Friday, November 11, 2016

Reaping the Authentic Results

On this third day after the election, I’m tired of hearing that racism, misogyny, and xenophobia had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s election.  This boggles my mind. The guy openly ran on a platform of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. That is some ugly, ugly stuff, so I can see why we’d all (whether we voted for him or not) like to conveniently and quickly dismiss it by sweeping it under the rug of jobs and authenticity and desire for change. But in the few days since the election, it’s fairly clear we’re not going to be able to do that.

If Trump’s victory had nothing to do with racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, how do we explain the bold, public display of those hateful behaviors across the nation in the past couple of days? Threatening notes left on the homes and cars of gay families, shouts of “go back where you came from” as people of color simply try to go to class or commute to work, swastikas painted on dugouts where our children play baseball, Muslim women physically assaulted, “black lives don’t matter and neither do your votes” scrawled across public spaces, school children openly chanting “build that wall, build that wall!” while their Latino classmates cry – the uptick (and I think that might be too gentle a word) in hate speech and crimes is crystal clear. Trump openly encouraged this behavior throughout his campaign and at his rallies; now we’re reaping the results.

I do not assume the people committing these vile acts represent everyone who cast a ballot for Trump. In fact, I’m positive that isn’t true. People I know voted for Trump. People I like very much voted for Trump. I’m fairly certain people I dearly love voted for Trump. My sadness and anger at the outcome of this election will not cause me to turn my back on these people. I certainly won’t stop loving friends and family who voted for Trump and I don’t intend to “unfriend” anyone who voted for Trump – unless, of course, they make it clear to me through hateful words and behaviors that they are of the ilk who find it acceptable to belittle and terrorize, and to bring that despicable behavior into the public spaces of my community. Sadly, there have already been a few of those.

Like many people who are vehemently opposed to Trump, I’m experiencing quite a bit of dissonance, trying to reconcile Trump’s hateful messages with the good people who voted for him. My coping mechanism has been reading everything I can get my hands on – I’m wading through information and opinion pieces from a wide range of sources and ideologies, hoping to gain insight. Much of what I find leads me on tangents of further questions and confusion as I read words like “authenticity” and sentiments like “he tells it like it is.”

My good friend Merriam-Webster defines “authentic” as real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurate. While the dictionary definition doesn’t suggest a value judgment – it doesn’t say authenticity is inherently good or bad – we generally apply the term to “good” things: Authentic New York-style pizza – yum!  Authentic Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag – no knock-offs here! She is such an authentic person – no pretense! But can’t authentic things also be bad? Do we always want people to say exactly what they’re thinking? Sometimes I see someone wearing what I consider to be an unattractive outfit. I may have a snarky thought like, “What was that person thinking when they got dressed!?” But I would never openly mock; I would be horrified if the person could somehow hear my unkind thought. I keep it where it should be – to myself. Does that make me inauthentic or does it just make me a kind human being, participating in the maintenance of a civil society?

Maybe Donald Trump truly believes all the horrible things he has said about women, people of color, and differing religions; it certainly seems like he does, based on his documented behavior. In that case, I suppose he fits the dictionary definition of “authentic,” but we shouldn’t be celebrating that as a good thing. Is it acceptable to be an awful human being as long as you’re open, even boastful, about it? Some things are better kept quiet. Didn’t all of our parents teach us, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” That old adage is arguably simplistic but it gets at the root of an important societal truth – there must be parameters and norms around words and behaviors if we expect to maintain a functioning society.  

I’ve also considered that perhaps Donald Trump doesn’t really believe all the hate he spews, and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse. It would certainly tarnish the “authenticity” that many voters seem to value in him if he was just spinning a storyline to whip the truly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic into an activated frenzy. In my more optimistic moments, I hope it would mean perhaps he’ll change his tune now that he’s been elected. Maybe he’ll dial it back a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s so easy to close the lid of the awful Pandora’s Box he’s opened, authentically or not. 

While many of Trump’s voters don’t support or participate in racist, misogynistic, or xenophobic behavior, they do own the inevitable results of Trump’s election, and I hope with all my heart they will not sweep it under a rug, that they will acknowledge it and stand up with me to fight against it.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This Post-Election Morning

This morning, as I walked the block and a half from my car to my office, a man leaned out of his car window, whistled and said “Nice!” as he drove by. This happens fairly frequently, but today felt different. Leering catcalls are always annoying and disconcerting, but this morning, the day after my country elected a truly vile human being who regularly demeans and degrades women, and brags about violence against female bodies, it felt downright terrifying. It didn’t feel like one asshole in a truck; it felt like the whole country making me nothing more than an object, staring me right in the face and letting me know full well that my success, happiness, and safety depend completely on whether or not the guys in the trucks decide to keep on driving today or to stop and do whatever they feel like doing.

When I was a little girl, I was told I could grow up to do and be anything. I was raised to believe that I was lucky to be growing up in such a time. Unfortunately, that optimistic sentiment didn’t line up with the reality I faced. I wanted to play drums in the school band… Nope, the choices for girls were flute or clarinet. I wanted to grow up to be a fighter pilot… Oh no, girls can’t ever do that! When I was 8 or 9 years old, a friend’s mother overheard us talking about what we wanted to study when we went to college. She told us we were being ridiculous, that we should focus on finding  good husbands instead, and that if we weren’t married by the time we were 18 all the “good men” would be gone. When I came back to work after three months of maternity leave, a male superior who I admired and respected asked me how I was enjoying motherhood. I told him it was wonderful, interpreting his nodding head and smiling face as signs that he was fondly recalling the early months with his own children; but I watched his smile turn to a confusing smirk as he said, “One of my mentors always told me ‘Never hire a woman of child-bearing age.’”

Like most women, I could write a book filled with sexist anecdotes ranging from the sort that would be funny if they weren’t so annoying to those that are outright scary and appalling. So forgive me if I’m having trouble embracing the sentiment that this is politics-as-usual. I don’t think there’s anything “usual” about electing a man who proudly displays a clear and vehement distain for women as anything other than sex objects. How have we elected a man who is absolutely unqualified to hold the highest leadership position in our nation? A man who incites violence against those who don’t agree with him? A man who belittles and attacks anyone who isn’t just like him?

How in the world could any woman have voted for the King of Catcalling Assholes in Trucks? Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has said “There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." I think there might be an even deeper, more “special” place for women who voted for Donald Trump.

I’m tired of hearing that it’s because voters in more rural areas feel disenfranchised – that their way of life is being left behind. I grew up in very rural America – small towns in Arizona and Oregon – so I understand the issues. What I don’t understand is how hate, bigotry, and ignorance clearly prevailed over the kindness that I knew in those communities.  Many are arguing that the disenfranchisement and frustration with Washington D.C. was felt so keenly that voters were willing to put aside or ignore all the hate Donald Trump spewed like a broken fire hydrant. I don’t buy it. You don’t get to put that aside. You can’t support Donald Trump without supporting his misogynistic, racist platform. I, like many others today, feel like I woke up in a country I didn’t know existed. I believed that goodness would outweigh frustration. I refused to believe people would be willing to burn everything good to the ground. Silly me. All I can say is, good job cutting off your nose to spite your face, America.

I don’t understand the “political outsider” appeal of Donald Trump. Being a “political outsider” means he has exactly zero qualifications to perform an extremely difficult, complex job. I’ve spent my entire career in municipal government and I find this argument baffling. I simply cannot understand why large groups of citizens (the majority even!) think it’s a great idea to have people who have no experience or understanding of what they’re doing, take on important jobs that impact the very fabric and operation of our society. If you were hiring a person to handle your company’s accounting, would you look at the resume of a biologist (brilliant as he or she may be) and exclaim, “Yes! This is the one! This candidate has no concept of standard accounting practices and procedures! She’ll bring a great fresh perspective to this job!” No, you would not. If you needed heart surgery, would you select the person who has a long and esteemed career as an artist? I mean, why not bring some new thinking to the surgery, right? Who wants a tired, old, experienced doctor who has performed thousands of successful heart surgeries! Boring!

So, as I was harassed this morning, like on so many other mornings, my heart broke a little more than usual – for myself, for all women, for racial and religious minorities, for LGBTQ people, and mostly for our children. There seems to be an outpouring from distraught parents today as we struggle with how to talk with our children about the horrifying outcome of this election. An article titled “What Do We Tell the Children?” by Ali Michael, Ph.D. ( ) has been circulating like crazy this morning on the Facebook feeds of fellow parents and people who care about children in general.

Children are genuinely frightened. I’ve lost track of how many posts I’ve seen from parents who are attempting to comfort crying children, daughters who are fearful that they are no longer safe from physical harm, and sons who worry that bad things will happen to them or their loved ones. Beautiful little boys and girls now see that this country has picked a terrifying bully as its leader. We as adults haven’t told them that – they’ve seen and heard Donald Trump mocking disabled people, degrading women, calling people of color rapists and criminals. As the parent of a ten year old boy, as a woman, as a decent human being, I can’t begin to put to words how furious and profoundly sad this makes me.

Of course we will teach our children to keep on loving each other, to stay kind, and that we will continue to protect them. (What choice do we have?) We’ll tell them that “one bad man” can’t do that much harm all by himself; that we have a big democratic system with checks and balances. But kids are smart; they see through all kinds of bullshit. They’ve seen the “bad man” and they’ve heard him say terrible things with their own ears. They’ve seen and heard about the violence and vitriol at his rallies. They’ve been watching and they’ve been listening and now they are, understandably, scared. So much for the days when children were inspired by presidents!

The commentators kept saying this would be an historic election result no matter what – we’d either have the first female president or the first president to have never previously run for public office or served in the military. Well, I think we have another historic first… We have the first president our children are terrified of. This should tell us something, America – something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

All I really need to know about patriotism I learned from my junior high essay contest

Lately I’ve been increasingly alarmed by “patriotism” or at least what is passing as patriotism. Instead of a unifying love of and commitment to country, today’s patriotism seems terrifyingly zealous, unquestioning, and shallow.

In mainstream media, on social media, and as part of everyday interactions, people are exhibiting appallingly aggressive and divisive behavior in the name of patriotism. Over-the-top name calling, ridiculous personal insults, and even death threats are the responses to acts as simple as not standing for the National Anthem or supporting someone who makes that choice.

As pretty much the entire world knows at this point, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to remain seated during the National Anthem at a pre-season game. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said, via

Here’s the deal: I don’t care about football. In fact, there isn’t much I care less about than football. Admitting indifference toward football in Seattle these days is akin to blasphemy. With Seahawks fever raging, I’ve gotten used to the sideways glances I get on “Blue Friday” when I’m conspicuously not wearing any Seahawks gear – no blue and green hair ribbons, no face decals, no tiny little “12s” painted on my fingernails. I do own one Seahawks t-shirt that I break out of deep storage for special occasions (i.e. when my ten year old son insists.) Despite my long-standing disinterest in the sport, I will confess that having my hometown team win the Super Bowl was pretty fun. It was enjoyable to watch the games with my son and to see the community participate in all the hoopla.

Thanks to the Seahawks, I have a very cursory understanding of what the football fuss is all about. But now there is a whole new category of fuss over football; my Facebook feed has switched from general excitement about the season beginning and trash-talking between fans of rival teams to a political uproar over players refusing to stand for the National Anthem.

Kaepernick chose to remain seated to bring attention to a cause he cares about, and, since then, a number of other NFL players have either joined him in sitting/kneeling, or engaged in other shows of solidarity like linking arms or raising fists. (Kaepernick apparently switched from sitting to kneeling in an effort to communicate his message while still showing respect for the military, police, and country.) Still, many people perceive Kaepernick’s actions as unpatriotic (“perceive” being the key word.) These people have gotten very angry. My own social media-sphere has examples of threatening and hateful comments directed toward these NFL players and anyone who dares to agree with them.

This conversation (and conversation is a stretch given that it’s more like a screaming match) is missing an important distinction between ‘method’ and ‘meaning.’ I don’t necessarily agree (or for that matter, disagree) with Colin Kaepernick’s method of making the statement he’s making. I do believe that the issue he’s highlighting is meaningful to our society and requires civil attention and dialogue. What’s more, I definitely agree that he has the right to express himself and to try to affect change. And I don’t think doing so makes him unpatriotic.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one's country.” It doesn’t say anything about standing for the National Anthem – that’s a symbol of devotion to country. Symbols are important ways for us to understand and express abstract ideas and concepts, but it becomes problematic when the symbol takes precedence over what it represents. Couldn’t choosing to kneel during the National Anthem as a method of calling attention to an important national issue be interpreted as love for and devotion to one’s country? I don’t know whether it’s the “right” method and it certainly can’t be the only method, but ultimately these football players are trying to create positive change for our country.

It’s a complicated issue to be sure, one that deserves respectful acknowledgement and conversation, not racial slurs and threats. Now, I’m sure some would argue that the NFL players don’t really care about anything more than calling attention to themselves for personal gain and satisfaction. Believe me, I’m the first to roll my eyes at the over-inflated egos and paychecks of professional athletes. I’m just using this example to talk about the bigger issue of American patriotism being alarmingly warped and out of control.  

Sometime during junior high, I won an essay contest that was sponsored by a local service organization. My memory of the ‘when’ and ‘who’ details is a bit fuzzy, but I remember the ‘what’ clearly. We were to explore and take a stand on whether or not burning the American flag should be a crime. My pre-teen brain, confused though it undoubtedly was, immediately recognized this question as a complicated and sticky one.

It is important to note that my K-12 schools, while beloved in my memories, were not bastions of educational rigor. There were some stand-out moments, as well as teachers I appreciate to this day, but I had more than one high school class that consisted almost entirely of completing word-finds and crossword puzzles. The teacher of another class literally read the answers the day before the test; all you had to do was memorize “1. A, 2. C, 3. E…” etc. It was essentially possible to ace the class without having any knowledge of the subject matter. My best friend and I resorted to creating a race on test day – our aim was to see who could fill in the pre-memorized multiple choice answers fastest and leap to the front of the room to be the first to turn in the test.

My point is that maybe I have such a vivid memory of the essay contest because it was one of the few serious papers I was ever required to write in my pre-college education. But even more than that, I remember being struck by the instructions… They not only offered an invitation, but a directive, to think for myself – to think carefully about a weighty topic. So I did. I thought and wrote, and thought and wrote, and thought and wrote. I struggled through quite a few days and drafts figuring out what I really believed and wanted to say.

I still have the essay in a box that has been packed away; I wish I had access to it now so I could include some actual quotes, but I remember the gist. I basically said the same thing I’m saying here, 30 years later… That despite not liking the idea or sight of people burning the American flag, I don’t think it should be a crime or grounds for threatening retaliatory behavior.

At first I considered the flag “just a piece of fabric,” but as I kept thinking and writing, I realized that wasn’t quite true. The American flag is more than a piece of fabric; it’s a symbol, just like the National Anthem is more than just a song. These symbols are important pieces of our collective culture. Over generations we’ve imbued them with layers of meaning that help us understand and represent ourselves.

My essay suggested that the flag burning issue was a classic case of symbol vs. what the symbol stands for. The symbol stands for liberty and freedom. It stands for a country that is great because it allows us to both revere and burn our flag. I argued, in my young way, that true patriotism wasn’t simply waving a flag, but standing up for the principals the flag represents. I thought that if someone was angry enough or dissatisfied enough to burn a symbol of our country and freedom, they must have something meaningful to say and that we should listen.

I submitted my essay somewhat cautiously, knowing that my thoughts might not be popular with everyone. I figured what the judges probably wanted to hear was how terrible it is to burn the flag and that it should definitely be considered a crime. I didn’t think there was even a remote possibility that I would win, but I did.

I attended an awards ceremony where I received a certificate and a little sparkly American flag lapel pin. I kept the pin in my jewelry box over the years. I never wore it, but it made me smile. Every time I saw it, I remembered how hard I worked on the essay and that the best award was what I learned through my own thought process.

Unfortunately, many years later, I finally had an occasion to wear my flag pin. It was with deep sadness, fear, and yes, patriotism, that I removed it from its place in my jewelry box and affixed it to my jacket after September 11, 2001. I wore it for weeks, maybe even months, before tucking it safely back into my jewelry box. I love the pin. Not because it’s particularly pretty or valuable, but because it’s an important symbol to me on both patriotic and personal levels.

Patriotism isn’t about shouting “God bless America” the loudest or waving a flag the hardest – those things are easy to do. True patriotism is hard; it not only invites us, but requires us to think critically, and to truly honor our symbols by seeing beyond them to the values and principles they represent and to behave accordingly, even if that means the symbols themselves get a little banged up in the process. They’ll always be there, waiting to do their symbolic work, just like the little flag pin in my jewelry box. But if we forget or ignore our responsibility to the underlying values and principles, there won’t be any reason left for their existence.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Kerfuffle over open letter to Yelp CEO misses the larger point

Is anyone else annoyed by the kerfuffle over the fired Yelp employee’s open letter to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman? In case you missed it, 25 year old Talia Jane, a former Yelp employee posted, a clearly frustrated letter detailing her experiences living on minimum wage in Silicon Valley. Within hours of posting the letter, she was fired from the company. She says she was told her letter violated Yelp’s code of conduct, but Stoppelman has since stated, via Tweet, that her firing had nothing to do with the letter.

Talia Jane’s critique of her employer was harsh…

“So here I am, 25-years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week. One of (my coworkers) started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent… (Another guy) brought a big bag with him and stocked up on all those snacks you make sure are on every floor… If you starve a pack of wolves and toss them a single steak, will they rip each other to shreds fighting over it? Definitely.”

Her letter was also a bit whiny and the tone, unfortunately, came across as more “Entitled Millennial” than “Let’s Have a Discussion about This Very Real Issue.” Talia Jane has been raked over the internet coals by many, but the response that seems to have gotten the most attention is one from Stefanie Williams, a 29-year-old (SO grown up!) college graduate who responded with her own open letter harshly criticizing Talia Jane for her whiny entitlement and lack of work ethic.

The main thrust of Williams’ letter is comparing Talia Jane’s situation to her own, far superior of course, handling of a similar situation WAY back when she was over-educated and under-employed in her early twenties and struggling to find a job in her field.  Unlike Talia Jane, who wrote and posted a letter complaining about her situation, Williams swallowed her pride and got a job as a hostess in a restaurant. She then worked her way up to server and bartender, making enough money and sacrifices to finally establish a writing career more in line with her educational level and initial aspirations. Good for Stefanie Williams.

Williams lectures Talia Jane that “Work ethic is not something that develops from entitlement.” She’s not wrong about that, but is Talia Jane really Little Miss Entitlement or is she just frustrated and venting about a real issue. Without knowing Talia Jane, it’s impossible to know for sure, and Williams makes quite a few sweeping assumptions in her criticism…

“… you are a young, white, English speaking woman with a degree and a family who I would assume is helping you out at the moment, and you are asking for handouts from strangers while you sit on your ass looking for cushy jobs you are not entitled to while you complain about the establishment, probably from a nice laptop. To you, that is more acceptable than taking a job in a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or a fast food place. And that’s the trouble with not just your outlook, but the outlook of so many people your age.”

Whoa there, Stefanie Williams, that’s a lot to assume just because someone posted a photo of them self drinking expensive bourbon. And since when does a 29 year old get to refer to a 25 year old with the line “so many people your age?” (Newsflash: 25 and 29 are pretty much the same age.)

Williams makes some good points. I too cringed at the end of Talia Jane’s letter when she asked readers for donations to help her during her job search. Um, no. But, then again, I don’t understand the Go Fund Me culture that seems to be running rampant. Williams is right, entitlement won’t get you to success. There are no guarantees for success, but a killer work ethic will give you a better shot. If Williams really wanted to make that point by engaging with Talia Jane, it would have been much more constructive to acknowledge that there are good reasons to feel frustrated. According to an article that appeared on Vox:

“College-educated students are increasingly coming out of school with higher levels of debt — affecting middle-class minorities the hardest — and entry-level incomes in certain fields have barely moved in decades. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, real hourly wages in the US have been flat or declining since they peaked in 1973.

And the cities where labor markets are booming — San Francisco, but also New York, Washington, DC, Boston, and Seattle, among others — also have skyrocketing costs of living, in part because of their restrictions on building new housing.”

In light of statistics like those, I say go ahead and knock yourself out with a raging pity party, Talia Jane. Then, when it’s over, clean up the mess and realistically consider your options. And who’s to say Talia Jane isn’t planning on doing just that? Certainly not Stefanie Williams, who admits to crying in the restaurant’s private party room when she was humiliated to have to wait on former classmates. Was that not whiny? Is it OK to show emotion by crying in the party room but not by posting a rant about the bigger issue?

I saw that Stefanie Williams had the nerve to respond to an email from writer Sara Morrison who asked about Williams’ use of a crowdfunding campaign herself by saying “I love nothing more than taking time out for people like yourself who think they are so smart and snarky.” Well, well, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. Self-righteousness is just as bad as entitlement in my book.

Williams has a lot to be proud of. She obviously faced challenges and made it through them. That’s great and it’s the kind of story that could be very helpful to someone currently in Talia Jane’s shoes. Tell her what you had to do, Stefanie Williams. Tell her how hard it was swallowing your pride. Tell her it was difficult to realign your expectations for your career and living arrangements. Explain to her how you sacrificed, but made it pay off in the end. Make it constructive criticism instead of a snippy lecture that’s really more about painting a picture of how superior you are than it is about the plight of Talia Jane and those like her.

This is where Stefanie Williams, and the majority of the discussion around Talia Jane’s letter, completely misses the larger picture. The real problem here is not the difference between whiny entitled millennials and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps millennials. The real problem is a significant shortage of opportunities for the middle class (and particularly younger people just starting out), with more and more power and resources concentrated at the very top of the upper class – the 1% as we’ve come to refer to them.

Older generations spent decades gathering up a great deal of the power and influence in our society – they still predominantly hold the reins in public and corporate America – and they aren’t looking to let it go any time soon. The fact that Stefanie Williams has, at 29, become a shill for that generation’s vitriol for millennials is ironic.

The baby boom generation is fond of reminding us how they banded together; they had something to say as a collective. Why Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane aren’t following suit by uniting to discuss the much bigger societal problem for their generation is the question here – the real missed point.

And Talia Jane and Stefanie Williams don’t just have a generational problem to deal with; they also face the double-whammy of being women. I struggled mightily right out of college, just like Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane. I couldn’t make my rent and took a lowly retail job to make ends meet. I was also lucky enough to have parents who were able to help me, even though I found it humiliating to require that help. By 25, I had my foot in the door of a career I was excited about. By 29, I had worked my way up to mid-management level in my organization and was solidly established in my field. I felt like I was well on my way to a significant, senior-level position in my field. Now I’ve passed 40 and, like many women my age, I am acutely feeling the limitations of a society that still doesn’t take well to women in positions of authority and power.  
 Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane seem to be opinionated and articulate young women. They have a tough row to hoe with the operative words being both “young” and “women.” They would do a great service to themselves and others to work together toward affecting constructive change.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Trouble in Paradise

It’s January in Seattle and I’m dreaming of a tropical getaway. Maybe it’s the freezing temperatures. Maybe it’s the dark days after the Christmas lights come down and before the days start to get noticeably longer. Maybe it’s that I’m buried under a mountain of work that I can’t seem to budge. Whatever the reason, I’m fondly recalling last summer’s trip to Maui. I’m seeing beaches and palm trees. I’m riding waves and dipping in turquoise pools. I’m tasting fresh pineapple juice, feeling tropical breezes and smelling plumeria in my mind. Ah, Hawaii. As my succinct nine-year-old son Chester put it, Best. Vacation. Ever. The fact that it almost didn’t happen because of a balloon made it that much more sweet.

~ Part I: Beware Balloons ~

Yes, it’s true – a balloon nearly ruined my Hawaiian vacation. Balloons don’t really have a sinister reputation. You’re more likely to see them bringing a festive atmosphere to a birthday party than lurking threateningly in a dark alley. But I’m here to tell you, they’re dangerous – insidiously, treacherously dangerous.

Allow me to set the scene… It was the last day of school, a beautiful, sunny, early June day, only five days from departing on a long-anticipated trip to Maui. It had been a busy spring and we were in the home stretch toward some much-needed tropical relaxation. I dropped Chester off at school and took a photo of him smiling broadly in the sunshine, proudly displaying his interpretation of “Wacky Hair Day.” He was all set to attend a pool party afterschool and then baseball practice later in the evening. Matt was in China so I had a crazy “It takes a Village” plan pieced together, as I often do. A baseball teammate’s dad would pick three of them up from school and they would be allowed to crash an older sibling’s middle school pool party (so cool!) until I picked them up for transport to the Pee Wee fields after I got off work. What could go wrong?

Chester on the last day of 3rd grade - Wacky Hair Day

A balloon, that’s what. The assistant teacher in Chester’s 3rd grade class gave each of the kids a balloon as a fun little end-of-the-year treat. Why not, right? They’re balloons! They’re fun! They’re colorful! Yay, balloons! Chester and his buddies piled into the back of his friend Nate’s car and started playing with their balloons. Chester’s was apparently defective and exploded with quite a bit of force even though it wasn’t inflated very full. It was so fast and so bizarre that no one knows exactly what happened, other than the balloon exploded, the boys screamed, and Chester started crying uncontrollably. By the time Nate’s dad got them calmed down enough to take a look, the pupil of Chester’s eye was bright red.

Nate’s dad is a smart guy and immediately assessed the situation as being out of his “It takes a village” pay grade, which is exactly zero pay, and rushed Chester back into the school office where the sight of his eye was alarming enough to get the Head of School involved. I was in a meeting and missed her calls for about 30 minutes. (Of course.) By the time I got back to her, Chester had stopped crying, the pupil had turned from bright red to dark red, and Nate’s dad had decided to proceed with the original plan with an impromptu stop for milkshakes because everyone knows, when in doubt… milkshakes.

I raced to the pool party to find Chester swimming and Nate’s poor dad, chasing him around trying to keep an eye on him; periodically holding up fingers and asking “How many?” We all agreed much later that high doses of chlorine were probably not the smartest post-eye injury idea, but it’s nearly impossible to keep little boys out of a pool, especially one their friends are in.

I loaded the three baseball boys up and made a quick stop at the fields to drop off the two uninjured players before proceeding to Seattle Children’s Hospital through rush hour traffic. I debated taking Chester to a closer urgent care facility, but our pediatrician’s words echoed in my mind… “If he EVER needs after-hours, emergency care, go to Children’s!” And this was not my first emergency care rodeo with Mr. Chester. We’ve always gone to Children’s and we’ve always had great experiences. I mean, as great as you can have when your child is projectile vomiting every ten minutes or screaming in pain. So, I fought through traffic for an hour and a half, all the while peeking in the rearview mirror, trying to assess what was going on with Chester’s rapidly changing eye.

Fast forward several hours to Children’s Hospital where Chester is sobbing and not seeing out of his right eye. (There are so many things that are terrifying to a parent. If anyone out there is keeping a master list, please add hearing the following: “It’s all just white, Mom. I don’t see anything but white.”) Finally, after various dye-drop and light-assisted examinations and vision tests, a young doctor diagnosed Chester with a corneal abrasion and prescribed an antibiotic ointment to be squished into his eye several times each day. This didn’t seem right to me.

We got our prescription and headed home. It still didn’t seem right. I started the arduous ointment routine and it didn’t feel any more right. I told myself I was being crazy and paranoid, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I woke up in the morning and crept into Chester’s room. I sat on the edge of his bed and waited for his eyes to flutter open. This has always been a favorite moment for me, from the very first time tiny Chester was placed in my arms and his big blue eyes popped open and looked right into mine. I waited for that moment and there it was… one beautiful, familiar, blue eye. But the other was a ghastly, horror-show pool of blood. It looked like a half-empty glass of blood. (Or half-full depending on how you look at things, but I can assure you, in this case, it was definitely half-empty.)

This is not Chester's eye, but this is exactly how his eye looked.

The plan for the day was changed, a sick-day was called in, and an appointment with the doctor was made. Our pediatrician is an exceedingly funny, jokey guy. He talks fast and his incredibly smart and expert medical dialogue is peppered with equal parts liberal-leaning political jokes and goofy, good-natured flirting. We adore him – partly because of his endearing banter, but mostly because he’s very, very good at what he does. And when the situation is serious, he gets serious fast.

Chester’s doctor came into the exam room, took one look at the eye and got serious. No jokes, no corny pick-up lines, all business. Within minutes, he was on his cell phone to a top pediatric ophthalmologist, personally arranging an emergency appointment that same day. Several hours and lots of tests later, Chester was diagnosed with a hyphema, which is a pooling of blood inside the anterior chamber of the eye (between the cornea and iris) that covers part or all of the iris and pupil, and blocks vision.  It’s a serious injury and the absolute WORST thing we could do was touch his eye with anything. (Good thing I’d been jamming ointment into it for almost 24 hours!)

When I mentioned to the doctor, toward the end of the appointment, that we were scheduled to get on a plane to Hawaii in four days, he looked at me for a few painfully quiet seconds and then began a barely perceptible shake of his head. “We’ll see how it goes,” he said, “but I’d feel a lot better if it was at least a week out.” Chester and I made our way out to the lobby, quietly scheduled our appointments for daily check-ups, and got to the elevator before Chester burst into tears “I’m so sorry, mommy! I ruined Hawaii!” he sobbed.  

We tried to focus on the positive. The prognosis for a full recovery was good, as long as the injury didn’t re-bleed. If a hyphema re-bleeds, vision loss is likely. So, a plastic shield was taped over Chester’s eye and we were sent home with an array of eye drops and strict orders for ZERO physical activity.  

This sucks.

Now, anyone who knows 9 year old boys knows how difficult this is, and anyone who knows MY 9 year old boy, knows that it is regular-difficult times ten.  Fortunately he was able to watch TV - albeit out of only one normally functioning eye. I think the only thing that kept him down and submitting to all the eye drops was the fear of not being able to go to Hawaii if he didn’t heal quickly.

Fortunately, the hyphema shrank each day and Chester’s vision improved. And, because of Matt’s super-fancy-diamond-platinum traveler status, we were able to push flights and hotels out a few days to give Chester some extra healing time. A week after the dreaded balloon incident, the doctors gave us clearance to proceed with our vacation. It was noon and our flight was at 6:00, so we frantically finished packing and called a cab to take us to the airport.

Alas, the cab did not show up. First it was just a little late, then it was significantly late, and then it was really, really, ridiculously late. At that point, we made a last minute decision to jump into our car and race to the airport. It felt like the scene from “Home Alone” where the entire McCallister family is running through O’Hare Airport to catch their holiday flight to Paris. Except this was June, there were only three of us, and we were heading from Seattle to Maui. Just imagine “Tiny Bubbles” playing in the background instead of “Run, Run Rudolph” and add some extra pathetic points for the plastic eye shield still taped over Chester’s eye. Just like the McCallisters, we made it onto our flight. (Unlike the McAllisters, we remembered our young son.)

~ Part II: Blue Skies Ahead ~

The next morning, we woke up in Hawaii to a beautiful, ocean-front view. Things were definitely looking up. We just had to get through one more doctor-ordered day of keeping Chester low key before he could go crazy swimming and snorkeling and doing whatever his heart desired. So, we explored the property, walked on the beach, and rented snorkel gear.

We woke up on day two to find what you almost always find in Hawaii – sunny skies, warm breezes, and beautiful, blue-green waves. Chester could not get down to the beach to start snorkeling fast enough, which made the sunscreen application process akin to some kind of rodeo event involving wiggly baby livestock, half-hitched hooeys, and one very worn-out cowgirl (that’s me). With coffee consumed, sunscreen hurriedly applied, and gear gathered, we made our way down to the beach.

Chester approached snorkeling the way he approaches pretty much everything – wholeheartedly and with zero trepidation. We swam around for about 45 minutes, exploring the rocks, looking at neon colored fish, and feeling like we were in the world’s most beautiful aquarium. We got out for a break, and were just starting to feel like we really were on vacation. Matt and I were sitting on the sand. Chester was splashing in the surf. The sun was shining. The palm trees were swaying. It was the first exhale… That moment when we felt ourselves begin to release all the stress and tension of Chester’s injury and the uncertainty of whether our vacation would happen.

And then, two people came stumbling out of the water, dragging another person in between them, and screaming for help. The beach was busy and nearly everyone leapt to their feet. A few people managed to pull the woman onto the beach right in front of us. She was lifeless and blue. It was horrifying and not something I wanted Chester to see ever, much less on his first real day in Hawaii. I kept him at a distance while several people performed CPR. I have been through CPR training multiple times and I’ve certainly seen fake CPR on TV, but I think this was the first time I’d actually seen it performed in person and it was far more violent and upsetting than I realized it would be. Over and over, the chest compressions and breaths caused the woman’s limp body to lurch on the sand. It seemed like it took an hour for the paramedics to arrive. She was still a sickening shade of blue and not moving when they loaded her into the ambulance. I don’t know if she ended up surviving. After that, we couldn’t bring ourselves to get back into the water that day.

As anyone who has children knows, seeing your kids sick or injured leaves you feeling utterly helpless and out of control. As we sat there on the beach, watching Chester play, I realized how overpowering that feeling had been over the past week and how good it felt to begin to let it go. Unfortunately, seeing someone drown brought it rushing back very quickly. I felt as though danger was lurking on every sunny beach and waiting to pounce from behind every palm tree. It took me another day or two to let the worrying go.

~Part III: Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water… ~

After the rough start, the rest of our vacation truly was paradise. Mostly. There was the episode where Matt, in search of a black sand beach, led us into a mosquito-infested swamp where I nearly lost my favorite flip-flops in knee deep mud and twisted my ankle in a valiant effort to save them. But that was only a minor set-back. The rest was fantastic… Except the unfortunate stand-up paddle boarding incident where I nearly knocked my teeth out, suffered a giant fat lip and cut my nose open. That also kind of sucked.

With Matt on a conference call, (Whatever happened to not working on vacation?) I took Chester out paddle boarding with me and, as we waded into the surf, I made the grave error of taking my eyes off the waves to keep my eyes on my child. For the record, I grew up on the coast and I totally know better, but apparently the maternal instinct is no match for life lessons learned, and trumps every other bit of knowledge ever gained. So, I turned my back on a wave and it did what waves do, which is pick my puny body up and slam it into the sand. And to add insult (and more injury) to injury, it also picked up the paddle board and slammed that down onto my face.

I felt like I was going to black out, but somehow forced myself to remain conscious. I scrambled to my feet and turned to find Chester looking terrified. “HURRY UP! GET ON!” I yelled at him. He scrambled over to me, climbed onto the board, and I managed to paddle us out to calm water. As I sat, straddling the board, very gingerly touching my face to assess the damage, Chester cautiously looked over his shoulder and said, “Uh, mom, we don’t have to go ahead with the paddle boarding.” “Oh yes, we do,” I barked, “We ARE paddle boarding!” He was quiet for a few moments and then turned around a little further and said, “But mommy, you’re bleeding. Bad.” I asked him where it was coming from and it took us both a while to figure out that most of it was coming from the cut on the bridge of my nose and not as much from the inside of my nose and my mouth. “It’s just a little blood, no big deal,” I assured him as I repeatedly washed the blood off into the water. (I know, I know, cue the sharks. Luckily, the waters seemed to be shark-free that day.) We bounced back and enjoyed an hour of paddle boarding with Chester periodically glancing back at my face and saying reassuring things like, “Oooooh, mommy, you don’t look good,” and “Um, yeah, your mouth. It’s all messed up, mom.”

Who needs Botox when you can just slam a paddle board into your face?!

But seriously besides THAT, we did have a wonderful vacation and it really was paradise. We swam, we snorkeled with giant turtles, we hiked, we surfed, we boogie boarded, we paddle boarded, we ate lots of delicious meals and drank many Mai Tais. I really wish I was there right now, doing it all again; minus the dangerous balloons and drowning people and scary swamps and paddle board accidents, of course. But even with all that stuff, it was pretty great. Chester’s eye is completely healed, as is my face. The mosquito bites are gone and my favorite flip flops are still with me. I’ll take a little trouble mixed in with my paradise. I certainly wouldn’t want things to get boring.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Stop the "YOU GO GIRL!"

There are many things to both love and hate about social media. I love that I can stay in touch with old friends, keep up with colleagues who are scattered far and wide, read and share informative articles about topics I’m interested in, and even see my childhood friends’ kids growing up. That stuff is pretty cool. On the downside, because of social media, I know way more than I ever cared to know about some of my friends’ political leanings. I’m subjected to photos of food, and I’m bombarded by acronyms. So many acronyms. The LOLs, and the IMHOs. The ICYMIs and the FOMOs. Honestly, I can’t keep up. And don’t even get me started on paragraph long lists of hashtags.

My most recent social media pet peeve is an over-the-top “You go girl!” thing I’m seeing more and more often. Woman #1, we’ll call her Sue, posts an utterly mundane status on Facebook. Like she built a spreadsheet at work, or planted a rose bush in her backyard, or made a cute Halloween decoration. OK, great. Good for her. It’s not so much the initial status that bugs me. Social media is full of stuff I don’t necessarily get excited about, like the previously mentioned photos of food. I have searched the depths of my social media soul, and cannot, for the life of me, figure out why people insist on sharing photos of food. It always looks gross and I generally feel like most people don’t care what other people are eating. But hey, that’s me. There are obviously a lot of foodies out there who love sharing the food photos. So be it. Likewise, if Sue wants to show-off her latest work accomplishment or her pretty new rosebush or that totally adorable, friendly-ghost door decoration, that’s fine. It’s not as if every single thing everyone posts has to be exciting. We all go through our days eating and working. We hit the gym, we get pissed off in the long line at Starbucks, and we enjoy our hobbies, whatever they may be. Of course we’re going to talk about our day-to-day stuff. The responses are where the craziness comes in.

Sue’s initial status is followed by comments from at least a half dozen of Sue’s girl-friends and occasionally some guy (who I can only guess is trying desperately to get laid), and it goes something like this:

Sally: You rock, Sue!!!! (thumbs up emoji)

Michelle: OMG, you are amazing. You inspire me!

Crystal: Go get ‘em! Go, Sue, Go!!!!!!!!

Amanda: I am SO ridiculously proud of you!

Jennifer:  You are AWESOME!!!

Bill: Where’s the triple-like button? This is so cool!

Fiona: XOXOXO!!!!! (twelve heart emojis in rainbow colors)

Gretchen: Love it! Love YOU!!!

The whole thing is dripping in saccharin and always includes more exclamation points than anyone should use in a LIFETIME, much less a single Facebook comment. And then Sue dutifully “likes” and replies to each comment. There’s always the sappy “I love you!!!” person…

I LOVE YOU, SUE!!!!!!!
I love you too, lady!!!
“I Love you MORE, sister!”

Ugh. It’s embarrassing. It’s not like I’m anti-love. I have girl-friends that I love. I mean, I really love them. Not in a toss-it-around-on-Facebook-and-Instagram way. I deeply admire their accomplishments (the real ones, not that they made a nice grilled cheese sandwich for dinner) and who they are as people; they mean the world to me. Do I tell them that enough? Probably not, but I think they know it. And when I do say it, it sure as hell isn’t on Facebook, embedded in a rainbow of heart emojis and followed by a string of exclamation points longer than my arm.

What IS this? Why are people doing this? (Besides Bill, who I think we can all agree is just trying to get a date.) But honestly, does Sue REALLY “rock” because she built a spreadsheet. Does the ghost she made out of a sock truly inspire you? Are you seriously “ridiculously proud” because she planted a shrub? I’m all for women supporting women, and I have truly wonderful women in my life. Here’s the thing though: They’re all smart enough and amazing enough that they don’t need people blowing random sunshine up their asses over stuff that doesn’t warrant it.

So can we please stop with the disingenuous, out-of-proportion praise? It waters down the real stuff. It’s the adult equivalent of the participation trophy.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Swimsuit Issue

It’s February. Valentine’s Day… Whatever. President’s Day… Great, another week I have to worry about childcare less than a month and a half after the kids were off for the holidays. Super Bowl… I think the current weather in New England is evidence of how the Higher Power feels about the outcome of that. My dad’s birthday… Always an exercise in finding an appropriate card for a man who doesn’t golf, fish, or grill, but rides a bad-ass Harley and loves cats. Most of all February is the month I associate with the days finally starting to get longer… Sometimes I actually leave the office when there is still light in the sky! Until this year, I had all but forgotten about another February occurrence… The annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Sports Illustrated started publishing the Swimsuit Issue in 1964 to drive magazine sales during the typically slow time between sports seasons. Apparently it worked because, more than half a century later, the issue is still flying off newsstands. I saw somewhere on the internet (so it must be true, right?) that the 2013 issue sold more than 800,000 copies. Whether or not that figure is accurate, the thing clearly must be making money – both in sales and advertising – or they wouldn’t still be publishing it.

This is going to sound obtuse, but I don’t really understand why the swimsuit issue is so popular. I mean, I guess I do, on a really obvious level – it’s the old ‘sex sells’ axiom. But these days? Isn’t there this thing called Google, where, if one wanted to look at pictures of nearly naked (or even completely naked!) women, one could simply type in “naked women,” press “enter,” and magically have access to an abundance of the desired images. For free.

Why is this magazine still selling? Maybe partly because Sports Illustrated always seems to make sure there is some controversy that gets whipped up and talked about ad nauseum. They put Barbie on the cover (objectifying!). They’ve shot the photos in exotic locales and used people native to those places as kitschy props (racist!). (Apparently nothing says sexy like a bikini-clad model on a giant sand dune with a spear-toting, loin-cloth-wearing African in the background.) And of course, there’s always the controversy around how revealing the swimsuits are.

My introduction to this cultural phenomenon was in 1989 – the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. Instead of being at the beach wearing a bikini for most of that summer, I was hanging out around the house, taking care of the tiny Siberian husky puppy I begged my parents for. She was too little to be left alone for long periods of time, so I parked myself at home and watched a whole bunch of bad TV. One of the things I saw was an HBO special called “The Making of the Sports Illustrated 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue” featuring Carol Alt, Rachel Hunter, Kathy Ireland, and Elle Macpherson to name a few of the lovely ladies of the era. It was on a lot, and I watched it a lot. I was confused and oddly transfixed.

I didn’t understand what girls in bikinis had to do with sports, other than that boys liked both. I liked boys, so I felt compelled to watch and to attempt to understand. Plus, the swimsuits were cute and the locations seemed dreamy. Frolicking on a warm, tropical beach in a super fashionable bikini, and getting paid to do it was a nice fantasy compared to my reality of braving the freezing cold water of the Oregon coast in whatever swimsuit the local store carried that year, and then having to race to my minimum wage job at the movie theater.

Despite the repeated viewings and perceived glamour, something about the SI Swimsuit Issue still bugged me. I remember a very specific scene where one of the models – I don’t recall which – joked about how her years of ballet training paid off because she could manage wardrobe changes by balancing on one leg, in a make-shift changing tent, on the sand. I remember thinking it was sad. Sad that her years of hard work – mental, physical, creative – didn’t amount to anything more than standing on a beach and being photographed for a sports magazine that didn’t have anything to do with sports.

Time moved on and so did I; that was the last summer I spent watching TV and, while the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue clearly carried on as well, it was the last time I expended any amount of time caring about or even noticing it. I never could get the phenomenon to make sense into something that seemed right to me, but I don’t need to add my voice (at least in this particular blog post) to the on-going debate about whether the SI Swimsuit Issue (and countless other publications, movies, and advertisements just like it) are objectifying, and therefore hurting, women or celebrating their sexuality. It’s an old debate and one that we don’t appear to be any closer to settling.

I can’t really even remember the last time I noticed the release of the Swimsuit Issue, or any of the fanfare accompanying it. But this year, a new angle caught my attention. I was at the gym working out on the cardio machines located under a bank of TVs. CNN was running a story about this year’s Swimsuit Issue including an ad featuring plus-size (gasp!) model Ashley Graham. This is hardly news – even 30 seconds of it isn’t news. But it went on and on and on. They interviewed Ms. Graham, showed numerous images, and covered it for a good ten minutes. Thankfully, my hands were firmly planted on the heart-rate monitor sensors, because otherwise I probably would have gouged my eyes out.

The tag-line graphic across the bottom of the screen said “Era of the curvy girl” and Ashley Graham actually said, “This is the curvy girl era. This is what we need to be talking about right now.” Really, Ashley Graham? Is it really what we NEED to be talking about right now? Are there not bigger problems facing our world than plus-size models being included in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for body-positivity. Physical beauty is subjective and comes in all shapes and sizes. For one thing, I Googled Ashley Graham’s SI ad (See, I didn’t have to buy the issue!) and I think you’d have trouble finding anyone who would classify her as fat. But what bothers me about these women – larger than typical models – who feel they are outspoken advocates for women and positive body images, is that they are participating in the same body-objectifying activity they claim to be against.

Isn’t touting the “era of the curvy woman” setting waifish women up to feel bad about themselves? Why is it always a zero-sum game on this issue? Let’s just stop talking incessantly about women’s bodies. We don’t talk about men this way. I don’t see CNN running a news story on “the era of the short, round man.” It isn’t suddenly “the year of the receding hairline.”

And it isn’t just a focus on women’s bodies as a whole – curvy or skinny, small or large – our bodies tend to get picked apart into mere pieces. This year’s SI Swimsuit Issue cover girl Hannah Davis told Matt Lauer “it’s the year of the torso.” First of all Hannah, that isn’t your torso. (Bitch, please.) And second, don’t tell Kim Kardashian because I’m pretty sure she’s still working the age of the butt.

I know the Ashley Grahams of the industry are well-intentioned, but continuing to talk about women’s bodies in the same misguided way isn’t doing anyone any good. We need to STOP TALKING about it like this. Can’t women just be women without it being about fat or skinny, or butts or breasts, or a certain era of one or the other? If we really have to “an era” of a single body part, I’d like to nominate the brain. I think it’s time.