Friday, May 31, 2013

Gasp! Someone's Sitting in My Beach Chair!

Act 151:  Share your umbrella.

This past week, I spent 5 days with 5 girlfriends (and our 9 children) on a pristine beach on the Emerald Isle of Florida.  We rented a house with a spectacular view a few short steps from the ocean and our lazy, daily routine consisted of waking up, filling ourselves with coffee and our kids with eggs cooked every imaginable way, and then succumbing to the beckoning of the crashing waves.  In an effort to appease the only non-sun-worshipper in the group (that would be me), for the entire week, we rented 6 beach chairs and 3 beach umbrellas that provided moms with the perfect shady, fruity-umbrella-drink-sipping respite as our offspring dug holes to China and jumped powerful waves. 

We had called to make arrangements for the chair and umbrella rentals and were assured that they would be set up for us at a predetermined location with a large tag bearing our name attached to one of the chairs.  On our first day we excitedly went searching for what would be our base camp for the next week, quickly found the dark blue striped umbrellas bearing the name of one of my girlfriends, and began to unload our bountiful supplies of snacks, drinks, and sunblock.  Suddenly two snarky women lounging nearby approached us demanding to know where we were staying, and quickly pointed out that we were on a private, exclusive beach, and had to move immediately.  They were not nice, to say the least, and they scared our children.  To make a long story short, the rental company set up our base camp just a few feet beyond an imaginary private beach line and we had to move our children and our beach stash to a more permissible location.  It was a somewhat humiliating experience.  We were made to feel like social outcasts who were breaking some law (actually, we probably were), who were not worthy of being on this special section of the beach.  It bothered us greatly for a few moments, but our discontent quickly disappeared with just a few sips of passion fruit cocktail and the infectious laughter of our kids.  

Two days later my five-year old and I decided to leave the pool party back at our rental clubhouse to get an early start on the beach.  As we approached our now familiar blue-striped base camp, we stopped dead in our tracks.  Someone (well actually three someones) were lounging in our chairs!  My son didn't miss a beat and pointed out,  Mama, why are those strangers in our chairs? I forced a polite smile and plopped our belongings on one of the three remaining chairs.  My son began to engage me in a water gun battle, but inside I was fuming.  The audacity of these non-paying people to just welcome themselves into our chairs!  I not-so-subtly began marking my territory with colorful beach towels, and speaking just loud enough for our unwelcome guests to hear: Aren't you glad we have these chairs for the entire week?  The family (that looked like three generations of women, with the youngest being a cute 7-year old girl) didn't budge.  They started eating their snacks in our base camp!  I began to notice that the two older women - most likely the 7-year old's mother and grandmother were not speaking English.  On the outside I was smiling as I helped my son build a sandcastle, but inside I was still furious. I began imagining every possible scenario to try to get rid of them, although at that point, my son and I had absolutely no use for those chairs.  Should I call the rental company?  Should I just tell them that they were in our chairs?  And just when I was about to take action, the 7-year old girl walked over and asked if she could help us build our sandcastle.  Her English was perfect.  The three of us spent the next half hour talking, laughing, digging, and sculpting sand while her mother and grandmother watched us adoringly from what suddenly became our joint base camp. 

I never exchanged words with the older women and before the rest of my friends made it down to the beach, the family packed up their belongings and left, causing absolutely no disturbance to our base camp or our overall beach experience that day.  In fact, my son made a new friend and we had delightful help building our sand castle - something we would have missed out on entirely if I had treated these people exactly the way we hated being treated just a few days earlier.  I still don't know what the family was thinking.  Were they in the wrong spot?  Did they think that the chairs were for public use?  Was their cultural norm for beach etiquette different than ours?  Whatever the reasons, it didn't really matter. What mattered is how quickly I forgot the way we were made to feel when we were kicked off an exclusive beach just two days earlier.  How quickly I transformed into those two snarky women who made us feel as small as the grains of sand we were standing on.  How close I was to setting a very, very sad and embarrassing example for my son about exclusivity and privilege, and basic human decency.  How I almost missed an opportunity to model to my son, the beauty of welcoming others into your basecamp, and sharing your shady respite.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ode to the Kindergarten Teacher

Act #150:  Thank an educator.

Today is my son's last official day of kindergarten and I wanted to take time out to thank his very first teacher, for the invaluable life lessons that she has imparted on my five-year old's impressionable mind.  He would be so lucky to cross paths with another such remarkable educator over the next twelve years of his schooling.

Life Lesson #1:  A true friend can make all the difference.
Thank you for the time you paired my son up with another child to give an oral presentation that he was very nervous about. 

Life Lesson #2:  Some things can't be taught in the classroom.
Thank you for your understanding when we pulled him out of class and offered him an alternative to the school's Disney Princesses on Ice field trip.

Life Lesson #3:  One person really can change the world.
Thank you for introducing him to Miss Rosa Parks.

Life Lesson #4:  Kindness always wins.
Thank you for caring about him enough to protect him from a bully.  Thank you more for caring about all children enough, and for not giving up on the bully.

Life Lesson #5: Learning lasts a lifetime.
Thank you for igniting a curiosity in him that was so natural,  he didn't even know he was learning.

Life Lesson #6:  Tell me and I'll forget.  Show me and I may remember.  Involve me and I'll understand. 
Thank you for creating opportunities for him to lead, teaching him how to follow, and helping him see the value in both.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Every Kid Should Have Six Moms!

Act #149:  Expand your child's family circle.

For the past week, I've been holed up in a beach house with five girlfriends and our 9 children.  Don't worry, we brought lots of wine.  My five-year old is an only-child who is used to routine, having his own space, and playing independently.  Besides his parents and grandparents, he doesn't really spend significant amounts of time with many other adults.  He's always been a quiet, non-assertive little guy, who has clung to me in unfamiliar social settings, so it bewildered me greatly that by the end of the week, this kid was asking various "aunts" for snacks on his own, holding their hands (rather than mine) while crossing streets, dancing with them on seafood shack dance floors, and choosing to stay back at the house with some aunts while his mother made a grocery store run. This week my son had six moms, and I have no doubt that this experience has impacted him immensely.  It certainly has impacted me.  For the first time I learned what it really means when they say, "It takes a village".  I learned to trust in the power of community parenting as I watched my son transform into a healthy, comfortable, trusting, and confident little boy - right before my eyes, over the course of five days.  So in a daunting, relentless world where we read daily about harm inflicted on innocent children, it brings me great comfort to know that if only I open myself to it, there is a village out there waiting to embrace, nurture, and protect my child.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Year I Started Dating Women

Act #148: Surround yourself with others who also seek change.

After working in the same small community for almost a decade, last year I found myself with a new job, in a new town, thrust in the midst of a tight-knit progressive community that I wasn't sure would have room for yet one more activist-minded person. Everyone either went to college together or served on a board together, and who was I, as an outsider, to come in with more ideas for community change when these good people have been at it for decades?

So what do I do? I started asking women out on lunch dates. Brown women, state representatives, business women, MBA students, college grads looking for work, former baristas turned graphic designers, non-profit directors, Mary Kay consultants, fundraisers, faith leaders, women I read about in the local paper, politicians, and other women of interest whose names keep coming up for one reason or another.

I e-mail them, call them, or approach them at social functions and introduce myself. If they aren't too freaked out by me by that point, I ask them out to lunch or for a cup of coffee.

My "agenda" is quite simple: to connect with and learn from other women who believe in social change, in order to find ways to support one another's efforts, in hopes of strengthening our impact. I've been pleasantly surprised that no one has really ever rejected me (yet), although some are understandably quite busy and we haven't been able to nail down a meeting time and place yet.

I figure I have two choices: 1.) To work for change in isolation, re-invent the wheel, create my own way; or 2.) Draw from the existing wisdom from the community, identify ways to enhance one another, and thus broaden our overall capacity for change. Luckily I have enough sense about me to choose the latter.

As working women, we've been preached about the importance of networking and the power of surrounding ourselves with strong, like-minded others. But aside from joining professional organizations, we often don't have natural opportunities to do so. I encourage you to push your comfort zone a little to make those connections. You may be surprised at how willing other women are to share their time and gifts with you. And naturally, you would do the same, right? So the next time you find yourself at a luncheon with a fabulous local keynote speaker that you've been watching on television and have been impressed with for years, give it a shot. Introduce yourself, tell her why she inspires you, and ask her out on a date.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sunrise Meditation for Daily Activists

Act # 147: I am small.

There's nothing like that moment you surrender to your place in the world. When you realize that your significance is but a construct of your own mind, and ceases to exist apart from the embrace of the universe.

Santa Rosa Island, FL
May 27, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Learn How To Make Friends From an Elementary School Kid

Act #146: Let down your guard and make a real connection with someone.

I am on a week-long beach trip with 5 girlfriends and our 9 combined children.
Although I'm quite close with the moms, some of our children barely know each other. I was a bit worried about how comfortable my shy and introverted son might feel sharing a beach house with near-strangers. But you probably aren't surprised to hear that within 5 seconds of our arrival, all the kids were playing together...beautifully. Here's what these kids taught me about making authentic connections with others:

1. "I have a broken arm." These were the first words a little 7 year-old boy told my son within minutes of meeting him.

Lesson: Don't be afraid to reveal your vulnerabilities. We all have a few.

2. The same boy also had a Skylanders (non-parent translation: popular video game) t-shirt on, and instantly became the coolest person in the world to my own little 5-year old Skylander fanatic.

Lesson: Look for the things you have in common.

3. About a third of the kids were toddlers that came with what my son calls "baby toys" - colorful loud plastic interactive objects that usually talk (or sing) to you. I asked my son not to bring out his action figures or the iPad with the little ones, so he improvised I guess. At one point I looked over and he was sprawled out on the floor singing his alphabets (something he learned at least 4 years ago) with a two-year old.

Lesson: Celebrate the different places we are on our journeys.

4. The first night the kiddos all got together, they were already sharing their favorite ice-cream flavors, books they were reading, how much (or how little) they knew about dance, the best sand castle building beach toys, and of course, the best, kid-tested iPad apps.

Lesson: Be authentic.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I'm a Feminist Who Serves My Husband (Occasionally)

Act #145:  In a marriage, separate is sometimes equal.

Every Monday and Friday morning, I meticulously pack three different lunches - one for my 5-year old son, one for my husband, and one for myself.  I make sure that the finicky kindergartner, the hearty carnivore, and the pescatarian (I eat fish occasionally) have well-balanced, nutritious mid-day fuel.  I specifically do so on these particular days, because my husband uses his lunch break to pick up our son from school to allow my mom (who usually picks him up) to take my disabled dad to physical therapy.  I never thought a thing about this until yesterday when our son declared, "Mama, you should let daddy pack his own lunch.  He's a grown-up!"  For a second, I panicked.  He's right.  What kind of outdated, patriarchal, 50's housewife example am I setting for my son by completing this task for a perfectly capable grown man?  Yeah, he should fix his own lunch.  And while he's at it, why shouldn't he fix mine too?  But I knew better.  So I shared the following with my son. 

In order to carve out time for mom to blog in the mornings, did you know that dad single-handedly helps you get dressed and brush your teeth?  Believe it or not, you require quite a bit of attention in the mornings.  He also feeds and walks the dog, toasts your waffle for breakfast, and takes out the garbage on trash days.  That's what being in a partnership is all about.  You help each other out.

I won't lie.  I secretly high-fived myself, happy that my son questioned this - more so because he had no contrived expectations for me to fill this particular role.  But deep down inside, I felt lucky to have a life partner who so willingly and happily shares with me the daily tasks required to keep our lives meaningful and full.  And who regularly does a million little things, that often go unnoticed, in order to make it possible for me to do the bigger things - like write a daily blog, volunteer in my community, advocate fiercely for things in which I believe.  Come to think of it, he's probably the one getting the short end of the stick.  While I may occasionally feed his stomach, this man indeed, helps feed my soul.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Perfect Attendance Awards Are Promoting an Imbalanced Work/Life Culture

Act #144:  Play hooky if you have (or want) to.

Unlike most schools in America, my son's kindergarten doesn't give out perfect attendance awards, and I am glad.  For starters, if such an award were to be given out, my son would never, ever be a recipient.  Well, there's that time I pulled him out of the Disney on Ice field trip to offer him a more gender-neutral educational experience at the aquarium.  And the time he had that nasty stomach bug, and we kept him out for three days - two to recuperate, and an extra day just to make sure he didn't share the bug with his fellow kindergarteners.  And next week, my son will be missing three days of his final week of kindergarten, for a beach trip with 5 of my college girlfriends and all of our offspring.

While there is something to be said about commitment, focus, and honoring your responsibilities, does rewarding someone just because they consistently show up, really worthy of such high accolades and value in our society?  I can't help but worry that by placing such value on one's capacity to be physically present, regardless of life's circumstances, we are somehow contributing to our current dire imbalance of work/life culture.  I used to work at a place where my boss didn't bat an eyelash to miss her son's birthday because an important client just couldn't find another date and time to meet.  I've seen new mothers pressured to hand their babies off to strangers practically as soon as they give birth, because they are needed at work. Last year I watched a single friend struggle to care for and house her brother who had no one else, and who was suffering injuries sustained from a horrible car accident, while her employer refused to grant her family leave because he didn't fit the definition of "family".

Our five-year-olds are getting the clear message that in order to be successful, you have to show up at any cost.  Even if it means going to school when you feel crappy and your body needs to rest.  They are getting the clear message that there is nothing more important in life than being at their learning centers and participating in guided reading five days every week.  Not even spending invaluable time with your family, or taking part in real-life experiential learning outside of the classroom.  Our five-year olds are getting the clear message that there is no one, no thing, more important in the world than his/her classroom. And that all life outside of that classroom is somehow of less value. 

We are raising our children to grow up to become part of a culture that emphasizes work life, over a well-balanced holistic, and healthy life.  A culture that places more value on measurable bottom-lines, where loyalty to profit and end-results are fostered, and where things like family, personal growth, and community service, are not only discouraged, but grossly undervalued.  

If it is somehow necessary to give out awards to five-year-olds, rather than rewarding them for their ability to consistently show up, how cool would it be to reward them instead for showing compassion, for being innovative, for expressing themselves, for applying what they learned in the classroom outside of the classroom?  As a parent, I know that I will be doing my job, if my son never, ever receives a perfect attendance award.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Tale of Two Kitchens

Act #142:  Don't miss out and cross the street to visit that "other" place.

Yesterday I met a girlfriend for lunch at a quaint lunch spot called Georgia's Kitchen in Lexington, KY.  This place has been around for years (under different names) and is the type of place that affluent retired women hold their garden club meetings and privileged brides meet with their mothers to finalize wedding plans.  After we walked through the eclectic, vintage-inspired gallery, donned with lace curtains and beautiful chandeliers, my girlfriend and I feasted on perfectly grilled fish, fresh, locally grown greens with balsamic vinaigrette and decorated with vibrant, colorful edible flowers, mango iced-tea, and  freshly made cappuccino ice-cream.  We sat on a charming patio surrounded by a lush green herb garden, the kind that makes you want to forget that you have to go back to work.  Our servers, dressed in all-black, were most gracious and tended to our every need.  I never went without mango iced-tea.  My bill was $19.82, which is about 3 times more than I typically spend on a weekday lunch.

As I was leaving the parking lot, my eye-caught something bright and yellow directly across the street.  I surveyed a little closer and saw the most colorful and intriguing roadside stand with a playful sign and a neon-lit open sign, with at least 10 people lined up at the window and tables full of happy ethnic (presumably Mexican) men chowing down heartily on something I couldn't quite see from where I stood.  The place was called Maria's Kitchen.  I have been hearing about this place a lot over the past few months.  One of my colleagues swears it has the best, most authentic Mexican food in town.  The kind of place you can get a refreshing Mexican cola made with real sugar cane, with menu items you can't find anywhere else in town like barbacao tacos, and poblano cheese gorditas, Wednesday fresh tamale night, and apparently to-die-for tres leches cake - all costing somewhere between $2-$7.  The place literally looked like an open-air food stand- the kind that I've seen on the bustling streets of Thailand and Mexico.   The entire restaurant consisted of a walk-up ordering window and only two tables covered in bright yellow (with blue flowers) plastic table cloths.  The on-line reviews were impeccable, even the one warning readers that it was located in a "sketchy" neighborhood, couldn't resist glorifying the quality of the food.

As I drove away I reflected on the fact that these two, drastically different, "kitchens" stood directly across one another on the same street - yet one was in a "sketchy" neighborhood, and one nestled in a breathtaking herb garden.  I wondered if patrons from either have ever made that bold trek across North Broadway to taste what the "other" kitchen had to offer.  I wondered if they did, whether or not they would feel welcomed, or if they would be so mesmerized by the tres leches (or cappuccino ice-cream), that their discomfort and qualms would disappear. I wondered what they - what I - might be missing out on by not opening my world up to other kitchens, and although my grilled salmon salad left my stomach pleasantly satisfied, for some reason, I just couldn't stop thinking about sinking my teeth into an ooey-gooey poblano cheese gordita.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Lay Out with White Girls, But I Bring My Umbrella

Act #141:  Don't let your differences make you lose sight of the things you have in common.

As an only child, I was fortunate enough in college, to meet and form a significant bond with five women that has transcended mere friendship - they are more like my sisters.  Over the last 18 years, we have been through 3 divorces, 8 marriages, and 8 children.  We've been there for each other through the grief of losing (and almost losing) parents, husbands coming out, husbands cheating, infertilities, miscarriages, law school, Ph.D's, and unemployment.  When we graduated, we made a pact that we would take a trip together every year, and that we would never bring our husbands.  We've kept that promise, and this weekend, we are headed to Santa Rosa Island in Florida. 

I usually thrive in my element when we take urban vacations - Atlanta, Boston, Washington, DC, and I can't get enough of our mountain trips - we've gone to Asheville, NC a few times.  But it is the beach trips that leave me feeling a bit, well for lack of better words, a fish out of water.  Now don't get me wrong I LOVE the vastness of the ocean and how tiny and vulnerable I feel when I watch the waves crash into the shore.  I love waking up before the rest of the world, steamy cup of coffee in hand, for a glimpse of the sun rising above the horizon.  I love burying my feet in the sand and breathing in the salty air around me.  I love how my body and senses automatically go into vacation mode, making the days longer, movement slower, and thoughtful reflection possible. 

I don't love spending hours laying out at the beach.  Oh, I've tried to fit in through the years, and I've sat in the sun until my already dark skin got at least 3 shades darker  (yes, brown people do tan).  So I should mention that I'm the only brown girl in this bunch of aging college sisters.  And I know that there are brown people throughout the world who do enjoy laying out and getting a tan......but I would not be one of them.  Besides the fact that I find this leisurely activity painstakingly uneventful, I also don't enjoy dripping in perspiration under a blaring, unforgiving sun, and being reminded that 1.) I'm not as well-endowed as my Caucasian girlfriends and can't pull off the string-bikini top quite as well; 2.)  Damn it, instead of waking up to write this blog every day for the past six months, I should've gotten myself to the gym; and 3.) Am I the only one here slathered in 3 different kinds of 200 SPF sunscreen, trying to ward off skin cancer? 

But this weekend, I will find the biggest, brightest beach umbrella ever.  And I will lay alongside my white sisters on the pristine white, sandy ocean, and we will talk about our kids, our marriages, our jobs and how we are still figuring out how not to lose the joy we find in them, while trying to fit  them all into a 24-hour day without always feeling guilty and overwhelmed.  We will support one of us who lost her father a few weeks ago.  We will reminisce about our care-free college days when we dreamed about how our lives might turn out.  When we dared to imagine that we might all still be friends two decades later, sipping strawberry daiquiris on a beautiful beach somewhere far, far away.  And I will not want to miss a second of that goodness.  Because with each trip and each passing year, I have come to the undeniable realization that as women, as sisters, there is so much more that connects us, than the way our different skin tones the hot, blaring, unforgiving sun.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why I Don't Care About the Details of the Oklahoma Tornado Devastation

Act #140:  Turn off your television set.

Last night my heart was devastated as my 5-year old and I prayed for the school children and countless others killed by Oklahoma's most recent monster tornado.  I imagined the terror, the grief of those hovered under tables and those who would wake up still looking for their loved ones.  After 9/11, like much of the nation, I experienced - for the first time in my life, survivor's guilt, surrounding an event that really didn't personally impact me in any way.  Last night these thoughts paralyzed my sleep.  How many of those parents dropped their kids off at school just like I did in the morning, looking forward to Monday night dinner with them?  How cruel and unfair was it for me to be going about my daily life hundreds of miles away with my healthy little boy?  Who am I to be able to just turn off the TV or change the channel when the devastation becomes too unbearable for me to face?  Those parents certainly don't have that choice. 

In the past, these thoughts would make me scour every detail of headlines like these:  Frantic Oklahoma Parents Seek Kids.  20 Children Among at Least 51 Dead.  Tornadoes Deadly Path of Destruction.  I felt like I had to read every graphic detail, know the names and faces of everyone impacted, get a visual survey of the physical destruction, and personally witness every body pulled from the rubble, in order to honor their pain.  I felt that the only way to demonstrate compassion towards these strangers was to become one with them, to physically try to put myself in their shoes and to feel their pain.  If you are anything like me, I have news for you.  You will never feel the same exact pain that the Oklahoma survivors are feeling right this moment, no matter what you do.  You are not honoring anyone by staying glued to your television set or by reading every painful detail of the horrors, over and over again, every half hour on the Internet.  What you are doing however, is weighing your spirit down with traumatic, unnecessary, and often times, painfully private details of victims and survivors - dramatized, intended to keep your attention...and to keep you coming back for more.  In my field of work, we call this secondary trauma - the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.  Symptoms of secondary trauma may include intrusive thoughts, chronic fatigue, sadness, emotional exhaustion, fearfulness, and even physical illness.

So ask yourself, at times of great sadness and devastation like these, what do communities need?  An entire nation of self-traumatized individuals paralyzed with grief and guilt, glued to their television sets?  Or is our time better spent turning away from and turning off MSNBC, sparing ourselves from gory details that satisfy no one but ourselves, and coming together to offer real support to the victims and survivors?  I heard the Dalai Lama speak earlier this week and one of his most profound messages was that he, one of the most holy and prayerful individuals in the world, accepted the limitations of prayer.  True compassion requires action. I for one will honor the victims and survivors by not obsessing over every single  detail of their private grief and horror.  If you'd like to join me, here's how we can really help:


Monday, May 20, 2013

6 Life Lessons from the Guy in the Bright Orange Robe

Act #139:  Keep compassion simple.

Yesterday I drove two hours, stood in line for an hour and a half, and sat and waited for two more hours - in seats so crammed together there wasn't enough room for me to even cross my legs.... just to hear Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama speak for 45 minutes.  Worth every second.  Here's what I learned.

1.  You can be holy and funny at the same time. 
When you exude truth with every fiber of your being, you can also be a 78-year old Asian man in a bright orange robe, a matching visor, and over-sized sun glasses and still have 15,000 people hanging on your every word.  What I will remember most about my experience with the Dalai Lama is the deep, rich, heartiness of his laugh and it's unspoken powers to calm and connect those of us lucky enough to be in his presence.

2.  Monks have more in common than their religion.
His holiness spoke at length about the time he spent with Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  He recalled fondly spending 3 hours every day with him for 3 days, drinking tea and comparing daily rituals of Tibetan monkhood and Christian monkhood.  They discussed how faith was powerful enough to transform the human experience, and they had unwaivering confidence that their respect towards other faiths only made stronger, their commitment to their own.

3.  We have more in common than our religions. 
The Dalai Lama repeatedly stressed that all religions (should) practice compassion and strive for harmony.  He urged us not to let religion be the force that separates us.  We need each other - the physical survival of human beings is based entirely on the care and compassion of others. We should all meditate on love.

4.  Prayer isn't enough.
The Dalai Lama accepted the "limitations of prayer" and while he did not minimize the importance and sacredness of it, he believed that to truly engage in compassionate living, one must not only pray, but act accordingly.

5.  Human beings make everything too darn complicated. 
At the end of his talk, audience members lined up behind a microphone to ask the Dalai Lama questions.  They asked about capitalism, forgiveness, poverty, and his views on environmental issues.  They were smart, highly educated (if I had to guess), and articulate.  They were all white.  And I dare say that most of the global population that they referenced in their questions, would not be able to relate to them.  The single most important thing that I learned last night is that compassion is  simple.  We're the ones that try to make it a complex theory, philosophy, when in reality, it just is what we should all do, practice, be. 

6.  That is all.  That is life.
Go ahead and take a moment, and let that sink in.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

5 Asians Who Changed the Way We Saw Asians

Act #138:  The days of Long Duk Dong are over, people.

Myth #1:  Asian women are sweet and demure.
 Margaret Cho comedian and social critic extraordinaire

Myth #2:  All Asians are short.
Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets

Myth #3:  Asians only know how to play the violin.
James Iha was the guitarist and co-founder of the alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins

Myth #4:  Asian men lack in sex appeal.
Daniel Henney portrayed Agent Zero in the film X-Men Origins:  Wolverine

Myth #5:  Asian girls don't kick ass.
Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Representative from Illinois and Iraq War veteran who lost both of her legs when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Do Teachers, Comedians, and Meeting Facilitators Have in Common?

Act #138:  Include (but don't call out) the Asian girl in the room.

Dear Teachers, Comedians, and Meeting Facilitators,

This is an apology letter of sorts so I hope you bear with me.   I've been confusing you for years so I wanted to try to offer some personal reflections, maybe even some clarity - not only for you, but maybe for myself too.  You see, I was always that only brown girl in class in elementary school.  You know, the one you'd ask to stand up to share with the entire class my experiences with all things "Asian".  Jane, you speak another language don't you?  Do you mind saying something for the class?  Jane, can you tell your friends what different holidays your family celebrates?  For some reason, this felt particularly embarrassing to the 7 year-old-me, to have to do so in front of my first-grade crush, Baron.  As I grew into adulthood, I developed an aversion to stand-up comedy because after a while it started getting old being on a date with a guy and having to sit through hot Asian chicks, me-love-you-long-time, and Hello Kitty jokes.  And when I first became a professional, and found myself serving on committees, I had no idea I was actually representing an entire race of people!  That is, until it became pretty common for everyone in the room to pause, turn all of their heads towards me, and ask, what do YOU think about this, Jane?  We want to make sure that your perspective is heard.  How about bald, white guy in the corner, Frank?  Doesn't anyone want to hear his perspective? 

So, I guess the point of this letter is to first and foremost, apologize for being so darned confusing.  One moment I celebrate my Asian-ess, the next I'm embarrassed being called out for it.  Trust me, for years I was just as confused as you, which is why I sort of went along with the flow and just gave you what you asked for. So what is it that I want?  Well, for starters, I want to be treated just like everyone else in the room.  If you call me out, I want it to be for something I accomplished, did, achieved - and not because of who my ancestors are.  Now this doesn't mean that I want you to pretend I'm white, middle-class, straight, and Protestant.  Because, while that may be the going desired standard, it certainly is not reflective of the diversity of all life experiences.  I want you to consider that those experiences may vary greatly.  I want you, as the captor of your audience, to frame your remarks and your thoughts, with this diversity in mind.  Even bald, white guy in the corner, Frank - he could be Jewish, gay, or married to someone of color.

I'm sorry it took me so long to finally figure out how to articulate this 40-year discomfort - in a way that I hope, makes some sense to you.  And now that I have a little brown boy of my own, I hope he grows up embracing the beauty of his heritage, but I also hope that he can simply enjoy just being a regular little boy in first grade,  being someone's charming date at a comedy club, and being a contributing member of a committee -without having to represent anyone but himself.

The only Asian in the room

P.S.  Some of the people I admire most are teachers, comedians, and have led some very productive meetings.  I hope you know that my intentions are not to call you out or to blame you for anything, but rather to finally invite you to my table.  There's room for everyone.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Translating Pat Robertson's Marriage Advice

Act #137:  Please, people, don't take marriage advice from a televangelist (he hates being called that, by the way).

Pat's Advice: 
Men are expected to cheat.  Wives should try hard to forgive them and fall in love with them again- mainly because they provide a home, food, clothes and are nice to the children.  The secret is for wives to make homes so wonderful that husbands do not wander.

What I Hope  He Is Trying To Say:
Just like any other relationship, marriages are vulnerable and should not be taken for granted.  Both partners should commit and contribute to the marriage equally, although they may do so in very different ways.   The secret is for both partners to invest their time and positive energy into creating a home environment that is trusting, supportive, and loving.

Why His Words Are So Scary:
This view implies that all men are gullible, untrustworthy, and weak, with no control over their own impulses.  It completely takes away all responsibility from husbands and implies that a wife has the power to stop her husband from cheating simply by being a good homemaker.

Pat's Advice:
Awful-looking women can cause marriages to lose their spark. Wives should not hassle husbands for flirting - they just need to make themselves as attractive as possible.  

What I Hope He Is Trying To Say:
It is important for both partners to continue to feed their souls, respect and nourish their bodies, and explore personal goals and interests, so that they can be happy, fulfilled, and contributing partners.
Why His Words Are So Scary:
Once again, Pat says nothing about how husbands should also take care of themselves.  Also, does this mean that wives can flirt freely, with their husband's complete support and understanding?  And that husbands just need to lay off the beer and hit the gym in order to keep wives coming home?

Pat's Advice:
When a wife doesn't respect her husband as head of the house, she is a rebellious child who doesn't want to submit to authority.  The husband could always become a Muslim and beat her.   While wife-beating isn't condoned these days, something needs to be done to stop her.  

What I Hope He Is Trying To Say:
I'm losing my mind and should probably be taken off the air immediately before I ruin the reputation of Christianity for all humankind.

Why His Words Are So Scary:
The 700 Club is the flagship daily show of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which is one of the longest-running television shows in broadcast history.  People seeking hope and spiritual direction are often influenced by these patriarchal and oppressive ideological views about marriage that serve to perpetuate sexism and a culture of violence against women.  (Note:  Pat's damaging views on Islam are worthy of a separate blog entirely.)


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Confessions of a Privileged Middle-Class Mom

Act #136:  Own your privileges and prejudices.  Move beyond them.

My son is entering the first grade this fall and this is the first summer we needed to make arrangements (other than daycare), to keep him occupied.  I had spent the last week or so scouring options that range from theater camps to Legos camps and was on my way to tour a local non-profit community arts center that has been around for 35 years, with the mission to "make arts accessible to all".  I had signed my son up for a week-long art class and was on my way to meet with the summer program director just to tour the facility and ask a few questions about safety policies.  This place was only about 2 blocks away from my office, yet I had never really noticed it.  It was nestled on a beautiful one acre inner city lot - a breathtaking 7,000 square-foot antebellum Italianate mansion.  As I turned the corner on the street it was located, I began noticing my surroundings - a homeless man pushing a shopping cart who was talking to himself, a dilapidated vehicle with loud rap music blaring from it's speakers parked just across the street, rows and rows of run-down houses - some with boarded up windows, and a sprinkling of loitering individuals who just seemed to be standing on street corners for no apparent reason.  It was at this moment that I decided that I was not going to leave my son unattended for an entire week in this seemingly "unsafe" environment.  I would keep my appointment with the art director and be as nice as can be, then I would call and cancel my son's reservation at a later date, citing some unavoidable, unforeseen change of plans.  By the time I pulled my car into the parking lot and put my gear in park, I was completely disgusted with myself on so many levels.  First and foremost, since when did I become this privileged 40-year old mom who was too good to expose her kid to walks of life different than the pristine middle class suburban neighborhood that he was accustomed to?  Worse yet, how did I come to define in my mind, that neighborhoods like these were somehow less safe, less desirable than the one I lived in.  And then I asked myself the question I could barely face, one that physically made me sick to my stomach.  Was my hesitancy based on some deep-rooted prejudice towards low-income, transitional, predominantly African-American neighborhoods and loud rap music?  Of course it was.  And that was a hard, hard thing to admit, while sitting in my locked car alone, in the parking lot of this glorious antebellum mansion.

I went on to meet with the art director and not only did I not cancel my reservation, I signed my son up for a second class.  It is because of people like me - who allow creeping thoughts of classism and racism to go unchallenged, unquestioned - that we continue to live in segregated neighborhoods and walks of lives that often do not intersect in any meaningful ways.  I shudder to think about what my son would have been missing if he had been denied this experience solely because of his mom's personal unfound biases.  Following my meeting, as I walked to my car, I said hello to the homeless man with the shopping cart.  I hope it's not too late to raise my son to grow up to be the type of person who would do the same.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Name That Super Hero!

Act #135:  Tell your boys about the real life superheroes.

Inspired by this photographer's efforts ( to expose her daughter to alternatives to princesses by teaching her about real-life women heroines, I wanted to do the same for my son.  I looked in his toy bin and found a dozen or so "super heroes" who all battle evil by using violence.  I wanted to offer him alternatives to these superheroes by teaching him about great, strong, men who have impacted the world through kindness and other non-violent acts of heroism.  Can you name these superheroes?  Can you add to this list?

Super Power:  Compassion!
Viewed the uprising of his people as an expression of widespread discontent, he denounced oppression and established a government in exile.  Traveled the world advocating for fairness, promoting interfaith dialogue, and helping others to see that compassion is the source of happiness.

Super Power: Civil Disobedience!
One of the greatest orators of American history, he organized a nonviolent resistance movement that would change the course of his country.  He tirelessly fought for equality and justice.

Super Power: Economic Theory!
Fighting to eradicate poverty through economic and social development, he developed the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, loans given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. 

Super Power:  Medicine!
Founder of  a hospital for needy children where no suffering child would be turned away.  Since it's inception, the hospital has treated thousands of children for cancer and other catastrophic diseases.

Super Power:  Love!
Opponent of apartheid and defender of worldwide human rights, he has campaigned to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia.  

Super Power:  Farm Labor!
Through his aggressive but nonviolent tactics and community-based grass roots organizing, he made the struggle of manual laborers a moral cause with nationwide support for workers.

1.  Tenzin Gyatso (14th Dalai Lama and Nobel Peace Prize recipient)
2.  Martin Luther King, Jr. (Civil Rights Leader)
3.  Mohammad Yunnus (Banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient)
4.  Danny Thomas (Founder of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)
5.  Desmond Tutu (Social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop)
6. Cesar Chavez (Farm worker and labor organizer)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

3 Ways I've Been Touched By Mental Illness Just This Weekend

Act #134:  Understand mental illness and how it impacts you and/or those around you.

1.  Friday:  The blog that changed my life
This intentionally crude web comic is one of the most brilliant and eye-opening descriptions of depression that I've ever come across:  For years I've had two people very, very close to me who have struggled with bouts of minor depression and for years I thought that the only way to help was to offer hope and constant positive affirmations, blindly assuming that they were even capable of desiring hope and affirmation.  In 2011 author Allie Brosh chronicled her journey with depression, then stopped blogging for 6 months.  This past week she resurfaced with this blog entry.  Do yourself a favor, read it.  Even if you think this has nothing to do with you, you might be surprised.

2.  Saturday:  The "crazy" lady at Target
While shopping at Target this weekend, I accidentally walked into a shopping cart.  I apologized to the lady (even though her cart was blocking the entire aisle) and told her she was fine.  She then proceeded to declare loudly so that all patrons could hear.  I know I'm fine, you're the one walking into carts!  My immediate reaction was anger and I thought to myself, How rude! But upon further reflection, it occurred to me that something just wasn't quite right, so I instead nicely told the lady to have a nice day.  She put her hand up to my face, turned her face the other way and said, Too much conversation happening here, and walked away.  I just stood there in the aisle smiling sadly because 1.) I was a bit embarrassed that I was just publicly told off; and 2.) For some reason, all I could think, was that she was once someone's baby girl a long, long time ago.

3.  Sunday:  The client who is mad at me
While I can't really provide many details about this for obvious reasons, anyone working in social services/mental health can probably relate to a client whose mental health state challenges you to critically assess the manner in which you are able to provide them with the services they need.  Sadly, in the field of sexual violence advocacy/services, mentally disabled individuals are among the most vulnerable.  A 2012 World Health Organization study revealed that disabled adults are 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than those without a disability, while those with mental health conditions are at nearly four times the risk of experiencing violence. 

If you think that this is an issue that has nothing to do with you, think again.  Statistically speaking, if you are not personally inflicted with mental illness, chances are you have multiple friends, family, or loved ones who are.  May is mental health awareness month.  For more information on how you can become more aware or get involved, please visit:


Monday, May 13, 2013

30-Second Rant of an Angry Little Brown Girl

Act #133:  Don't mistake my passion for anger.

So finally, I'm getting a first-hand glimpse at what my black female friends have been experiencing their entire lives:  when I speak up against something, people worry that they've pissed me off.  This is a new phenomenon for me, because you see, I've been painfully diplomatic all of my life - up until about a year ago.   One might say that I'm the ultimate people-pleaser, a formerly trained mediator, the one people go to for help when they want to appease a situation or a person.  And one might say that in the past year, after disassociating myself with a highly public job, and finding myself finally advocating for things I deeply value, I've gotten quite comfortable, well.... speaking my mind.  In fact I start to squirm and get fidgety if I don't speak up.  Now, I'm not an equal opportunity spokesperson for all issues of the world.  While I probably wouldn't speak up if my meal were prepared incorrectly or if a party guest smelled bad, if someone tells me that all international students who come to the U.S. are spoiled and manipulative, well, I may just have to speak up.  I also might be compelled to speak up if someone assigned blame to a victim of sexual violence, failed to consider the racial biases of our judicial system when discussing capital punishment, or assumed that all people had the choice to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.  Ok, Ok, I admit it, if these conversations all took place in the course of one weekend and I have "spoken up" every time these topics were discussed, I may come across to the masses as someone who takes issue with a lot of things, but be assured, this sweet little Asian gal isn't about to blow her top off.  She just cares about the future of the world you are living in, and has something to say about how we might all help make it better for everyone. If being passionate about justice  equates anger, then folks, shouldn't we all be at least a little bit angry?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

3 Parenting Tactics My Mom Used On Me That I Would Never Use On My Son (But That I'm Truly Thankful For)

Act #132:  Celebrate the diversity in mothering and parenting.  No one person has it all figured out.

She made me go to the store alone when I was 6.
As a child, I was painfully shy.  It hurt just to look someone in the face.  I remember starting 1st grade at a new school and hiding in a janitor's closet for what felt like an eternity because I was terrified to go to my class.  My mom was, and is still, one of the most extroverted women I know and she was at wits end in her efforts to help me adjust and adapt to my social surroundings.  So one day, when I was 6 years old, we ran out of bread and my mother asked me to go the store to buy bread.  By myself.  Granted the store was just down the road from our apartment and she watched me through my entire route, I still thought I was literally going to die.  Looking back, that was definitely a turning point in my childhood - I discovered that people might actually listen when I had something to say.  I discovered that deep inside of me I possessed an untapped courage to navigate the big, scary world (aka our neighborhood sidewalk) on my own.

She didn't talk to me for a whole week.
When I was about 9 years old I went through this phase where I lied.  A lot.  About everything - you name it.  I lied about taking baths (gross, right?), whether or not I finished my lunch at school, how I was doing in math class.  I don't know what I was going through but I couldn't stop myself, it was almost compulsive.  My mother tried everything from spanking to denying me of my toys and privileges, but nothing worked.  The final straw came when I forgot an extra pair of gym shoes on the school bus during a field trip and I was too afraid to tell my parents the truth.  So naturally I told them I had no idea where they had gone.  Maybe somebody had broken into our home to steal my ratty pair of gym shoes (and nothing else).  Of course I was found out when the school returned the shoes to my parents....and I lied again - I had no idea that they were left on the bus.  Some kid must have taken them out of my book bag and hidden them on the bus just so I could get in trouble.  So when I woke up the next day, all of a sudden my mother stopped talking to me.  She wouldn't respond to my questions.  She barely looked at me in the face.  My heart was broken and I felt invisible.  And when she began to talk to me again 7 days later, I never lied again.

She cheated when we played board games.
So I was apparently a pretty sharp kid.  My mother tells me stories of family board game nights where I would 100% consistently beat both my parents.  You name it - CandyLand, Simon Says, Superfection (clearly I was a child of the 80's), I kicked everyone's butts and I was starting to get a bit cocky about it.  So one day my mother cheated.  Yes, that's right.  When I wasn't looking, she manipulated the Gumdrop Path to beat me to King Kandy's Palace, with the sole intention of making me feel what it was like to lose.  And that I did.  And while at first, I was devastated, I survived.  And I learned that day an important lesson in humility.  I learned to lose gracefully, and more importantly I learned that there was so much more to life than winning.

My mother was a 23-year old new immigrant working two minimum-wage jobs and living in an apartment in the suburbs of Chicago when she had me.  When I had my son, I was 12 years older, owned my own home, and with inflation, I was earning about 5 times as much as she was.  I had also paid $300 for a parenting class and read about 12 books on the topic before I even gave birth.  My  instructor would cringe at the parenting choices my mom made, and if I had to be honest, I  won't likely use any of these tactics on my five-year old son.  Especially since he's not nearly as brilliant as I was at CandyLand.  But I can't imagine what kind of adult I might have become if my mother hadn't made the choices she did.  I'm thankful that she did the absolute best she could, with her skill set and unorthodox ways as a young mother, to instill in me valuable life lessons about courage, honesty, and humility.  I'm thankful that to this day, she continues to believe in my strength (even during the times that I don't believe in my own), holds me to the highest level of integrity, and never ceases to remind me through her words and actions, that if you focus entirely on the destination, you may just lose sight in the beauty of the journey.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why I Started to Dress Like Ellen

Act #131:  Judge us for more than our sex appeal.  Especially when we are at work, people. 

A year ago when I worked at a college and attended the annual commencement services, I wore a dress, pearls, and high heels.  Last weekend, I attended the college graduation of a young friend and I wore jeans, a tie, a blazer, and tennis shoes.   I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, Gee, I look like an Asian Ellen DeGeneres!  Don't get me wrong, I am certainly one who can appreciate expressive fashion and style.  I also appreciate the beauty in femininity and in celebrating female curves.  What I don't appreciate is when that fashion and style purposefully and systematically objectifies and sexualizes females for no apparent reason at all, other than to provide gratification for someone else (aka "males".)  Case in point:
The Cheerleader
With abs like these, how can you not win?  Go team.

The Bar Server
Even if our ribs suck, we hope our flannel half-shirts keep you coming back for more!

The Professional Dancer
I'm sure the belly cut-outs and 5-inch heels are probably to ensure maximum movement.
The Scholarship Pageant Contestant
 Why of course this swimsuit proves that I'm worthy for a college scholarship.
The Pro Beach Volleyball Athlete
I'd like to see males play in their underwear.

The Witty Talk-show Host
What's that, you can actually find my wit and sense of humor appealing, without wanting to picture me naked?

Friday, May 10, 2013

The White Girl In the Mirror

Act #130: Tell that little girl she too, is beautiful.  She may not know it.  While you're at it, tell her she's smart too.

I must have looked at myself in the mirror hundreds of times up to this point, but today was different.  My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest and I had no control over the pace of my own breathing.  I turned the corner into my bedroom and quietly closed the door around me.  I made the last few strides to position myself in front of the antique white dresser that I loved so dearly because for some reason, it made me feel like a princess.  Like I was someone worthy of fancy opulence, even though it was probably an inexpensive reproduction.  I had stood in this exact position every morning of my life as I brushed my hair and each time I did, the same imaged stared back at me.  I thought she was the most beautiful person in the world.  Her features were a combination of all the Barbie dolls I ever wished for, Cindy Brady, Laura Ingalls, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, precious little girls in Spagettios and Oscar Mayer commercials, my best friend, Nicole, and the faces in the toy section of my mom's Sears catalog.

But today that girl was gone.  In her place stood someone who bared no resemblance to her at all.  Instead, this girl had smooth dark brown skin that was the same color as the Hershey's chocolate milk I drank each afternoon.  It was rich and flawless.  And I hated it.  Her hair so black and lifeless that even if it could pick up the rays of the sun, I would never want to call any extra attention to it.  Her eyes were so tiny - the color of dirty, black mud, her faint eyebrows were barely existing.  It was painful to look at her yet she wouldn't let me look away, gripping me steadily with her powerful gaze.  It would take me 12 years to think she was beautiful.

I was 6 years old the first time I realized that I wasn't white.  There was a new student in my first grade suburban Chicago elementary school class.  He was Japanese-American.  As he was being introduced, one of the girls sitting next to me whispered in my ear, he looks just like you.  I turned around and glared at her like she was from outer space.  I couldn't wait to get home to a mirror to prove her wrong.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

How to Redefine Cool

Act #129:  Redefine cool.

CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch Mike Jeffries doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he  only wants thin and beautiful people.  He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. He believes that people who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the cool kids.  That’s why he hires good-looking people in his stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and he wants to market to cool, good-looking people. He isn't bothered by excluding fat people (and not carrying larger sizes for women) because not limiting his ideal demographic would make his clothing less desirable.

Since when did our entire civilization succumb to the beauty standards of a 61-year old millionaire with a fake tan, spiked hair, unsettling plastic surgery, and flip flops (you must Google him, really).  When did it become acceptable for someone else to tell us who to value and why we should value them?  I say we take back cool, my friends.  Yes we can.  Here's how.

1.  Boycott.  Just don't buy from Abercrombie, people.  Also, have a conversation with your teenagers about the power of retail advertising, the harm of giving into an appearance-obsessed culture, and encourage them not to buy into this thinking.

2.  Speak up.  Verbalize (in front of your friends and family) your diverse perspective on definitions of beauty, personality types, and success.  Comment on the beauty you see in different skin tones, body shapes, styles, professions, life choices.  Last week I met with a CEO of a large organization and was greeted by her 25-year old, spiked hair, uber hip male personal assistant.  Over dinner with my family later that night, I mentioned that I had met a male "secretary' and how effective and dynamic he appeared to be in his role supporting a powerful female CEO.   

3.  Speak differently.  When talking about someone, try not to describe them by their physical attributes (like I just did in #2).   When other people do so in your presence - "Check out how fat that girl is!" if you don't respond, you are actually condoning that behavior and ensuring that it will likely continue.  Try saying something like, "You know, I think there is beauty in people of all shapes and sizes.  Why are we checking her out anyway?"

4.  Look beyond the commercials.  Watch independent films, listen to independent music, see a play that is off-Broadway.  Expose yourself to that which is not heavily marketed to you.  You'll be surprised at what you might be missing.  Tell your friends and family about the films, songs, plays, etc. and encourage them to also experience these things.

5.  Celebrate quirky.  Open your mind to celebrate, and then highlight, eccentric, innovative, unorthodox, non-traditional ways of thinking and working.  I used to work with a pretty conservative public relations company.  Everyone wore khakis and skirts, and the manager wore dapper bow ties.  Then one day he hired a funky editor who wore vintage dresses over colorful tights, who talked dramatically with her hands and was intense and introverted.  By pushing everyone's communication comfort zones and bringing a fresh perspective and style, she challenged not only the look of the agency's publications, but also the entire make-up of the staff.

Jeffries said that in every school there are cool and popular kids - you know the ones with the good looks and a lot of friends.  Those kids are only "cool" because we as a society continue to define attractiveness in such exclusionary and narrow terms, based solely on physical appearance and one's capacity to be social.  How long are we going to let Abercrombie define cool for us?  It's time to take cool back.  Join me?



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I Will Teach My Kid That Sex is OK

Act #128:  Consider the messages when assigning shame and negativity to sexuality.

Someday I will teach my only son that sex is OK.  Well, as long as it is consensual, and he is respectful of himself and his partner.  And obviously only when he reaches a maturity level when he is able to fully comprehend and grasp the concepts of consent and respect.

This week Elizabeth Smart spoke to an audience about issues of human trafficking and sexual violence.  She explained that some human trafficking victims don’t run away because they feel worthless after being raped, particularly if they have been raised in conservative cultures that emphasize sexual purity.  Smart recalled a teacher who compared sex to chewing gum - once you chew it up, nobody re-chews it and you throw it away.  In Smart's own words, "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”  For decades, public schools have been pushing for abstinence education - imparting a shame-based approach to genitalia and sexuality.  Instead of teaching young people the facts they need to know to safeguard their health, abstinence-only curriculums create an environment where young people are embarrassed to talk about their experiences and feelings.  Social psychologists believe that a more comprehensive sex education can prevent sex crimes by teaching children about their bodies and giving them tools to describe acts of abuse without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable.   It also helps elevate their self-confidence and sense of bodily autonomy. 

My son is only 5, and yes, we are already having age-appropriate conversations with this innocent little creature about his sexuality.  Why?  Because one day he looked down there and discovered it!  Apparently all boys have one of these - and because he is a human who has a penis and who, chances are, will grow up to have sex one day.  He has been calling his penis a penis since he could talk - not a wee-wee, a wiener, a hot dog, or a boy part.  A PENIS.  Because that is all that it is - a body part that boys have.  It is not a symbol of strength or prowess.  It does not give him permission to exert power over anyone.  It is not a dirty little secret that he has to hide or feel embarrassed to talk about.  It is not a weapon. It is a part of his body that only he should have control over.  It is what he uses to pee.  And someday, if he is so inclined, he will use it to have sex.  My real job as a parent is not to teach my son that sex is bad, but to bring him up with realistic expectations about his sexuality, and to impart in him a genuine sense of respect for himself and for others around him.   Stay tuned for a future blog:  Why I'm going to let my 16 year-old drink a beer at the dinner table.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Five Questions I Asked the Mary Kay Lady: #1. Are You in a Cult?

Act #127:  Don't judge a woman just because she drives a pink Cadillac.

Last week a young woman who just graduated from college about a year ago asked to have lunch with me.  Via the magical world of Facebook, I recently became aware that she was deeply involved with the Mary Kay company.  I have to admit, I was a bit surprised at first.  This young lady was an incredibly driven, high achieving student who worked at her college's public relations office and landed a web marketing job even before she graduated.  Why on earth would she want to lure vulnerable women into buying overpriced make-up with pushy (but free) make-overs?  When she contacted me, I was understandably hesitant.  I didn't want to be "marketed" to.  I didn't ever want to give or receive a make-over.  And I sure as heck never wanted to own a pink Cadillac.  But I was intrigued with her journey to the "dark side", so I reluctantly agreed, bracing myself for the inevitable high-sales-pitch lunch.  Plus, this was my only chance to save her from potential post-college career decisions that she might end up regretting.  Turns out, I was the one who was saved that day - from my own wrath of judgement towards yet another group of women, that I've been secretly turning my nose up to for decades.

Are you in a cult?  
No.  This young lady was definitely a willing and conscious participant.  Because of her drive and focus, she managed to hold down a full-time job, yet dedicate an extra 10-20 hours each week building her side Mary Kay business.  She attended national conferences, became part of a  strong and supportive network of regional women who provided business mentorship and guidance, put together her own team of 15, and was on the brink of being promoted to a director-level position with a free car (not the pink Cadillac yet) a salary, and a percentage on the sales of her entire team.  She knew exactly what she was doing and like anything else she has done, she excelled at this.

Do people even like the product or do they just feel pressured to buy it to support their friends?
Turns out that Mary Kay has 17% of the skin care product industry cornered - that's more than all the make-up counters that you see at the mall combined.  After the initial demonstration (aka make-over party), people apparently choose to keep purchasing the product on their own because of its high quality and low overhead (no marketing costs).

Really, how inclusive is this company anyway?  Can brown people, lesbians, and men sell Mary Kay?
My friend currently has two African-Americans on her team and she thinks she could have a couple of lesbians, but she can't be for sure.  She doesn't ask.  She also told me that men - that's right, men - also sell the products and are proven to be highly successful at it because women are sometimes threatened by other women.  Surprise, surprise.
To what extent does this company give to charitable causes?
Apparently a lot.  We're talking millions.  The company created the Mary Kay Foundation which is 1.) committed to eliminating cancers affecting women by supporting top medical scientists who are searching for a cure for breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers; and 2.) committed to ending domestic violence by providing grants to women's shelters and supporting community outreach programs. Since the Foundation began in 1996, it has granted $25 million dollars to organizations fighting cancer and violence against women.

Pink vehicles and an unhealthy obsession with body image and appearance - isn't this company attacking the very core of feminism?
Well, this biography on founder Mary Kay Ash explains it all:  Ash married Ben Rogers at age 17. They had three children. While her husband served in World War II, she sold books door-to-door. After her husband's return in 1945, they divorced. Ash went to work for Stanley Home Products at a time when women were barely working outside of the home.   She did so well that she was promoted to become a trainer.  Frustrated when passed over for a promotion in favor of a man that she had trained, Ash retired in 1963 and intended to write a book to assist women in business. The book turned into a business plan for her ideal company, and in the summer of 1963, Mary Kay Ash and her new husband, George planned to start Mary Kay Cosmetics. However, one month before they started Beauty by Mary Kay, George died of a heart attack.  One month later when Ash was 45, with $5,000  and the support of her two adult sons, Ash started Mary Kay Cosmetics.  The company started its original storefront operation in Dallas.  She considered the Golden Rule the founding principle of Mary Kay Cosmetics and the company's marketing plan was designed to allow women to advance by helping others to succeed.  Ash fiercely advocated that women in her company maintain a healthy work-life balance.

So next time you see a perky middle-aged woman in pearls driving down the interstate in a pink Cadillac, you may want to set aside all the preconceived notions you have about her life choices and priorities.  Because be assured, that woman has earned that Cadillac - not only through her hard work and persistence, but also through her support and mentoring of countless other women.  Women who dare to dream that they have the power to run their own businesses, support each other in the process, all while nurturing families, friendships, and personal interests. 

Women not unlike myself.