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.


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.