice to meet you, Mr. Haley", or honing in on one memorable piece of clothing like a scarf, piece of jewelry or tie (a tactic that failed me miserably during cold weather months when people sometimes shed articles of clothing upon entering the indoors).  Or coming up with little identifying phrases to help jog my memory like "Donna does diseases" for the woman who heads up the Center for Disease Control or "Weird and Washed-up Walter" for the creepy guy with the lingering hug. 

So I get it, it's hard to keep track of so many people at one time.  And when your job depends on it, well the pressure is on.   But people, this slew of absurd nonsense that has been taking place - where fast food workers, restaurant cashiers, and store employees identify and describe customers by insulting their weight and race - has got to stop.  And seriously, what's with Asians and women with certain BMI's being singled out?  Many restaurant policies permit employees to use clothing and hair color to help identify customers, which apparently only works when identifying...skinny white people?

The most recent atrocity took place at a New Jersey CVS this week when a store employee printed the words "Ching Chong Lee" on the photo receipt for a Korean-American woman.  But there have been plenty others.  Last year, a trio of California friends were saddened to find  that their server at Chilly D's Sports Lounge typed the words, "Fat Girls" to identify them on their receipt, and a Papa John's employee was fired after using "Lady with Chinky Eyes" on a customer's receipt.  An Irvine Chick-fil-A employee referred to two Asian customers on their receipts as Ching and Chong.   In Queens, an Asian couple found the term "Chinx" on their Hooter receipts.  For the love of God, just put on your skimpy hot pants and just give them their buffalo wings already. And as an honorable mention, let's not forget the case where the tables were turned, and a customer actually wrote the "Stop eating you fat b*tch" in the tip line of their waitresses bill.  Classy. 

Some of these employees were fired.  Some merely counseled and "re-trained" on diversity awareness and etiquette.  God help you if you're Asian and on a perpetual diet.  Maybe it's time to stop eating out all together.  I hope my skinny white friends still join me sometimes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Short Appeal to Uncle Sam

Act #108:  Don't reduce, invest.

Dear Uncle Sam,

Thank you for your public service and for your commitment to represent the best interests of the citizens of this country.  I do not have a law or political science degree.  Nor have I ever served in public office.  But I have spent the majority of my professional life life witnessing others suffer at the hands of poverty, abuse, violence, and injustice.  While I am grateful for your patriarchal oversight of this great land, I can't help but wonder whether or not your (our) priorities are in check.  Over the last year we've been obsessed with passing (or not passing) legislation that significantly reduces or takes away something from entire populations of Americans.  Call me naive, call me simple, but I have a proposal to shift our focus. You see my theory is ridiculously simple:  Rather than operating under the belief that by reducing something we are making it better, why not change our thinking and actually consider investing in something in order to make it better?   Here's what I mean - Rather than pouring billions of dollars to tighten up our borders and formalize ways to make it impossible for people to become Americans, why not invest in an overall work culture that is more balanced and sustainable? You know, better benefits, child care, paid time off, more professional development opportunities and vocational exploration.  Rather than limiting access to guns and bullets, why not invest in better mental health access and care?  Paying attention to those who fall below the radar, changing public perceptions about mental illness, and figuring out ways to provide help rather than isolate folks.  Rather than limiting the rights of people who want to marry, why not invest in access to education and fair housing, and other avenues that level the playing field and bring diverse Americans together to live, grow, and come to respect one another?  I told you it was ridiculously simple, but hey, someone once said that the simplest things are also the truest and I for one am fed up with the status quo. I think it's worth a shot.  

Just a Simple Gal in KY


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gender Stereotyping: A Lifespan Approach

Act 107:  Be wise with your words.  They are listening.

Age 1 
Females:  She is so beautiful.  She's gonna break some hearts when she grows up.
Males: He's a stubborn one.  He's gonna be a fighter when he grows up.

Age 5
Females:  Such a little princess!  Maybe we should sign you up for dance lessons.
Males:  What a fierce throw!  Maybe we should sign you up for t-ball.

Females:  Nobody is gonna want to be your friend if you keep acting like that.
Males:  Stop whining and start acting like a man.

Age 16
Females:  How many prom dresses have you tried on already?
Males:  How many colleges have you applied to already? 
Age 21
Females:  Looking good.  Have you lost weight?
Males:  I hear you're thinking about law school next?

Age 40
Females:  She’s brilliant and she’s dedicated.  She’s tough . . . she also happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general.
Males:  He's brilliant.  He's tough.
Age  60
Females:  Are you looking forward to having more time with your grandkids when you retire?
Males:  Are you looking forward to hitting the golf course when you retire?

Age 80
Females:   She's still so beautiful.  I bet she broke some hearts in her lifetime.
Males:  He's a stubborn one.  I bet he was a fighter when he was younger.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nine Reasons To Keep on Believing, To Keep on Running.

Act #106:  Everyone can be a hero. 

I haven't turned on the news.  I can only bring myself to listen to NPR's radio coverage, so I haven't seen any of the horrific images from yesterday's race.  I know that it's a privilege I have to be able to choose to turn off my television set, simply because I don't want to be haunted by images of suffering and loss. But like you, I also mourn.   I imagine the final moments and the face of the 8-year old boy cheering on his father at the finish line.  I pray for his mother who will have to bury her child later this week. I work with victims of violence daily and while it is days like these that I begin to question whether or not we even have a chance, I know deep in my soul that the good in the world outweighs our brokenness that drives us to also break others.  I can't really go on unless I continue to believe this.  We can't really go on unless we all continue to believe.  And if you're like me,  you may need a little reminder today...

Reason #1:  The man in the hat.  Carlos Arrendondo, who was near the finish line to support a runner who was dedicating the race to Arrendondo's son, a U.S. Marine killed in the Iraq war, rushed to the explosion site and began pulling debris off of victims to help make room for emergency personnel.

Reason #2:  Running into the smoke.  After the explosions, numerous runners ran towards the explosion instead of away from the scene.  Marathoners tore off their shirts to use as tourniquets on victims.  By-standers tore down barriers to come to the aid of victims.

Reason #3:  I have a place to offer. Thousands of people in the Boston area filled out an on-line Google document offering to help house and feed those displaced by the explosions.

Reason #4:  Before the smoke even cleared.  Following the first explosion, police officers, national guard members, doctors, and other first responders, both on and off duty, immediately rushed to the aid of screaming victims.

Reason #5:  They just kept running. Runners finishing the race ran straight to a nearby hospital in an attempt to donate blood.

Reason #6:  A need to fly.  Southwest Airlines and multiple other airlines waived fees for flight changes allowing marathon attendees to leave the city.  HopeMob, a crowdsourcing site pledged financial assistance to family members of victims in need of airfaire or other help.

Reason #7:  Pay only if you can.  Area restaurants, El Pelon Taqueria and Oleana provided warm meals to marathoners.  Nearby businesses offered respite with free wi-fi and cell phone charging.

Reason #8:  No rest for the weary.  In five hospitals in the Boston area, medical staff and emergency personnel worked around the clock, not returning home to their own families, in order to treat the onslaught of injured victims.

Reason #9:  You are the hero.
To give blood in the Boston-area,  http://www.redcrossblood.org/MA
To provide temporary lodging for those affected, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1r2dbf7q2sIiiQWynPNgH74qNeheNycTyk7hXue9AJhs/viewform
To provide information about the incident, call 1-800-494-TIPS.
To donate money for relief services, http://www.redcross.org/support/donating-fundraising/donations.


Monday, April 15, 2013

When to Break the Rules at Work

Act #105:  Some rules are worth breaking.

Last week twenty-five students at a Massachusetts middle school went home hungry.  They received their meals, and were waiting to check out when the private food service contractor, Whitson's Culinary Group,  denied them lunch because their accounts were a few cents overcharged.  A Whitson's employee demanded that the students throw away their meals, even making some students cry.  While school policy allows for students who are unable to pay, to be provided with a cheese sandwich and milk, I'm sure Whitson's policy requires employees not to give out free food.

I've been trying to picture myself as that cafeteria employee.  What would I do if 25 twelve-year olds came through and didn't have enough money to pay for lunch?  Would I punish them for their parents neglect to keep their accounts current?  Despite what my boss told me to do, would I really humiliate them publicly by making them throw their meals away?  How would that help save my company money anyway?  Was the point to hold those kids accountable even though they aren't even capable of earning their own wages yet?  What work conditions and life conditions would make me the type of person to publicly embarrass children and then send them home hungry?

I recognize that most of us are not in positions to be fired from our jobs.  I understand that some of us follow rules religiously and that that employee was probably just trying to do his/her job.  But as human beings, I think one of our few defining moments in life, is when we have true courage to stand for what is right.  If I were working the line that day at Coehlo Middle School, I probably would have personally covered the $10-$30 it would take to pay on those student accounts.  If I were a minimum-wage earner without a lot of expendable cash, I'd tell my supervisor, and if he/she didn't listen, I'd tell a teacher.  I'd do whatever it took to make sure those kids didn't leave without lunch.  And I sure as heck wouldn't make them throw their food away in front of their peers.  As if being a tween in middle school isn't already challenging enough.  Some rules are unquestionably worth breaking.  Especially the ones that will keep you up at night.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Does a Five-Year Old Really Understand What He's Pledging? Apparently Not My Kid.

Act # 104:  Challenge our children to think for themselves.

Sue me.  I challenge my kid to think critically.  You wouldn't believe the sheer brilliance of an untouched, inquisitive mind with minimal preconceived human notions.  So when I was late the other day, and walked into assembly to drop him off for school, and he suddenly threw his backpack down, put his right hand on his heart, and started reciting the pledge of allegiance, I knew we had some golden dinner-time conversation ahead of us.

Now I don't have a problem that he recites the pledge of allegiance.  It's kinda cute, actually - little guy using such big words.  But as a parent, I wanted to ensure two things:  1.)  That my son knew what the heck he was doing and saying; and 2.)  That he never felt forced to do something he didn't believe in.  Thus, later that night, we began a conversation that was so utterly confusing, convoluted, and way harder for him to grasp than the notion of an infinite all-loving entity that he couldn't see (a.k.a "God").   Following his own lead, we've been talking religion pretty intensely for the past year or so.  Much to my surprise, it's been remarkably easy for him to slowly come to his own age-appropriate awareness and understanding of the concept of a higher power.  The Pledge of Allegiance, well, not so.  Here's sort of how it went:

Definitions for a Five-Year Old:
Pledge = stuff daddy uses to clean
Allegiance = like the love you have for your family, mama?
Flag - wavy thing with stars
United States of America = bigger than Berea, bigger than Kentucky
Republic = like the rules we follow at home such as: you don't have to finish your plate, but if you don't, you can't have dessert
Nation =  (see United States of America)
God = God is everywhere
Liberty = free to play Skylanders on weekends
Justice = everyone has the same number of toys!

The Real Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Five-year old translation:
If I clean my family with a flag somewhere bigger than Kentucky, I'll get dessert.  God will then let me play Skylanders all weekend and he'll give toys to all the kids of the world.

Mom's translation for five-year old:
Love people, no matter where they are from. Sometimes we might not all get along.  And we don't have to all think the same way.  Don't ever be afraid to speak up, but always do so with kindness. The world would be such a happy place if all the kids of the world had the same number of toys.  You can do little things right now to help make this happen.  We should all do things to make this happen.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Street Harassment Through the Ages

Act #103:  Don't call me baby unless you're my mama.

The Oppressed Response, Age 12
Neighborhood bike ride, Bangkok, Thailand
Nice Gentleman:  Pretty girls like you should smile more.
Me:  ........ (I pedaled home as fast as I could.  I was terrified.)

The Angry Response, Age 18
Video store parking lot, Berea, KY
Nice Gentleman:  Hey baby, I'd like to take you home and f*ck your brains out.
Me:  Really?  I'm not interested but if you're that hard up, why don't you go home and f*ck your own mother?  We both know you still live with her.

The Passive-Aggressive Response, Age 25
Triangle Town Center, Raleigh, NC
Nice Gentleman:  You.  Are. So hot.  What's you name?
Me: Lorena Bobbit.

The Enlightened Response, Age 40 (just last month)
Kroger parking lot, Lexington, KY
Nice Gentleman:  Excuse me, I can't help but ask - what's your name?
Me:  You know, do you have a minute?  You seem like a nice man. Well, just think for a second.  Why on earth would I feel comfortable giving you - a complete stranger - any personal information about me?  Would you want your mother or sister engaging strange men in parking lots?  While I appreciate opportunities to connect with other human beings, I hope you can understand how a stranger approaching you in a parking lot can feel well, a bit unwelcome.  To some women, this could even feel threatening.  Please think about this next time you approach a woman by herself.  Have a wonderful day.

To learn more about street harassment and how you can help stop it, please visit:  http://www.ihollaback.org/

Friday, April 12, 2013

Six New Mottos For (Women) in the U.S. Military

Act #102:  Get angry, very angry, about rape culture in the military.

This we'll defend. (Army)
Always Faithful. (Marine Corps)
Aim High.  Fly.  Fight.  Win. (Air Force)
Not self but country. (Navy)

1. Defeat, and be defeated.
Military sexual trauma, which includes everything from sexual harassment to rape, is the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among women in the U.S. military.

2.  Trust.  But not your own.
Female soldiers today are 180 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy.

3.  Silence.  Survival.
In 2011 while there were only 3,000 reported cases of military sexual assault, a report commissioned by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put the actual annual number at 19,000 or more.  An anonymous survey of more than 1,100 women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, conducted last year by the Department of Veterans Affairs, found that almost half said they had been sexually harassed, and nearly one quarter said they'd been sexually assaulted.

4.  Outranked, outnumbered. 
First responders frequently fail to collect forensic evidence of an assault within the 72-hour deadline stipulated by current guidelines, and more often than not, the victim's superior decides against proceeding to court-martial.  92 percent of reported assaults never come before a military court.

5.  Judgement.  Never fair.  Never self.
Last year, two thirds of all reported cases were either summarily dismissed as unfounded, or resolved by the perpetrators simply being given extra duties or having their pay docked.

6.  Consent, always in question.
Of the few defendants referred to court-martial, a tenth opt to resign instead.  By admitting guilt and accepting punishment of leaving the military, they can avoid civilian and military prosecution.  Before a case goes to trial, a military judge can issue a summary verdict of "consensual sex" that ends the proceedings.

Case in point.
Just months after arriving at Aviano Air Base in Italy, a female civilian physician's assistant was socializing with friends and wound up at an impromptu part at the home of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson and his wife, neither of whom she had known. Because of the late hour, she accepted an invitation to spend the night in the couple’s guest bedroom and went to sleep. Later in the night she found Wilkerson on top of her with his hands on her breasts, down her pants, and inserted inside of her. His wife walked in and kicked her out, but later testified that she asked the victim to leave because she was talking too loudly on her cell phone.  A jury of four colonels and a lieutenant colonel convicted Wilkerson on charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service.  This week Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the jury's guilty verdict. Franklin never attended the trial, but spent three weeks reviewing tapes, testimony and letters submitted in support of Wilkerson.  Even though Wilkerson refused to testify and failed a polygraph, Franklin felt that he had a "genuine and reasonable doubt" that Wilkerson committed the sexual assault.  The Air Force’s chief prosecutor who tried the case, described the victim as one of the most credible witnesses he's ever dealt with. 

Franklin's reasons for overturning the case?
  • The victim turned down offers to be driven home from the party.
  • The victim didn't accurately describe the house layout and gave a version of events that he did not find credible.
  • Wilkerson was a doting father with a good career and it would be "incongruent" for him to leave his wife in bed, go downstairs and assault a sleeping woman he'd only met earlier that evening.
  • Wilkerson's wife's account of the events differed in some details from her husband's, suggesting that the two didn't collude on a manufactured story.
  • Wilkerson was at least willing to submit to the lie-detector test.
The Air Force quietly reassigned Wilkerson as a safety chief at an Arizona base. The victim continues on with her life being blamed, having asked for it, and as a liar. 


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Confession: I Cringe A Little When Men Refer to Wives as Their "Queen"

Act #101: Marriage is a partnership, not an unyielding list of formal obligations.

It's true.  I think I would throw up in my mouth a little if my husband ever called me his queen.  Given my love/hate relationships with princesses, this shouldn't catch anyone by surprise. Why you ask,would a woman not relish in being catered to, cared for, protected with the hightest honor and dignity?  Well quite frankly, because I'm a 40 year-old grown adult, and really, I got this.  Plus, my husband can barely feed himself, so he'd be hard-pressed to be able to really cater to me.  Also, just yesterday, I saved the day by crawling under the house to change the air conditioning filter because the king's 6'1 stature didn't allow him to do so comfortably.  When I emerged from the crawlspace, my husband and son were standing there applauding my heroic act of bravery.  There were spiders down there, people.

I know, I know, there's that whole element of respect, but how much respect are we talking about if at the end of the day your life is still subject to the will of your husband, and your primary responsibility is to provide your king with an heir?  That's right, your most important duty in life is to be inseminated in order to produce a child for someone else.  Not because you wanted to experience motherhood, or because of a mutual love you have for one another, but so the king could have a mini-me to perpetuate his legacy of patriarchal domination.

Another unfair expectation for the queen is that she is to serve as the king's confidante, which on its surface sounds loving and healthy for any relationship.  But in monarchies this expectation was not reciprocal.  So in modern day times this would equate to me eagerly supporting my husband as he tells me about his challenges in getting the President's high-end laptop to work again (he does tech support at a college), but I get to keep all the fun, uplifting sexual violence stuff (I work at a rape crisis center) all to myself.

In medieval times while the king was away, the queen would fill in as leader.  But only when he was away.  Can you imagine the field day my 5-year old would have with that?  Mom, can I have another cookie?  No son,  you've already had two.  Well I'll just ask dad when he gets back from work.  Well, he is the ultimate leader.  You think he'd let me have one too?

So thank you, dear husband, for never calling me "your" queen, and for not claiming me as your property, or subjecting me to your ultimate will.  But most importantly, thank you for being the one who bakes the cookies for all of us, when you return from battle today.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Seven Non-Awkward Conversation Starters that Don't Involve Someone's Job

Act #100:  Scratch the surface.

If you're American, you know you're guilty of this.  You find yourself mingling with new faces at a party, an event, a social gathering.  You extend your hand and introduce yourself to someone.  They reciprocate and tell you their name.   Then there's that tiny awkward moment of silence where you both are trying to figure out who is going to make that first statement to carry on the conversation.   Typically, this is when a segue statement is made - something completely meaningless that no one really cares about just to break the ice.  So how 'bout that Louisville game last night, huh?  Are you friends with the bride or groom?  Your haircut is SO cute. 

And this is where one of you will inevitably ask the other person in some way shape or form how the other person earns a living. So, what do you do?  Do you work here in Lexington?  The groom tells me you are a lawyer.  Do you work for the state like the bride?  The fact that many of us spend most of our daily lives working probably has something to do with just how deeply we've come to define ourselves by our work.  While some of us love what we are doing with every fiber of our being, there's usually more to us than how we choose to put food on the table.  Some of us aren't even fortunate enough to love what we are doing but have found ourselves in various professional positions due to the economy, life circumstances, effects of marginalization, privilege, power inequities, or sheer luck/misfortune.  Others view work as simply a means to provide for a fulfilling life outside the hours of work.  So if our relationship to our jobs are so varied and complex, and if so many of us might not even be happy with our jobs, wouldn't it make more sense for us as humans to get to know aspects of one another beyond our career choices or happenstance?   It's harder than you think.  We've been hard-wired not only to identify ourselves in the context of our work, but also to socialize around this very identity.  The next time you are at a party meeting new people, I challenge you to try these alternative conversation starters that do not have the intention of discerning someone's chosen/given profession. You might be surprised at just how fascinating that non-descript middle-aged tax attorney in the dreary gray suit really is.

1.  Did you grow up in (insert the town you are in here)?

2.  With this weather change, my weekend was shot mowing the lawn and spring cleaning.  I hope you had a better weekend than me?

3.  I hear the bride and groom are going to Vegas for their honeymoon.  How fun is that, right?  Any memorable vacations you've taken lately?

4.  So what do people usually do for fun in (insert their town of residence here)?

5.  (Only if this is true of course.  This happened to me at an event just last night.)  You look a bit familiar and I just can't figure it out.   Any ideas where our paths may have crossed before?  This is usually when folks will start listing everything they are involved with - Do you work out at the Y?  I volunteer as a tour guide at the museum - do you ever come in there?  I went to college in Michigan - do you have any Michigan ties?

6.  On my way here I was listening to the radio and they were talking about (insert a safe topic like book clubs, the food bank needing peanut butter, Legofest).  And then follow it up with something like:  I wish I had time to read books these days - have you ever been in a book club?  

7.  So who do you think it'll take to defeat Mitch McConnell?  Just kidding.  Yeah, just to be safe, you might want to abide by this particular social norm and not bring up politics or religion during your first meeting.  

Although...........that could be a heck of a lot more entertaining than hearing about someone's busy tax season.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Day My Kid Called Out a Blind Person

Act #99:  Help them broaden their definition of beauty.

Mom, check out those metal detectors!  Yep, that's exactly what my 5-year old blurted out with excited enthusiasm when his eye caught two people with metallic, extended poles in front of them.  But oh, no, it didn't stop there.  Why are they wearing sunglasses inside mama?  Mind you, these comments were not whispered curiously into my ear.  They were blurted out loudly....in front of the two visually impaired individuals approaching us.  So as a mom, I've been cautiously expecting this moment ever since my son began talking.  I knew exactly what I would say if he ever asked me why someone was "fat", why someone's skin looked like "chocolate", why those two women were kissing.  It would be a "teachable moment" and I would not shush him with embarrassment (because size, skin color, and sexual orientation are nothing to be ashamed about), but I would calmly explain to him that people come in many beautiful varieties but we all have the capacity to love in the same way).  If the recipient of these remarks looked appalled, I would apologize respectfully and explain that my son had just begun to notice human differences and that I would make sure that he understood the beauty and value in such differences. I would later explain to my son proper social etiquette and that next time he had a question about somebody's physical appearance, it may be better to wait until we get in the car when we were in private, because we wouldn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.  My son would grow up to be the most considerate, loving, human being who embraced all differences. 

Not quite.  Here's what really went down that day.

Mom, check out those metal detectors!
Jack, those are not metal detectors.  Don't you need to go to the bathroom? (as I hurriedly drag him to the bathroom)
Why are they wearing sunglasses inside mama?
Son, come with me to the bathroom right now!

Not quite the life-changing "teachable moment" that I had envisioned.  While I thought I was prepared to have an honest conversation to my kid about physical size, race, and sexual orientation, I was completely stumped when faced with an individual with physical limitations.  I did try to recreate that teachable moment later at home when we googled why visually impaired people wear glasses (to protect their eyes from the sun), and looked up pictures of metal retractable walking canes (almost as cool as metal detectors by the way).  We talked about how it made more sense to say visually impaired (quite the mouthful for a 5-year old) because blind doesn't quite encompass all the different ranges of sight limitations.  We also had an in depth conversation about causes of blindness, whether or not people were born that way, what may have caused them to lose their sight, how they got around if they couldn't drive, and how on earth they watched Sponge Bob if they couldn't see. 

And I still managed to get in one tiny shining parental moment when I finally had the chance to calmly explain to him that which could not be Googled:  People come in many beautiful varieties but we all have the capacity to love in the same way.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Redefine Girl Talk

Act #98:  Tell a girl she can be good at math.

My mother is one of those people whose checkbook is balanced to the penny.  Since the decline of my dad's health in 2006, she has single-handedly managed all of their complex finances and medical bills.  Now fully retired to care for my dad, she has had a colorful and widely varied career path.  She began as an executive assistant for a corporate CEO but moved quickly into office manager and  bookkeeper roles, where she often oversaw the financial management of entire companies.  She has owned small businesses, and right before the Asian stock  market took a dive in the early 90's, she served as vice president of sales for an international manufacturer.   For the last ten or so years she was a fierce card dealer in Las Vegas.  Yes, you heard that right.  My sweet, little mama lived in Vegas and dealt poker.  Now she wasn't just your average card dealer.  She was the type that big name casino managers sought after and secretly recruited because of her capacity to make her customers smile (even if they had just lost their last penny) and her crazy ability to count all the various combinations of cards and chips with remarkable accuracy and speed. 

I'm telling you all of this because I think it will bewilder you immensely (like it did me), when just this week my mother declared to me, "I've never been good at math."  Come again, mother?  Did you just say you've never been good at math?

So I spent a good ten minutes illustrating to her just how "good at math" she has been and continues to be.  I walked her through her entire career and for a moment, she seemed to be reflecting on her life span and finally said, "Maybe you're right.  Maybe I am good at math."

It would take this woman 62 years to overcome decades of self-doubt, years of ill-informed messaging drilled into her grade-school psyche - that girls simply aren't good at math.  An illustrious 40-year career, primarily involving accounting and other practical applications of math, wouldn't even be enough to give her the well-deserved confidence and self-esteem to overcome those deep, constantly reinforced notions.  Please, don't wait 62 years to tell your daughter, niece, sister, or mentee that she can/is good at math.  Just imagine what she might accomplish if she had the skills and she believed in herself.