Monday, December 08, 2008

What December Looks Like Where I live (Today)

High today: mid-70s
High tomorrow: upper 70s
Lows: mid 50s to low 30s (when cold front comes through later this week)

Everyone is all excited about a freeze, but,despite my really poor performance in my meteorology courses (yes! I took them! required for a geography degree!), I'm pretty sure the weather can't be at 32 for ten minutes and create a freeze, as much as some of us might wish it. me photos, give data...what's December like for you right now?

P.S. This is one of two waterside parks near my house that are my favorites for jogging/walking. Lately I've been at this one most of the time, and the relative warmth and green struck me as funny beside the Christmas tree in the gazebo.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

There are worse things than, "I hate you."

In the morning when they crawl into bed with you, half asleep still, warm and scented so poignantly of themselves, when they stretch their ever longer bodies alongside you, give a wiggle to snuggle in, when you wrap your arm around them and by habit they lift their heads a little, when you bury your nose in their hair and your mouth reflexively kisses the crown of their heads, when the sky outside is shifting from navy to a dense gray, the time before the feel a contentment so deep and perfect it feels like a quiet joy. It feels like a joy so marvelous it is near silent, with no need to trumpet itself. Your hope rises with the dawn, glowing with the yellowing sun. You think it's good, this is good, and it's okay, it will all be okay.

That's important because you---those of you who mother---know that every day somewhere in at least one corner of your heart is the fear that your child will be hurt (or worse) in this life, and you can't get rid of it because you've lived a life yourself, and you know it's true.

But more than any lingering pucker on the knee from a bad spill on a bike, you fear that scarring on the inside. Small blemishes on the outside give us character, but sometimes, those healed wounds on the inside change our inner landscape in ways we wish had never been.

You---those of you who mother---see who your children can be, and are, so watching the inner character alter in a withering way is much worse than the little lumpy scar on a calf from that one time a Pyrex bowl shattered and embedded a shard of glass all the way into the muscle. It's worse, even, than the pinkish oval near an elbow from that time a running toddler got away from you and brushed by a hot grill. It's even worse than the looks and comments your got as if you could have and should have prevented the accident by taking better care of your precious child.

That's because your worst fear is not that some mean girl or stranger is hurting your baby, but that you are, in ways you cannot help.

That you, simply by being yourself and true to your values, are creating a challenge and pain point for your child, and you begin to remember the time you searched for an adoption certificate for yourself, so sure you were that you could not possibly have been born to your very own parents.

You now know just how very much that disbelief and disappointment must have hurt them, your parents, even if they too understood, having been there and done that themselves.

But you know you've entered that stage, that "wish my mother was some other way, more like her" stage one day when, well, your child says it, flat out to you, innocently and unblinkingly.

It's a regular day, this day that it happens for the first time. The morning was filled with cajoling and ringing threats of threats to get ready, mixed with silly incentives such as singing the "move it move it" song. But your three year old will lollygag and eventually it ended with tears, as it tends to, and you shoving small bodies out the door in an annoyed way. The three year old was crying because there was no time to do a fancy hairdo because she simply would not put on her shoes, and with honest sentiment, that child, that lollygagging morning disrupting peace breaking child snarled at you in fury, "I HATE YOU!"

But you are immune because this is your second child and the 23,765th time it has been said to you. By now, you know it really means, "You have thwarted my will and for that I wish I could immolate you on the spot." By now you know the sentiment will be gone before you back the car out of the drive and hit the LMNOP part of the Alphabet Song. By now, you are not fazed at all by I hate you.

But once upon a time you were. Once upon a time you had grand dreams, visions and plans to be a Great Mom who was at peace and in harmony with her children through positive parenting. Once you planned to never breathe a harsh or angry word, much less a threat, thus mitigating the need to ever mete out a punishment.

Once you thought every minute of every day would be like those cozy moments in the morning.

It worked for a long time with your first child. The first time she turned on you it felt like a shock. It felt like a betrayal. Who is this child? Who is this furious mom talking to her precious daughter through her teeth?

You kept trying to get back to that place of harmony and contentment. You kept trying to get back to morning. But that time had passed. Two people can harmonize, but with independent spirits and wills, two people who care will not always be in harmony. You know this is a good thing, this developing of self and independence, and someday you will not have to remind yourself of it, someday you will know it. You hope.

You don't know if it's anything at all but you never expected that with your second child, you never aimed for it. She is getting quite a different early life than her sister. It is what it is.

It is sometimes a more honest relationship because from the get-go both of you acknowledged each others' flaws. Accepted them. Or maybe that's just who you each are as people. For now.

But your older daughter recalls the feeling of the morning and she wants it all from you, too. You recognize the times of shock and betrayal in her, when she can't find that mother and moment and feeling. You recognize it and know it, in that intimate "me too" way. You two have had a closeness so different than the one you have with your other child, and so often you are able to be each others' everything.

But her world began broadening beyond your comfort zone when she entered school, and you had to slowly accept and admit that your completeness---your control---was slipping. You began to see your flaws in the system. You knew the kind of mother you are and the kind of mother you are not.

You did not realize she knew it too.

At least you did not until that day, when, annoyed and ashamed at the reception you knew you'd get hurrying up a few minutes late to the spot at school where your daughter waited, you ran into That Mom, the one you are not, and she was waiting with your daughter.

You felt this complicated sense of obligated appreciation mixed with resentment because it really wasn't necessary and you hadn't asked, then also you sensed something more behind her, "We waited to keep her was no big deal!" explanation. You sensed her trying to fill some hole she thought was there. Or maybe you were projecting. You don't know.

You shucked these thoughts and feelings aside. You let the, "I should be more involved at the school" and "Somehow I should be able to juggle my be in two places at once schedule better" and "They want me to be someone other than who I am" thoughts float away like carelessly loosed balloons.

You smiled, and focused on your daughter, her moon face and prominent cheekbones so very dear, and let your heart feel complete to have her with you again.

"Thanks," you said, hugging your girl, hugging her sweet form, trying to fill her with the knowledge of how much you love her. You tugged both your girls' hands and walked towards your car.

"Her mother came to school today and read us a story!" your daughter said.

"How nice," you said, proud of your even tone.

"Her mother comes to school a lot!" your daughter said.

"I hope the teacher finds that helpful," you said.

"Probably!" you daughter said, her cheer growing as yours collapses. "She always plays fun games. She's like a teenager! She always plays and dances and she says her mother is like that at home. She plays games all the time, like a kid, like a teenager!"

"How nice," you said.

"I wish I had a mother like that," she said, to you, her mother, "I wish I had a mother who could be like a teenager! I wish she was my mother!"

You can't say anything at all because your heart has stopped and the breath froze in your lungs and your tongue turned to ash. You know you ought to say something, something graceful or funny or wise. But you've got nothing, nothing but a mouth full of ash.

That's when you felt every single flaw and insecurity you own as a mother. In an end of life style flash you saw every time you did something other than what a Perfect Mommy would do---the losing your temper moments, the giving in moments, the taking a trip on the first day of school moments, the short tolerance for playing on the floor with her moments, the let her watch TV instead of interact with her moments, the rest of them, the writing instead of reading books at school moments, all of them, all the times you weren't who or what you figure you should be.

You feel every single time in your life that you felt unlovable, unlikable, not good enough, not enough, not a fit, not what someone else who mattered to you needed.

That's when you realized your arrogance at weathering "I hate you" was simply naivete and bravado. That's when you realized there were things much, much worse than "I hate you" and you couldn't possibly imagine them to prepare yourself for them when they came.

Because there is no way to steel yourself for the moment when your child weighs and measures you and finds you wanting. None at all. There is no way to prepare yourself for the realization that even if it is just a fleeting thought in a brief moment, your child wishes she was someone else's child. Wishes you were someone other than who you are. How you are. Forgets for a moment, the whole of you, the good works well aspects of you, and is so overwhelmed by how much she likes the Plays Like a Teenager Mom that this washes out everything good about you and is the most desirable characteristic.

That's when you know unconditional love is one way.

That's when you come to treasure those mornings with a fierce sort of desperation underneath the joy and contentment because you know just how very momentous they are.

You swallowed the ash and it sat in a burning stinging pile in your stomach. You wrapped your arm back around your daughter's shoulders and hugged her, coughed, and managed to say, in a choked sort of voice that sounded as small as you felt, "Well. Well. I bet someone who plays like a teenager is a lot of fun."

She looked at you funny, suddenly seeming to realize something was out of joint, but not sure what or why, and you remind yourself, as your mind has been telling your heart since the first words came out of her mouth and poured over you like acid, that she is so very little, younger than the shoes on your feet, for all that she seems so big and sophisticated compared, you know, to a few months ago.

You coughed again and said, slightly stronger, "It's nice to know people who can play like we like, it's the good thing about meeting new people, huh."

That's when you realized this was not at all about you. She was not wishing you away or otherwise. She was trying to explain how much fun it is to play with this fun person. She would not actually trade you, like a low value Pokemon card.

That has to be the hardest lesson of parenting, you know, that it usually is really not at all about you, or personal. That even when you feel as if you have been crushed beneath a 50 ton steel support beam, you still have to get over your own feelings, and hear what your child meant to say, so that you may help her learn her words, how to use them wisely and conscientiously, with respect and consideration, so that the people she meets throughout her life do not end up with ash in their mouths.

You have to be more than the moment. You have to be so that she does not grow up thinking love can burn up and float away if you are not exactly who someone else thinks you ought to be.

Monday, November 17, 2008

You can blame this one on Ed...

Ed is making me do a "six odd things about myself" post.

Ed can't really make me do things, but then again, clearly he can compel me since (a) I like Ed and (b) I'm avoiding the laundry (again).

Also I've lost track of times I've been tagged in the last six months and I thought maybe if I did this and sent it out with due respect to everyone who has tagged me and was utterly, rudely ignored by me, you might forgive me. Just a little.

The meme originally asked for six random things, but I don't believe there are random characteristics, only odd or quirky ones that perhaps you don't know.

So here we go:

1. If you are driving on the road with me I PROBABLY HATE YOU.

Most likely, you annoy me and your driving sucks and I will say so through my words and hand gestures, which have, in fact, come back to haunt me on those occasions when we pull into the same parking lot and I discover you are my daughter's classmate's parent, a coworker, a buddy, or my boss.

When I do this, in a stunted fashion, while the kids are in the car with me, it makes them laugh and laugh, probably because I sound like a Looney Tunes cartoon character (Sufferin' Succotash!) or a Charlie Brown adult (mwanh mwanh mwanh mwanh).

My oldest daughter calls it as she sees it, "There goes mom talking to the wall again!"

That's because one time she asked me who I was talking to and I said, "The wall probably!" in my typical cynical and annoyed way, I mean, my Car Self Way.

2. I have bone fragments in my spine from a car accident that cracked a vertebrae (in case you are wondering, that hurts. A lot.)

This probably completely explains number 1 above.

A moron who had been drinking slammed our car t-bone style at an intersection, crushing my side of the car and pushing us into oncoming traffic where we were then hit head-on. Everyone said we were lucky to be alive, and after a while---when the pain subsided and I wasn't facedown any longer---I believed it. Later, after the accident, the first time I drove, my first day back to work, still locked into a brace, an idiot cut me off, turned with no signal, and caused me to slam on my brakes, and two other cars to get into an accident. He merrily drove on, and I chased him down to his place of employment where I soundly berated him for being unsafe, and I may have told him people like him kill people like me. He was shocked and terrified, but not of his driving...of me, the crazy woman in a big brace. Who was yelling at him.

But just to reassure you, I am not a Road Rage person.

I listen to my Happy Music and Calm Mind techniques and endeavor to drive as little as possible.

I am ridiculously proud for not developing a phobia. So to speak. Note I say nothing about complexes.

3. If there is a non-automatic version of it, I will use it.

I drive a manual transmission car, use a hand-beater/mixer, prefer dials and knobs to digital, sharpen pencils by hand, like my bike, and so forth.

My air-conditioner dial is 40 years old and you will have to pry it from my cold dead fingers to get me to upgrade to something computerized and automatic.

I told my husband only today that I think people are ridiculously dependent on making machines do it for them.

I measure things by hand, add in my head or on paper, use a paper calendar, and avoid complicated phones as if they are death in disguise (and according to more than one study, they are).

That said, I might die without a computer, the Internet, air-conditioning, and my washing machine (the new kind, the low water energy efficient one). Oh, and my sonic toothbrush. That sounds dramatic but it just might be true.

4. Wrinkles in blankets and sheets will create a restless night for me.

It is probably psychotically disturbing to me to have the blankets and sheets wrinkled and askew. If I feel a wrinkle or lump with my feet or legs especially, I cannot settle down and sleep. I have been known to disturb my near-slumbering husband to get up and help me fix it, which he does because he knows otherwise nobody is getting 20 much less 40 winks in this house. He can't stand blankets tucked in at the foot of the bed, and I can't stand any drafts or breezes, thus must have them tucked in tightly. In fact, you can tell I was raised by an Army man because my beds are made so neatly and orderly that you probably could bounce a quarter off of them. And only you military sorts probably know what that means.

5. I am truly concerned about the shortage of Kosher meats.

No really, I am. I rely on it as a healthy---Kosher---food item. I don't keep Kosher but I definitely see the point to it so will often opt for a sort of Kosher.

I felt betrayed and angry when I found out a Kosher plant was not---GASP!---keeping Kosher, and I seriously wanted to know the name of the Rabbi who had been certifying it and access to a copy of his CV. Maybe also his bank account.

I was so appalled---a corrupted Rabbi.

I know, I'm not even Jewish and what does it say that I am super shocked to discover a corrupt rabbi when a corrupt Christian doesn't even cause me to blink.

6a. I'm a car singer, occasional car dancer, and I am training my children to do the same. This is one lesson that is taking.

I don't even try to hide it, especially if I have my iPod on, because it is loaded with good singing and dancing songs.

6b. I admit to missing albums.

Remember how it was a prestige thing that you had the order of songs memorized on an album? Kids today will never know that. They won't know A or B side songs, or the careful order of songs on an album that producers choose for specific reasons---which we all tried to determine.

Alas. Alack.

So I'm to tag six people but Ed made me see the demonic issue of a bunch of sixes in a row...therefore, if you read this and want to take it up for yourself please do!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Because She's A Canadian, She Says (Often)

"And I'm a Canadian!" said my four-year-old niece from the back of the minivan.

The three adults in the car---me, my husband, and my mother---had a laugh that we quickly tried to cover and convert into a pleased sort of "that's right, you're right" sort of chuckle.

My niece Sonsie is a sensitive sort, and we all knew that if she felt laughed at, her pride would quickly evaporate into confused shame and hurt feelings.

"You are!" said my mother, "You are a Canadian!"

Later we repeated this story to my sister, who allowed herself one quick laugh and said, "Yes, the Canadian thing comes up pretty frequently these days. It's her Thing. Pretty much everything goes back to her being a Canadian."

"I had no idea it was such a big deal to her, being Canadian," I said.

"Oh no, not Canadian, a Canadian," my sister said, "Yeah, it's funny. She'll get a compliment, like nice outfit or good job and she says, 'It's because I'm a Canadian,' and trust me, it comes up. A lot."

We laughed for a second, again. I thought about this little girl, building a sense of pride in herself, and in her "unique" heritage. My sister, her husband, and their older two daughters were living in Toronto when Sonsie was born, and so she has dual citizenship. She'd have to return to Canada by 12, though, to keep it. We promised her we'd take her. She doesn't want to lose her Canadianism.

It got me thinking about sense of place and belonging, sense of identity---do we look for that which links us or that which distinguishes us?

My niece Sonsie, like many of us, has a established position in an established social unit: her family. My niece Sonsie, like many of us, wants attention within that social unit, wants to be special.

In a family of Americans, being A Canadian, is special.

But why seize on that thing?

Her sisters are brunette, she is a blonde. Her sisters have hazel eyes, she has blue. Why not any of those things? At four, I doubt even Sonsie could explain why. At nearly 4-oh I doubt even I could explain why. I expect it has to do with that developing sense of self. Up to this point, she has merrily and adroitly imitated her older sisters. Now, she is beginning to distinguish herself.

But that still doesn't explain why that, why Canada.

So, as twilight fell, and we, wrapped in light-weight cotton sweaters, sitting in the anticipated and enjoyed cool of the patio, we decided to ask Sonsie a few questions about being A Canadian.

"What's special about being A Canadian?" I asked.

Sonsie shrugged. "We're nice?" she said.

I recalled a recent bit of joking I'd done on Twitter with a few Canadians, who claimed that all Canadians were so nice and happy all the time for no reason. That jived with last year when some Canadians met us in Austin for SXSW. We went to dinner at a restaurant I suggested, one that my husband and I've liked for 20 years, and there was some problem. Being a typical American, I stepped up to resolve it. Politely, but determinedly. I felt responsible, in a way.

"I could never do that," said Miss Blue, "I'm just too Canadian. We don't do things like that."

Miss Sage nodded and agreed. "I once ate around a steak," said this avowed vegetarian, "You know, rather than return it because I didn't order it."

I was amazed. I think of these women as strong and assertive, successful and important. It shocked me that they'd eat the wrong meal rather than kindly let the waiter know about the mistake.

"It's one of the differences between Canadians and Americans," they explained. I remained skeptical. There's polite, I thought, and then there's doormat. That idea made them laugh.

Americans are too tied to this concept of getting our due and receiving our respect, I think they implied. And I wondered about that.

I set my own thoughts and memories aside, and stared harder at Sonsie. Are we imprinted by the place where we are born, and where we spend our crucial first few years? Could Sonsie have truly imprinted on Canada, or Canada on her?

Maybe. To some degree. But how will that jive with being raised now, in Texas, which is about as unCanadian as you can get? I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

I was born in Texas, but when I was a few months old, we moved to Virginia. We lived on a military base, and my mother spent a lot of time cruising around DC and the nearby beaches with me and some other military families. America was, as usual, at war then, and I wonder what the atmosphere on base was. Maybe a lot like now, except back then, I think people really believed we could and would stop going to war someday.

Could that stint in Virginia have imprinted on me somehow? Altered my ability to fit into other places, quite so wholly as others do?

As an adult, my husband and I chose to leave Texas and move to Massachusetts, where we lived for a long time. We know that time altered us, and how we thought about things. We know that change has set us somewhere outside most of the people in our community.

Our time Elsewhere tinted the shade of us, and we no longer match, completely, here, where we are now.

But we are "from" here, so to speak, and that tints us, too, so that we don't quite match Elsewhere, either.

Many days, we find it somewhat of a pain point, and yet, here was my four year old niece, Sonsie, embracing it, taking pride in it.

I'm A Canadian, she says, often.

On that patio, the light now sunk completely below the horizon, my brother-in-law lighting a firepit to the excitement of the children, we all sat, in happy camaraderie. Sonsie, the center of solo attention, happily hanging about the adult table.

I looked at her anew, and she grew in my mind, no longer just another of the little kids. She was a distinct little person, who considered herself A Canadian. She had a subtle sense of humor, a sensitive little heart, a strong sense of fair and unfair, a quiet streak in her that allowed her to fade into the background a bit if she wanted, and a loud sense of want that enabled her to shriek her way into demanding attention. She enjoyed playing with the cousins, but also could happily sit and cuddle on a grandmother's lap, twirling a little necklace or fiddling with a button.

"Tell me, Sons," my sister said, "Tell me about Canada and being A Canadian."

Sonsie shrugged, "What," she said.

"Okay tell me," my sister said, "Who has better health care? US or Canada?"

Sonsie pointed to herself and said, "Canada."

She really is A Canadian, after all.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

River raft beds and other reflections (of life after a catastophe)

One day, it seemed that the crisis was over, the disaster passed, even if the situation wasn't completely at an end. Blue tented roofs covered well-lighted houses that received phone calls once again, and where the people within made breakfast, squabbled about what to do for dinner, ran showers a little too long, and folded laundry while watching reality TV. The traffic lights no longer dangled into the streets, bigger than you imagine up close, and just one more obstacle to drive around. And though they still flashed, instead of running the red, yellow, green cycle we expect, flashing made everyone stop, instead of allowing some to pretend it meant a free for all where you never have to halt. The big government trailers and trucks still hogged the roads and parking lots, but there were fewer of them. As the public sector moved out, the private sector moved in.

The big sailboat still leaned against the palm tree next to the hotel. I wondered if the owner had to drive by and see it there, on the edge of land and water, not quite enough a part of either to be rescued easily. I wondered what it must be to see the grand boat, leaning, stranded---the boat the family had taken out, maybe at the fourth of July to watch fireworks, or maybe at Christmas, to chase the Santa flotilla. The children probably complained about having to scrub decks or hold lines, but inside you knew they were thrilled to have a sailboat upon which they could skim across the water, head out to sea, feel the wet wind in their face, and smell the salt. What would it be to drive past her, the grand old sailboat, happy family memories peeling off her sides like the paint. Was the loss of the boat the family's biggest lost, or the least of it?

The traffic lines were long, still, behind the flashing lights on this major road, a highway, really, and I had plenty of time to stare at the water, and the boat, awkward and out of place. It was then that I noticed the interlopers, big salvage barges and their enabling tug boats. The barges lay heavy and flat across the smooth surface of the water, the tug boats comically short and squat next to them. Huge cranes rose in intricate lines above the rusty deck, somehow clean and graceful, a feminine counterpart to the masculine barge. They seemed too fragile for their work, which was lifting sunken ships from the bottom of the lake.

Later, when I drove by from the other direction, the barge was littered with dripping sailboats of varying sizes. The expiration date for owners to claim and rescue their boats had passed, and the salvage companies came in, waterbound vultures, picking remains. Still later, trucks with trailers hovered in the park parking lot, by the dock where the barges rested, crane rope limp as if in weariness. Men in long shorts and ball caps walked the deck, inspecting ships, all of which leaned to one side or the other, bowed bottoms not a fit for dry land. An auction, I thought. They are buying the broken pieces people had to leave behind.

At home, I sorted through one of the many piles of papers and mail that have collected since the hurricane. There are many stacks and piles, very deep, offers, bills, demands, notices, and more---the little things that add up if you don't see to them daily. One stack was from the schools my daughters attend. Somehow I had not understood when I first enrolled my children in school that I was also enrolling myself. I expected to help them learn, push them to complete homework, meet with the teacher, all of that. I just hadn't realized what a full-time job it could be, fundraisers, volunteering, reading forms and notes and letters. I sat down and started in on the school pile. It seemed important to get a handle on what we had missed or were about to miss, for school.

Like the mail, a good half of it is the paper equivalent of spam. I sorted that into the toss pile. Much of it involved dates or events already past. Toss pile. Quite a bit of it was hurricane related.

"Dear Parents, I believe that our school is more than a school, it is a community," wrote this year's PTA president in a memo, "As we begin to put our lives back together following the devastation left by Ike, the PTA wants to know how we can help. We would like to organize a list of the families that need support and a list of those who are able to assist. Whether it is a load of laundry, a bag of ice, a pot luck dinner, or some other need please let us know."

After that kind introduction, the memo turned into a form---you had two choices: NEED HELP or CAN HELP.

Everything gets sorted at some point.

I reflected on the memo. I know the people of my community. I've seen their strength and ability to carry on. I've read notes from people who lost everything, their homes and everything in it, and still they offer to help as they can.

I imagined this kind and caring PTA president receiving back forms from families, which she sorted into NEED and CAN piles, the CAN pile towering over the NEED pile.

The biggest contributions I've received when I asked for them were largely from Houston area locals.

I emailed the PTA President and said I had some gift cards, from a kind family who wanted to help. We agreed to a meeting time and place, and I brought the cards to her.

"This is really nice," she said.

"I know, people can really...reach out," I said.

We paused for a minute. I thought about strangers caring about strangers and going to trouble to help. I don't know what she thought about. We both ended the second of silence at the same time. Go ahead, she said.

"I have to run, school pickup for my younger," I said.

"Okay, thanks," she said.

As I walked away, I realized that neither of us asked the other how our homes and families fared during and after Ike.

More than the retreat of the trucks, the cleared debris, or the repaired traffic lights, that signaled to me that the crisis was over. We're past what happened and moving on to what we're doing to recover from it.

Note: The title of this post is from Nanci Kincaid's book of short stories, Pretending the Bed Is a Raft, which was made into an absolutely brilliant movie by Isabelle Coixet and Pedro Almodovar (one of my favorite filmmakers), titled My Life Without Me and that starred Sarah Polley and Mark Ruffalo, two of my favorite actors. It's a brilliant film. Brilliant. It catches the pace, emotion and relationships of people movingly. Watch with big box of soft tissues.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Today, you can listen to me on FOX News Radio and Blog Talk Radio

Today I'm going on FOX News Radio to talk, chat and take questions from listeners about a specific subject. I can't tell you what I'll be talking about (although I know!) but I can assure you it's a Big Topic On All Our Minds.

Initially I was hesitant to do this---all progressives know to be leery of FOX, and watching Hannity's Radicalism in America (aka How To Fan the Racism and Xenophobia Flames Against Obama) show last night, followed by an exploration of the economic crisis (squarely blamed on Democrats, because we all know problems and solutions are always single partisan) didn't assuage my fears that much. If FOX has a commitment to fair and balanced reporting, you can call me a monkey's mother.

I expressed these concerns to the executives at FOX and Blog Talk Radio. Apparently, I wasn't the only concerned progressive (there are four of us).

We were assured that this is a legitimate, Crossfire-like debate, not an ambush or setup.

And to their credit, I believe them. I think it's a great idea, and I am glad they are committed to providing a straightforward competition that furthers the discussion about key issues in our nation today.

I also don't think there's a problem with partisan reporting. I do it every day at MOMocrats.

Of course, I do think it's essential that you be transparent, open, and honest about where your beliefs fall.

Whatever else you can say about FOX News, on FOX News Radio the talk show hosts are pretty clear about where they stand.

Many of us are more in the middle, in fact, if Bell Curves are to be believed, most of us are in the middle. I count myself right there too. When I talk current events with people around me---and you can believe where I am the majority vote red---I find our concerns and values are fairly similar, the big difference is in how we think we need to pursue the doing of things, and which party we think best addresses that.

I know many people haven't got the time to parse the immense amount of data and information that comes along about every current event, and many of us rely on news to triage this for us, and tell us the salient points.

From news we get facts, from other media sources such as talk shows we get opinion, and an out loud parsing of the information.

You all know I am a big fan of the critical thinking process. I think through constructive discussion and debate, we can think critically through information and arrive at intelligent, well-formed opinions.

This is why I am a huge supporter of bi- and miltipartisan politics.

So today, hopefully I contribute a little something a little positively towards this multipartisan and critical thinking process.

Come listen if you have the time, and please do cast a vote for me to keep me going through the process.

Many thanks!

Here's the scoop as written by a fellow MOMocrat:

On Monday, October 6, MOMocrat Julie Pippert will be squaring off against fellow progressive Lynne Lupien of Left in Lowell in a unique opportunity to become America's Best Blog Talker. Help a MOMocrat out by listening in and voting for Julie!

Julie was selected by FOX News Radio as one of eight of BlogTalkRadio's most passionate and incisive hosts to voice their opinions about Election 2008 in the mainstream.

Beginning Monday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. ET, four hosts from Blog Talk Radio's Heading Left Channel and four from Heading Right will square off during a week-long, one-on-one tournament that will determine the best blog talker from each side of the political spectrum. Election 2008: Battle of the Blog Talkers unfolds on FOX Across America, hosted by Spencer Hughes and carried on and Sirius XM Radio.

In Round 1, Spencer will moderate a debate between Julie and Lynn, who will each have five minutes of uninterrupted time to respond to the same topic. Listeners then vote (via mobile-text message and online poll) for their favorite blog talker, who in turn moves onto Round 3. Meanwhile, two Heading Right hosts square off in Round 2, with the most popular moving onto Round 4. And in Round 5, the Heading Left and Heading Right victors go head to head. It's like the "American Idol" of talk radio!

You can listen in live at Fox News Radio or at Blog Talk Radio. Just be sure to listen and vote for Julie!

Online and mobile voting will open at 3pm Eastern on Monday, Oct. 6th. Go to Fox News Radio for instructions on how to vote.

Presented by FOX News Talk Radio and

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Displaced by Ike? Worried about voting? Get your INFO and FACTS here!

From the State of Texas website (Secretary of State, Hope Andrade):

Election Procedures and Information Following Hurricane Ike

TO: Voter Registrars, County Clerks, and Elections Administrators
FROM: Ann McGeehan, Director of Elections
DATE: September 22, 2008
RE: Election Procedures and Information Following Hurricane Ike

The Secretary of State and her staff would like to extend their sympathy to all Texans affected by Hurricane Ike. As emergency relief efforts continue, we would also like to provide basic information with regards to the upcoming November 4, 2008 election. As we learn more about the situation in all affected areas, we will provide updated information. In the meantime, the following general information may be helpful to you.

Voter Information
We realize that evacuation is a difficult experience and that voters may not be certain of their future living arrangements, neither short nor long term. Voters who have been displaced have several options for voting in the November election.

* Voter Registration and Residence. Regarding residence, our advice to people displaced by the storm is the same as to any other person—the voter is the one who decides what the voter considers to be home. If a voter relocated to another county before the storm and has decided to stay in their new county, they may register to vote in their new county. Voters in this situation must submit a new voter registration application in their new county of residence no later than October 6, 2008 in order to vote in the November election. However, if a person has been relocated due to the storm and is unsure when they can return to their home county, but intends to return, then that person can maintain their voter registration in their home county (or apply to register if not already registered).

* If a voter is able to return to their home, they will likely vote as usual in their county. The counties hardest hit by the storm are still evaluating the state of their polling places, and there will likely be changes in voting locations, but it appears that all counties will be able to conduct voting during early voting and election day. Adversely impacted counties are still trying to restore power and assess damage, so it may be a few more weeks before final polling places will be ascertained.

* A voter away from their county of residence may apply for a ballot by mail from their home county. Voters wishing to vote by mail must submit an application for ballot by mail to their county election office; the application must be received no later than Tuesday, October 28, 2008. On the application, the voter must indicate that they will be out of their home county during early voting and on election day. Voters need to provide a mailing address for the ballot which is outside of their home county.

Our office will continue to work with local election officials to ensure that all Texas voters are able to participate in a fair, credible, and efficient election. Voters with specific questions may contact the Elections Division, toll-free at (800) 252-VOTE (8683) or visit our website for updated information.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

When someone mistakes you for homeless and poor...

On the way to dinner the other night, we turned down a street and my mother said, "Hey Julie, look at those apartments right there---they just built them..."

And I said, "Are they full?"

Which she misheard, unsurprisingly considering the amount of noise six children can make, and said, "No, no they aren't for the poor, it isn't subsidized housing, I think anyone can live there."

Which caused my sister to say, "Are you telling your HOMELESS daughter about alternative housing possibilities?"

We laughed---a little at my mother for misunderstanding, and a little at me for the homeless thing.

See, the homeless thing is a joke. It came from this whole incident at the school, when I tried to register my kids for temporary enrollment.

When I went by the local school to see about sending the kids there until our school district opens, they handed me a form that I had to sign, declaring myself homeless, so that my mother---with whom we are staying---could be declared our host, so that we qualified to enroll in the school.

It seemed wrong.

I protested, "But we aren't homeless," I said, "We're just very temporarily displaced. I could go back," I explained, "Except I want them to have as normal a life as possible right now."

"Oh but if you're declared homeless you can get the breakfast and lunch for the kids," the lady said.

"But I brought their lunch kits, and I already have breakfast and lunch food at home," I said.

"Well this has got to be so expensive already," she said, confused by my protests," You don't want to spend money you don't have to." She shoved the form back at me.

I don't want homeless status. I don't want the school to feed my kids. I am providing for them. I can provide for them.

We are lucky.

My husband has a job, we have insurance, my mother is generously and comfortably hosting us. We have other generous offers from others who want to help if we need.

We are lucky.

We do not need to take resources, such as free lunches at the school.

If I needed to, I would.

But just in that moment, I felt it: that loss of status, that sucking up of pride. I built a new empathy for people in this position. People not in my fortunate privileged position, people like me who can say no thanks.

I, unlike some in my town, still have a house. My house is still there, and despite wind and water damage, and a power company cherry picker that sunk in our still sodden yard, it is habitable.

Although the power company said another three weeks to power up my area, because we are on the same grid with essential services (in this case, a lifting station and a pumping station---those are to do with water and wastewater for the record) we may get power back as early as this week.

My husband said crews were still clearing trees, but had begun freeing power lines, stringing power lines and working hard to get power restored, all day every day.

So I am hopeful we can return home sooner rather than later.

My husband went to cruise our small town and said quite a few houses are completely gone, others look like a blast blew through them and the frame is mostly there, but the interior is missing. The water has mostly receded, but it left debris, and a lot of marine life died. He said the stench is dreadful.

We are lucky.

That's why the homeless thing is both so funny and not funny at all.

All things considered, I have thought of myself as fortunate. And yet, in that moment, that woman thought of me as poor.

It makes you think. It makes your mind open. It makes you realize about perceptions and circumstances and you and others and everything.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How you can help recent hurricane and tropical storm victims

If you donate to the Red Cross they are sharing and distributing funds all across the Gulf Coast to help all the people affected by the recent nasty hurricane and tropical storm season.

If you want specifically to help the people in Texas affected by Hurricane Ike, here are details:

Right now every $5 donation to the Austin Food Bank buys $20 worth of food. Austin has five shelters that are housing over 1800 people.

The shelters need these specific items: canned meats, vegetables and fruits with pop lids; granola bars and snacks; peanut butter and diapers and wipes (baby, child and adult ones).

Houston Hurricane Recovery appears to be a website with good information.

However, I cast my vote to the Houston Chronicle as the best hurricane resource. They've kept up with news, information, community details, and more via many avenues including Twitter.

Houston Red Cross has a list of Houston-area shelters and contact information. That site also provides a number of ways to make a donation.

I have heard that donations are down and some shelters are struggling to provide.

Please understand many people are displaced by this storm for either the long-term or permanently, depending.

I know we are very lucky in my family to have choices of nice and comfortable houses with all the amenities available for us. Not everyone has that. My insurance will cover my expenses while I am evacuated. Not everyone has that.

So any help you can offer will be great. Remember, like I said, $5 goes a long, long way right now.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hurricane Ike aftermath: More than just wind and water damage---what happened to the superfund sites on the coast?

The thing you have to consider beyond the damage from the hurricane are the dangers created in the aftermath.

Other hazards to consider: dangerous traffic conditions because of lack of traffic lights, health hazards from unsafe water and waste, vulnerability to additional bad weather, and so forth.

I've been curious about how "tip of the iceberg" the reporting on the Ike aftermath has been. I know media attention swung over to the Wall Street implosion, but I've also had the sense that the media thought: what's the story here? a hurricane hit, homes were destroyed, ho hum, BTDT.

So here's the story, folks: what besides homes and local businesses were vulnerable to the hurricane? What else may have been destroyed? What else may be littering the roads, land, and water? or maybe I should ask, what else might be polluting my community?

I began thinking about this when I received my town's latest update:

As of today, Tuesday, September 16 at 7 pm, the City is without power and CenterPoint Energy has advised that it may take up to 3 weeks to restore power. . .

The city does have water. [Redacted] Water Authority advises the City that the tap water may not be potable. Residents are advised to use bottled water or boil the tap water for at least one minute at a rolling boil prior to using the tap water for potable purposes. The City will advise when the tap water is safe to drink.

Sewage drains to local lift stations, but because the power is out, the lift stations are non-functional and the sewage overflows and drains to the lakes. Please try to limit your use of water and create as little wastewater as possible in order to minimize the untreated sewage and pollution running into the lakes.

[Redacted] Lake is closed to recreation - swimming, boating, fishing, and water skiing. The Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority industrial wastewater treatment plant on Port Road was inundated during the storm and its ponds of untreated industrial and sanitary waste overflowed into [Redacted] Lake. The Lake may be contaminated with industrial pollutants (volatile organic and other compounds) and bacteriological contaminants. Residents should avoid all contact with [Redacted] Lake water until further notice. (emphasis mine)

City hall is running on a generator with limited services. The Mayor is working with FEMA and other emergency management officials to assess the damage. The City has declared an emergency and is working with state and federal agencies to address recovery.

Many trees are down in the City but the streets are now open.

There is still a dusk to dawn curfew.

The City is recommending the Head of Household only come and assess property damage, call your insurance agent, and start the removal of debris. Please separate organic waste (trees, limbs, etc.) and other waste and bring these items to the curb in 2 separate piles.

Pickup for HOUSEHOLD TRASH ONLY will begin Tuesday, September 16 and continue through the regular scheduled days of Tuesday and Friday. Please place the trashcans on the driveway near your garage.

Municipal Court has been canceled for Thursday, September 18. Defendants will be receiving a reset letter by mail notifying of a new court date.

I live by quite a few superfund sites---chemical and manufacturing plants. In fact, my area is home to "the nation's largest concentration of chemical plants and refineries," many of which are not even close to being in compliance with the EPA and other safety standards.

Were they inundated too?

What all else has my area been exposed to as a result of breaches from the hurricane?

I already know my area was unsafe and unhealthy, before Ike hit. I've blogged about it many times, testified before the EPA in an open hearing, and pestered when, who where and how I can to improve health and safety conditions in my community.

In my humble speculative opinion, there are a major vulnerabilities here:

* citizen vulnerability due to unsafe plants and businesses that are not in compliance with standards
* those selfsame plants and businesses were in vulnerable spots hit hard by Hurricane Ike
* what confidence or reassurance can residents have that their only "hazard" is from "wastewater plants?"
* the biggest vulnerability? Republican politicians who enable these businesses to keep the standards lower than is best and safest for people who live there, and who do not enforce compliance---right before an election.

I heard in many places that there has been a bit of a media blackout but I think it's more nefarious than that. Or cleverer. However you like to put it.

I think the media has been oh-so-carefully spoonfed a "oh look, wind and water damage, so sad, displaced families, out of business businesses, tragic,, not much to see here, right? so let's all move on along." Bored with images of houses reduced to twigs and stories of trees littering roadways, everyone has redirected their attention over to the next news cycle.

Come back media. Dig underneath the trees. There is more to the story than mere wind and water damage, and ask why---why were these dangerous plants so vulnerable? Who should have done what, instead?

Julie is considering how to provide stability and normality for her family, while displaced for longer than expected as a result of Ike and its aftermath.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's not Wall St or NOLA but if you hit it with a hurricane it still bleeds

This is the latest message from my town's mayor:

Hurricane Ike Update

The City of [redacted] has sustained serious damage from Hurricane Ike. As of this writing, the City has no electrical power, no landline phone service, no potable water service, and sanitary sewage may be compromised. Cellular telephone service is limited as cell towers may be down or out of service. Many trees are down and storm debris is still obstructing many streets.

[Surrounding bodies of water] are still over their banks in many places, but water levels are receding. The. . .Sheriff's Department has set up roadblocks to our neighborhood entrances and on [major roads] to prevent sightseers and non-residents from entering the area. There is a dawn to dusk curfew and non-residents are not allowed in the City between these hours. The Mayor is working with FEMA and other emergency management officials to assess the damage and to begin the reconstruction abd claims process.

Residents are urged to not return at this time as the lack of utilities and infrastructure makes the situation unsafe. The City has declared an emergency and is working with state and federal agencies to address recovery.

[Links and information] for. . . clean-up and activities that residents can undertake at this time. The City will post updates to this website and will advise when it is safe for residents to return.

What is helpful for the area?

Consider donating to the disaster relief fund at the Red Cross or to other Hurricane Ike relief funds. But make sure to check to ensure that the organization is legitimate and that relief goes to the intended recipients.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Post-Hurricane Ike Update (Photo Edition) (Bay Area)

Soon, I will have a story with words. But for now...a few photos and links to what we knew a of yesterday when we went back to our neighborhod to check on the house.

The area is getting hit with more rain and has flash flood warnings now, and news is of course making it sound really dire but I'm hoping it's just a case of newsodrama.

In short, it's a good news/bad news situation. Bottom line: we fared okay and have not suffered any major losses personally.

I'll leave it at that because you're probably going to get to hear plenty of whining from me about the financial hit this is going to be.

Here are the photos:

Trying to get back to our town:

Hmm, boats in the hotel parking lot...

This used to be a really nice park across from our neighborhood. Park and large parking lot covered. Water up to the roofs of the pavilions.



Water receded off the road, thankfully:

In our neighborhood---and YES this is the very neighborhood the CNN reporter drove through and filmed and that was featured on CNN's post-Ike coverage. Our neighborhood was as far as we could go yesterday, because right past us they had road blocks. While we were there, the sheriffs arrived and started kicking out gawkers, filmers, gougers, and potential looters. Everyone there had to show ID to prove residence or leave.



The end of our street and what used to be a street, park and playground in our neighborhood (at the end of our street). The hut (out in the middle of the water) is usually on land. It's our scout hut and it's probably on about 12 ft stilts. I think our Daisy Scout meetings are going to be postponed...





Our backyard before and after:



Friday, September 12, 2008

This blog evacuated by Hurricane Ike---our status

Hi friends

So many of you have contacted me to send me offers of assistance, good wishes, thoughts, and so forth.

Thank you.

We have evacuated to an area just west and south of Houston, where we will get hit by Hurricane Ike but are safe from the storm surge. They have said to anticipate power outages of about 18 days, so I thought I'd put in this update while I can.

Our town had a mandatory evacuation on noon Thursday. We left at noon on the dot, which is good because the police literally began a neighborhood check. Our dedicated little police force.

It took about twice as long as usual to get here, which frankly we were extremely grateful about. When we evacuated for Rita, we never made it past Columbus, slept in our car for three days, got no assistance from locals or local authorities, and saw horrors that made us think next time drowning in a storm surge was preferable.

However, this time, the authorities swore they had learned their lesson.

We put our faith in that and I'm glad we did. I think they have. First, the media implored people who were not in evacuation zones to stay put, and I think they must have done because the evacuation was smoother than anyone could ever recall. Second, they triaged the evacuation in a way that worked very well. Third, I heard reports that they did random stops and checked that evacuees were truly from mandatory evacuation zone.

In short, we were able to reach our safe evacuation destination with relatively little trouble.

As we left our home, I knew we would return to it damaged. I accepted it. We storm-proofed as best we could: boarded up windows, moved as much as we could upstairs, and packed essential items into the car.

And here we are. Obsessively checking all reports about the storm and our area.

At this point, by 1 p.m. today, with Ike still offshore and scheduled to hit our area at about 5 a.m. tomorrow, the advance surge has already flooded a good part of our town, making many key roads impassable. I received a report with photos that the local bayous and lakes have already breached the levees and banks, flooding the local parks we play in frequently, and moving up the street we drive down every day. Our favorite special treat destination, the Kemah Boardwalk, was flooding before noon today.

Based on the speed (slow) and fact that Ike will hit at high tide in the morning, storm surge predictions leave us little hope for a good outcome for our home. My husband and I have already begn second-guessing certain decisions in a truncated way:

Him, "I should have done it, should have just taken those drawers upstairs. Putting them up on the coutners just wasn't..."

Me, "I know, it was the optimism, it's okay, we still don't know..."


Me, "I should have moved the china and crystal upstairs, should have made the time, even before the evacuation..."

Him, "We didn't have time, they called it so late, the storm changed track late, nothing to do..."

Me, "My cookbooks, all my recipes, I bet they are all ruined.."

Him, "There are more cookbooks..."

We did the best we can. It looks likely we will suffer flood damage. But there's no way to know.

Our area will be devastated, that much is sure.

But we will be okay and once we get our feet under us, this thing behind us, we will start relief to help our community.

We really appreciate your care and good wishes. I'll keep updating as I can.

Julie and Family

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

So sayeth the iPod---on the upcoming elections and recent politics and events (including the DNC & RNC)

Music can be oh-so-inspirational, can't it?

Last week the DNC was labeled a rock concert, and certainly music was blasting in a lot of places. You all know I'm a die-hard Big Head Todd fan but even I was a little sick of Blue Sky after trailing Hillary for days.

And so today, as I was biking and desperately reaching for the way to ease myself out of Denver and back into this blog space, I was inspired by music on my iPod. It occured to me that the candidates have their public face songs, but behind closed doors, perhaps they have secret favorites that appeal a little more to that inner seventh grader we all have. Thus...insight into today's political candidates via the iPod. (Also, before you ask, YES every one of these songs is on my iPod.)

John McCain and George Bush have been on the outs lately and so I give them...Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes. I know these two have a hard-won relationship, and I like to see that sort succeed---who doesn't love a romance that overcame adversity (the 2000 election) and started with a lot of denial and tension? Come on, our favorites shows and movies are all built on this. So, while, as with so many relationships, things have probably gotten a little stale like a worn out recording of your favorite song, John, I bet George still likes pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain. Go on, meet him at O'Malley's and you'll see you're still a fit. He's also not really into yoga, either, and stop me before I hit the line about half a brain. ;)

Crazy by Gnarls Barkley pretty well describes last week, in fact. The DNC.

"I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind." I'm pretty sure it was Tuesday, maybe by noon. That would be the point I started joking with Congressional candidate Tracey Brooks (NY 21st congressional district) that she was following me. (She wasn't, we were just on the exact same track for Women's Equality Day.)

It's the thing that enabled me to offer to go on camera, makeup melted off 8 hours earlier, hair on end, not even chapstick to my name and interview the fabulous Jeanne Shaheen with ace videographer Katy Chen of BlogHer.

Just before that is the point I realized I'd been trailing Hillary long enough to realize just how brilliant a speaker she can be---I swear she memorizes bullet points and fills in the blanks appropriately to each audience. I also realized I had her bullet points memorized myself and could guess fairly accurately how long she would talk from any given point.

That would be when I was hanging backstage, watching from behind the speakers the very thing all of you were watching on television. You know that light-headed surreal feeling you can get, when your stomach pinches and you realize just where you are and what you are doing? I let myself feel that for two whole minutes while Hillary finished her speech.

There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space
And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much
Does that make me crazy?

Gnarls sings, "And I hope that you are having the time of your life."

Oh I did.

Which might be the very antithesis of the time Sarah Palin is having right now. So for her, I give Over My Head (Cable Car) by The Fray. "I never knew I never knew that everything was falling through/That everyone I knew was waiting on a cue/To turn and run when all I needed was the truth/But that's how it's got to be/It's coming down to nothing more than apathy/I'd rather run the other way than stay and see/The smoke and who's still standing when it clears/ Everyone knows I'm in Over my head. . ."

With a classic rock style crash, the music ended and shifted to something a little more San Francisco Art Gallery, Cibo Matto's Sugar Water. Without question, this song goes straight to the divine Mr. Gavin Newsom, current mayor of San Francisco and no doubt soon to be launching his plan for world domination. You've got my vote, Mr. Mayor, just as soon as you go national. Your party was fab and I don't just say this because you had the best party favor (no, no euphemism---it was an art poster of Barack Obama). I say it because it smelled like Governor in there to me, and I wish you all the luck on your next step. We should all take a page from your book.

Get Down Tonight by KC and the Sunshine Band to the fabulous MOMocrats, who know how to get down---including line dancing to hip hop. None to Matt Lockshin, despite his Most Favored Dem Boy status, after he abdicated his wingman duties at the People's Party.

Time to go ska with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Impression That I Get. I dedicate this one to the ongoing RNC. Boy, what a test, and we'll see how you pass. Maybe you guys can knock on wood.

If necessary, I'll send some Keb' Mo' if you all start feel that flat broke and busted, All Crapped Out Again feeling. Hang on tight to that end of the rope, and if you need, call the Pope.

Oh Joe Biden, what shall it be for you? When your son Beau spoke, I heard Ingrid Michaleson crooning Keep Breathing. Of all speakers, he made me have to think and consciously fill my lungs. I was that moved, that locked onto his message. He is powerful, your son. Look at the son and know the father. You kept your family breathing, Joe. Perhaps this is your song too, but I want second one, added to the end---Moon and Sun by Gomez. Yeah, you and Obama feel good together. An...yeah, we all move on.

Michelle Malkin, I'm really sorry you got attacked, that's rotten, but girlfriend, you know who Bell Biv DeVoe were talking about in Poison...? I can't name the song for Ann Coulter. This is a family blog...

Bella Maria De Mi Alma by Los Lobos for Barack and Michelle. I'd love to see you two sway to this song, seriously you two sing it in public, very believably, but I'm going to kick it up a notch, and not to Stevie (although so help me, I can never get tired of Signed Sealed and Delivered, nor can I stop singing I Wish) but over to more from the far south and Amor Verdandero because although I saw you restrain yourself with funk, I am sure you could and would really kick it powerfully in a merengue. Plus, while everyone else is reeling over how Presidential you looked on the dance floor, the fact that the music is by the Afro-Cuban All Stars can give the GOP a sliver to chew on (squawk squawk about Cuba) and isn't it just pure kindness to throw a bone? Even a hollow one that leaves splinters? (That's why I chose that song over Tito Puente's Ran Kan Kan.)

And for the patient and kind readers here, I leave you with

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at: Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

(I hope you all know I am cutting myself off here because I could seriously go on and on, you know, sorta like Earth Wind and Fire...)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission. Also blogging at: Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern. MOMocrats

Friday, August 22, 2008

Portraits of Patience and Persistence as Young Girls

Recent work from my little artiste, Patience.

Persistence is showing her approaching four.

She sneaked into my office and got a pen, which she used on paper she also sneaked from my office and that happened to be an important part of a document.

"Oh no!" I said, upon discovering this, "Oh Persistence, what did you do. You went in my office---a no-no---and got my pen and paper---a no-no---and messed up my important work. I am so sad, so disappointed." I took back the pen and paper and walked to the office to return it. I stood and stared at the wall, frustrated and disappointed: why was this child so persistent, why did she not learn, what technique would work, how could I teach her to stay out of my things, oh what to do about this curiosity and getting into things---why wouldn't redirection work? I begged for patience and strength and guidance, and wished this didn't get to me. I was feeling poignantly the stress of a long summer, which felt more like a string of beratings than anything else.

In other words, I engaged in some self-pity, lots of frustration, and the usual personal berating we parents love so well when a child keeps repeating the same problem.

Behind me, a small voice said, "Mommy?"

I turned to see my little Persistence, who has grown so much this summer and yet is still so tiny. My fierce girl, so determined to keep up with her big sister, so sure of her big girl status. She will walk next door and ring the doorbell and ask the neighbors if her friend can play---something her sister still won't do. She insists on walking across the street to our other neighbors with me watching and her sister by her side---so independent. And yet, still a sweet little lap cuddler.


"Mommy, I sorry I got in your things."

I held out my arms and she ran to them. Once, she fit in one arm. Now, she still fits snug against me, and I know I will always find that she does.

My Patience is losing her patience with her sister's constant attention demands. She bears it, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not, with understanding I'd think was beyond her years. She got strength from one-on-one dates with each of us, special times with Grandma, and some inner well of tolerance older siblings often seem to have. But she, like me, is frustrated with the endless boundary testing and how frayed it makes my nerves---her nerves too. She wants the Other Mommy. The one who doesn't need daily Time Outs to compose herself and keep her cool. The one who isn't in constant crisis management mode, multi-task mode. We agree on this. Sometimes we commiserrate.

"That Persistence!" she says, "Ooooohhhhhhhh!"

"I understand," I tell her, "It's frustrating, isn't it? It's not fun when she argues with everything, and breaks rules, is it? It's not fun to watch me give her time outs and tell her she did something that was not okay, is it?"

"No! I wish she could just remember the rules and follow them!"

"This is her learning them. Learning curves can be tough, you know? We lose patience, cool, sometimes. But it's just the curve, right?"


Patience has been known to incite her little sister to naughty acts, but she has also been known to try to help her not get in trouble or help her extricate herself from trouble.

"Persistence! Tell Mommy you're sorry and won't get into her drawer again! Then you don't have to have a timeout and we can go play!"

Patience held up her special "Tissy hugs" and a special sleepover in her room as motivation for Persistence to complete potty training. That worked better than any other currency. She also will distract Persistence while I get something done, offering to read a book that she wrote and illustrated.

She writes and illustrates books almost every day. She looks around everywhere for inspiration, ideas and ways to improve her drawing skills. She amazes me with how she ponders the world, and puts together the seemingly random pieces within it.

Riding in the car, we rarely listen to music---or rather, we rarely hear it. Patience tends to use that time to release the torrents of words and thoughts she's stored inside all day. She's one who tends to be quiet around others, but catches everything, and reports it back at home.

Yesterday, I sent my husband in my car because the rain had flooded many streets. My car is higher and all wheel drive.

"That was nice, Mommy," Patience said approvingly, "You shared."

Persistence patted my shoulder and reached around for a hug, "Don't worry, Mommy," she whispered into my neck, "Daddy is a safe driver and he's in your car."

They are little loves, those two, in different ways, in similar ways----it's all something uniquely special and precious. My girls. Six and three for now, a short time longer, but nearly seven and four. I can't wait.

P.S. I'll be away for a little while, but I'll see you when I get back. :)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at: Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A lesson from 1985: Raising "good" girls the "good" way (Hump Day Hmm for August 20, 2008)

Last week, I wrote about 1984 meeting up with 2008 and noticing it simply looked like a slightly more weatherworn version of itself. I'm put in mind of what my teen self might think of my nearly middle-aged self. Shudder.

Then some people said they hoped that 1984 (or whatever year) could be a topic for writing because what they had to say exceeded a comment. (So I am looking forward to some posts here!)

So here we are, the topic is:
. . . several people asked that the topic be related to my last post, about 1984. It doesn't have to be political, it doesn't have to be 1984 (keeping in mind that not everyone was born or much aware at that point). But choose a time that was an awakening for you, select a year or an event that year, that you invested in, although you might now have been quite old enough to understand it fully, and that affected you down the line. Or write about 1984, the election or your life then.
Obviously I've already written about 1984.

So let me hit another year: 1985.

That was the year I got my first job, which I got in order to earn money for a summer trip to Europe. Along with a young teacher, her friend, and about 10 other teens I enjoyed a whirlwind (emphasis on whirl) tour of Europe in the summer of 1985.

One of the girls who went was Ashley, age eighteen. I've lived a lot of years since 1985 and I still don't think I'm half as sophisticated or wordly as Ashley was back then. Ashley took me under her wing that summer and taught me how to handle come-ons, an invaluable skill that served me well for many years after that. She started her lessons with theory, and then insisted we put it into practice---in bars and clubs (aka discotheques). First practical application? Italy.

I can't tell you what all went down in Italy but suffice it to say Ashley was a true asset.

Not half as big an asset as in Amsterdam, though.

We concluded our tour in Amsterdam, and Ashley, a couple of other girls and I were waiting in the hotel lounge for our bus. It was time to head home and we were ready, but sorry our big adventure was over. We wearily and drearily sipped sodas, heads drooping as badly as our eyes.

Apparently nothing says "come and get me big boy" like exhausted young teen girls drooping over a corner of the bar, because we hadn't been sitting for longer than five minutes before a man---probably in his early 30s but to us anciently old---came up with a come-on line. We simply pretended we didn't speak any language he threw at us and kept showing him our watches, as if he were asking the time. After an annoying level of persistence, he finally gave up and left with a good-natured laugh, as if we'd all been having a fun time, equal participants.

We hadn't, and that experience prompted Ashley to conclude with her "Edification of Julie" course. This final chapter of the learning unit was titled, "Creeps and Losers." She could have called it: Predators.

I think about predators while I raise my girls, and I know what I experienced so I try to figure out how to arm them without spoiling the good.

This topic came up last night between me and my husband. We were out shopping and a girl, maybe 18ish, walked past in a short and tight skirt with a barely-a-shirt, cropped up to here and unbuttoned down to there. She'd hopped out of a Volkswagen beetle decorated with flowers, so had caught my girls' attention.

"Her skirt's ripped," Patience said.

"Ummm, well, that's called a cutoff. It's meant to be that way," I said

"Oh, okay..." Patience said, "But maybe it's time for her to hand it down to her little sister. I think it's too small for her."

Yes, it was too small for her, but I don't think she had any plans to hand it down. Later, this stimulated an intense conversation with my husband, as we discussed how to handle the issue of clothing, perception and sent signals and messages (regardless of intention). In other words, we talked about the link between sex and clothes.

"I'm going to tell them that if they dress like that they're telling men they're open for business," my husband said.

Sure enough, a man had walked past and openly stared, even bothered to look back over his shoulder at the girl dressed so skimpily.

But was that the right approach? I've never used it, and it's not just about my kids' ages. I've never felt comfortable with how this approach implies that controlling sexuality is a burden that rests on the shoulders of the female.

"It's not reasonable to teach our girls that they have to take care to make sure men don't interpret any sexual signal from them. What does that do? I mean, that's crazy. Some men need very little. Just being a woman is enough for some guys. And then what? They dress modestly act appropriately and some guy still hits on them---then they're thinking it's their fault. That's really a terrible message; and it's not at all the angle and approach I want to take here. I want them to think that they can have their own style and be safe, and if for some reason some man can't respect that, then it's his problem. I want them to know they have the right to say no and the right to move on. I pray mothers and fathers of sons are out there teaching their boys the same thing. But a big part of that is language, and that means being thoughtful about how we speak about other people---how they're dressed---in front of and to our kids."

I shared that I'd recently read an article about empowering girls and teaching girls about appropriate dress without denigrating other girls.

One of the most valuable things I learned from Ashley that summer is that I have a choice---she empowered me. One of the other valuable things I learned from her is that some men have issues and while they might try to make (or succeed in making) that your problem, it will never be your issue.

I want to be cautious in creating an opening for my girls to think that anything dysfunctional that they might experience is their fault. I know the odds, and I know the odds are against my hopes that my girls will never experience a jerk, a creep, a loser, a predator, or similar who mistakes power and control for sexuality, or who mistakes his own sexuality and desires for theirs.

Someone out there right now is raising a boy who will grow up not respecting women as people. However, someone out there right now is also raising a boy who will grow up to respect women as people.

I want to teach my girls more about the way they should be treated and respected, so that when someone doesn't fit that, they know it, and move on. I don't want to focus solely on teaching them to watch for monsters in people.

My husband wanted to know what I planned to do.

"Play it by ear, mostly," I said, "Give a good foundation, and deal with any situations as they come. I buy them clothing we find appropriate now, and we skip all the sexualized kiddie clothes. I do my best to keep inappropriate influences out as best I can, and do my best to avoid communicating that things we find inappropriate are cool. I hope that helps, and we'll see."

I agree it's important to arm girls with knowledge and information, but not at their expense or other girls' expenses, also not at the expense of the male.

So...what's your approach to this situation? What do you think?

And make sure to ad in your reminiscing posts in Mr. Linky here.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Revelation: You Don't Get to Say or How Elizabeth Edwards Inspired Me, Again

copyright 2008 Julie Pippert

Last fall, on the campaign trail with her husband John---then still in the race, pre-scandal, post-what she knew---Elizabeth Edwards was criticized for her choice to take the children and go on the road with her husband. After two harsh and critical articles about her decision, Edwards wrote,
"I want to be entirely clear. You don't get to say I am a terrible mother because you think you wouldn't make my choices in my situation. You don't get to say that my children don't want to be with us when you don't know them and when, parenthetically, you know that happy children can be periodically disagreeable. You don't get to judge me because you think you know exactly what you would do if you had my disease. I want to be really clear: you don't know. And if the sun always shines on you -- and I pray it does -- you will never know."
Back then, I was very inspired by her gracious yet firm rejection of the criticism. I wrote about it, and included my own thoughts (as well as links to the original criticism, and snippets from discussions).

After her husband's affair and scandal was revealed recently, Edwards wrote briefly and requested that the harmful voyeurism be set aside and that the public allow her family to deal with this in private. As difficult as it must have been to not reply and not feed, and most of all, not defend, after their initial statements, the principals in the situation---that is to say, the ones with the actual vested interest---remained privately quiet.

I thought a lot about that. I understood and respected it. But with the new flurry of criticism that it's all her fault, I wondered why she didn't defend herself as the wife, and her choice as the wife, the way she did as a mother. Where was this sort of thing from Elizabeth, the woman and wife:
You don't get to say I am a terrible person because you think you wouldn't make my choices in my situation. You don't get to blame me, question or criticize my choice, not even just because I am a public figure. Not even because I supported my husband in his bid for president. Not even because I kept private business I considered private and irrelevant to his ability to do the job I believed he was eminently qualified to do, and, within which, he could do so much good. You don't get to judge me because you think you know exactly what you would do if you had my situation. I want to be really clear: you don't know. And if the sun always shines on you -- and I pray it does -- you will never know.
I don't know, but the lack of it doesn't mean I can draw any conclusions. Except, of course, I have. I have concluded that were Elizabeth Edwards to speak again about this, she would say this, because I need to believe she would believe it. But, no unfair expectation or pressure. You know.

I need to hear it, and so I imagine that I do because right now I am working out, in my own mind, what you don't get to say. (General you, including myself.) I've been working on this for a while, and it really began some time ago, with another woman's story of an unfaithful husband.

In my almost late 20s---married a couple of years---at my job I shared an office with a nice lady about a decade older than me. She had two children, who she used to stay home with full time. It never occurred to me to wonder why she came back to work, but one day she explained. Her husband, you see, was a serial cheater who had driven their family six figures into debt paying for and paying to hide his repeated affairs. I was speechless. Luckily. Speechless he did this and speechless she stayed with him. She explained that too.

It seems, you see, that each of us prioritizes things differently. To her, family, and a secure family for her children, was the top priority. So when her husband's duplicity and cheating came to light, she asked him if he could commit to fixing this. He said yes, she said yes, and so the two of them broke down everything in their lives, except their marriage. Then they rebuilt.

I have no idea if they are still together, but the point is they were together then, and her point of view made me reconsider what marriage meant, really. As the child of divorced parents who grew up in the disposable age, I had formed some odd, if not unusual, ideas of marriage. These ideas were contrary to who I am as a person: when I care deeply, I invest in a person, and I keep some facsimile of that. "Let it go" and "get over it" and "move on" gave me the impression that because I remained invested, I was wrong. "You deserve to be happy" and "You are entitled to..." and "If you aren't happy then..." gave me the impression that I deserved to be happy and satisfied always, and anything lesser was unworthy. But that wasn't how I felt. The key was the investment.

My coworkers husband was lucky that she had really invested in him and their family, lucky that when he was finally ready to really invest in the family, she was invested enough to give him the chance. It doesn't always work that way, and it doesn't always need to.

However, listening to my coworker, I realized that sometimes, it does and it can and it should. I realized that sometimes a person is worth investing in, and sometimes it's worth keeping that investment even if it is a challenge.

That made me start thinking about myself in the same way, and I started believing, just a little bit, that maybe, despite my challenges, I was worth investing in, that I was worthy even though I might be imperfect or not who someone thought I should be. Believing this helped me see that a long-term investment in a person---past or present, in your life now or not---was not necessarily wrong.

Prior to her story it seemed some rules were absolute, such as for cheating: she/he cheats, you leave. It's over. Broken, beyond repair. Or, also such as: we're no longer in one another's lives so we no longer care. But most importantly: if you are not who I think you should be, you are not worth my investment.

Prior to her story, it seemed so absolute. It was the lesson I had learned, it was the example around me: you disappointed me, we are through. But maybe, sometimes, that wasn't the thing you had to do. Maybe, sometimes, the hurt, the pride, the betrayal, the complex and difficult emotions, the heartbreak---maybe sometimes for some people something else was bigger and more important.

And that day, my coworker made me see that. It got me thinking, her story, and I've carried and repeated it for years. Her story added a shade of gray to my perception, and it has come to exemplify different things through the years.

Right now, for the situation with John and Elizabeth Edwards, it is rather literal: sometimes, staying might be the right choice. It's not standing by your man (or woman) necessarily. That is a patronizing oversimplification of a complex situation. It's not being a dupe. It's not about being afraid, being alone, sticking in a rut, or enabling. It's about what matters to that person---about what that person chooses, because of what he or she finds right or best for his or her life.

But also, for me right now, it is, as I said a few paragraphs ago: a lesson in value and worth, a lesson in investment.

Elizabeth Edwards' situation reminded me of this story and what it means to me. This story, combined with Edwards' message about boundaries, once again inspired and reminded me that we don't get to say, we don't get to judge, we don't get to determine right, and most of all, we don't get to know---whether it is about marriage, fidelity, childrearing, or something else---someone else's life and choices as if it was our own, as if it was ours to decide about .

(Note: My mind is anticipating a counterpoint here, one about "but what if I care?" and "what about how it affects me?" and "sometimes it's my business" and so forth. I'm not saying disassociate or disengage. I'm not invalidating these possibilities or that some things are generally agreed to be wrong. What I am saying is that what someone else chooses to do about it is their choice, just as what you do is your choice---by which I'm simply saying we should respect boundaries, even if it is to do with you, and understand sometimes one person makes a choice another might not make---but that doesn't equal wrong.)

This point is especially essential to me right now. I've finally come to understand that although I have a strong sense of my own ideas of what I ought to do, I am too frequently governed by supposed rules, by what others think---what they think of me, what they will think of me---and I measure my decision by making sure it would garner the most approval. This doesn't mean I always do what I think others think I should---or tell me I should, but it does mean on some level I feel defensive or anxious about it.

Also, it means I let those voices, the ones that tell me what to do, in my head. Further, it means I spend an unproductive amount of time worrying about what I should do. How I ought to be. Putting pressure on myself to meet that expectations, and putting guilt on myself when I do not---wondering which thing is the thing that will so ultimately disappoint that I will no longer be worthy. I cannot bend my oak self into a willow, no matter how much I think I should or how hard I try. Thus, lately, I've been thinking it through, working on the concept of being me and finding the balance of being me, expecting others to accept me as I am, and then, knowing, wisely, when the moment has come to fulfill their hope or expectation of me, even if only in my own way.

I've frequently compared this stage of life to the teen years. I'm not new to this. Mid-life crisis, people you'd never expect attending reunions, old contacts popping up. It's all typical. It's also the maturing and growth, plus the physical changes, too. My body is changing, and so is my mind. In my teens, I belligerently and defiantly lived by: You don't get to say! Here, once again, I am saying the same, albeit more gently, much less defiantly. I am saying it measuredly: hmm, I'll take that under consideration, but in the end, it must be my decision.

I am also asking, as I did as a youth, please respect that, and trust my judgment.

But now, as then, I realize I have to earn that, too. There are quite a few areas in which I have earned that and these are the areas I am working most diligently on making mine.

Thus, in lieu of Elizabeth Edwards saying it about her own life now, I will say it---calmly yet determinedly, kindly and respectfully yet firmly---about my own and maybe this time it will really get through to me and to the unsolicited voices in my head and around me that is is right and true and reasonable:
You don't get to say I am a terrible person because you think you wouldn't make my choices in my situation. You don't get to blame me or criticize my choice, not even if you think you have some right or say. You don't get to judge me because you think you know exactly what you would do if you had my situation. I want to be really clear: you don't know. In the end, it is my choice and it must be my decision. So you don't get to say, not what I should do or who I should be. And you don't get to tell me I am not worthy because I do not fit your ideas and expectations.
It's here that I'll cut off and say the magic words: Hump Day Hmm.

Note: My husband made the good point that by bringing up two infidelity stories readers might infer I have an infidelity situation on my hands. Good point. I do not. I just want to make that clear. I am, however, struggling with a transition point in life. I have, lately, been getting a lot of "you've let me down" and "you haven't met my expectations" feedback (literally said). This is a button of mine. For example, I have been moving into more working and less SAHMing and this has meant cutting back on some volunteering and different activities, things I once would have said yes to and now must say no. As a result of the change and the feedback, I've been upping expectation of myself to an unrealistic point and driving myself crazy. The Edwards' situation came up, I thought about it, it reminded me of the other story and from there, I found perspective. It just so happens both ar eabout infidelity. If you ask me why I take such lessons from infidelity, hmm. That's a hard one. At a try: Infidelity is considered the worst betrayal in a marriage, it's like the beacon issue, and is often surely a reason a person is depicted as terrible and the mitigating factor in a split. If I set aside the specifics---marriage, sex, and faithfulness---and boil it down to the general issues---relationship, trust, betrayal, expectations and let down---the fact that one can recover from this and remain invested in one another speaks to me about investment, forgiveness, recovery, unconditional, worth, and so forth. I hope that makes sense.

Next week...several people asked that the topic be related to my last post, about 1984. It doesn't have to be political, it doesn't have to be 1984 (keeping in mind that not everyone was born or much aware at that point). But choose a time that was an awakening for you, select a year or an event that year, that you invested in, although you might now have been quite old enough to understand it fully, and that affected you down the line. Or write about 1984, the election or your life then.

The following on the idea in this post, and the concept of awakening. What shift in thinking have you experienced that caused you to view others differently, and created a new way of thinking in yourself?

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.