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Monday, October 3, 2011

Untethered: Life in a 4G World

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve my grandmother, the sofa, and the telephone. The sofa was in the family room of our home and the telephone was right next to it. Attached to the phone's receiver was a coil of thick, maroon cord, a spiral that, when stretched out, must have been nearly 4 feet long. The cord would knot itself into a nasty tangle, so much so that when the phone rang, the first 20 or so seconds of conversation involved my grandmother cradling the receiver between her head and her neck while she, and her team of helpers (i.e. my sister and I) took our fingers to the mess.

Since Grandma made as many as a dozen calls a day to her very large circles of family and friends, that telephone cord became the bain of my existence. But now, in a world of not only cordless telephones, but telephones that no longer rely on a phone jack in the wall, Grandma sitting amongst the jumble of cord is a sweet memory. Those telephone calls were connection, in every sense. Now, though, I fear that those moments of connection are rapidly disappearing and I'm feeling adrift and untethered. In my lifetime, I've gone from using the cumbersome telephone in the family kitchen to calling home from a subway stop in Bangkok on a telephone so small and slim that it fits inside of my jean's pocket.

In my lifetime, I've gone from driving to my local bank to get cash in order to pay for things to sliding a card and now holding my PDA up to a transponder at my grocery store, or hardware store, or department store. I've gone from having my favorite bank teller cash my paycheck and filling me in on the latest gossip to having an unseen electronic hand put money into my bank account.

The way that I watch television has also been altered. Growing up, my ferocious need to watch "The Dukes of Hazzard" on the family room TV involved a complex set of negotiations with my older sister, Mom and Grandma. And heaven forbid you tried to schedule anything from 12:00PM to 4:00PM on a weekday, as that was when Grandma watched her "stories", a.k.a. the entire line-up of CBS daytime soap operas. Now, though, I have ample opportunities to stay current with my favorite shows, and none of them involves learning how to program a VCR!  Sure, you can invest in TiVo, but most of the time the broadcast and cable channels will repeat a program within a couple of hours of its initial airing. These so-called "slugs" have proved so popular that TV ratings firms, such as Nielsen, have figured out a way to measure the slug watchers. And if I'd like to watch an episode of my favorite show from my seat on the commuter-rail, then I can watch it on my phone or on my iPad. This is a far cry from everyone gathering around to find out who shot J.R.!

Right now, the U.S. Postal Service is in danger of financial collapse as online efficiency is making physical mail obsolete. Computer makers, one of the drivers of the Postal Service's rapid descent, are also fighting to figure out this untethered life, as consumers and corporations have gone from dial-up to 4G, and have abandoned cumbersome desktop computers for the freedom and flexibility of laptops and tablets.

But for all of the "golly-gee" of technology that's allowing us to do almost anything at anytime with almost anyone, I don't think we're satisfied. You want to know why so many people are at your local coffee shop?? Because alongside the caffeine, we're craving a connection with each other. For all of our technological know-how, the true genius of humanity will always be our ability to create unique relationships with one another, to truly connect. I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An American Tragedy

Last week, we celebrated my nephew's eleventh birthday. It was a relaxed affair, with burgers and fries and the sugary-goodness of birthday cake. It reminded me of the birthday parties I had as a little girl - modest events with just the immediate family, and an odd cousin or two. Back then, the birthday cake was homemade and the presents, while never expensive, were memorable. There were favorite Barbie Dolls and pocket-sized, die-cast metal Matchbox cars to add to my collection. The weeks leading up to my birthday were the longest weeks of my life, but the actual birthday seemed always to race by me in a feverish blur that was no doubt fueled by the twin ecstasies of birthday cake AND presents. I was thinking about those times as I watched my nephew open each of his own 11-year-old gifts - each a new treasure.

One of those treasures was a portable electronic gaming system, and from the first few seconds that he spied the box's telltale logo, his face was resplendent with joy. He was so possessed by this possession, this thing so desired. But desires don't retail so cheaply, and this particular one came with a triple-digit price tag. For a family of modest means, this was truly a thing to be treasured. For a little boy from a family of modest means, this was a thing to be shared, a thing to be shown off, and that was when the unthinkable happened.

This treasure was stolen, and suddenly a little boy and his family are thrown into a tailspin.

Listening to my mother over the telephone relaying the details, her voice hollowed out and thin, I, at first, was only half-listening - your nephew went to school Monday...your sister told him not to take it to school...his brother noticed he had it in the car...came home crying...your sister went to the principal this morning...$ upset.

This incident brings up all sorts of issues, from obeying your parents, to teaching children how to be responsible, and the on-going debate over appropriate gifts for children. And any of these issues would be worthy of a good blogging, but I'm most curious if my nephew's short-lived relationship with this thing will have an everlasting effect on his psyche. Will this gaming system become his Rosebud? Will my 105-year-old nephew's last words be, "Nintendo"? And how is it that for all of the toys and games that we've given him over the years - toys that he's played with and forgotten about - that this one with which he has spent the least amount of time with is the one for which he grieves? Will this thing define him? Will his parents no longer trust him with things that they value? Will he feel unworthy for an innocent mistake? And will he ever believe the truth, that he will always be worth more than some thing whose worth is measured in dollars? I'm just saying.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Nation of Hoarders

As I left my house Saturday morning, I noticed dozens of people picking through mountains of stuff assembled on various tables scattered along a sidewalk. It was my neighborhood's annual yard sale, and, judging by the large number of cars and trucks parked on either side of the street, this year's was a success. I've never had the urge to stop by yard sales, which is a pity as this was the third or fourth yard sale I'd passed this week. At one yard sale, we saw a woman practically skipping down a suburban Virginia street with a colossal 60-roll package of toilet tissue. You would have thought she'd just bought a Tom Ford-era Gucci dress in her size for a nickel!!

Maybe it's the recession that's fueling the yard sale craze. With consumer credit in a curious place, that buyer's rush has to be satisfied some way, so why not with a slightly used $3 denim jacket from Old Navy that you picked up from a stranger in their driveway?? But, really, this urge to have and to hold can become dangerous and obsessive. The Target stores have reported that their launch of a mid-priced line of housewares and apparel by Italian fashion house Missoni has resulted in a rash of buyers snapping up the items in bulk, cleaning out entire store inventories, and then reselling these items with a stiff mark-up on online auction sites like eBay. This takes the house-flipping concept to a new low!!

And what about couponing sites like Groupon?? That's great that you can get parachuting lessons for $15 instead of $115, and a $20 bag of groceries for $10 from your favorite whole foods store, and dinner for two for $30, but does anyone ever ask themselves, "do I really need this?" Why are we so consumed with consuming?

I guess, then, it's little wonder why the reality show, "Hoarders" has become so popular. While the cameras roll, we see living rooms piled waist-high with newspapers, kitchens overwhelmed by dirty pots and pans, whole bedrooms packed to the gills with clothing and trash, and, in the midst of it all, a person and their story of loss and loneliness. They stuff more and more and more things into their homes in an attempt to fill the emotional void. Some of them confront this crisis and clean up their act, but some will not, either way, it doesn't matter because the American TV-viewing public loves "Hoarders." Maybe it's good, old-fashioned schadenfreude that makes the show's fans tune in, but I think it's a lurking feeling that we have more in common with the hoarders than we're comfortable admitting. We want it, and we want it NOW, and we want it ALL!

You'd think we'd learned our lessons about the dangers of unfettered appetites, what with the now-global economic crisis, but I guess not. We still want and we still buy, only now, instead of plunking down our credit card at a pricey department store, we throw down cash for another's trash and claim it as treasure, and we don't even use it! How sad is that?? Hoarders take no pleasure in all that they've accumulated. They feel compulsion but not joy. Maybe joy is something that we all could use - real joy at our connections to each other instead of to another thing. I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aftershocks and the Super-Absorbant Human Psyche

It struck me yesterday, after logging several hours watching the wall-to-wall news coverage of the earthquake and reading Facebook and Twitter, that events, such as these, pack multiple impacts. While we all breathed a collective sigh of relief that no one died, after the shaking stopped, the business of living took over. Local newscasts interviewed families displaced from structurally suspect high rise apartment buildings. Hastily handwritten signs posted on the buildings' front entrances banned tenants from entering and retrieving their personal belongings. So these people sat outside, making temporary homes in the building parking lot, with nothing but the clothes on their back. They wondered where they would spend the night, but it was OK. Friends and family recounted their tales of survival in cramped Metro trains and in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but it was OK. By this morning, my coffee house posse were busy trading "where were you" stories - one guy was having his colonoscopy when all hell broke loose - ouch!! These stories, though, all shared the same punchline: at least we're OK. And that's the point, isn't it?

At some point, we're OK. The one thing that I am sure about when it comes to human beings is that we can take a punch! We can absorb an awful lot. One of my friends posted to her Facebook page that since arriving in Washington, DC, she's survived the DC sniper, blizzards, 9/11, and now this. It may not be the stuff of a Convention and Visitors Bureau advertisement, but she makes a great point. It's like that old Broadway song from Follies, "I'm Still Here" where the singer chalks up a lifetime of highs and lows to one significant, unshakable truth, that no matter what's happened, she's still here! And so am I. The pictures on my wall may be crooked, and the spices in my kitchen cabinets may have been tossed around, and I may have to incorporate yet another thing to fear into my lexicon of daily living, but I'm still here and that's life, I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Did You Feel the Earth Move??: I'm Just Saying's First Earthquake

Almost three hours ago, I and several million of my now closest friends, experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. And you know what? I didn't like it at all. I was in a parking lot in Washington, DC, about to head home. I'd put the key in the ignition and was set to pull off when a sudden, and violent shuddering began. Now, as the owner of a late-model Jeep in severe need of strut work, I had confused the earth's trembling with the last gasps of my car.

The shaking soon stopped and I headed home, and as I sped down the highway, I heard my Blackberry chime as new text messages were being delivered. I thought nothing of it, and kept on towards home, but with a short stop at the Panera. And that's when I saw a sight that was a bit confusing - hundreds of workers gathered on the sidewalks outside of the office building that sits adjacent to the Panera. I thought maybe there'd been a bomb threat - these things happen sometimes - and all I could think was, "damn! I hope I can get my Greek salad before the whole plaza's evacuated". And that's when I thought, maybe, it'd be a good idea to look at those text messages, and whatdayouknow?? My husband had texted me about the earthquake. Now, I knew I wasn't getting my Greek salad!!

The next few minutes were an exercise in frustration. Frustration that I couldn't make a call or send a text message from my Verizon Blackberry to my husband and family. Frustration that now my husband, loyal AT&T customer that he is, will have permanent bragging rights. Frustration that I wasn't going to get my lunch! But hey, there at least is one bright spot and it's this: I was able to send and receive messages with my mobile Facebook and Twitter applications. Woo-hoo!

This was my very first earthquake, and while the sensation of being tossed around on land was foreign to me, sadly, this combo-pack feeling of vulnerability/fear/confusion is very familiar.  This is the post-9/11 world, after all. On that September day, as rumors of attacks, fatalities, blackouts and curfews flowed, and as public officials and news media struggled to tell the public what to do, thousands decided to forgo the waiting and head home, clogging Metro platforms and the streets and highways around Washington, DC. Today's been no different and while I type this, images of a jammed 395, 495, and 95 are playing on the local newscast. I guess Dorothy was right - there's no place like home!

And that's where I am now - home. Safe, right now, and attempting to comfort my freaked-out house cat without resorting to a Valium. Tonight, I'll turn off the news (and they're frequent references to Haiti and Christ Church, New Zealand), and drink a glass of wine with my husband with a new-found respect for my West Coast brothers and sisters. And, maybe I'll sit down with a good book, or, better yet, my homeowner's  insurance policy! I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why I Hate "The Help"

Well, it's finally here, a day that will live in infamy, the day that the motion picture adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's insufferable novel, "The Help", is released. As you might have guessed from this first sentence, as well as from the title of today's blog, I am not a fan of "The Help." I hate it and my hatred of it began on the Merritt Parkway, somewhere around Trumbull, Connecticut. My husband and I were on our way to visit family, and the local NPR station was airing an interview with one Kathryn Stockett, author a brand new novel that was causing a stir. The NYC-based Stockett had loosely based this period piece on the black maids who had worked for her Mississippi family and her family's friends. The NPR reporter went to great lengths describing the blond and beautiful Stockett, and, within the first 5 seconds of hearing Stockett herself, I gleaned that she shared this opinion.

The story of "The Help" is a memory tale, told from the perspective of the character, Skeeter, a young, white southern girl at a crossroads in her life - follow the traditional path of other southern white women towards marriage and family or embark on a new path as a writer. Helping Skeeter along the way is her black maid, Aibileen, who shows Skeeter the painful world of black domestic workers in the Jim Crow south. The novel's subject matter isn't all that earth-shattering as other, less commercially successful works of fiction and nonfiction have described the exploitation of blacks employed as domestic servants. But, Stockett's little ole book was making waves, mostly due to the author's decision to employ vernacular for the black characters. Stockett admitted that this particular choice had generated a great deal of consternation among publishers as she shopped the book around, but she defended her use of it as an authentic characterization, and then, it happened - she began to read passages from her book, complete with the "you is" and the "yes'ums." Are you kidding me??!! It was like audible black face! Stockett's little Minstrel show went on for what seemed forever and by its conclusion I was in full stew and had resolved to never read that book.

Until last summer, when I was asked to take part in a discussion of the book. My grandmother had worked as a maid for a white family and when I was in college, a black woman named Mrs. Proctor, cleaned our Honors' Program dormitory. Add to that that the fact that I'm a black woman and you've hit the trifecta! I read the book in one day, forcing it down in big gulps, meeting Skeeter and Hilly and Minny and Celia and, of course, the Magical Negro of Aibileen. Those first blossoms of hatred that bloomed on the Merritt had now become a bumper crop! My anger wasn't just because of Stockett's use of vernacular, or because this white woman was attempting to describe the interior lives of these black women, or because all of the novel's characters - black and white - were so one-dimensional. No, my anger was why this tale, so lacking in profundity, was garnering so much attention and racing off of bookstore shelves.  Why the hell were so many people reading this hot mess of a book??

I got some answers at the book discussion, which was attended by sixty or so black and white people from multiple generations and regions of the U.S. There were some people who, like Stockett, grew up in the south with beloved black servants. For them, "The Help" conjured up rich memories of happy times with people whom they considered members of their family. But, there were also black and white discussion group members for whom the system of black servitude was foreign. For this group, Stockett's heroic tome of friendship across the great race divide was inspiring. I came away from the event irritated, as I seemed to be the only person whose anger was directed towards the author and her shallow, self-congratulatory attempt to talk about racism. Here we are, a country with a President who is black and white, but yet the only way we can discuss race relations is to flee back to the ample bosom of the black mammy!!??

Right now, London is on fire with the worst race riots its seen in decades, and on the eve of the dedication of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s monument on the National Mall, the racist chatter against the President is at an all time high. Now is not the time to smugly slap ourselves on the back and say that we have overcome prejudice, if anything, it's time to go deeper. I'm just saying.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Confessions of the "Cool Black Friend"

This week, several of my friends are packing up the U-Hauls and minivans for the long, bittersweet journey to the college campuses where they will leave their children. There, these children will begin their own journeys, discovering the mysteries of laundry, and negotiating with a slightly slutty roommate about curbing certain "activities" when you're in the room. My freshman year of college was the beginning of a long journey for me. My school was a small southern college set on a charming parcel that looked like it had been plucked from a Hollywood movie. The center of campus life was a brick plaza area, in the middle of which was a fountain. Ringed around the courtyard were the campus center, the administrative building, and the three main dormitories, one of which would be my freshman home. As my parents and I finished our load-in of all of my things, we sat down on the front steps of the dorm. This was the first time they had ever said good-bye to one of their children, the first time that a child of theirs would be sleeping 100 miles from them, and they were this confusing mass of worried and proud. Would I eat right? Would I wake up in time for class? Would I know what to do if I got sick? Would I lock my doors? I laughed off their worries and I hugged them and I sent them on their way. But they were right to be worried.

In all of their checklists of things for me, the one thing we never talked about was the fact that my small, southern college, with a student body just under 1,100, was predominantly white and that I was one of only a dozen or so African-American students on campus.  At first, it wasn't so strange, especially when you added in all of the other strangeness of college life, like eating strange food, living in a strange place, and learning strange new things. But soon I came to the uncomfortable realization that my blackness was strange to a lot of people.

First, there were the questions from the girls on my floor in the dorm - questions about the texture of my hair, and just what does a relaxer do?? Do black people tan?? Do you get sunburned?? Why do you put baby oil on your face after you shower?

Then came the questions from the boys, usually shouted drunkenly at me during fraternity parties - You know how to dance, right?? Why's your booty so round?? And other questions of a more prurient and insulting nature.

Even my professors got in on it, asking for my informed (black) opinion on the slave trade, inner city poverty, and Jim Crow.

I never knew how Black I was until I was in the company of so many white people! So much so that my Blackness became strange even to me.

I began to dissect myself, and to view myself from the perspective of my white classmates. Looking at yourself from the outside-in is as unnerving as it sounds, especially when you're a seventeen year old who's still trying to figure out who you are.  I began to craft a new narrative for myself, one that would address my strangeness with a light-hearted flare. Like Cleavon Little in "Blazing Saddles", I would take the sting out of racism and, instead, make a joke. I learned a new vocabulary and new cultural references. I could spot the difference between Laura Ashley and a cheap knockoff at 20 paces and I knew the names of all of the members of R.E.M. I could tell Shannen Doharty from Tori Spelling and I knew that when the Lambda Chi boys put on Rob Base' "It Takes Two" that my job was to burn up the dance floors with the Running Man. I became the Cool Black Friend who didn't judge you when you needed an opinion on whether or not a joke was racist.  I became the VIP at the fraternity house that, prior to my arrival on campus, had been sanctioned for holding mock slave auctions of their pledges and watermelon eating contests on their front lawn.

With every trip home, I measured just how alien my own skin felt to me, until I was no longer at ease at home or at school. I never felt so alone in all of my life. I had truly become untethered from myself, disembodied and strange. Looking back now, more than 20 years later, I'm not sure which surprises me more: how I survived it or why I endured it!

In my days since college, the Cool Black Friend has slowly faded into the background, but she's not totally out of my life. There are moments when I call upon her, like when someone addresses me as "girlfriend!" or attempts to cloak their racist sentiments about my Black President in partisan political speak. But I've found that my Cool Black Friend simply doesn't want to be bothered anymore and I can't blame her.  It has been a long, bittersweet journey, but that's what life and growing up are. After twisting myself inside and out, I know who I am...I'm just saying.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The End of the Church Ladies??!!

This week, churchgoers were almost tossed off of our pews with the release of a new study on church attendance. It appears the church is experiencing woman problems. And no, I'm not talking about bloating and fatigue!! Actually, maybe it is fatigue because apparently women are spending less time in church.

Let me explain. Researchers from the California-based Barna Group surveyed 1,000 random people in 1991 as a part of its multi-part State of the Church series. The survey questioned interviewees on a handful of core religious behaviors: attendance at a church service in any given week; weekly Sunday school attendance; volunteering at a church; Bible reading; and labeling oneself a "Christian." Twenty years later, researchers repeated the survey, randomly selecting 1,600 people, and this week, the results were released. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Attendance at a church service in a given week? 47% (that's down 9 percentage points since 1991)
  • Adults attending Sunday school? 18% (down 8 percentage points since 1991)
  • Volunteering at church? 22% (the 1991 figure was 30%)
  • Bible reading? 46% (1991 figure? 51%)
  • Do you label yourselves"Christian"? Well, 31% of you who do haven't attended a church service in the last 6 months (a.k.a., the "unchurched").
For women who took the survey, the results are a bit more troubling. The percentage of women attending a church service in a given week has gone down by 11 percentage points since 1991. There's also been a 17% increase in the number of women joining the "unchurched" ranks. Women are also doing less volunteering, Sunday school, and Bible reading in 2011 than we did in 1991. So what gives? What do these numbers mean? Do these numbers reflect what's really going on in our churches?

Growing up, my worship life was dominated by lay women volunteers who were affectionately dubbed church ladies. These were the women who decorated the altar, polished the communion chalices, and produced the Sunday bulletin. They organized the Friday night bingo games and the annual all-parish crab feast and they knew how to make the coffee for the Sunday coffee hour. They attended Sunday church services religiously (yes, pun intended:) and they knew every parishioner by name. In my current church, women hold key leadership positions and on any given Sunday, women are in the pulpit and in the pews. Women volunteer as Sunday school teachers and choir members. We make meals for the hungry and collect clothing for the needy; we attend Bible study and committee meetings; we serve as vestry members and ordained ministers, and we still know how to work that urn for the coffee hour. On the surface, it doesn't look like much has changed, but take a closer look and you start to see hairline fractures all over the place.

To begin with, let's think about the life cycle of a woman in the church. In generations past, women went straight from their parents' house to their husband's house, and church was not only a spiritual refuge but a social outlet. For these young ladies in their early twenties, their involvement in the church gave them their first leadership roles. As their families grew, these women took on even more active roles in the church, and when their children were old enough to leave the nest, these women became the backbone of the church, taking the mantel from their elders.

But that life cycle has changed for women in the church. For starters, a lot of us moved from our parents' house and into our own home before we married. And while we were on our own, some of us opted for careers. A lot of us married in our early 30s, and some of us didn't marry at all.  Some of us had children and left the professional workforce, while some became working moms. For those of us who became moms in our late 30s and early 40s, we're hit with the double whammy of caring for our small children and for our aging parents. All of these cultural developments have, over time, dramatically changed the way we women live out our faith, but this doesn't mean that our churches have kept pace.

Yes, there are churches that have amazing Sunday school and youth programs, but what is there for single, professional women or women struggling with infertility? Sure, your church might have lots of committees that do amazing community service, but if I'm a working mom with 2 kids on traveling basketball teams, then I'm more inclined to attack that overflowing pile of laundry than attend a 90-minute outreach committee meeting on a weeknight. And don't get me started on the alienation that women in the midst of marital separation and divorce feel at the hands of their churches.

So, does this mean the end of the Church Ladies?? Maybe it is, but it may also be the beginning of Church Ladies 2.0. Maybe it's time to let go of who women used to be and embrace who we are. I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is That a Hangnail? Or, Why Flip Flops Are for the Beach, Not the Boardroom!

Well, with summer more than half over, I think that it's safe to say that this summer officially belongs to the flip flop. Congratulations!!! That something so simple as a thin piece of rubber with a couple of straps on top would represent a revolution in footwear is quite spectacular. The flip flop's territory has been rapidly expanding beyond the beach, the shower and the pool for the past few years. It's been seen at the White House and in other Washington, DC corridors of power, including the Capitol, the Fed, and the State Department.

It started innocently enough with the summer interns who, unused to suits and ties and pantyhose and pumps, wore the lowly flip flop as a status symbol of their youth during their commutes to and from the office. Standing on the Metro platform on a muggy summer morning, I've heard the slap-slap as their rubber soles smacked the backs of their feet and I've watched, with just the littlest bit of glee, as these "slappers", as I've termed them, ding their exposed toes on the metal poles inside of the rail cars. And while the abundant smell of feet on a closed-in, over-crowded train car may sound appealing to some, nobody likes the string of broken Metro escalators flip flops often leave in their wake after they've slipped under the ever-present yellow cone plate found at the top and bottom of the escalator. In a recent news story, Metro reported that approximately three dozen pairs of flip flops annually are chomped on by Metro's escalators. Think about that the next time you're forced to hike up the Dupont Circle escalator stairs in 114-degree heat!!

Right now you're thinking about all of the slappers you know, aren't you? Maybe you're thinking of the account manager who sits in the cube across from yours and who slap-slaps their day away on Casual Fridays or everyday of the week during summer. Or maybe it's that woman on Sunday morning who insists on sporting her Havaianas at Mass and slap-slaps down the aisle to Communion. OK, so Jesus wore sandals, but that was so first century Middle East!

In a lot of ways, the rise of the flip flop can be seen as indicative of the casual vibe that has a death grip on this country. In homes where we've torn down the wall that literally separated the place where we eat from the place where we sit and watch TV, and where living rooms are now optional, casual is comfortable and comfortable's what sells. In restaurants, we've gone from white linen table cloths and "madame" to "fast casual" and "you guys."

But the power of the flip flop also has to do with the ever-changing boundaries of what is and is not considered appropriate. Once iron-clad and seemingly fixed, standards of appropriate dress have become relative. Back when my parents met, a first date meant a jacket and tie for my dad and a skirt, blouse, sweater for my mom. By the time I arrived at college in the early '90s, though, all that had changed. The first date was ditched for the hook up and "hanging out," and t-shirts and jeans and flip flops became our uniform. It was my generation that brought grunge into the workplace, and then deconstructed the workplace during the dot-com era, decimating the organizational chart and chain of command, and, that staple of the Old Guard, the corporate dress code. The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was kicked out and the flip flop moved up. At the core of this sartorial dust up was a simple truth - that we should be judged in the workplace by the jobs we do and not the clothes we wear. It's a noble truth, but it's time to tame the toe tyranny and put those ten little piggies back inside of a closed-toe shoe!

I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Childless or Child-Free?

(This post was originally published on March 31, 2011)

I have now reached an age where people are trying to figure out if I am childless or child-free. It's a curious place to be in this Middle Earth that lies somewhere between pity and contempt. If you're child-less, you are a poor soul, but if you're child-free, you're a selfish lout who's denying the basic maternal instinct. However, it's often hard to tell which is which. While there are a lot of people who will just straight up ask you if you're ever planning to have children (and that's with sarcastic emphasis on the "ever"), we, the women without children, often demure, opting for an answer that will not paint ourselves into an ideological corner, and thus prompting even more annoying, invasive follow-up questions. When I didn't provide a conclusive answer to one particularly curious mom who also attended my church, I soon had a special delivery of medical pamphlets on infertility to my home (damn those parish directories!!), and months of awkward greetings at the coffee hour.

The truth is that for some of us, we may not be able to biologically conceive a child or carry a pregnancy to term, and for others of us, we may simply not want to trade in our quiet weekends for soccer practices or children's birthday parties. Whatever the reason, though, by chance or by choice, I've found that whether you're child-less or child-free, we battle common misconceptions and assumptions. We've all been the recipient of or a witness to one of those Grand Inquisitions that goes something like this:

So, do you two have any kids?
No, not yet.
So what are you waiting for?
Just waiting for the right time, but we're trying.
Well, don't wait too long, because if you do it might be too late. Have you thought about adopting?

Or this one:

So, do you two have any kids?
Well, why not?
We don't want children.
Well, how can you not want children? You know, I once felt the same way until we had [fill in adorable baby name]. Now, I can't imagine my life without him/her.

Exchanges like these have, for years, put us on the defensive, forcing us to question who we are and what we value. Worse yet, we've become socially marginalized by our fertile friends who assume that we are indifferent to or hate children. But all of that stops today because I'm throwing down the gauntlet on this uterine apartheid! Child-less or child-free, if you have to ask me, then obviously it's none of your business, and as a parent, you should be sensitive enough to the needs of others to know that.

Now if you're having a hard time, and your curiosity is getting the better of you, then we, the women without children, are going to help you. When you ask us if we have children, we're going to answer, "No," and then we're going to end the discussion. That's it, no long, drawn out, carefully parsed answer nuanced to within an inch of its life, just "No." And when you persist, and insist on asking us about possible medical causes for our "condition", then we're going to say that it's none of your business. Now, we're not going to do all of the work, here. For your part, you're going to invite us to your children's birthday parties, and stop with the friggin' apologies if your baby is fussy when we hold them (our egos aren't that fragile). If we ask you a parenting question, don't be a jerk and look at us like we're the most ignorant person in the world. And, conversely, don't use it as an opportunity to revisit bad habits and ask us if we're planning on having children.

So, child-less or child-free? Only God and my OB/GYN needs to know! I'm just saying:)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Can a Stay-at-Home Mom Still Be a Feminist?

Over the weekend, my husband and I had the chance to visit with a dear friend and his 16-year-old daughter. They were in town for the daughter's basketball tournament, and in-between the morning and evening games, we took father and daughter, as well as another teammate and her family, out for lunch and an afternoon in Georgetown.  Amidst the discussions of favorite tennis shoes and Blackberry vs. iPhone, I peppered the girls with questions about the college campuses they'd visited, their future plans of study, and their career goals so far. Their answers were inspired, and, obviously, well thought out. One wanted to be a dentist and the other wanted a career as a speech pathologist. I was impressed and excited for these young women and their futures.

They reminded me of my friends and I as we sat around our college dorm 20 years ago spinning out what our future lives would be. My generation was really the first generation of girls raised from birth in the fires of feminist thought. We were the daughters of bra burners, or at least those who knew bra burners. Most of our moms worked outside of the home and told us to dream our biggest dreams of academic and career success, but still learn how to cook and take care of a house; while some moms railed against the feminist movement, seeing in it an attack on the traditions and norms upon which they had based their lives, while still encouraging their daughters to study hard and get good grades.  The messages from our mothers were often conflicting: We were to live limitless lives in a world that seeks to limit us.

After graduation, some of us went straight to grad school, and others waded into the work world, taking the entry level gig that would get them to their dream job.  We moved apartments, we moved cities and some of us moved countries, for work and opportunities. And soon, we started to fall in love. We daughters of feminism had to figure out a way to fit the institution of marriage and family to our sense of self. So how are we doing so far??? Well, it's complicated.

For those of us who chose marriage and children and work, we're living the feminist ideal of having it all. But we're paying a price in terms of sleep, sex, and, sometimes, our sanity. Life is lived on a constant treadmill and a work day that stretches far beyond office hours. That limitless life we were planning back in college has become one of endless to-do lists. Some of us decided that you may be able to have it all, but just not at the same time, and so we began a slow retreat away from the cubicle and back home to the play date. Women who had masters degrees and corporate accounts made the most difficult of decisions, leaving our feminist forebears to ask why. Why would these accomplished, highly praised and highly valued women turn their backs on all of their hard-fought success to go back to June Cleaver? And does this mean that they've rejected feminism?

For my generation, it would seem that feminism hasn't done us any favors. Heresy, I know, but hear me out. Yes, feminism's epic fights for academic and workplace equality made net gains in the number of women attending and completing college, and provided women in the workforce with far greater and better quality opportunities. But feminism also left us to fend for ourselves when it came to our intimate, romantic relationships and its by-products of marriage and family. Are we supposed to get married and have babies and then have careers? Or are we supposed to have careers and then marriages and babies? And what if we waited too long and no one's left to marry us and we can't have babies? And if I'm married and we're supposed to be equals, but my husband's more demanding eight-figure job requires that he work weekends and late nights, which forces me to work a reduced schedule in order to ferry the kids around to all of their team practices and ballet classes, then how am I supposed to live the feminist ideal? And just when am I supposed to be happy?

The two-dimensionality of nascent feminist thought has evolved to fit the various contexts in which we women live. This struggle with feminism takes feminism down to its purest form, going beyond the notion of equality of the sexes. At the core of feminism is the concept of choice: we women have the capacity to make the choices that are best for us. This is profound and essential. It unites the stay-at-home mom with the work-for-pay mom, and the married woman with the divorcee. And we need this unity now more than ever. We are living in strange and dangerous times for women and the young girls who will one day join our number. Issues around women and our health are being decided by politicians and not physicians. Thirteen and fourteen-year-old girls are encouraged by their twenty-something idols and reality TV stars to dress and act-out in over-sexualized ways. And "friends with benefits" style trysts have become a part of the normal course of a young woman's intimate history.  Now more than ever, we need young women to not think of feminism as a four letter word meant to stop their fun, but as a simple question: by doing this, am I making a choice that is best for me? I'm just saying.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jock vs Genius: Does the High School You Really Make a Difference?

One of my not-so guilty pleasures is watching a bit of escapist TV from my high school years. More frequently than I care to admit, I'll check in on the gang at Bayside High on "Saved by the Bell". There's Lisa Turtle, the ebony fashion plate and gossip; Kelly Kapowski, the cheerleader and object of desire extraordinaire; A.C. Slater, the muscle-bound hunk who made his cheesy brand of misogyny look adorable; Ms. Spano, the brainiac and uber-feminist; Screech Powers, the nerd whose heart belonged to Lisa Turtle, even after Tori Spelling's guest stint as Violent, the Nerdette; and, of course, the blond haired Adonis, that smirking, acid-wash denim wearing charmer, Zack Morris. These kids ruled the halls of Bayside, well, at least from 1989-1993, and while the actors who played these characters grew up, with some becoming porn stars (Screech), and others becoming Las Vegas strippers with a heart of gold (Ms. Spano), with the power of TV and TBS in particular, their "Saved by the Bell" alter egos live on 5 days a week.

For those of us well past our own high school years, it's interesting, to me, how much who we were in high school informs who we are as adults. I can look at the thirty-something mom rocking the booty shorts in Starbucks and wonder if she was the high school homecoming queen or the most popular girl. And maybe that faux celebrity attempting to stretch her Fifteen Minutes was the creepy girl who roamed her high school halls friendless and is still yearning for attention and validation. 

This is more than just a fun past time, though. Sometimes these high school dramas extend to the adult workplace. In fact, one of the most epic battles I've ever seen, between a manager and her right hand man, looked more like a high school cafeteria brawl than a disagreement between two professionals.

Let me set the scene: The manager was over-the-top efficient, and a practitioner of what I will call Blackberry Jujitsu, blazing back lightening fast emails and responses, with her thumbs flying across that wee keyboard. She arrived early and left late, and in between she left her office only for meetings. There was no lunch for her, rather, she was on a regimen of multiple little meals, eaten methodically at her desk. Conversations were terse and pointed affairs, and were kept as short as her close-cropped hair. Her right hand man was her complete opposite. His conversations with office mates and clients were languorous and organic. Lunches were eaten away from the office, and there were even 15 minute walks thrown in to get the blood and ideas flowing. He arrived on-time and he left late only when there were deadlines to be made. And, while he had a Blackberry, he preferred to let the first barrage of emails and responses go out from his boss, and then, when the waters had calmed, he'd chime in and get the information that was needed.

At first, their styles appeared to complement each other, like good cop/bad cop. The right hand man was collegial and made fast friends of everyone from the mail room bunch to the CEO. And when his manager sent one of her screaming emails to one of the staff, it was her right hand man who smoothed over her off-putting tone and made the offended party feel valued. But over time, his manager became suspicious of his intentions.

Educationally, the manager and her right hand man were similar, and while the argument could be made for gender issues fueling their different styles, a rather important piece of the puzzle resides in their high school days.

The manager had spent her high school days as one of the outsiders - working with the theatre people, going to hear garage bands in seedy bars, wearing black jeans and black t-shirts on every occasion. She was ostracized and bullied for her style of dress and for her weirdo associations. She was "Carrie" without the witchcraft. Her right hand man, though, had been popular in an effortless sort of way. He'd been a social gadfly, hanging out with all of the cliques, while still maintaining several close friendships. He sang in the choir and played sports. He'd not only known acceptance, but he'd known it on an epic scale. Any wonder, then, that later on in life, these two would clash?? If you think about it, this fight had been brewing since high school.

Sound ridiculous?? You bet it is! But how many of us have been there?

Try this experiment: At your next staff meeting, I want you to look around the table, and watch, really watch, and listen to them. Remember that old Toastmaster's tip where you should imagine everyone naked in order to calm your nerves before delivering a speech? Well, imagine them with their old high school gear! See the 40-year-old senior partner who doesn't look you in the eye and spends the whole meeting glued to his Blackberry as that 16-year-old sporting his Dungeons and Dragons t-shirt and military surplus shop field bag. And take a long enough look at his long-suffering admin and you might see the shy and mousy 18-year-old girl who dutifully tried to get all of her classmates to sign her yearbook, even though none of them was her friend.

OK, so this method hasn't received the institutional seal of approval of a Myers Briggs, but it's a hell of lot more fun - I'm just saying:)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Have You Had Enough of "Good Enough"?

The other day as I was flipping through the mail, I spotted my college alumni magazine. Page after page, in full color, were the stories of CEOs, scientists, and others who'd met with success in their post-collegiate lives. There were also the new brides and grooms surrounded by their alumni bridesmaids and groomsmen, and the parade of babies sporting their "future alumni" onesies. Some of the faces were familiar to me, as I remembered them sprinting across the campus plaza, sporting nasty plaid flannel pajama bottoms, a college sweatshirt, and a backpack, en route to the dining hall before they closed up the breakfast service for the morning. For most of us, college was an intense time - filled with some of the best times of our lives, and the worst. It was all extremes in college as we sorted through the perils of young adulthood and a future which seemed fat with possibility. At every turn, our parents and professors seemed to always be talking about our "potential", this nebulous, formless blob of endless pathways.

After graduation, "potential" pops up again, as parents try to steer the young graduate into a graduate school program or the world of work. This time, though, instead of exploring your "potential", as you were encouraged to do in the halcyon days of campus life, your "potential" has an expiration date. "Don't waste your potential" becomes the battle cry, and soon you hear the clock ticking down the years, months, weeks, and days until your "potential" withers and dies, usually around the time of your 30th birthday or the arrival of your first child, and then it's time to crown the next, new crop of children with the burden of "potential".

I don't know about you, but it seems odd to me that we, as humans, can see potential so clearly in the young, while confining our older selves to lives that are good enough. I watched my parents do this - sacrifice themselves to the Goddess of Potential residing in my childhood body. I had piano lessons and voice lessons and ballet lessons and my mom had endless hours driving me around and waiting for me. The dreams she'd had for herself were, instead, placed upon my seven-year-old shoulders and Mom lived a good enough life in order to give me an extraordinary start.

The Good Enough Life seems to be thriving, still, with a steadily growing membership. It's appeal is understandable, because the Good Enough Life seems effortless. There aren't many surprises in the Good Enough Life, there are only routine and repetition - the evil twins of existence who slap down anything that smacks of adventure and creativity. Maybe it's time for something more than good enough?

Now, I'm not going to go all Oprah on you and demand that you "live your best life now." It's hard for me to imagine that someone with billions of dollars doesn't have the means to live her best life! So think of me as a Local Oprah, who's got credit card bills, a pile of laundry, and a stack of newspapers she has to remember to put out for the Monday recycling pick-up, and believe me when I tell you that if you want something more than the good enough you have then you have to do it.

Living beyond good enough means doesn't mean living beyond your means, rather it means transcending your means. If you're the carpool mom, and the pick up the dry cleaning mom, and the cook breakfast/lunch/dinner mom who loved drawing and painting before she was a mother, than push beyond good enough and enroll in an art class. Don't have the money for an art class? Then make a space in your garage or your basement or your kitchen and just do it. Set a boundary for yourself that's kid-free/chore-free/worry-free and go beyond your good enough. Demand this for yourself.

Living beyond the good enough also means ending the excuses. How many times have you uttered the phrase "I can't...because" either mentally or out loud in a day? For the good enough life, this phrase is its motto. I can't take a tap dance class because my husband won't pick up the kids from soccer. I can't write for an hour a day because I have to work late. I can't volunteer at a mission because no one will cook dinner for my family. Eliminate this phrase, and, instead, focus your energy on figuring out how you can!

And, by the way, you might want to also drop the phrase "I used to" from your vocabulary, too. Free yourself from what you used to do, and who you used to be. I used to be skinny and I used to have hair that was not grey. You can twist yourself into knots over "used to", and that sort of navel-gazing is just fine for the good enough life because it drains you and defeats you, and soon, you're saying, "I can't...because."

This is a way of thinking that goes beyond the big, bad scary Potential. In fact, what I'm advocating may seem puny when compared to the grandeur of untapped, raw Potential, but some of the things that have defined me were these small moments when I was stepping outside of the good enough life. So, have you had enough of good enough? I'm just saying.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Vacation Bible School: Notes from the Trenches

Well, after 5 days, 23 hours, 15 camp songs, and countless potty breaks, my 2011 Vacation Bible School odyssey is over. It's a bitter-sweet parting. While I won't miss the early mornings and the kid-funk, that gamey brew that's one part sneakers, 2 parts glue, and 3 parts perspiration, that lingers in the air of closed classrooms at the end of the day, I will most certainly miss the wonderful children who sang their little hearts out with me everyday.

I'm not the conventional VBS teacher. I don't have children, I'm quite blunt, and I've got a bit of a smart mouth, as the old folks say. Oh, and I suck at crafts. I'm also a bit of a drama queen, though not in a bad way, which might explain why I was asked to be a drama teacher. Now, I'm not like Cameron Diaz in "Bad Teacher" - no, I'd say I'm more like "Pacifier" Vin Diesel, but in a skirt.
I volunteered for VBS (that's what those of us "in the know" call it) because I am a very guilty person and, like that song from "Oklahoma!", I'm just a gal who can't say no. But I came back everyday because it was just plain fun.

No, seriously, it WAS fun!

To start off with, there weren't any video games so there you are in a room full of rising second graders who are forced to have fun and to learn the old fashioned way - with human interaction. The kids played outside on the playground and not with a Wii controller. We played charades, drew pictures, and pretended to set up a government for the newly elected President Brett, who, at 7 years old, has promised to raise the debt ceiling without raising taxes! We talked about everything from Harry Potter to how much the Civil Rights Movement and the Beatitudes have in common. We made up skits involving costumes, props, blocking and plot lines that placed the Eiffel Tower on Mars and questioned whether those who show mercy are indeed blessed.  This was like Childhood Unplugged!

For us teachers, it was like doing improv on a tightrope. Sure, you'd walk through the door in the morning with the perfect lesson plan, but it didn't take long for the little cherubs to do a simple whip count and know that they outnumbered us, and so I riffed. When I found out, on that first day, that my homeroom class of seven-year-olds considered themselves too sophisticated to color, I punted, and those coloring pages that I'd printed? Well, the kindergarten class LOVED them!! Instead of wanting to sit and listen to stories, these children wanted the freedom to make up the stories themselves, and so we let them, albeit with some parameters. We got to hear their logic and the ways in which they think about things. I started feeling a little like a late night talk show host, trying to get my guests chatting but making sure they wrap it up and hit their main points. It makes me wonder just how year-round teachers do it!

So, I want to thank all of the children from VBS 2011. And if you're about to take your first turn as a volunteer teacher for your summer church camp, I thought I'd share some of the best kept secrets about VBS to help you:
  • The song "Kumbaya" is no longer a requirement.
  • When you (or one of the kids in your class) accidentally uses a permanent marker on the classroom's dry-erase board, you can erase the mistake by drawing over the permanent marker with a dry-erase marker (not that I'm confessing anything!)
  • Gummi Bears and Gummi Worms are to VBS as cartons of cigarettes are to the penitentiary.
  • Don't wear flip-flops as toddlers LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to stomp exposed toes.
  • Everything gets sticky.
  • Never leave your bottle of water in a room with toddlers because all of them will drink from it!
  • White pants are never a good idea!
  • Want a quick self-esteem builder? Two words - "good job" - work great for toddlers through first grade. However, be warned, "good job" is white noise to older kids.
  • Gluten free - IN/ peanut butter-OUT!!
  • If you're not as flexible as you used to be, when you sit cross-legged on the classroom floor, your foot will fall asleep, so have an action plan in place.
  • Most church camps are now guitar-free!!
And now, I'm off to scrape the glue out of the inside of my lunch bag - don't ask! I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Zooey Deschanel, You're Annoying Me!

Dear Zooey Deschanel,

I am writing this letter because you're annoying me. Your whole doe-eyed, sing-songy voice; your addiction to hipster, vintage chic; and your whole quirky-girl thing, while a siren song for the hoodie-wearing thirty year old hipster male, is really bothersome. Maybe you're not directly at fault. Maybe it's the fault of programmers at HBO who insist on ramming that "(500) Days of Summer" flick down our collective throats. Or maybe Jon Favreau is to blame for casting you in that movie, "Elf" which goes into high rotation from late November through January 1st every year, and which features your hipster song-stylings. It could be the fault of America's Cotton Growers who let you appear in a cotton ad featuring your throaty hipster-styled rendering of their cotton jingle. Maybe all of the above are to blame!!

So, my dearest Zooey, I think it's time for some tough love. Here are some uncomfortable facts:
  • You're going to be 40 in a few years, and your whole Holly Hobbie aesthetic just won't cut it. There's nothing sadder than a middle-aged woman in pigtails trying to carry off boho-chic!
  • You're not as indie girl as you think if you're starring in big-budget films and hawking for a lobbying group, oh, and doing a sitcom on FOX (due in fall 2011).
  • Your influence has led to the rise of other "quirky girls", so much so that the field is becoming over saturated. I fear that soon only garbage men will be interested in a 1975 sofa sitting curbside as legions of hipsters will discover what a lot of us already know - dumpster diving for furniture isn't cool, it just means that you have smelly furniture!!
Look, Zooey, you've had a good run, and I hope that as you figure out a new path in life that you'll free yourself from this persona of perpetual innocence. There are others who've gone before you - Lisa Kudrow went from hipster quirky girl ("Friends") to intellectual story teller ("Who Do You Think You Are?").  So you see, there's hope.

I'm Just Saying:)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Food and Love and the Marital Waistline

I guess I should have known that there was going to be trouble from that first time we met. It was across a table at a group dinner when I met the man who would become my husband. And when we eventually went on our first date, it was at another table, at another dinner. This scene would be repeated throughout our courtship - a wonderful meal, a bottle of wine, and delightful conversations. With each new food discovery we made ever more interesting personal discoveries. We traveled the globe, with stops in India, the Middle East, Africa, China, Thailand, and France, all on a dinner plate, and we fell in love. It was intoxicating, fulfilling, and filling, very filling!

We celebrated our engagement in New Orleans, a city known as much for its food as its sensuality. There were doughy, hot beignets in the morning, muffalottas in the afternoon, and andouille-filled nights. We let the good times roll, and by trip's end, well, lets just say that my waistline was beginning the rapid transition from buttons to elastic!

Fast forward 10 years later and our love and our waistlines have continued to grow, and so have the numbers of other couples who share in our same dilemma. When your "plus one" becomes a "plus 20, 30, 40", you start to look for the root of the problem.

Before I met my husband, I was living and working in the city, going to the gym most mornings, and walking the 3-mile round trip to my office before heading out to after-work gallery openings. And pre-We, my hubby was traveling across the country and around the world and in the best shape of his life. So what happened???

Well, let me disclose the sometimes ugly truth of coupling: food becomes your activity.

When the two become one, the difficult dance of merging two people with two sets of friends and two sets of interests can become overwhelming. If she likes to salsa dance at a sweaty club on a Friday night, but he likes to spend Friday nights playing basketball with his friends, as their relationship with each other deepens, the compromises start - maybe he doesn't need to shoot hoops every Friday night, and maybe she doesn't have to salsa dance at some stuck-up club on a Friday night in order to get her weekly thrill. And food soon becomes the neutral zone, a space that's not his or hers, but theirs - you know, like Pottery Barn furniture in a hetero couple's home!

If you're in a romantic relationship try this exercise: For one week, keep an activity log, include activities, like going to the gym, dinner and a movie, or visiting a museum. Include details about all of your meals as well as if you did the activity with or without your significant other. Feeling adventurous? Keep your activity log for 4 weeks. You'll see some interesting trends. I tried this and was dismayed to learn how many of our activities involved food.

De-coupling food from the couple equation is hard to do, and my husband and I are working hard. Some days are wonderful low-calorie/high activity days. And some days, well, not so good, but we're trying and enjoying this new journey. I hit the road with him and he walks the museums with me and food, well, it's just that stuff we grab before heading to the next adventure. I'm just saying:)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Preventing the Next Casey Anthony

While the head-scratching and the shock and the pageantry of the punditry roll on in the aftermath of the most talked about "not guilty" since O.J., all I can think about is what happens next. In a few weeks, Casey Anthony will strut her stuff out of the jailhouse for good, no doubt under the protection of armed private guards after all of the death threats and the angry mob gathered outside of the courthouse during the trial, as well as the legion of press and pappers who'll camp out in front of her new home. Already, talk of book deals, movie rights, and first interviews with Casey have begun. And discussions of whether or not she will return home to the family her defense attorney characterized as toxic and dysfunctional has led to even more speculation about Casey's future.

I don't think Casey's post-trial life will be all that shocking. I think we're all jaded enough at this point to know the drill - after the first exclusive broadcast interview, Casey will make the rounds with the other news organizations, then it's onto People magazine who'll do a story and photo spread. After these initial top-tier media organizations then it's off for a makeover and a little rest and relaxation (called "healing" in the media/infotainment biz) while Casey and her team (oh, yes, Casey definitely gets a team, hell, she'll insist on one!) read movie treatments, scout homes, watch "Dumb and Dumber" (Casey's favorite movie, according to one of her prison missives!), and the more media speculation as to Casey's next move. While her legal team moves to tie up loose ends, and other private forensic teams volunteer their services to re-examine the prosecutor's evidence, Casey will stay out of sight, and her story will go back to the minor leagues - the tabloids. As one juror in the Casey Anthony trial said, "not guilty does not mean innocent," and that distinction will make Casey a pariah.

I'm more interested, though, in the hundreds of potential Casey Anthony's out there now. From all of the contested bits and pieces of evidence, from video tape of Casey and little Caylee at play, to still photos of Casey drinking and partying, the one thing that can be said of Casey's relationship to her daughter is that it was complicated. I'd always theorized that Casey was an irresponsible young woman who'd gotten pregnant and, like those girls on MTV's "Teen Mom", had been pressured into having and keeping the baby by parents who thought that the maternal instinct would simply kick-in, in time.

But, what this case shows is how much we over-value the maternal instinct and that's why I'm worried. Casey Anthony was a disinterested mother. She didn't betray the maternal instinct, she just didn't have one. She's not the normal abusive parent that the neighbors call Child Services to investigate. She simply had no interest in being a parent to her child, and was either too weak or too arrogant to acknowledge that and to give Caylee up for adoption. The disinterested parent wants their needs met first and last, and look at their children as accessories. They figure that if their child has food, shelter, and clothing, then the parenting job is complete, so don't ask them to do anymore. Underneath that disinterest, though, is a volatile mixture of entitlement and rage. The disinterested parent is a petulant child who doesn't want to share the spotlight, and, as Casey Anthony has proved, they are among the most dangerous of all. So let's do the world a favor and take away the spotlight. The show's over, nothing to see here, I'm just saying.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Shia LeBeouf and Justin Bieber: Baby-Faced Boys Behaving Badly

We're just one week into summer 2011 and already, Hollywood's pint-sized studs are behaving like tools! Just this week, the twitchy pocket-sized "Romeo",  Shia LeBeouf, took a break from promoting his "Transformers 3" flick to talk about an on-set tryst with his former co-star, Megan Fox while Ms. Fox was dating former teen heart-throb Brian Austin Green. And Justin Bieber, after a busy spring of publicly groping Disney princess, Selena Gomez, decided that it was time for the whole world to know that in addition to a hot babe, he also has a potty mouth, which he unleashed on a member of the BET network's security team, calling the man a "d*bag" - Baby, baby!!??

The man-child is a specialty of Hollywood, where men with little-boy faces play out a kind of Dorian Gray existence, straddling the worlds of innocent child and knowing adult. Every generation has known man-boys like LeBeouf and the Bieb. For my grandmother's generation, they had Mickey Rooney, a man whose baby face and diminutive frame made him ageless, well, at least for a while. I grew up in the Tiger Beat generation, and so it was Ralph Macchio, Gary Coleman, and Emmanuel Lewis who laid claim to the man-child mantle. It's a bit incongruous, these seeming little boys  rocketing into stardom while they're still waiting for puberty. The biggest shock of my life so far is not that Doogie Howser is gay, but that he's got gray hair and well-defined pecks!

The man-child moniker can be a double-edged sword, especially when it's time to grow up. There was a recent "Vanity Fair" interview with Jaleel White - the annoying "Steve Urkel" of ABC's "Family Matters" sitcom - where the actor spoke of the travails of maintaining his character's sexual innocence while going through the struggles of puberty:

"I knew physically I had made certain sacrifices to keep that property alive that just couldn't be made anymore. I wasn't changing my hair; I was staying out of the gym. To be honest, I was retarding my own growth as a man in order to maintain the authenticity to what I thought that character should be."

The man-child mystic is quite a curiosity, and for some people, this disjointed combination of little boy looks and manly desires is irresistible. My older sister, for instance, was in desperate love with Michael Jackson starting from his Jackson 5 days all the way up to "Thriller". While I loved his music, he was never an object of physical desire or adoration for me. Same for Ralph Macchio, Emmanuel Lewis, Gary Coleman, Urkel, and Doogie Howser.

For Shia LeBeouf and Justin Bieber, their man-child duality may get them the girl(s) in the short-run, as their little-boy looks, and massive paychecks will allow the ladies to take their seeming innocence at face value. And maybe they'll have a longer run at this. Heck, it's no mere coincidence that Bieber's mentor is the once baby-faced Lothario, Usher, who's had a checkered past with the ladies. At some point, though, having the face of an angel won't erase the wrong that they do. And while the portrait of the character Dorian Gray which wore the stain of his sins across its canvas only exists in fiction, in this digital age of Twitter and Facebook, the seed-sewing activities of these millionaire tykes won't go unnoticed. I'm just saying:)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Sofa Full of Memories: A Curbside Send-Off to a Dear Friend

It was roughly ten years ago that my husband and I fell in love - well, at least deep liking. Oh, not with each other - we'd already done THAT! No, the object of our affection was a golden tweed sofa, with threads of hunter green and burgundy. We built a living room and a color scheme around that sofa, and we planned a life on that sofa, sitting together on its, then, youthful and springy cushions. So it was with a great mix of emotions that we hauled the sofa out to the curb and sent it on its way. After a barrage of attacks by the claws of our house cats had exposed the fluffy white innards, it was decided that maybe it was time for something new. I had my reservations, though, and on the day when Newbie (a.k.a. the new sofa) arrived at my front door, instead of letting the delivery men haul away my old friend, I, instead, had them take the old sofa up two flights of stairs and put her down in one of the guest rooms. Sure, I had some misgivings, and sure my husband wasn't thrilled that the cat's scratching post was now taking up valuable real estate in a guest room, but I figured he come around and realize just how important this sofa had been in our lives.

It was on that sofa that we shared our first Christmas morning as husband and wife, and onto which I sank when I came home from work with the flu one terrible winter day. That ratty old sofa was the site of lazy post-church Sunday afternoon naps and marathon crossword puzzle and Sudoku sessions. It was where we shared quiet New Year's Eve dinners and entertained family for boisterous Easter Sunday feasts. From that sofa, we watched epic snowstorms and torrential downpours. The cats had established a watchtower on the back of the sofa, a perch from which they noted our arrivals and departures. Our sofa was our nexus of family life.

Letting go of this sofa's been really difficult for me, and, well, the cats. I've been trying to get at the root of my issue. Full disclosure - I've always had a problem with letting go of everything from old clothes to old cars. I've tried to be better about this, I mean, I don't want to turn into one of those people in "Hoarders"!! But, seriously, letting go of an old sofa obviously means more than the sum of its threads. That sofa is a piece of our history and it will never exist again, only the memories we have with it. This is the dilemma of existence, I suppose, the end of things. But the end of one thing can mean the beginning of new things, wondrous things!!! I think I just had my a-ha moment!?? Things end but new things begin and our memories live on - I feel like Oprah, or a Jedi.

So, dear old sofa, my overstuffed friend, I bid you goodbye. I wish you calm seas and prosperous voyage as you sail into the mystic - OK, I've had way too much Van Morrison today! I'm just saying:)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Old Age: A Field Guide

This week, between my parents' celebration of their 49th wedding anniversary and a visit from my mother-in-law, I had to finally face up to all of my fears about aging. When I was a little girl, in single-digits, I couldn't wait to be older, well, by older, I meant somewhere between old enough to live on my own, but young enough to look fabulous - so, 21 years old, or somewhere in that neighborhood.

Being young, well, you just can't beat it, at least for some things. When you're young and say something moderately intelligent, you're a genius. You're all potential - untapped, raw, and powerful. You are clever, but not in that cold and calculating way that us older people are. And if it seems like I'm raining on the Young People parade, well, I am, but that's only because I've caught a glimpse of the future and it's a bit scary. For all that I've read and experienced in the years before I was thirty, for all of the places I've been and people I've seen in this great big world, I'm scared that as I enter the seventh and eighth decades of my life, my world will only get much smaller. Out there, at a point in the future, concerns about the cab ride over to Gatwick from Heathrow for that trip to the Canary Islands will be replaced with a vague feeling that I can't remember my name or what year it is or which house is mine. Old age is some deeply scary &%#*!!

And so this week, as I found myself listening as Mom and Dad related the wonders of the 4:30pm seating at the Borgata dinner buffet, I started thinking about growing old. Will my husband and I be as thrilled at getting the first seating at some casino buffet somewhere in the future as we are now about getting the 8:00pm seating at Restaurant Eve? Will we be as giddy at a dollar store as we are now scanning the racks of Nordstrom? Will we keep our home at 75 degrees Fahrenheit and complain about how cold it feels?

We spend such an awful lot of energy just trying to make it to old age, but I don't think that we've ever really thought about what we'll do when we get to that magical, aged "there."  So, I'm doing just that right now. Here is the I'm Just Saying Field Guide for Old Age, Or Those Contemplating Old Age:

  1. Don't retire - What do people most like to talk about when you first meet? Their jobs and their families. From CEOs to stay-at-home moms, we are what we do, and we love to talk about what we do. It defines us, for better or worse, so why stop? Also, it's a great way to pass the time, stay social, and keep your mental batteries charged.
  2. Forget Florida and Think NYC - Unless you lived in Florida or Arizona or Nevada or whatever other Old People Mecca before you reached retirement age, then don't move there NOW!! Go where there's stuff to do, and people to meet, like the city that never sleeps, New York, New York. At some point, when you no longer want to/should drive a car, you'll want to have easy access to public transportation and there's no better place than a major metropolitan area. You'll also have access to museums, restaurants, and other attractions that will just make life more fun.
  3. Stay High-Tech -  In the winter of 2011 my mom sent her first text message. It would also be her last. She'd been signed up for a free text messaging trial by her mobile phone company, but little did they know that my mom had a strange tech immunity which started when she retired from work some 15 years ago. Mom doesn't send emails (probably because she doesn't have an email account), Mom doesn't do online banking, and Mom doesn't surf the web on her PDA (and no, she doesn't know what a PDA is, or even the 1990s meaning of PDA). Strive to be that granny listening to your iPod while you're taking your Seniors Zumba class. Whip out your iPad while you're in the waiting room prior to your cataract surgery.
  4. Ditch the Socks and Sandals - Staying stylish is a challenge for most seniors. You may be on a fixed income and can't afford Seven for All Mankind jeans. Or you may have developed certain physical conditions which preclude trucking around in a pair of Jimmy Choo's. So while you're sipping on that coffee or tea at the Barnes and Noble at 8:00am, pick up a Vogue or a GQ to see the latest styles and then head over to Target for a less expensive alternative.
Now, I know some of these may seem unrealistic. My mother in law thought I'd lost it when I told her my brilliant New York City retirement plan - there was some mention of rent and expenses, or something along those lines. But if life is for the living, then why not live it from edge to edge, being busy and vital at every stage?? Not too many years ago I met a lovely woman named Marguerite. She was in her 90s, and after a life of marriage and children and photography, she was almost blind and living in a high rise senior apartment, but she was far from done when it came to her creative self. As her eyesight began to fail, she learned pottery and ceramics, creating a new outpouring of work. Marguerite refused to let go of the creative spark that had propelled her through her first 90 years.

But maybe Marguerite's case highlights why a lot of us really fear joining the senior citizen brigade. There are quite a few of us walking around in our 30- and 40-something bodies living smack in the middle and not along those glorious, thrilling edges. Aging forces us to confront opportunities missed and opportunities wasted and sends us out to either make it up or make peace. Old age may be scary, but I can think of something even scarier! I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Make It Stop: The Attack of the Stick Figure Family Car Stickers!!

It started innocently enough - a Christmas card from some distant family relation arrived in our mailbox, and in the top left corner of the envelope there it was, actually, there THEY were - 4 stick figures - one shaped like "mom", the other like "dad", and a boy and a girl. The name of the family appeared underneath in jolly Comic font, along with their address, so that I could know just where to find the merriment. And thus, I was thrust into the world of Family Stickers - a multi-million dollar business with various sales outlets. On a typical car ride from my home, I spy dozens of mini-vans, steroidal SUVs, and station wagons with a trio, quartet, or quintet of stick figure family members in their rear windows. And you know something - it's annoying the hell out of me!

I know, I'm raining on someone's parade, but these stick figures are as irritating an addition to the backsides of cars as are those "my child is an honor roll student" bumper stickers that shot to fame in the '90s! When a few people had them, I'll admit, they were quirky, a bit off-beat, but now, they've become like a battering ram, like a requirement for the well-adjusted, all-American, nuclear family. 

I guess in this age of the over-share, letting complete strangers waiting at the traffic light know the size and make-up of your family seems a harmless indulgence, but seriously, I'm just waiting at the traffic light, not trying to strike up a friendship! I mean, what do you need all of the attention for, anyway?? Why do you require windshield validation for your life choices??

If you're proud of your family, then awesome, post their cute pics on Facebook, start a blog for your closest friends and family members. Oh, you're already doing that?? So then why the stick figure family?

I've seen one car in the grocery store parking lot for the past four years. They began with 3 stick figures - mom, dad, baby. Then they upped it to 4 - mom, dad, baby, dog. Then the 4 became 6 - yep, you guessed it - TWINS!!! So - mom, dad, 2 new babies, son, dog. But, I guess that wasn't enough because the last time I saw that car it had a new figure - number 7 if you're having a hard time keeping up. This latest figure - a cat, yes, that's just what that family needed, one more life form in need of care and upkeep, and ordering more damn stickers!!

So, look, I'm going to try to be a bit less bitter about this whole thing, and to do this, I propose a line of stick figure stickers for people in single and non-traditional lifestyles. There's the female stick figure with a briefcase and a cat. Or maybe the two dads, their two babies, and the surrogate.  What about the single guy who's a serial monogamer - this stick figure would come with a dozen female stick figures and big red "Xs" to delineate a break-up. What? You find that too extreme and a bit TMI - well, welcome to my world! I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Love and Marriage and Race

The month of June is always a special time for my husband and I because it was it was on June 12, 1967 that the Supreme Court made the landmark decision that would make interracial marriage legal. The couple at the center of the case was a white man named Richard Loving and his black wife, Mildred Loving. Many celebrate Loving Day every June 12 in honor of this brave couple who paved the way for that "post racial" society every poet has longed for, and in 2011, in a country whose President is the product of a black and white union, and where blended celebrity couples like Heidi Klum and Seal or Ice-T and Coco, regularly strut the red carpet, it would seem that our country's come a long way from its segregationist past. But I have to say, "not so fast!"

The reality is that for every Kardashian sister crossing the color line, there are still vast sections of the American public who aren't as race-neutral as they think they are when it comes to dating and romance. While surveys, such as the Pew Research Center's study that showed an 83% approval rate for interracial dating in the U.S., have been trotted out in recent years to show how far we've come, mainstream dating website eHarmony vigorously defended its policies against interracial matches. It seems there's a disconnect between what we say and what we do.

Even among my own friends and family, there is a wide gap between theory and practice. While they have been nothing but supportive of my marriage, they've never entertained the thought of crossing the color line. For my parents and their generation, it simply wasn't done. But for my contemporaries, who, like me, grew up watching Tom and Helen Willis hold their own against George Jefferson every week on CBS, race and dating is a complicated affair. No one wants to think that they harbor racist thoughts, but I do wonder if the foul-mouthed puppets of "Avenue Q" were right when they sang, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", well, at least when it comes to dating.

We tend to date who we know and people with whom we share common ties - music, favorite films, and other cultural references. These same rules often apply to our friendships, too. So take a look at your friends and your friends' friends - what do you see? Is it more United Colors of Benetton or the runways of Fashion Week Milan??  Is it more NBA or PGA and less FIFA??  Have you ever asked your friends of different races if they'd ever considered dating someone who's your race?

I must admit that I've asked that question, with varying degrees of success. One former black friend gave me a scathing rebuke for daring to become a "checkerboard chick" given this country's history of slavery, and one former white friend said there was no way he could bring a black woman home to his family. The reactions of both of these people really hurt me, truth be told, because the one challenged my blackness and the other rejected my blackness. And yes, I used the word rejected because if you can be friends with someone of a different race, why wouldn't you be open to dating or marrying someone of that different race? If you're lucky enough to find someone who loves you and wants to spend their life with you, then why should their race be the reason to reject them? From what I've seen, religion seems more divisive than race.

Love in a post-Loving world is an interesting and strange thing, and my hope is that once we really open ourselves to the depths of each other, that the strange won't seem so strange at all. I'm just saying:)

Friday, June 10, 2011

And the Prize for Worst Birth Announcement Goes To...

So, I guess it wasn't enough that Congressman Underpants' online activities have been made public and that the Weiner name has been defiled! Now, it seems, the unruly Rep. has taken it to the fetus with the news of his wife's pregnancy being leaked to the press. That's one HELL of a birth announcement, don't you think?? Most people invite their close friends and family members over for a nice dinner party or brunch and, somewhere around dessert and with their arms tightly wound 'round each other, say the words, "we're pregnant" to which those gathered surround them with hugs and kisses and musings as to which parent the little one will resemble most. For us ordinary people, this seems to be how it goes, and I imagine it's much the same for those in the public eye, albeit with some additional flourishes - you know, the press speculation when a starlet suddenly trades in her tight, bandage Herve Leger dress for something loose and baggie, and then, the inevitable announcement on Dave Letterman or on Conan followed by a spread in People magazine or US Weekly on pregnancy style and fitness. I wonder if the little Weiner kid is cursing his dad, in-utero, for stealing his thunder!

OK, I know it's been a tough week for the Weiner family, but I have to wonder if the thought of reporters using Anthony Weiner's sexting as a segue to talk about his child may finally put the brakes on Weiner's XXX extra-curricular photography.  Granted, the humiliation and subsequent resignation of his fellow New York Congressman, Christopher Lee, for his shirtless pics didn't seem to affect Weiner's appetite. And his engagement and marriage to a smart woman who dated George Clooney - let me repeat that - GEORGE CLOONEY - didn't curb Weiner's enthusiasm. Oh, and the fact that Congressional Democrats have been in the middle of the legislative equivalent of a knife-fight with House Republicans so it's probably not a great idea to do something stupid!!! You know what, maybe Baby Weiner won't have any impact at all on Daddy Weiner's behavior.

I know, I sound hopeless, but I've been wronged!! It used to be that when a so-so guy got the hot girl, he treated her like a queen, you know, like in "The Revenge of the Nerds" when the nerd hooks up with the object of his desire and then, in "Nerds" Sequel land, they marry each other. This is the myth that has become nature's great equalizer - pretty girls date the hot guys, and marry the nice guys. The Weiners of the world are the nice guys the hot girls have children with and grow families with - they're solid, dependable and loyal. So now, we ladies can't trust the nice guys anymore??!!!

Look, I hope I'm wrong and I'm also hoping that once another scandal bubbles up and Weiner's on the back-burner  that he and his wife can spend the next nine months arguing over baby names and figuring out the color of the nursery. I wish them three-trimesters of car-seat installation classes and pre-natal yoga and funky food cravings, and baby-proofing their home, specifically the family computer and daddy's Blackberry, as those areas can be quite dangerous...I'm just saying:)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Weiner-gate's Shocking End!

So, it seems that the wiener was Weiner's!! Oh, like I'm the only one who thought of this! But, late this afternoon, Representative Weiner finally copped to the cheesy Twitter pics that have made the rounds of every media outlet, and, in a shocking twist, fessed up to having phone sex and other "encounters" with other women he met online. What the wha???  At the obligatory press conference/feeding frenzy, Rep. Weiner teared up as he expressed his deep regret, and, of course, his intention not to resign. While I applaud him for not inviting his wife to stand by his side, I'm not thrilled that he admitted that his wife, who works for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, knew of his predilection for inappropriate online activities before they were married. Wow, I can already hear the GOP staffers booking the committee rooms for their hearings!

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, and not because his last name is Weiner, but because politics seems to be perpetually populated by slightly nerdy/semi-attractive guys who confuse the power of their political office with personal sexual pulchritude. Good grief, guys! I mean, you don't see Nancy Pelosi or Senator Olympia Snowe Tweeting topless pics of themselves!! And it'll be a cold day in hell before you see the fearless Senator Barbara Mikulski seated between two house cats and describing the two felines using an alternate, smutty term that I won't write (for a hint, fill in the blanks of this song title: "What's New -----cat!" Still stumped, how about this James Bond film, "Octo-----"). But, oddly enough, Rep. Weiner engaged in both of the above behaviors. I tell you, this ranks somewhere between the discovery of a sex tape starring Screech from "Saved by the Bell" and...sorry, I lost my train of thought thinking about Screech and that sex tape.

You know, maybe Weiner is the victim of all of this. In the smash Broadway hit, "Avenue Q", the characters sing a little ditty called, "The Internet is for Porn." It's a rollicking little tune in a catchy 4/4 time with a chorus that goes like this:

The Internet is for porn,
The Internet is for porn,
Why do you think the net was born?
Porn, porn, porn!

How can you expect a busy Congressman to avoid the lure of the double-click? And  heck, he was aided and abetted by the House of Representatives when they issued him a Blackberry, thus, putting the tools of his destruction in a portable device, although Rep. Weiner doesn't remember if he used his government issued B-Berry to do the deed, so we'll have to continue to speculate on that one!

So, as Weiner-gate draws to a close, and the media start the countdown to the resignation announcement press conference, followed by the press statement announcing Weiner's voluntary enrollment in a private treatment facility for his sex addiction, then the special election for his replacement, the congressional hearings on his alleged mis-use of government property, etc., ad nauseum, there will be one man sleeping quite well tonight and his name is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I'm just saying!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Year of Yes: The Chronicles of a Church Volunteer

This month marks the completion of a year-long experiment in my spiritual life to engage more deeply with my church. It began last June when I accepted Rev. Erika's (that's right, I'm naming names!) invitation to participate in my church's annual Vacation Bible School program - a one-week religious day camp filled with daily worship, classroom instruction, and fun activities for children 4 years old and up. It seems my ADD was a good match with the high-energy demands of the pre-school set, and so Rev. Erika asked me to continue on, this time as a Sunday school teacher for the September through May cycle of classes. Well this I really had to think about. I mean one week during summer was easy-peasy, but the thought of having to turn up every Sunday morning was a challenge to me. And while I'm not a serial church-skipper (among my group of friends, I've definitely logged more in-church hours than most!), I have that Gen-X Existentialist streak which makes "obligation" a four-letter word. Saying yes would mean having to consistently think up something to do, something interesting and educational.

And did I mention that the class would consist of 3-year-olds?

That's right, toddlers - the most feared group of children, well, other than teens. Known for their cunning and guile, 3-year-olds (known in the Sunday school biz as "3s") were notorious for their short attention spans, pre-verbal run-on sentences, and their inability to color inside of the lines and use scissors. It would be like entering into the lions' den, you know, if all of the lions were just above your knees. But Rev. Erika offered me some assurances - the kids would be potty-trained (check!), I'd be part of a team of teachers for my class (check, check!!), and, I wouldn't be responsible for planning a lesson every week (check, check, check!). So, I said yes.

Any good journey into uncharted territory begins with, of course, the right accessories, and so a series of shopping trips was in order. I found a wonderful religious bookstore in my neighborhood. I'd been there before on a mission to find birthday cards for some of my born-again relatives, but I'd never really hung out there. I found the children's section and hit the jackpot, scoring Bible story coloring books, as well as a book on creative projects for toddlers. I found a children's Bible with a cartoon Moses and cartoon Jesus, and an interactive, magnetic big book that told the Advent and Christmas stories. The next stop was the craft store where I went hog-wild in the felt department, and found sheets of construction paper featuring every color under the rainbow. By the time I finished, my shopping cart was full and I was on my way.

I quickly met with the other two teachers in my team and we set about planning for the first part of the Sunday school year. It was then that I realized that, oh my God, I just signed up to teach Sunday school - what the hell was I thinking??

Soon the first day of class arrived and in a brightly lit carpeted room in my church's parish house, the 3s started to arrive. One by one, they arrived, clutching their mommy or daddy's hand, bottom lip quivering and then, you guessed it, the crying began! I wanted to be like Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own" and tell these kids, "there's no crying in Sunday school!", but, instead, I sat down on the floor and started to talk to them, and I knew I was hooked. I felt such empathy for these little ones, I mean, here they were on a Sunday morning, and instead of just being able to play and watch TV, they were forced to get dressed and go sit in a building with a bunch of adults, oh, and they had to be quiet AND not pee their pants. And, to top it all off, they had to go to another room and pay attention, (whatever THAT means!) and be separated from mommy and daddy!!! It was almost inhuman.

Soon, we were getting to know each other and we developed a routine that consisted of free play and coloring, then group clean-up, an opening prayer and story time, a craftivity (my word!), snack time with a closing story, and then the arrival of mommies and daddies. Some days, it felt like "Daddy Daycare" when the kids were especially revved up and suffering from a case of the "can't-sit-downs". On other days, I felt like "Auntie Mame", a pied piper with unconventional ideas and a dedicated following.

In this Year of Yes, I learned a lot - like the finer points of glitter application and I also (hopefully) settled the debate between glue stick vs. liquid glue. I learned that 3-year-olds are a handful, but they're also honest and bright and yearning to understand how this world I take for granted fits together. I learned that on days when I felt overwhelmed and feared that I wasn't perfect, that 3-year-olds don't care about perfection, they care about moments and consistency and commitment. I also learned that when a 3-year-old refers to "yesterday", they mean last week, but let's not quibble:)

Anyway, with the completion of my Year of Yes, I'm keen to find another project. While I'm not term-limited to one year of the Year of Yes, I have a lot to consider. But, I must admit, I'm going through a weird Pepperidge Farm Goldfish withdrawal, so you never know...I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Oprah Ending - Ending Oprah

It's the end of the world - well, sort of. This week, Oprah ends her daytime reign. She's hanging up her microphone and putting her set in mothballs, and the whole world, it seems, is in a tizzy. Her celebrity BFFs seem to be taking it the hardest of all. Watching their tearful two-part tribute to Oprah, a cavalcade of famous people, including Tyler Perry, and First Friend Gayle King gushed over Oprah, praising her success and her generosity of spirit.

And it's only fair that they, the celebrities, should make such a fuss over the woman who, in many cases, saved or revived their careers. It was Oprah who helped to make these often vapid, one-dimensional characters into fleshed out human beings who are just like you and me - save for the ridiculous amounts of money and fame. She was their Mother-Confessor who granted forgiveness in her Harpo Studios confessional.  When Julia Roberts needed to clear the air over her failed marriage(s) and the sordid romantic triangle that became the basis for her current wedded bliss, it was to Oprah she went. When TV mom Meredith Baxter needed to tell her story of marital abuse, it was to the loving arms of Oprah that she flew. When Tom Cruise wanted to let the world know that he wasn't crazy and was, in fact, just a regular guy, head-over-heels in love with little Katie Holmes, Oprah's was the only couch worthy of his now infamous sofa jump.

With Leno and Letterman and Kimmel and Conan on the air, you'd think that Oprah would be rendered unnecessary, but you'd be wrong. Oprah created her own little universe, complete with its own jewel-toned palette of smartly-dressed, enthusiastic audience members who provided a backdrop for the spinning of celebrity tales of hurting and healing. To be a celebrity guest on Oprah meant a rigorous course in Oprah-ese, a language built on new-age, therapeutic discourse where people "named their truth," and had frequent "a-ha moments".

Now, that's not to say that your celebrity appearance was strictly about your own personal "journey" - no, there was always room for marketing, like those times when the entire casts of the latest Tyler Perry movie would take the stage.

I know, it may seem as if I'm not sad about her departure, and, in fact, I'm not. But it's not due to personal animus - it's just time. I don't need Oprah to tell me how much celebrities are just like me and you because, guess what, they're not. They live in a highly-competitive environment of constant scrutiny and little privacy, all fearing that "the next big thing" will end their careers.  Where newspapers and blog sites have huge, blaring headlines about their 10-pound weight gain or their thinning hair. That Oprah, herself, is one of these celebrities isn't lost on me. Her interviews with these celebrities have seemed more like highly choreographed conversations between friends, and so there's no danger, really. And maybe that's why Oprah's ending it. Maybe, she had her own Oprah "a-ha moment" and realized that if you can get a President elected, you don't need to sit down with yet another celebrity to hawk their tell-all book...I'm just saying:)