Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Sister's Keeper?

Am I my sister's keeper? Am I supposed to be my sister's keeper? I ask myself, "What exactly is my moral obligation to my sister?" or to my nephew, or to another sister (I have five), or to whomever is going though a crisis, (usually self-induced) at the moment.

Since my mother died, I have pondered this question more often than ever. It reminds me of when I worked in an office, in the mortgage business. There was always some working stiff at a cubicle, clocking in and clocking out, performing seemingly unimportant, mundane, monotonous duties. Not until working stiff Jane was away on vacation or out sick for a few days did the rest of us have a clue what she did. Then, when the office assembly line would invariably come to a crashing halt, did it become crystal clear not only exactly what Jane did all day at her cubicle, but just how fucking important it was. Maybe not $100,000 salary important, or office with a view important, but the kind of important that totally fucks with your job when Jane isn't there to do hers.

I always knew my mother dealt with my family and their numerous and chronic financial and emotional troubles. I just did not realize quite how much, nor how often , she dealt with them. I would not necessarily concede that she dealt with them well, but deal with them she did. Whether it was a reassuring "It's alright, drink a cup of tea dear, take an aspirin, and it will all look better tomorrow" phone call to a hand-wringing sibling of mine, or doling out dough to cover another's rent, cell phone bill, or bail-out money-my Mom took care of it it.

Ironically, before my mom died, I thought I was dealing with those things things frequently (and I was), but after my Mom died, I became aware of just how much she had been sparing me. I had no idea I had been only receiving the crumbs from the fudge that is my family (you know- a little sweet, but plenty nutty).

One of my sisters is in a crisis. A crisis of epic proportion. The kind of crisis that if not resolved could change her life and others' lives-in serious and disastrous ways. This crisis is so overwhelming, both emotionally and financially to me, that I have been avoiding it, ignoring it, literally hiding under my bed covers and watching television instead of taking phone calls from her children, from my other sisters. I just DON'T want to deal with it; I am not UP to dealing with it, AND should I be dealing with it? I resent that I am being asked to deal with it. AGAIN.

Am I my sister's keeper? And if I am not, then who is?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Under Pressure

Deadlines. I like them. I hate them. I need them. I never finished a paper in college before 2 a.m. the day it was due. Usually, it was more like 4, 6 or 8 a.m. It didn't necessarily indicate a lack of planning on my part. More often than not, it was a case of the paper not being on index cards and notes, but it being in my head. After doing everything I could do EXCEPT write my paper (you know, all the really important stuff, like dusting the mini-blinds, cleaning out the refrigerator, going to check who was hanging out in the lounge, maybe even going out for a few drinks), I would finally sit down and face the blank white paper and the little black keys. Then, in one frantic frenzy, all of my thoughts would come spewing forth while I engaged in a great deal of mental editing as I typed. I will be displaying my age and the antiquated era in which I grew up when I say that I wrote many a term paper on typewriters, using a lot of white out, or typing a draft, going through it with my pen, scribbling in the margins, then re-typing it, handing it off to the professor at the last minute: a paper fresh with the aroma of typewriter ink. And white out. Aaah...I can still smell it.

It's the same way my house stayed clean for many years. The trick, my husband and I learned, was to invite guests over at least once a month; ideally, once a week, on extremely short notice. The amount of cleaning that was accomplished in such a short time was always astonishing to me, and oddly, equally satisfying.

It is this same mixture of dread, anxiety, and sense of satisfaction I get when I procrastinate planning for my class I teach at a homeschool co-op. I have a syllabus written down: a general course description, with class objectives even. But I do not have each lesson planned out with specific activities. (I teach 1st-3rd graders). I usually swirl around a general idea in my head a few days before, research it a day or so before, taking out many books at the library and doing a lot of googling at home. Then, sometime around dinnertime the night before, the main project, focus, or activity for the next day's class emerges from all the various data that has gone in my head. I do not put my lesson to bed until around midnight or later. The next day, when my class has gone well, when I realize that the activity was a success-enjoyed by both myself and my students, I experience a great sense of satisfaction-a high almost. A high in part, due to my thinking to myself, "Hey, I just put that together LAST NIGHT! and it WORKED!"

I wonder if there is a psychological term for this. Maybe "procrastinator's high." Maybe it is simply, "procrastination."

NaBloPoMo-will it be enough pressure for me to blog every day for a month? Stay tuned to find out. Someone may need to threaten me with failing the course if I don't turn in my blog on time. Or at least losing a grade. Professor? Professor anyone?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaBloPoMo-Post by Post

I just saw a FB post titled, "NaBlPoMo." (Thanks Nat.) I have missed today by 5 minutes, but WTF? I have to start somewhere. I have been alternately pondering what novel I could possibly attempt to write in one single month for NaNoWriMo and cursing the fact that I have a life. The one I would have to totally drop if I attempted to write an entire novel in a single month. So, enter Nat's post on Face Book. Blogging once a day. Now there's something that maybe, just maybe I can accomplish.

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. She is truly LOL funny. You don't want to read one of her books in public. People may think you are one of the crazies. One of my favorites is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She tells the story of her brother struggling to write a big report about birds. He is sitting at the kitchen table, completely overwhelmed. Her Dad pipes in with this gem of wisdom,"Just take it bird by bird."

So, off I go: post by post. Chirp, chirp.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I like my Bitch!

Maybe I have been living under a rock or something, but I recently made a discovery in the world of women's magazines.

I discovered it completely by accident at Barnes and Noble while searching for some obscure fashion magazine for my mother-in-law. My hubby's sister is an artist and fashion designer in NYC and was featured in a magazine whose name escapes me and which Barnes and Noble in Chesapeake, Virginia certainly did not have on their racks.

But during my search, my eye caught a title-Bitch. Who could resist? I picked it up, while my 12 y.o. daughter looked on, probably embarrassed, admonishing me with a sighing,"Moooooom!" "What? I'm curious." I responded.

I hate to consume magazines. I am a former magazine subscription junkie-from Time to Oprah, to Mothering-I had a subscription. I have since given up all but but one. I have eco-guilt over all the paper wasted, especially when I wasn't even getting around to reading most of them before the next issue landed in my mailbox. For those of you who share my eco-guilt, or who just want to check this out online, Bitch's website is bitchmagazine.org.

That said, I am currently thoroughly enjoying this blatantly feminist magazine. It's sub-title is "Feminist response to pop culture." However, I find it to be feminist with a dose of reality and balance-and I like that. For example, in replying to the many letters to the editor Bitch received bitching about how anti-feminist Twilight the book and movie are (in case you've been the one living under a rock-Twilight and its three sequels are a HUGE hit with not only female teens, but many female adults as well), they printed a letter that while acknowledging some of the obvious religious, abstinence until marriage, anti-feminist messages, the book had been written by a female, read by females-in large numbers, and had been made into a successful movie by a woman. The point was-a woman wrote a succesful novel, a woman produced a successful movie, females were showing their power as a consumers, and just maybe this woman writer will make it that much easier for the next one. Hmmm...could Bitch truly be a fair and balanced medium unlike the television news show which makes this claim, but so clearly does not live up to it? I'll have to read some more...

A few articles and topics covered in the issue I have are: Rachel Maddow and what it means for America to have a "hot, smart, lesbian pundit," "Bug sex as gender revolution," an interview with a woman who has been working for years on the rights for women in prison, and "How to market a vibrator on TV without mentioning sex."

There are book reviews about a woman who "had a baby, a breakdown, and a much needed margarita," surviving life as a freelancer, and "One Big Happy Family: 18 writers talk about Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood and other Realities of Truly Modern Love."

My mother always told me I enjoyed a smorgasbord.

I enjoyed a piece covering a TV show, "Smart Girls at the Party," in which Amy Poehler interviews girls between ages eight and fourteen, introducing them as who they are NOW-i.e. "Please welcome Jane Smith, a twelve year old activist, writer, and avid skate-boarder." She honors them by discussing their passions seriously, not sayings things such as, "and here we have Jane Smith, a future writer and activist." The goal is to foster their enthusiasm.

While I am not ready to give this magazine a full-fledged endorsement ( I have not finished reading it yet), I wanted to go ahead and share it with you now while I was feeling so enthusiastic and intrigued.

I'd love to hear from anyone that has read this mag before-what do you think? It appears they are having some difficult financial times (who isn't?"), so if you do like it, now may be the time to buy it, my fellow bitches! ;-)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

13 y.o. Girl Strip-Searched at School-Supreme Court Hears Case-What do YOU think?

Is anyone else enraged by this scenario? A thirteen year old girl was STRIP-SEARCHED by school officials because they "suspected" she MAY have had prescription strength IBUPROFEN!

This is a MAJOR WTF??!! I am so angry that this girl was put through such a humiliating, traumatizing experience.

These are times when I am reminded of what I dislike the most about public or government education-it is SO INSTITUTIONALIZED! And becoming more so with each passing day. These are schools which children attend, not prisons! Though schools continue to resemble prisons more and more. This case is highly disturbing to me and I hope it is to others.

Savana Redding, now 19, was a 13- year- old eighth grader in a small Arizona public school when she was called into the principal’s office and was asked to dump out her backpack. She did. Finding nothing, this male vice principal then sent Savana to the nurse’s office, where she was told to remove her clothing. She was then told to shake out her bra, thus exposing her breasts. Then to spread her legs while she held open her panties, exposing her pelvic area. This strip search was not to find heroin, cocaine, or even marijuana. There was no “probable cause.” The ONLY information the school officials were going on was another student claiming that Savana had given her ibuprofen.

Note: the principal did not even check Savana's desk or search her locker. After the backpack search turned up nothing, they went directly to a strip-search. WTF??? Where was the common-sense or any logic here, not to mention care for the emotional well-being and rights of this young girl? If this had been one of my daughters I do not know if that principal would be have been so lucky as to only be sued. I don't think he'd be sleeping so well at night.

Where in the hell is any common sense in this scenario? This was a young girl, an honors student, who had no disciplinary record whatsoever. And what were they looking for? IBUPROFEN!!!! And what was their cause for suspicion? Evidence that she was distributing or selling drugs? NO. Many students saying that she was? NO. Did Savana appear to be high on medications or illegal drugs? NO. This is what they had-ONE other girl telling them that maybe Savana had some ibuprofen with her.

Really, what in the world were these officials thinking? I suspect there was some political drama and/or middle school bitchiness going on because these facts just do not add up to justify the actions on the part of the school. Shame on that principal. And really, shame on the school nurse and the secretary who conducted the search. They were women. One was a school nurse. She, if not both of them, should have been aware of the emotional effects such an experience would have on a 13 year old girl in the midst of puberty-the age at which you are the MOST insecure about your body, the most embarrassed, the most emotional. And shame on these women for not speaking up for this child's rights, for not standing up to the principal and refusing to conduct such an unwarranted, obviously ridiculous search. Seriously, did they really think that if Savana had ibuprofen, she would have hidden it in her crotch?

This case concerns me on so many levels. What are the rights, if any, of a child, a human being, once they walk into a public school building? Do they lose all constitutional rights? Who decides what is a “reasonable search?” Who decides what is "cause for suspicion?” How common are strip searches in schools? Is this going on all over the country to our children? Is this what the war on drugs and zero tolerance and fear of being sued has come to? All the possible answers to these questions frighten me, both as a parent, and as a citizen.

The case, Safford Unified School District v. April Redding 08-479 was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court last week on Aril 21st.

To add insult to injury, several of the male justices on the Supreme Court seemed to view Ms. Redding's humiliating strip search as just a little “embarrassing,” not too much more than changing in front of other girls in the locker room. Justice Stephen Breyer even joked about how when he was a boy changing in the locker room, it was not uncommon for other kids to stick things down his underwear. When the court exploded with laughter, it was he who was embarrassed.

I was ANGRY all over again: here were these old MEN, minimizing Savana's experience that caused her, a girl whose favorite place was school, to stay home for months, eventually switching schools, never to return to the school where she experienced such shame, and to develop ulcers. Is THAT the result of just a "little embarrassment?"

It makes me so angry that these old privileged men were so cavalier in discussing a young small-town girl’s traumatizing experience, reducing it down to nothing more than a typical change of clothing in the locker room. How dare they? They have no idea what they are talking about! Are they female? Have they ever lived in a pubescent female’s body? Have they experienced the shame of not having a body that meets up to our society’s unattainable airbrushed image? Have they ever been forced to undress and show their penis to authority figures, authority figures they would then have to face every day they went to work? I suspect the answer to that is NO!

There was one exception, the lone female in this powerful group of nine- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She, upon listening to this belittling attitude from her male colleagues, was clearly frustrated when she spoke up for Savana- and thus all teenage girls- when she reminded the jerks on the bench that teenage girls don't ENJOY getting naked in front of their peers, that they often would find it embarrassing at that age, and they don’t get completely naked.

That gave me just a tiny sense of satisfaction and just a tiny glimmer of hope.

The school of course is defending what it did by claiming they had to keep other students safe. That if they did not perform the search, they would have been endangering the lives of the other students. I understand the need to keep kids safe at schools-it is a valid concern. However, were the other children’s lives in danger even if Savana had ibuprofen? I do not think so. I think the school had several reasonable alternatives. If they really thought Savana had ibuprofen on her, why not call her mother and send her home? Why not search her desk and locker?

As a parent, at the very least, I would want a phone call that my child was suspected of carrying "illegal drugs." I damn sure would want a phone call BEFORE my child was strip-searched. In addition, you can be damn sure I would take my child out of that school before I let strangers make her get naked and shake out her bra, spread her legs, and show them her genitalia.

I am deeply concerned the Supreme Court may rule in a way that makes it even easier for schools to perform strip searches, but I hope to hell they do not.

Until June…

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Suburban Zen?

Question of the morning: Is it possible to enjoy a walk in the suburbs on a weekday morning during peak school and work departures?

I awoke around six a.m., my hubby headed out for his first day of what is hopefully a new exercise/stress-reducing program: going for a bike ride. My goal was to shower and be ready when he returned so that I could begin my new (or renewed) routine of walking our dogs in the morning, sans children.

While I was showering, I began to think about the timing of my walk: it would be between seven and eight a.m.: PEAK school bus pick-up time for neighborhood children. I had forgotten about this. My walks of late with my dogs have generally been late afternoon or evening-sunset is my favorite time. There are two lakes I pass on my favored dog-walking "loop." The second lake is perfect for sunset: pink and purple skies glow above, while their reflections glimmer in the lake. I walk very slowly during this portion, breathing in the air, gazing at the sky, absorbing as much nature and meditation as is humanly possible while others pass by on bicycles, walk by with their dogs, or sit and talk on benches.

So, the question I posed to myself this morning was, "How do I take the dogs for a walk during peak school bus and work commute and still enjoy it?" (This would be my only window of opportunity before Rich left for work-I didn't want to leave the girls home alone and I wanted to go alone). I recalled walks in the past during this time of morning that just totally killed the Zen quality of my exercise and nature fix. I don't know-something about huge yellow LOUD school buses plus LOUD school children waiting to board them plus accompanying chatting parents at bus stops equals meditative buzz kill.

What to do? Even though I don't have a child that attends public school, I am fully aware of the schedule (hard to miss when the bus stop is just outside your bedroom), not to mention I used to have a child who rode said noisy buses. I knew that the first bus would pick up the elementary kids at approximately 7:15 and the next one would be at about 8:00 for the middle and high-schoolers . I had a 45 minute window. However, I thought of another glitch: those times were just for my neighborhood. There would be buses all along my planned "loop!" Aargh!

How could I experience morning bliss through all this? Here is what I did: I waited until the first school bus had picked up its victims, uh, I mean students, and then I cut over to the park across the street. Instead of just walking through it to the next neighborhood, I stayed there, taking my dogs around the first lake. At first, they pulled me in our usual direction, but with a little tugging on my part, I convinced them of the different route. As we headed around the lake, I recalled how two Springs ago, Lauren and I had discovered a nest there-a goose nest. It was rather large-about 2 feet. We began taking daily walks to check on the progress-first the female sitting on said nest for several days, then sure enough, one day, when she was scared off as we walked by, she left her nest, which surprised me, and we saw several large goose eggs. There is a reason why, when a child is hit on the head with a baseball, mothers remark, "Oh, my you're going to have a goose egg there!) Because goose eggs are BIG! Well, a lot bigger than the robin's tiny blue eggs we'd seen and certainly larger than the chicken eggs we ate. Eventually we got to see little baby geese! Soooo cute!

I have to confess I was hoping for some great nature discovery or experience today. Some sighting of a rare bird, a turtle sunning on a rock-anything. (I am currently reading E.B. White's Trumpet of the Swan to Lauren.-no writer describes nature more eloquently than White does). Sam has discovered the trumpeter swan nest and has just watched the babies swim over to him. Louis, who cannot "beep" at him, pulled his shoestring. So I am living with E.B. White's fantastic imagery and story telling of nature in my head, totally spoiling me for the suburbia in which I live.

We passed a section, which, until today had been blockaded with a pile of stumps that had made a crude wall, blocking a view of a "private" lake at the opposite end of my street. Though I felt a bit like a peeping Tom, I enjoyed the view of this lake I hadn't seen in years! It was huge! It wrapped around this one person’s property on the one side, stretched down along several houses, ending at a house and neighborhood I do not know. It was not particularly beautiful, but I enjoyed the "private" viewing. Molly and Baxter did too. I thought, "Ok, I guess that is my discovery for the day, like Sam’s discovery of the swan's nest." Hardly life changing, but I was content with this experience-I take my nature fixes where and when I can get them.

After this little detour, we continued our circle around the lake. So far I had not heard a school bus, nor seen a human being. So far, so good. As we passed by the entrance to some woods, I thought of how I would like to take the dogs in there, but memories of paintballs and paint spray kept me away. After circling the lake once, I thought I might walk a bit through the neighborhood near this park, but the sight of a man dragging out his trash can inspired me to turn around and make a second circle around the same lake. Off I dragged my again confused dogs back around the lake.

I resigned myself to a repeat of the walk around the lake, but this time in reverse, looking forward to another view of the now "unhidden" third lake, hoping no human would come along and take away my fantasy of being alone near the wilderness. Alas, no such luck. A few short steps into the return trip, I spotted a person and a dog. Damn. As we each neared each other, I saw it was a new neighbor, an Asian woman, whose English seems a bit shaky. She does not say much, but she is friendly. She has a beautiful Akita puppy -all white, soft fur, full of energy, looking like he should be pulling a sled in the snow of Alaska, not walking here on the flat grassy land near a lake on a warm, sunny spring day in Virginia. We had a friendly exchange (well, mostly our dogs did) and I forgot to stop by the "new" lake. However, just as I passed it, thinking I'd missed my moment of Zen before returning home to the drudgery of my daily routine -saying good bye to my hubby, feeding the kids, doing the dishes, teaching the kids, driving to co-op, teaching more kids, etc., I turned around and saw a mother duck and her six little ducklings.

There: my moment of Zen in suburbia during peak morning rush hour. One friendly person, one furry dog, six little ducklings and NO noisy school busses!

The answer to my question of the morning: YES!!!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

rhythms of rationalizations

A few weeks ago, I had been feeling like a slug for not exercising, for not walking my dogs regularly, for not wanting to get dressed and leave my house, for not practicing my morning yoga for days, maybe even weeks. I was berating myself for not being one of those annoying people who arise each morning at 6 a.m., drive to the "Y" and workout while listening to their favorite ipod tunes for a minimum of 30 minutes. I pondered why I couldn't be one of those people. I worried I would become old and unhealthy. I wondered why I didn't want to get out of bed, never mind exercise.

Then I had one of those great moments-the kind that provide you with a rationalization that will not only get you through a day, but get you through your entire existence.

I thought about the time of year: WINTER-February in particular. A dark month, a cold month, a month in which nearly every one I know gets sick. And I had been sick too. February-the month before March-the month Spring arrives. That's when it hit me: I was not a bum, a loser, a slug-I was a creature of nature, following the rhythms of nature as is intended. It was winter. I wanted to hibernate, hunker down under my covers, drink warm beverages, and read good books.

I realized that soon, the mornings would come earlier, sunlight would flood my bedroom, my bathroom would no longer feel like an icebox, the temperatures outside would not intimidate me . I would want to walk my dogs at 6:30 a.m. again. I would want to do my morning yoga routine.

I had regained faith not only in myself, but in the natural rhythms of nature; of the natural rhythms of humans. It occurred to me how unnatural it may be to get up every morning at the same time, walk into a temperature controlled environment and exercise on machines. Just maybe was it not only "OK" that I was being a bear in my cave in February, but that it was natural and GOOD to be feeling and acting this way. That soon, I would have a different rhythm to my day, a Spring rhythm, and that would morph into my summer rhythm, and into fall, and back to winter.

As I said: a rationalization? A realization? an epiphany?

I am not sure-I think it can be any or all of these. What I do know is that I felt absolutely NO GUILT as I climbed back into bed, cozied up under my covers, and read for awhile before beginning my day. Aaaahhh, a rationalization I can live with!