Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lowering (Altering?) Expectations

"You are almost forty and you have two kids. When dating, you really can't have high or unrealistic expectations of how things should be. It's different now and you can't approach it like you did twenty years ago."

This advice was given to me by a very good friend of mine this week. And while my initial reaction was to curl up in the fetal position in the dark with a box of wine and my 1990s slow jams Pandora station covering the room with the bittersweet sounds of Boyz II Men and Jodeci, I fought that urge and realized that my friend's intentions were good. That's not to say I agree with her, or at least her phrasing, but I get her point.

My disagreement is planted largely in the fact that for the first time in my life, I do have high expectations. And I can attribute this to several factors. I’ve been through bad situations, and I don’t want to repeat them. The relationships in my past are testaments to the sad truth that I did not think I deserved very much. Who wants to feel that way? I know better now. Also, I’ve proven to myself that I can take care of two children and work and run a home without a partner, so I do not need to grab someone just to fill that role. Finally, with age don’t most of us gain confidence and a stronger sense of who we are and what we want from the people with whom we choose to spend our time? In that sense, I think our expectations should become not only higher, but more refined. I feel more prepared to choose a partner as I approach my forties than I did in my mid-twenties (and that is just me, as I have friends who are married to wonderful spouses whom they started dating in college or even earlier) and I am fortunate that life may provide me the opportunity to do so someday.

Perhaps my friend meant that by our age we have a better understanding that all people are flawed. There are no fairy tales and life is not a romantic comedy. (Although if someone who looked like Ryan Gosling showed up on my front porch with flowers and a profession of undying love, I wouldn’t slam the door in his face.) If I do find myself in a relationship again (and hats off to you single parents out there who find the time and the babysitting resources and other single people with which to do this . . . I haven’t managed to figure that out), I know it will be with an imperfect human who will not always do things like I want and may disappoint me from time to time. I’m good with that.

I see the flaws played out around me every day. Almost all of my friends are married. I can count on one hand the number of people in my regular social circle who are not. And even those whom I would count as having strong and happy partnerships will admit there are certain quirks or behaviors exhibited by their spouses that they do not find particularly endearing.

"Of course sometimes I wish that ____________ would be more ___________, but that's not who he is and he more than compensates with his other wonderful qualities."

"My wife always __________ and I used to get so frustrated by this but I've gotten used to it."

So if by not having high expectations my friend meant that I should not wait for perfection, I'm already there.

My friend also likely meant that being older and having kids necessarily makes dating different. You can’t make last-minute plans for an exciting day trip or stay out all night or even invite someone over and cook him dinner. The expectations for romance or “courting” must change. I'm understanding of that as well.

Maybe she meant that as we approach middle age, we all have bumps and bruises from our life experiences. Past relationships and disappointments have affected us. We may not be where we expected at this point in our journey. If a person is not at peace with his past or not feeling positive about his present circumstances, that will have an effect on all of his relationships. I know to be aware of that.

Finally, I imagine that my friend was stating her belief that there are not very many men who are interested in dating a forty-year-old woman with full-time custody of two young kids. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I do know that the Sleepless in Seattle quote uttered by Rosie O’Donnell’s character, that it is more likely for a woman over the age of forty to be killed by a terrorist than get married, has been debunked (I checked). So, that’s something. Yes, we are no longer on a college campus with thousands of single guys or going out after work every night as young professionals to meet up with a multitude of our unattached peers. This is true. And if the subset is significantly smaller than twenty years ago, that’s OK. I know the total number of single men in their forties is way more than zero, and some of them are great guys.

What is your reaction? Should our expectations be tempered by age and circumstances? Have yours been?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Would I Tell Her?


This week, my mom sent me a copy of my fourth grade school picture, taken almost exactly thirty years ago. I stared at the much younger 1984 version of myself and wondered what I would tell her if given the chance. My conclusion? Not much. At least not about the big stuff.

While part of me would want to warn her about the hurt, the insecurities, the loss, the broken relationships, the fear that she is going to experience in the next thirty years because I know how hard it will be for her, I won’t. She needs to go through these things. They will make her stronger and more confident and more resolute in knowing what she needs and deserves.

I also don’t want to tell her too much about the joy and excitement of excelling in school or overcoming intense shyness to star in the school play or her first kiss (only five years away!) or college life or traveling to Europe or moving to a new city after graduate school or working with students or holding her babies in her arms for the first time. She deserves to discover the overwhelming, heart-stopping, butterfly-creating emotions those moments will provide without any spoiling of the plot from me.

If given the chance, though, I would offer her some advice. Some tips that, in retrospect, might come in handy as she progresses through adolescence and adulthood without altering the general course of her life path.

Wearing pantyhose under sweatpants that you pull up to just below the knees to give the appearance of tan legs as you walk around the mall or spend the afternoon at the skating rink is not a good look. Ever. Don’t do it.

Sit with your grandmothers and listen to them as much as you can. They have had two very different life experiences and both can teach you so much about being strong.

Some of the people who will yell “nerd herd” as you walk home with your friends from middle school are now in jail. Others have turned out to be wonderful people. And being a nerd is OK. You will realize this in high school and have a great time. And it sounds cliché and you may not believe me now, but people who bully and belittle are doing so to hide their own insecurities.

There will be local and world events over the next thirty years that will leave you with no doubt that there is evil in the world. You won’t be able to comprehend it. You will think about it a lot. But always remember this. By a wide margin, most people on this planet are good and want to live in peace and will help you when needed. Decide to practice kindness and share love every day to do your part to make the world better.

You know how you’ve been following the Reagan and Mondale campaigns and plotting electoral map possibilities (I won’t tell you who wins in a couple of months, but I bet you can guess)? Your love for politics and civic engagement and current events is only going to grow. Always be open to hearing all perspectives. You will be amazed by how your ideas on how you think things are supposed to be can change when you listen and learn from others. At the same time, when you feel strongly about an issue, stand up for it.

Be nicer to your brother and sister. I mean, not all the time. That is unrealistic. I did live in that house, after all, so I know that sometimes they deserve the grief. But the three of you are connected; you have a shared history and impact each other’s life stories. Appreciate that.

You will find that when you are lonely or sad or confused, writing will be your outlet. I know that it already is. Sitting outside on the grass with a journal is important to you. Keep it up.

OK. I can’t help it. I’m going to tip you off to something. In the next few weeks, you will be hanging out in the extra room across from your classroom where kids can go and socialize when they finish their work (and you know how there are no walls between rooms because your school is experimenting with an open “pod” model . . . that won’t last). Instead of making up long division problems on the chalkboard for fun like you usually do, Bobby is going to invite you to listen to his new Fat Boys tape with him. With the big headphones on, you won’t realize how loudly you are telling Bobby that the Fat Boys are awesome and your teacher will ban you from the recreation room for a week. I now will leave it to you to decide whether or not you wish to accept Bobby’s listening invitation.

On a related note, keep playing your music loud. There are certain songs you will hear for the first time over the next thirty years that I can play today and be instantly transported back to a moment you always will remember.

It is OK to share how you feel a little more than you currently do. You don’t need to pretend like everything is fine when it is not because you don’t want anyone to think you are weak or vulnerable. It is going to take you a while, but you are going to discover that choosing a few friends you really trust and allowing yourself to be close to them and honest with them will make your life so much better.

When the teenager working at the movie theater ticket window and the boy at the bus stop to whom you lose a Super Bowl bet both get mad because you pay up with bags of pennies, you just hold firm in the fact that those coins are legitimate currency.

You are never going to be good at keeping your bedroom picked up.

Even the best teenage drivers are awful.

You will accidentally set yourself on fire sometime in the next ten years. You will be fine.

You know how you are frustrated that your parents won’t get cable and you have to go to a friend’s house to watch MTV (that Madonna is a racy one, isn’t she?) . . . in thirty years you will have realized that cable is a waste of money and you will be the one making the decision not to have it.

Embrace the opportunity to say yes to new adventures that might seem a little scary. And it is perfectly acceptable to say no sometimes to requests that would be fulfilled only out of guilt or perceived obligation.

I am super proud of most of the decisions you will make in the next three decades. And as far as the instances in which you make poor decisions (it happens to everyone), I am proud of what you will learn and how you grow from those choices. (And I will be honest – there are times when you will need to make the same bad decision a few times before that lesson is learned.)

Your best years . . . our best years . . . are yet to come.

So much more comes to mind as I look at nine-year-old Sarah. But I’m going to keep it to my 39-year-old self. She will learn it for herself in time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The 38-Year-Old Woman

 
Today in Iraq, a 38-year-old woman gathered up what she could, tried to comfort her scared children and did her best to be convincing in her promise to keep them safe, and started walking with her family away from her home in Mosul. She is beginning a walk that will last for more than 50 miles, until she reaches the tents of the refugee camp that has been set up for thousands of others just like her. She is a doctor; her skills probably will be quite useful there. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is in charge of her neighborhood now. It's no place to be.

Today in Lebanon, a 38-year-old woman probably could share some words of advice with the mother just starting her journey in Iraq. Her husband is dead and she has been living with her four children in a tent for months now. At least bombs and chemical weapons are not falling around her like they were before she escaped the horrific fighting in Syria. But this is not how she imagined raising her family. Her middle-class life and afternoon chats with the neighbors have disappeared.

Today in Nigeria, a 38-year-old woman cries, just like she does every day, because her daughter was abducted two months ago and she still has no idea where the girl is. She knows who has her daughter and hundreds of other girls, though, and it's terrifying. Her girl just wanted to go to school, to talk about the books she loved to read. Some of the media spotlight and celebrity hash tags have disappeared, but this woman hasn't stopped thinking about her precious girl for one second.

Today in South Sudan, a 38-year-old woman grows desperate as she looks around at the cracked landscape and sees no fresh water and no food. She has lost her husband and two children to the violence of the ongoing civil war, and she has no idea how she is going to care for the three other little girls who look at her with hungry, fearful eyes. This woman may or may not have heard about another woman, about a decade her junior and also living in Sudan, who has been sentenced to hang because she refuses to renounce her Christian faith and profess belief in Islam. If the punishment is carried out, she will leave behind her husband, as well as a toddler son and infant daughter who are currently jailed with her.

Today in North Korea, a 38-year-old woman spends 16 hours a day moving around dirt in a labor camp. She might get to eat some rice tonight. She is there because a neighbor told authorities she had made fun of Dear Leader. She didn't! She wouldn't have dared! Her pleadings of innocence did not matter, though. Her son was brought to this same camp with her five years ago. Two months ago, the guards forced her to watch as they shot him.

The list of what is happening in the lives of 38-year-old women across the globe could go on and on and include every continent (What about Russia, Ukraine, Haiti, Venezuela, Chad, Yemen, Iran . . .). With the events unfolding in the Middle East, as terrorists march through cities in Iraq and claim power with little resistance from the standing army, I have been spending a lot of my time today thinking about these women, my fellow moms and professionals and writers and caretakers.

You know why? Because I am a 38-year-old woman and here are some of the problems I have faced this week: I was an hour late to work because I forgot to pack my daughter's swimsuit for day camp and had to return home to get it. I am fighting with my insurance company over its denial of some expensive tests that both my primary care physician and specialist assured me would be covered. I can't decide which type of tickets to buy for our trip to Disney World in October. My lower back hurts all the time, and I look like that slowly evolving man in science posters as I struggle to stand erect every morning. I ate too much ice cream and then felt guilty. I was too tired to get both kids into the car and drive over to the school board candidate forum this evening . . . and then I felt guilty again. Those are my problems.

It baffles me. My birth certificate lists Washington, D.C. as my hometown. Because of that . . . because I came into this world in a hospital built upon dirt that was designated as belonging to the United States . . . my life is radically different than if I claimed my origins at a different latitude and longitude. That one change and the existence that I know would be impossible. I think about that a lot.

This isn't to say that everything is awesome for women all of the time in the United States. There is discrimination and objectification. There are women who fear the men who walk into their homes every evening. There are women who don't have a home at all. There are women who cry themselves to sleep at night because they don't know how they are going to feed their children the next day. There are women facing terminal diagnoses who cannot understand why a country as advanced as ours has not found a cure. There are women who have lost their children to gun violence in a manner that will bring you to your knees in tears. I am not minimizing any of these very real struggles. But to live within the borders of a country in which you are considered chattel or your attraction to a man can get you stoned to death or your desire to go to college can get you whipped or you endure civil war after civil war or you never get any sense, any glimmer or inkling, or what it might be like to make your own decisions or just see your kids laugh and play in that carefree way that kids are supposed to be allowed to have . . . I cannot fathom what that must be like.

I do not feel guilty for being born under the circumstances I was given. I didn't do anything wrong. Instead, on days like today I am reminded to have gratitude. I could just as easily be the 38-year-old woman who is walking from her home in Iraq today to a tent 50 miles away with her children, those kids she loves so much it hurts, and who has known mostly civil war and then rule by terror and then more war for almost all of her life. At our cores, that woman and I have way more in common than what makes us different, But geography has dictated, at least to a large degree, that our circumstances have us now leading lives that, even in the age of social media and our global community, the other would struggle to comprehend.




Thursday, May 29, 2014

Facebook = Bragbook?

I don't remember what prompted this conversation, but I was visiting with my mom several years ago and she told me about a moment from my childhood that made her change the way she talked about my siblings and me. It was 1983ish and she was sitting at our neighbor's house having coffee with the mom of the family and sharing my recent accomplishments at elementary school. When she got home after that coffee chat, she said she felt bad about going on about how well I was doing. She decided not to do that anymore. That admission from my mom stuck with me. I appreciate the fact that she consciously was not boastful. I knew my parents were proud of us, but they never slapped those honor student bumper stickers on their cars and did not make big public declarations about our other achievements. And now I'm wondering if I am guilty of the same kid-bragging problem. Why? Because of Facebook.

In the past two days, I have shared with the Facebook world my daughter's achievements in softball and in school. This is not standard for me, I don't think. I post silly things my kids say and do and sometimes share special moments that give me the warm mom fuzzies, but I try not to focus online on grades and honors and other such "pride goeth before the mommy fall" kind of stuff. I don't even put that much stock in grades, particularly those earned by a second grader. And now I feel like my mom did after that cup of coffee.

I could justify my reasons. My closest blood relative lives five hours away (hi, Caroline!) and most of them live twelve or more hours away. Facebook offers a nice way to reach everyone and I am just as excited to see what is going on with my cousins' children (some of whom I've never actually met) and other members of my family. Also, to be honest, I feel like I have developed a community of friends on Facebook. Most of this group consists of in-the-flesh friends I had before the internet was a part of our lives, but also more recent and treasured connections. I've appreciated their support over the past several years.

And, there is the fact that sometimes I don't even think about the notion that other people might be paying attention. I enjoy writing on Facebook because I simply love writing whenever I can and Facebook offers one outlet to craft short messages for fun when that is all my schedule will allow. (And as an editor, I have deleted multiple status updates after going back and just not being pleased with the way the words flowed.) Facebook has become somewhat of an online journal with no real expectation on my part that anyone will read it (and I'm sure that most of those listed among my "friend" count never do). Every so often I go back and print out the funny stories I share about the kids and place them in their memento boxes (in true first-child fashion, the girl has a much more impressive set of keepsakes than the boy . . . he does have a nice baby book, though, that will be a special piece of history for him to look through if I ever get around to writing in it, likely rounding off to the nearest year when cataloguing the date of his first tooth). But you know what? I could go back to writing those stories in an actual journal made of paper, like I did so often after my daughter was born.

But, at the same time, Facebook is also not really a journal. I write often on Facebook, but never about anything super personal. While I've posted stories about being a single mom, I've never written about the circumstances of my divorce or about my ex-husband. (Oh, and I cringe when I see friends who do that fresh out of a relationship. Your kids see that. It never really goes away.) To those going through a divorce, here is my advice -- Buy a cheap spiral notebook. Write furiously in it. Read it a year later and realize how far you've come (hopefully). Then burn it. I also choose not to share information about my doctors' appointments or medical concerns. I don't let it be known on Facebook when a friend has disappointed me (people or government or circumstances in general, yes, but I don't expose specific relationships). I don't (OK, try not to) judge people who do share in such a manner on Facebook, and even understand why it would be therapeutic or reassuring to put your concerns on display and get instantaneous feedback, but I choose not divulge such details.

I am also positive of this -- I don't share the accomplishments of my kids to cultivate the appearance of an awesome little family and home life. That is what Facebook is often guilty of, right? Just posting the good stuff to make it seem like we have it all together. I'm more than willing to share right here that my house is a little messy, I don't get enough sleep or exercise, I ate three large pieces of angel food cake for dinner earlier this week and nothing else, I wake up lacking patience and this problem only gets worse by the evening, and I'm disorganized (I pay more than my share of late fees on bills not because I don't have the money to pay them on time . . . I just forget).  But with my kids, I don't want to share their individual struggles and our collective struggles as a family (unless it's a ridiculous sibling quarrel, as those are just amusing). My kids have the right to privacy regarding the details of battles with behavior issues, and we certainly have them because they are eight and four years old and that is part of life. They have the right not be defined by embarrassing or sad or negative moments as part of their permanent online record.

Which brings me to a posting by one of my friends about a year ago that I have come back to time and again. She decided not to share any more photographs or stories about her kids online. Not because she is afraid some child predator will see their precious young faces and track them down. Instead, she made that decision because she wanted to give her kids the opportunity to develop and share their own identity as they grow into young men and women, and not to have it defined by hundreds of photographs and anecdotes that captured every step of their childhood. Kids today are going to become adults with an unprecedented digital resume, most of which they did not create themselves. When my daughter is twenty, her friends will be able to search the internet and find out what she did and how she looked and what she said when she was eight. No matter how private we think we keep our settings, some of that information is always going to be out there. Maybe it would be better if all such stuff was kept in one embarrassing photo album that I could pull out at just the right moment, like in the good old days.

I have no doubt that there are hundreds of doctoral theses dedicated to the psychology of social media. Why do people feel the need to post selfies incessantly? (I have never even taken a selfie as I'm sure such photographic tricks would only make me look more tired than I know I already appear in real life. In fact, I am pretty sure I can count on my hands the number of times I have been photographed by any means since my second kid was born.) Why do people want to "live tweet" some of the most intimate and/or sad moments of their lives? How is a person's self-worth determined by the number of "friends" they have online? All of these are fascinating questions and speak to the state of our happiness and longing for sense of community in this new online age.

And now the past forty-eight hours or so have revived my own thinking about how I use social media, and more specifically Facebook. I've gone through these periods of questioning before, even throwing my hands up and removing my account several times. But I like being in touch with people around the world and learning from them. I like knowing what is happening with friends and family in a way that wouldn't be possible without computers. I like that my good friend from high school will be dining with my sister next week in Hong Kong simply because they found out they both will be on the other side of the world at the same time thanks to Facebook. But what is appropriate to share when it comes to my kids? Am I overreacting for feeling like an obnoxious mom after putting the kids' accomplishments online? Would I feel silly sharing the same information with an acquaintance over coffee? Should I stop posting photographs and stories about my kids altogether, whether they be to share something they accomplished or to laugh about something silly they did, or do I just need to acknowledge that they will grow up with their lives online no matter what?

I think I am going to make some changes regarding how I approach Facebook and other social media outlets and determine what seems right. In the meantime, who has some advice or words of experience for me?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Challenges of Being the Only Grown Up

Like most other single moms (or military moms, or moms of multiples, or moms of three under three, or homeschooling moms, or working moms, or moms of kids with special needs . . .), I have had people say to me, "I don't know how you do it." I appreciate the spirit of the statement, but I never know how to respond. When it's all you've ever known, it's just normal. I don't know what it would be like to do parenting and household management any other way. It's weird to think about how it would be to do all this with someone else. (I'm not opposed to finding out someday, though.)

Recently, though, I've found myself compiling a mental list of those moments when having another adult around would be handy.

1. When my kids are already sitting at the dinner table and I come walking up holding the salt and pepper shakers and yell out, "Salt, salt, salt, salt, salt and pepper here and they're in effect," I get nothing but blank stares in return. Someone at the table who could appreciate my 1980s rap references would be appreciated.

2.  I waste a lot of wine. There are evenings on which I like to relax with a glass of cabernet after the kids are asleep. That cork only keeps the wine good for a couple of days. So, assuming it has been a week in which I haven't been able to string together several consecutive evenings for wine enjoyment, I silently pour the remaining contents of the bottle down the kitchen drain. This is sad.

3. One time a "friend" of mine looked at me solemnly and said, "You are almost forty and totally single with two kids. It has to be impossible to find anyone. I would hate to be you." We aren't so much friends anymore. She would not have been able to share her awesome concern for me if I had not been the only grown up in my house.

4. I wouldn't have to wonder why doctors' offices have boxes for both "single" and "divorced" under the personal data section. I usually check both. Perhaps that causes a little hiccup in the data entry process. I suppose for some people being divorced leads to high blood pressure or shingles or something, or maybe there is a scientific study showing that having an ex-spouse shaves six years off your life. I just know I feel like I'm being judged by those little boxes on the form.

5. I want someone else to handle bedtime once in a while. So much. I was so exhausted one night earlier this week that by the time we got home from wherever at 8:30pm, I told the kids, "Take off your shoes and brush your teeth. Then let's all get into my bed and have a contest and see who can fall asleep first. Whoever wins gets to have a piece of Easter candy with breakfast." That was the extent of the bedtime routine for the evening. No bedtime stories, no poignant reflections on the occurrences of the day, Oh, and I totally won the contest. And I ate a purple Peep with my coffee.

6. My very patient and wonderful co-worker would not have to deal with me coming into his office every morning to talk through whichever episode of first Breaking Bad and now House of Cards I had just watched the night before (as he had already seen every episode of both by the time I started watching them). Of course, perhaps it should occur to me that if there was another grown up in my house, he might not enjoy the same television programming as me. So, maybe my co-worker isn't off the hook either way.

7. No longer would I be able to respond to the question, "Where is your husband?" with my standard answer of, "I don't have one of those anymore." OK, I might miss the confused reaction I get to that one just a little bit.

These are all silly and trivial points, of course, while the actual happiness and strength of my family are matters I take quite seriously and into which I put a lot of thought. And if someday there is another grown up who comes along who will understand and appreciate the quotes from Heathers that I seamlessly inject into a breakfast conversation or who will nod in agreement when I tell the kids their efforts to change my mind will prove just as futile as Napoleon invading Russia in winter, then that will be lovely as well.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Does Jesus Have a Dress Code?

I am a fairly new Christian. If you had told me fifteen years ago that I would profess faith in God at all, let alone be an active church member who values my personal relationship with Christ, I would have told you that you must have the wrong person. After all, I was the one who wrote a three-page letter (front and back) when I was eighteen to an ex-boyfriend detailing all the ills that God and religion had caused throughout history after he invited me to learn about Jesus Christ in a birthday card. But, through a series of relationships and reading and examples set by men and women who live their faith beautifully every day and experiences that are very personal and sacred to me, my life changed.

Now, I guess, I find myself in the toddler stage of my faith. Which means, like any two-year-old, I am asking "Why?" a lot. (OK, truth be told, I've always asked that question frequently and will continue to do so, whether about matters of faith or family or politics or how cars work. I think it's a wonderful question and I want my kids to ask it often regarding their own experiences at church.)

One of the questions that has been running through my mind quite a bit recently, perhaps due to all of the ads for Easter dresses, is this: Why do we dress up for church?

I've engaged every member of my office in this discussion (I'm fortunate to work with people who love such conversations as much as I do), read about a dozen articles from different perspectives, and looked to Scripture for answers. I wanted to know if the inclination to "dress up" came from more than just our desire to impress one another and put on appearances. Is this just a ritual created by humans as part of our social mores?

The most common arguments I read in favor of donning our suits and dresses on Sunday mornings is that God deserves our best and that our time of corporate worship should be set aside as special.

When it comes to the notion that God deserves our best, I could not agree more. But doesn't that mean not honking at the guy who cut us off as we were driving to church and walking up to the person standing alone in a pew to give him a hug and admitting that we walked into the sanctuary sad or angry or resentful and not judging the mom whose young child can't sit still during the sermon? Shouldn't it mean giving Him the most open, honest and loving heart we have to offer? And not just on Sunday mornings, but every day. After all . . .

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. -- I Peter 3:3-4

There also is the important truth that God is worthy of our respect. Absolutely. But does that mean wearing a tie? One of the articles I read offered a great analogy. Many people were upset a couple of years ago when members of a collegiate women's lacrosse team wore flip flops to meet the president in the Oval Office. But, would there have been the same outrage if we learned that Sasha and Malia ran to their father's desk to hug him and tell him they love him while flip flops were on their feet? Of course not. When we come to worship, is that not what we are doing? Are we not there to pour out to our Heavenly Father how much we love Him? There certainly are standards that are an understood part of job interviews or business dinners or even school. Adhering to those dress expectations come with operating and being successful within our society. But when you are at church, you are with family.

I wonder if the assumed expectations for dress keep some people from ever walking through the doors, from knowing that there is a family inside eager to receive and love them. For someone who has never been to church before, just entering the building can be intimidating (I know . . . I felt self-conscious in church for a very long time). Add to that the concern that they are not dressed nicely enough and that others may stare would leave many standing outside and never knowing that those on the other side of the walls are just as flawed and filled with fears and doubt and struggles as they are. God loves the fashionable and refined no more and no less.

And there, I think, may be the difficult truth. Do we put on our nicest clothes and present the picture of a happy and perfect-looking family to avoid looking beneath the surface? Do we not want people to know we cried ourselves to sleep last night or that our marriages are falling apart or we aren't even sure if we believe in God anymore?

I used to attend a large church in a wealthy part of Nashville. It was packed every Sunday morning and every person there looked amazing. One Sunday, the pastor handed out cards and asked those in attendance to share the strength of their relationship with Christ. The following week, he was almost in tears as he stood at the pulpit and shared that nearly 70% of the congregation did not feel they had a close, personal relationship with God. On the surface, the place and the people looked amazing. But it was just for show, to do the appropriate thing once a week and make sure others saw you there.

What if we put aside the pretenses, the expectations of a what a good church member should look like? What if we were free to walk up to our brothers and sisters on a Sunday morning wearing jeans and a t-shirt and say, "I am hurting today. I need your help." What if we fell to the altar with grateful tears while wearing those same jeans and t-shirt and said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Would our worship not be as important or valued or real because of what we were wearing?

When Christ traveled the earth with His message of love, He did not have a dress code in order to hear Him speak. His message was for all, equally. He told prostitutes and rich men and lepers and dirty beggars and refined business men and a bloody thief hanging next to Him on a cross that they were loved and valued. And we honor God when we love and value our neighbors, too -- when we fling our church doors wide open and say, "Come. Now. You are wanted here. You are loved unconditionally." Or, better yet, when we exit through our doors and enter our communities with that same message.

My questioning of what we wear to church is not to advocate that we all put on sweatpants and sneakers before heading out on Sunday mornings. Instead, I want to embrace the call to "come however you are." If you praise and pray best in a three-piece suit or a beautiful skirt and heels, come as you are. (I read somewhere that Victoria Beckham once said she couldn't even think while wearing flats. By all means, woman, wear those six-inch heels to the sanctuary! Do what makes you uniquely you.) Are you comfortable talking to God and singing for Him in blue jeans and a sweater? Come as you are. Can you be your honest self, the one who just wants to be loved and accepted, wearing shorts and a t-shirt? Come as you are.

Am I off base here? Am I missing an important reason to look our best on Sunday mornings? I know that I hardly have all the answers. But this issue is one that has captured my thoughts quite a bit these past few weeks. And it's the reason that I will be wearing my jeans to church this Sunday.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creating Sorbet Moments in My Day


As anyone who knows me pretty well can attest, my life is strikingly similar to that of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. It's uncanny, really. I sometimes watch an episode and think, "It's like she is channeling me. I'm sitting here on my couch and I'm staring into a mirror."

So, it should come as no surprise that I could relate to Carrie when her boyfriend Aiden moved into her apartment (well, other than the fact that I've never dated anyone named Aiden . . . although I did develop a crush on Aiden Quinn after he was in that movie in which Johnny Depp makes grilled cheese with an iron . . . and never lived with a boyfriend). Carrie was used to having her independence, her quiet time, and now she was having to adjust to a full-time partner always being around. She finally tells Aiden that she loves him very much but she just needs one hour right when she comes home every night to be by herself. Once she is given this time alone, she realizes that she really only needs a couple of minutes to breathe and get recharged, not a whole hour, before she is ready to engage with the person she loves and who shares her living space.

Like my doppelganger Carrie Bradshaw, I am realizing more and more the importance of trying to recharge quietly before shifting from one part of my daily schedule to the next.

Before I go any further, I must emphasize that I am not complaining about how hectic and loud my life usually is. I am happier now than I ever have been in my adult life. Well, ages 22 to 24 had some pretty awesome moments of being young and single and employed and going out A LOT . . . but now is way better than even that. But just like a dinner at a fine restaurant, where sorbet is offered between each course to cleanse the palate and prepare for the wonderful dish that is coming next, my days could benefit from a few moments of reset as they progress.

Starting with the alarm that goes off at 6:00am, it would be lovely to gather my thoughts and prepare for my day over a cup of coffee or some reading or just with time in silent prayer and deep breathing. A nice transition, or metaphorical sorbet, to move from (always fitful and usually interrupted by a child) sleep to a new morning. Just a few minutes to wake up my body, mind and spirit before my mom responsibilities begin. Instead, the day usually begins with the sounds of two kids fighting in the hallway, punctuated by cries of "Moooooommmmmm!"that I do my best to ignore or my son turning my light on at 5:53am to show me his wardrobe selection for the day or my daughter coming into the bathroom moments after I've stumbled into the shower to inform me that her brother is annoying.

I've tried getting a few steps ahead of them and setting my alarm for 5:30am. But the boy must have some sort of trigger that goes off in his brain while he is sleeping to inform him that his mother is attempting to start her day. I can tiptoe around my room, shuffle past his door to head downstairs to the kitchen . . . my efforts at near silent movement are for naught. Without fail, he will jump off his bed to locate me and yell, 'Mom, what are you doing up??!!" No sorbet. It's just a whirlwind of chaos until everyone is out the door at 7:15am.

After working all day at a job that I love but that keeps me quite busy, I suppose that the drive home does allow me a half hour or so of alone time to transition from work to home life. I usually sing loudly, flipping between radio stations every eleven seconds or so, interrupted every time I feel the need to yell something toward another driver using language that I never even think of using when anywhere else besides behind the wheel of a car. Today I accompanied Tiffany on "Could've Been" and Nirvana on "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and only used my horn once, so I count that as a successful commute.     

On some days, I have started to take it upon myself to create a quiet, traffic-free sorbet moment after work. Before I pick up my kids, I head home (the girl's school and boy's day care are both just around the corner from my neighborhood, so it's not creating any extra travel). I look at the mail, change out of work clothes into my no limits dodgeball/street baseball pitcher/climb a tree with the best of them clothes, and maybe get a drink of water. You know what? On the days I take just those five minutes alone, the rest of the evening goes so much better. When I don't, mail gets thrown on the table as I mediate an argument and the tension that has built up from sitting at my desk all day and then in traffic never gets a chance to dissipate.

And once the kids are in bed, I've been allowing myself time once in a while to do just as I am now. Writing makes me happy and helps to relax me. Or I'll watch an episode of House of Cards or Family Ties on Netflix (very different options, so my mood is key here). I try to read, but find myself at 10:00pm slouched over and nodding off after two pages. (Oh, how I do miss spending an afternoon getting lost in a book!) I've decided I don't always have to move from tucking in kids to dishes to laundry to emails for church or work or other responsibilities to crashing in bed. It's OK to give myself this time every so often.

When I was a kid, my mom had a rule that she stopped hearing "Mom!" at 9:00pm. She needed to put those boundaries on us (which we often tested) because she deserved time to recharge after being a stay-at-home mom all day and teaching piano lessons at our home in the afternoons and evenings. I know that I need to be better about enforcing that same rule in the morning . . .. no "Mom!" until 6:30am (with exceptions made, of course, for instances of massive bleeding, hair catching on fire, projectile vomiting, etc.). My kids are old enough to understand that. And I need to continue to find those ways to grab a few minutes after work or after the kids' t-ball and softball games on the weekend that I can steal away for myself to be then a better and more present mom as a result.

When I was a single mom to a preschooler and an infant, the notion of taking five minutes periodically throughout the day to close my eyes, breathe and reboot seemed farfetched. But I'm at a different stage now. My kids are eight and four (excuse me . . . four and a half . . . that boy is determined that he is going to catch up to and then be older than his sister someday) and do not demand my attention every moment. It's not that I'm not anxious to spend time with them. I get excited every afternoon as I'm driving home from work to see them, hug them and hear about their days. I struggle with the guilt of being away from them for nine hours a day, especially my son because he didn't have the first few years with a stay-at-home mom like his sister did. But I'm also learning to accept and embrace the notion that wanting to have a few minutes for me here and there is OK and makes me value even more the two most important people in my world.

So, here is to creating little sorbet moments that allow us to best appreciate each course of a wonderful day!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Yea for Smart and Healthy Girls on Bikes!



Why is a feared child abduction attempt one of my favorite stories of the week? Please read on.

It all happened yesterday. Two nine-year-old girls were riding their bikes to school in Franklin, TN, just south of Nashville. A middle-aged man in a car stopped and asked if they knew where they were going and if they wanted a ride. The girls took off in the other direction and returned home to report the incident to their parents. The police were notified and community bulletins spread over social media. Extra law enforcement patrolled the area. Then, the next morning, the man in question flagged down an officer to share that he was the guy who talked to the girls. He is the parent of another child at their school. He had just dropped off his kid and said that the girls appeared lost so he stopped to ask if he could help. No evil intentions. Just a dad looking out for other children in his community. The police say there is no reason to fear.

Here is what I like about this story:
 
1. The girls were riding bikes to school. I hope plenty of other kids at that school get on their bikes every morning as well. What a great way to start the day! Two friends getting some exercise and fresh air and probably having a fun conversation. While my daughter rides the bus, there is a shortcut behind our neighborhood that would make for a quick ten-minute walk to school. If I knew she would encounter plenty of other kids along the way, I would be perfectly fine with her walking to school in the morning with friends. The only thing that is not safe about my girl walking now is the lack of other walkers. What if she got hurt (because the girl likes to run and jump from high places)? Or, on the incredibly rare chance that someone in the area did have ill intent, the likelihood of anything happening is greatly reduced if my girl is not walking alone. Safety in numbers! And, finally, it’s just not fun to walk alone! I walked to and from school from kindergarten through eighth grade, and those chats with friends as we walked down the sidewalk (or through apartment complexes . . . or paths in the woods . . . there were several routes) were some of the best moments of my day.

2. The girls did the exact right thing. Let’s give our kids (collectively . . . the kids who live among us) some credit. We have taught them well in school and at home and most humans are equipped with basic common sense. They didn’t know this guy. His questions made them uncomfortable. They took off and informed their parents. Perfect. The girls were able to offer a fantastic description of the man and the car he was driving. I have told my children that they are allowed and encouraged to talk to strangers, because most people are awesome and interesting, but they are never allowed to get close to a stranger in a car and they are never to go anywhere with someone they do not know, for any reason. I hope my kids would have responded in the same way that these two smart girls did.

3.      The police and community did the exact right thing. When a man unknown to children in your neighborhood approaches and offers them a ride (probably not the wisest move on this dad’s part, even though his intentions were good), get the word out and have as many eyes looking as possible. The homeowners’ association and local police department sent out tweets and Facebook updates and alerted the TV stations. We all should be looking out for one another, and that is what happened here. In today’s world of social media, we can have an impressive neighborhood watch set up in minutes. Most of the time, the concern will be a false alarm (as it was in this case and with the boy in Spring Hill, TN a few months ago whose disappearance led every news story for several hours until he was found hanging out at a Papa John’s). But it’s nice to know we can communicate with one another when needed.

I hope that these girls continue to rides their bikes their school. I hope that other kids will hear about the story and think, “Hey, I want to ride my bike to school, too!” I hope that too many parents don’t say, “Yeah, but it could have been someone bad. Those girls shouldn’t be allowed to ride to school without supervision and they are lucky it didn’t turn out horribly.” I hope that the men and women who used awful words to describe these girls' parents in the comments section of local news articles (I know . . . a dangerous thing to read), such as "dumb ass" and "irresponsible" and "crazy" will pause and have second thoughts about condemning people who did nothing wrong.                                     

Here's to all of the kids hopping on their bikes and heading to school each morning! Be aware of your surroundings, make smart decisions, but also trust that you are usually quite safe (except for those parents speeding through the school zone . . . watch out for them!). May you be trendsetters and soon be part of many kids pedaling to class and may your school need to buy more bike racks. May many other peers lace up their sneakers and join you on foot and benefit from that cardio movement and oxygen filling the lungs that will make for a great day of learning! May all of us continue to care about every child in our community, working collectively to build safe neighborhoods for them to grow, have fun, run and skip and laugh and play, learn when to trust and when to be wary and enjoy the benefit of knowing that the world is mostly a nice place with good people.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Arizona, You've Got Me Thinking


I've been struggling with an issue for the past several days, following the Arizona state legislature passing a bill allowing businesses to refuse service to gay customers for religious reasons. My state of Tennessee was considering similar legislation (which thankfully died a quiet death . . . for now) that had been nicknamed "turn the gays away" by its detractors. Several other states, including Georgia, Missouri and Kansas, have had other such measures under discussion.

The Arizona bill, in my opinion, was not designed to safeguard religious freedom. It was an opportunity for elected officials to attach their name to legislation that, unfortunately, they believe will win them favor with their constituents. They live in a state that already does not include sexual orientation as a protected class, so this law just reiterates with political punch the status quo in Arizona. Even three Republican state senators who voted for the bill wrote a letter several days later essentially saying, “Whoops, our bad. We were just trying to be good team players. But now that we really look at this bill, we realize it serves no real purpose and has the potential to be divisive. If we had it to do over again, we would have voted ‘no’.”

Taking recent events and widening the lens beyond whether or not a baker can be forced to make a cake for a gay wedding, which has been the focus of talk shows hosts across the country, the question that has (literally) kept me awake at night is this one -- In this free land of ours, how much freedom do individuals, specifically in this instance as owners of private businesses, have to be selective or discriminate or be racist or make horrible decisions (and being discriminatory and racist are prime examples of two such decisions) or simply be awful people? The nail salon I occasionally visit to treat myself to a pedicure has a sign by the cash register that states, “We can refuse anyone service.” But this isn’t really true. Should it be?

I know that discrimination against both employees and customers has been deemed unconstitutional based on the language of the Commerce Clause of Article I, the Equal Protection Clause and Due Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964. I reread them all this week and appreciate them as cornerstones of civil rights law. I understand the language and how these important declarations provide access for groups in our country who previously had no such assurances. I am in awe of the brave men and women, most of them much younger than myself, who sat at lunch counters and refused to move to the back of the bus and marched across the South to change hearts and minds. That had to happen before any of the progress inside legislative chambers was possible. I tell my children about their efforts and am glad that the prejudice against which these activists were fighting makes no sense to them.

I also understand that government regulation into private business can be a good thing. Ten year olds cannot buy cigarettes. (Well, my friend and I used to bike to the gas station to buy them for her mom, but that probably wasn’t OK.) Drugs are tested to provide some level of assurance that ingesting them won’t kill you. The McDonalds in my neighborhood is required to accept American dollars just like the McDonalds in Florida or Vermont. Restaurants will be shut down if there are roaches crawling on the stove. I see where government has a role to play.

But here is where I need to admit something. There is part of me that just wishes business owners could decide who they will and will not serve. Put your cards on the table. If you hang a "whites only" sign on your door or say “Muslims aren’t welcome here” to a family who has entered your restaurant or tell a gay couple you are uncomfortable helping them purchase furniture for an apartment they share, I will never patronize your business. I'm glad to know that about you. I would not want to offer financial support to a racist or a sexist or to someone who does not share my views that consenting adults legally should be free to do pretty much whatever they want. I get that other people who have a different outlook than I do want to focus their consumer spending on the ways they see fit as well.

I know that even legal scholars will admit that the government’s right to intrude into decisions made by private businesses has often been based on stretched and tenuous arguments. But it seems that shopkeepers more often than not will reach the right conclusion on their own. The Arizona business community has come out strongly against the proposed law, which was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer in part because of pressure from this group. Why? Because business owners know that endorsing any type of discrimination is bad for business. Arizona stood to lose billions of dollars in revenue because they were unnecessarily choosing to codify discrimination. Good.

When it comes to government institutions, like public schools and public transportation and access to social services, then absolutely protections against discrimination need to be in place. The government should not refuse services to anyone based on race, color, creed, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation. But what about the owner of Harry's Hardware Store in Indiana (any similarity to a real hardware store is completely coincidental and my use of Indiana is a random 1 in 50 chance)? What if he wishes it was not illegal for him to post a sign that only men are allowed inside his store? Why can’t I know how Harry really feels about me as a potential female customer before I give him money for a new hammer? I know this will never happen and I know that allowing business owners to discriminate fosters problems of segregation and distrust and possibly unequal access to essential goods and services. I would not want any of that to happen. But, I’m also concerned that we already do too much of that to one another regardless of what government has to say.

I am glad that the Arizona bill was vetoed by Governor Brewer. I’m sorry that the state felt the need to try it in the first place. Being able to make decisions concerning how you live your life and operate within your profession based on your religion or lack of religion is an important right in this country. But the Arizona statute, one that vaguely referred to “services” offered by a business and to the broad umbrella of possibilities offered by “religious reasons,” leaves way too much room for arbitrary discrimination. And, like I shared in earlier paragraphs, under the law people are not allowed to show those true colors and operate a business.

In my idealized, theoretical world, I would love for there to be no laws dictating how a business owner treats fellow humans. Perhaps I am just naïve or overestimating humanity or placing too much trust in the free market when I assume that a business owner who does declare his or her intention to discriminate will soon discover there are not enough customers coming through the doors to keep them open. Through conversations with several people who are much more versed on law and history than me, as I talked my co-workers and friends quite a bit trying to work out my thoughts on all of this, I understand that I cannot operate on the hope that communities will demand the fair and inclusive treatment of their fellow man (woman) that I would like. So, the efforts to find balance between liberty and the concessions that come with living in an organized society carry on.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Letter about Love

Dear Catherine,

I've been watching and listening. We've had talks in your bed after your little brother has fallen asleep. I know that you have crushes on boys. I get it. I still can tell you the names of boys I liked when I was eight years old. You are starting to have more questions about how people fit together. You are asking about love and why boys act the way they do (good luck with that one). Right now your questions are sweet and innocent and I know they will grow more complicated. I wish that you were growing up in a home in which an adult partnership based on love and honor and respect was being modeled for you because I think that's important. You would have some of those questions answered just by watching. But you do live in a home in which you are loved and treasured. Never doubt that. And I've purposefully put people in your life who can offer wonderful examples of love in the homes they've created.

You can talk to me about anything. I also understand that sometimes I won't be the person you seek out. That's OK, too. But on this Valentine's Day I thought I would share some advice on being loved and loving others.

First, romantic love is fun. Those butterflies in your stomach that you've heard about are real. That first kiss you will have in a few years (no rush!) will be one that you always will remember. You will spend the entire day with someone and then anxiously await the moment you can see him again. You will love learning more about him in conversations that last all night long. You will spend time thinking of nice things to do for him and feel wonderful when he does the same for you. It is nice to be part of a couple and I'm excited (OK, and terrified for purely selfish reasons involving you growing up too fast for my liking) for you to experience that someday. I hope you have several nice boyfriends as you grow who help you discover what you want out of a relationship and what kind of person is best suited for you and then, if you want, I hope you find the one with whom you want to share your life. (And if you don't want that, please know that is just fine as well, no matter what society or your friends or magazines tell you.)

But keep something in mind. There's this popular movie in which the leading guy says to the leading woman, "You complete me." Don't be like that. You need to enter into any relationship as a whole person. Your partner should make your life more full and more fun and more exciting and one that is covered with laughter and passion and a sense of ease. He should challenge you to be a better person. But he should never complete you. You should not need him to fill a void. You bring a mind and opinions and talents and experiences that make you an awesome individual whether in a relationship or not. The right guy will enhance how fantastic you already are, and you should do the same for him.

And along those lines, if someone makes you feel unattractive or stupid or unworthy of their attention, that is not love. You are so confident right now, and I pray that never changes. Too many girls lose faith in their own intelligence and beauty and strength as they become teenagers and I know that just having your mom tell you that you are awesome isn't going to be sufficient. If you spend enough time around someone who puts you down and points out your flaws, real or imagined, you will begin to believe the worst about yourself. And it may take a long time before you believe anyone who tells you different. Trust me on this one. Please. It can be more lonely to be in a relationship than it is to be single when you are not valued and respected.

I also want you to know that some of the most amazing love you can experience isn't the kind that comes from a boyfriend or husband. I hope that you have some girlfriends in your life who show you the deep value of the love of friends. You've seen these women in my life and how much they mean to me. We giggle and share secrets, much like you do now with your friends. We just do it with wine. Your best girlfriends will drop everything to be by your side at 2:00am. They will laugh and cry with you. They will know what you need without you ever asking. They will support your dreams and be in the front row of your cheering section. Sometimes you will just want them to be present and that's all they need to do. One of the most emotional moments I ever had with a girlfriend was during one of the scariest and saddest weeks of my life. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "I don't know what to say, but I love you." And then just hugged me. And didn't let go. I want you to have that kind of love. I want you to be that friend to others.

And I want to encourage you simply to put more love out in the world. Perform at least one random act of kindness every day, with no expectations in return. Give a friend a hug. Tell a classmate you like her sweater. Invite the kid who is standing alone by the swings to join your game of hide and seek. Smile. Make eye contact. Listen. Get to know people of different faiths and ethnicities and cultures and family structures. Value what each person in this world has to offer because you will be a better person when you see the good in others. Care about what happens to your neighbor. I guarantee you that when you share love, it will enrich your life and you will get love back tenfold.

Lastly, know that I love you. Unconditionally and completely and forever. You and your brother are amazing. And it wasn't until I had you that I understood how much my mom loves me. Thank you for teaching me that.

Happy Valentine's Day to my daughter.

Love,
Mom

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In My Life


My first musical memory took place when I was three years old. My mom was a cellist with the National Symphony at the time and for some reason on this day I was sitting out in one of the seats at the Kennedy Center during a rehearsal. The violins started to tune and warm up and I thought it was the most awful sound ever. It was terrifying. Even now when I go to the symphony, I have a brief moment of leftover childhood fear when the concertmaster first stands to lead the orchestra in a final tuning.

My second musical memory is of the Mitch Miller Christmas album. My neighbor Carrie and I discovered it in 1979 and played that record over and over again well into April. "Who's got a big, red cherry nose? Santa's got a big red cherry nose! Who laughs this way, 'Ho, ho, ho'? Santa laughs this way, 'Ho, ho, ho'!" Classic. I now have that brilliant compilation of musical craftsmanship on CD and my holidays are not complete without a rousing rendition of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" prominently featuring the accordion.

My third musical memory, and the point of this post, happened when I was six years old. It was 1981, and I discovered my dad's Magical Mystery Tour album. That was it. I was sold. It did not take long before I had every song memorized -- "I Am the Walrus," "Hello, Goodbye," "Fool on the Hill." My sister and I made a cassette tape of us singing along to the entire album. "You've got an invitation . . . To make a reservation . . ." Even at that young age I thought the complex arrangements were really interesting and I felt the emotions in the lyrics. I was hooked and wanted to know more.

When I was nine years old, I taped a Beatles documentary from PBS onto our Betamax recorder and watched it countless times, always having to fast forward through the breaks for the pledge drive. I developed a crush on the Beatles' producer George Martin, who was featured quite a bit in interviews for the movie. I even watched the unfortunate film Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984) multiple times because it was the brainchild of (and starred) Paul McCartney and also featured Ringo Starr.

In seventh grade, I earned a spot in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School talent show and played a medley of Beatles tunes on the piano -- "Yesterday," "Here, There and Everywhere" and "Strawberry Fields Forever." The response from my peers was polite but underwhelming and not nearly as loud as the applause received for the dance acts that took to the stage to go-go music both before and after me. But I was OK with that. I got to be on a stage and play The Beatles.

In high school, my Beatles record of choice was Revolver. "For No One" features a French horn solo, which was amazing for this horn player. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is insane and still twists my stomach in a good way when I listen to it. In college, it was Sgt. Pepper. I would sit on my dorm bed with my eyes closed and listen to that album from beginning to end (along with lots of Indigo Girls and Sarah McLaughlin . . . I attended the Lilith Fair more than once). In 1998 I went to Liverpool and on a guided bus tour led by a woman who was easily in her forties but I believe was convinced she was thirteen and that John Lennon was coming back for her. As part of the tour, we got to visit the Cavern Club. I got to stand where The Beatles started. Wow. On my wedding day, my dad and I danced to "In My Life." When I got divorced, I sat down on my couch and listened to "Let It Be."

So, those four guys have traveled with me through every stage of my life. They got me thinking about silly preteen crushes, politics, religion, war, peace, sex, drugs, friendships, growing up, growing old. I love them. And even though today we are celebrating a pop culture event that took place eleven years before I was born, I'm still super excited about it.

Thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo for 50 years of your music in America! Tonight I'm going to play some of your timeless music for the first time for my kids . . . starting with Magical Mystery Tour.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The President in Nashville = Super Exciting for Me


President Obama speaking at McGavock High School
Photo courtesy: WATE.com

Earlier this week my girl said to me, "I love learning about the men and women who have done things for our country. I want to know their stories and their families. It helps me understand about America and maybe what I can do someday. Presidents and civil rights people and other leaders are really interesting."

Once I was able to clear the mist that had somehow formed over my eyes, I was able to continue driving.

Having my kids be civically engaged is so important to me. I want them to be invested in what is going on in their communities and knowledgeable about the issues facing the nation. They can come to have opinions diametrically opposed to mine as long as they are thoughtful and can back them up at the dinner table. I love that my four-year-old son recognizes President Obama's voice as soon as he hears it and my eight-year-old daughter wants to know more about the Constitution and John F. Kennedy.

I love that excitement not only in the voices of my children, but when I see it in other young people. That is why I was a government teacher. And that is why I was thrilled that President Barack Obama came to speak at our local high school yesterday (and appreciated that he first took time to meet privately with the family of the student who was killed this week). Regardless of politics, what a wonderful moment for these teenagers, that their school was chosen from thousands of others in our country for a visit from the leader of our nation. For the class president who was given the honor of introducing the President and the hundreds of other students selected to be in attendance, I know they will remember this afternoon for the rest of their lives. I was excited on their behalf all day. And I didn't vote for the President. Either time. But I appreciate what his presence meant and I would have loved to have been there. We don't get presidents rolling through Tennessee very often!

And then I thought about the larger picture, about what was occurring yesterday beyond the walls of that high school gymnasium.

There were protesters and supporters along the motorcade route, sometimes standing side by side. Those who dislike the President and/or his policies were welcome to write whatever they wanted on a piece of poster board without fear of being sent to a prison camp or executed. And the supporters cheered because they actually like what the man is doing, not because they wished to avoid a lethal fate as well (I'm looking at you, North Korea).

I was not the victim of a chemical weapon attack by my own government. My gay friends are not in prison. I did not watch my child die of starvation or an easily preventable disease. I am not living in a refugee camp as my country fights a civil war. I can stand in the middle of Centennial Park (or Central Park, for that matter, if you want to take it out of the Bible Belt) and yell, "I'm a Christian!" and not worry about facing persecution. I feel no need to try and escape my country via shark-invested waters on a car hood or patched-up raft (Yep, looking at you this time, Cuba).

These examples all may seem dramatic, but they were running through my mind a lot yesterday as our president paid a visit. How fortunate and humbled I am to live in the United States, when countless 38-year-old women no better or worse than me have lives I cannot fathom simply based on the geography of their birth. I want my daughter and my son to understand that. That's why we sat and listened to the President's speech on the radio. Catherine thought it was very cool that President Obama was only a few minutes away at her high school. (Ian just wanted to ask him why he never responded to his birthday invitation). I want them to challenge our leaders when they feel our country is not living up to the high expectations we should have, but also appreciate and respect the freedom they have to protest at all. I hope that no matter their age, they still feel the excitement if a president should pay a visit to wherever they may be living, not because the president is worthy of fawning or superstar status but because of the system that he (or she) represents (of course, the president probably still will be Obama when they are adults, since I know he plans to suspend elections, declare himself king for life and sign a decree making a tax rate of 90% for all those earning $50,000 or more).

I disagree with the President on most things. I think the ACA is a disaster, I am opposed to raising the federal minimum wage, I would like the Department of Education to be abolished. But, I don't blame him all that much or dislike him at all, as many people do (and as many felt toward our previous president . . . our current president is not unique here). President Obama was chosen by millions of Americans as the person whose ideology they most wanted in the White House. I don't like it, but I accept it. He won fair and square. This wasn't a military overthrow or father-to-son hand me down or rigged election. If you really feel the need to be angry, then be angry at the voters. Protest when the president comes to town, but do it not because you want to focus ugliness on one man, but because you wish to affect change on a broader scale. If the electorate comes to decide they do not like what Obama's policies mean for our country and we have a candidate effectively offering a different message next time, then great. If not, well, the majority still has spoken and shame on small government, libertarian-minded folks such as myself for not more persuasively crafting an alternative vision for our country.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by Nashville, Mr. President. It's a pretty great place and I was excited you chose to recognize our schools and the people who work and learn in them.