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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?
No.
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.

Sincerely,
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:)