an inauguration invite explained

I’ve struggled to watch the news lately.  My stomach turning at every tweet and retweet of our incoming President.  I’m saddened by his fundamental misunderstanding of our foreign policy, and his flippant disregard for decades of diplomacy.

Like many women, I regard him as misogynist; however, I don’t so much think of him as racist – as misinformed.  Profoundly disrespectful and careless with his words.   I have no illusions that he will change when he takes the  White House, but I have a small degree of hope that the selfish dedication of the political servants, diplomats and military; and the largess of the job of the Presidency will lessen his selfish ambition.

It is from this vantage point that I stood when my husband called and said, “Do you want to fly back to Virginia to the inauguration?  I have been offered tickets.”

innaguration

Now, for most of you out there the answer is probably easy.  An easy yes or an easy no.  Either you can stand on your pedestal and claim you would never go and support this new President.  Sure, I get it.  The view is pretty nice up there on the high road.   Others of you, whether you voted or him or not, would jump at the idea of attending an inauguration.  I wouldn’t fault you for that either. For many of us, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle.

A few nights ago we watched the movie Selma.  It was my first time watching the history of MLKs march between Selma and Montgomery.  It’s a remarkable movie and I recommend it.   The most interesting part was the relationship between Lyndon B Johnson and MLK.   Before MLK walked on Selma, he approached LBJ more than a few times – pushing him towards the voting rights act.  LBJ knew it was the right thing to do, but – as politics goes – had other priorities at the time.  He also knew it would use up a large amount of political capital.  So MLK took to the streets to protest.  He raised awareness, and forced LBJ’s hand.  A few years later, we had the voting rights act of 1965.

Now, I’m not going to claim that Trump and LBJ are similar. To start, LBJ was a progressive, and MLK and LBJ ultimately had similar visions for the country.  They just didn’t agree on the methods and timeline by which it would be achieved.  MLK didn’t simply protest.  He sought to persuade the President to his vision; and when he couldn’t, he worked other means.  Many of us do not share most of Trump’s vision for our country.  However, I don’t believe that the solution is to simply protest, (or rant and rave on social media).

It is childish and ineffective to claim that Trump is not my President and to shake our fist at every move this government makes.  This is our Government, and this high office deserves our respect, regardless of our vote.  If we want change, we need to work with and through our government.   I was reminded of this much last night.  As our outgoing President said so eloquently in his last speech:

Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one….

Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when you own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.

Show up, dive in, stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir in goodness, that can be a risk. And there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this one and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. 

The central problem in Washington DC the last 15 years is the intransigence of its people.  Many Americans (including myself) feel lost in a battle between extremes of the left and the right.   And I – for one – will not contribute to that problem.   I may not agree with most of what Trump says, but I do believe that most of the people who go to Washington to serve do so with some sort of honorable duty.  They have a desire to help.  If you haven’t heard of it, become familiar with an organization called No Labels (https://www.nolabels.org).  They are doing their best to try to fix Washington’s problems, without partisanship.   If you are frustrated, sign up.  Learn about it. Be a constructive part of the solution.

So when my husband called and asked if I would go celebrate this incoming President, whom I did not vote for, and whose policies I generally do not support, I said yes.   Yes because despite what I believe about him personally; I do believe that he wants what’s best for America.  Yes because I believe in the Greatness in our Democratic Project.  Yes because I believe we need to do a better job of understanding and not judging or assuming.  And yes, because we all need to participate to move us forward.

 

 

 

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the failure of news and why my father thinks we are stranded

A few days ago my mother sent me a text: Urgent. Your father is convinced you are stranded.  He wants to help you evacuate you from Houston.  Please call.

I smiled, and later that morning took a picture of the picture blue sky outside my front door and the dry driveway.  All is well.  I wrote. Tell dad to stop watching the news.

Don’t get me wrong.  We have had more than our fair share of rain and flooding this year.  It’s a serious problem down here.  Thankfully, even with the 1 in 500 year floods we have had (twice in the last month), our house has weathered just fine.  It’s true outside of Houston, the rivers are higher than they have ever been and some communities next to the rivers are in danger, but that is far from our enclave in the center of the city.

all dry

don’t send a plane. we are all dry.

However, if you were to watch any of the national news programs, you (like my dad) may be inclined to think Houston was sinking into the Gulf  from all the flooding.   And aside from the dramatization of the flooding; more and more of the nightly news is devoted to yearly United States weather patterns.  A tornado hit a town in Kansas.  A flood in Texas.  A drought in California.  You get the picture.   Is this really all we, as news-consuming citizens, care about?  Weather, and US politics?   The news has become a predictable cycle of local weather stories and political pandering.

All of this may not be so bad, despite the fact there is newsworthy information all around us that rarely hits our TV.  Venezuela – one of the world’s largest exporters of oil – is becoming a failed state.   It’s economy is collapsing and US TV news has told us virtually nothing about it.   The 2016 olympics start in two months; and they have been dubbed the “Zika Olympics“.  South Korea’s team are going to be wearing mosquito-proof uniforms.   And then all those Olympians will travel back across the world; back to their home countries.  How risky is this?  Is this not newsworthy (and bizarre)?  And have you heard the word “Brexit”?  The British are looking to possibly exit the EU.  This is big news for Europeans who live in Britain, and speaks to the greater feeling about the anxiety over immigration into Europe.  The same anxiety many Americans feel right here at home.   Isn’t our closest ally newsworthy?

You could argue that TV is not where you get quality news programing.  Print news (and some new media – such as The Atlantic) do a far better job reporting than the rating-driven TV news.  And that’s true.  If you want to get real news, it’s in print, or online.  Not on TV.  But should that be the case when the majority of Americans still get their news from the Television?  At the end of the day, I still like to sit down and watch the headlines on TV.   And I’d like to trust I’m getting the HEADLINES.  But I don’t, and that’s a problem.

American TV news is failing consumers.   And not just because it references social media posts as facts, or quotes random people as if they are experts.    The weather may be important if newscasters are trying to make a larger point regarding climate change; or if many lives are truly in danger.   But by spending so much time covering stories like the rain in Houston, we are only failing ourselves.

And don’t worry dad, really, no evacuation necessary. 

 

 

 

what a freaking bummer

Anyone else feeling a little bummed out by the news lately?

One night, while OUTBREAK was flashing across the bottom of my 24 hour CNN nightly newscast, I got to thinking: if the Ebola doesn’t kill me, than the Entrovirus 68 is sure to come my way, or at least come after my kids. And if we LUCKY enough to escape those two rogue viruses, than sure enough – it’s the start of the flu season. And between my two nose-picking-hand-wiping preschoolers, and my husband who flies commercial airlines every other week, I’m sure we are bound to end up with at least a good old flu/stomach bug between the months of October and March. SWEEEET. Bring it on.

And if, but some random act of God, we end up spared Ebola, the Entrovirus, the flu and the stomach bug, well…then there is ISIS. Or ISIL. Or whatever we are calling the WORST-OF-THE-WORST terrorists these days.  I’m pretty sure every time I see a map of the Middle East, that red spider-like-web of ISIL controlled-territory keeps growing bigger and bigger.

And while I’m not sure exactly why I – in particular – should be afraid of this ruthless militant group thousands of miles away, the news and our politicians do an exceptionally good job of making me want to shut my windows and lock my doors in case the ISIL RED-WEB-OF-DEATH spills over the atlantic ocean into my backyard.

And don’t even get me started on the Congressmen who is hypothesizing Hamas terrorists may INFECT THEMSELVES WITH EBOLA and sneak into the US.   WHAT?!?  I think we should just leave the United States right now and head to Canada.  It MUST be safer up there.

And lest we not forget Al Qaeda. Or Afghanistan. Or Ferguson. Or the incompetence of our political leadership (see above quote).  Or the massive fires and droughts in California, or simultaneous hurricanes that just swept over Bermuda and Hawaii.

And SO…this is why I’ve started to mute much of the 24 hr news and decided, for at least a few weeks, to get all my news from the ELLEN show.  Wanna join me?  It will put you in MUCH better spirits.

This is my important news from last week:

I found out about Devon Still, a Football player for the Bengals whose 4-year old daughter has cancer.  When he learned of her diagnosis this summer, Still was granted permission by the Bengals to leave organized team activities and minicamp in June to attend to his daughter.

The Bengals had no choice but to cut him in September. However, the team re-signed him to the practice squad so Still would continue to get a paycheck and health insurance.  

Since then, more than 12,000 of his jerseys have been sold, and fans across the world tweet messages of support with #StillStrong (including the Patriots Cheerleaders who wore his jersey during one of the NFL games).  As a result, the team is donating all $1 million-plus of profit to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.   GAWK.   

And yes, I started crying when I heard this story of FEEL-GOOD-AWESOMENESS-NEWS even in the midst of tragedy.  Humans are good.  Life is good.  People are really good to each other, despite what we hear on the news and often despite what politicians would have us believe.   So for now – and until I get tired of videos of puppies and small children – goodbye, CNN and hello, ELLEN.

on how to teach grace

There are only few things that give me confidence that I’m doing a good job in raising my girls.

Parenting is difficult that way.  It’s not quantifiable.  There is no blueprint for what’s getting better or what’s getting worse.

But every few days, 4-year old A. sits down for a meal that I’ve placed in front of her.  She starts to dig into her food, and then she looks up at me with her big blue eyes.  “Mommy,” she pauses and looks me straight in the eye, “Thank you for making this wonderful dinner. I love you. ”

I mean, gawsh.  You are welcome, kid.  And thanks for being SO FREAKING awesome.  Would you like cake with that dinner?

Teaching grace is a remarkable thing for young children.  In the midst of learning about superhero’s and princesses, numbers and spelling, they learn the importance of displaying every day acts of kindness and respect.

This is A.’s second year in a Montessori school.  One of the hallmarks of the primary year Montessori curriculum is learning what Montessorians call grace and courtesy.   They are taught through planned lessons to be considerate and respectful towards one another.

For young children, learning how to work and play together with others in a peaceful and caring community IS the most critical life skill they can learn.  They learn everyday social customs, such as how to enter a room, not to disturb another’s work, how to ask if you may join in an activity and how to graciously decline an invitation, table manners, and how to offer an apology.  

grace-and-courtesy-montessori

When my daughter shows me grace and courtesy without prompting, I know I’m doing a good job as a parent.  These life lessons are THAT important for our children.  So why is it we place so little importance in adults acting the same way?

The news is riddled with instances of adults acting without concern or care for anyone else.  A little over a week ago, United Airlines Flight 1462 from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver was forced to divert mid-trip because two passengers got into a fight over legroom. Since then, not one but two additional U.S. flights have been forced to make unplanned landings because of similar in-air squabbles.  

I get it.  Airplanes are getting smaller;  travel is getting more stressful and people want their personal space.  Blah, Blah, Blah. I want my space too. Hell, I can’t even go to the bathroom alone anymore without one – or maybe – two small children, and a dog barging in on me.

But what is more important than personal space?  Respect.  In the young child’s Montessori classroom, children do most of their work on rugs they lay out around the floor.  Talk about personal space all over the classroom.  So as soon as they enter the classroom, children are taught to walk around the rugs, to respect their peer’s workspace, and to wait quietly for their turn.

Why then does it seem to adults that civility and manners are old school?   I’m always surprised (and slightly humbled) when my husband bothers to ask for and remembers the name of every person he meets.   I’m also constantly surprised when I introduce myself to other adults who apologize in advance for being bad at names; and will likely forget mine. Let’s be honest.  That’s not forgetful, it’s just rude.

Technology seems to have made things worse.  A few days ago, I was at a salon and a lady actually had her phone on speaker for a good 20 minutes blabbering away while her nails dried.  She had absolutely no concern for the other people around her.  Are we getting more and more rude? Have we forgotten everything we learned as small children?

And if so, how can we be surprised that our young adults are faced with challenges like bullying in our schools? How can we expect them to display acts of kindness when we model no better?

Teaching and practicing grace on a daily basis is a kindness we do for ourselves and our community.  Our children learn this as one of the first lessons they are taught in school.  Hold the door for your peers, shake hands and say good morning, say please and thank you, look people in the eye and wait patiently.  We would do well to remember and practice them as adults.

what to expect when – your kids talk back

Another glorious 6:30 AM Saturday wake-up from the kids prompted J. to ask bleary-eyed, “What age is it that the kids can wake up, go downstairs and get breakfast themselves?”

“Um. Ten?”  I dunno.

Fear, regret and bewilderment spread across his face.  “No…It’s gotta be sooner than that.  Like 6, or 7. Right?!?

I have absolutely, positively no idea.

A few milestones I know: eating solid foods around 6 months-ish, starting walking around 12 month-ish, pooping in the potty around 2 years-ish.  But let me tell you – Babycenter doesn’t have an email for when to expect independently dressing, feeding and entertaining themselves.

I thought about this again when the news reported that American Airlines was going to start charging a $150 fee for minors aged 12-14 flying by themselves.  Apparently that fee is already incurred for parents of kids flying solo between the ages of 5-11.   Now, come on, people. FIVE?!

I’m all for encouraging independence in kids, but letting a kindergartener fly by themselves across the country to see Grandma?  That seems a bit much, right?  I totally off base here?  I mean, we force our 4-year-old to sit across the aisle from us when we travel as a family of four.  So she is always the one sitting with the stranger, but at least I still have a visual on her.

Or is it a big secret that everyone is sending their kindergartners off for the summer, and sleeping in until 10AM?

So after wondering about this for a bit, I had my Ah-hah moment.  A friend posted a question on Facebook:  “Why is there no ‘What to Expect for age 4 or 7 or 10?”

Why doesn’t anyone tell you the right age to let your kids into a public bathroom by themselves? When should they be able to shower completely by themselves?  Or the right age to talk to them about their private parts (or what to call their private parts)?

I mean GOODNESS as a mother of two preschoolers, I’ve got the baby stuff DOWN.  Eat, Sleep and Cry.  Got it.  I need help with all of the rest of the stuff.

So here it is, my fellow parents (or future parents). The Bible of parenting books: What to Expect When you have a Kid who Talks Back. I need you – wise parents of older children – to help me fill in the blanks.

What to expect Final

A few questions I’d like to include in the first printing of this book:

1) When my daughter turns to me on an airplane and tries to kiss me like the prince kisses Cinderella – what do I say? Acceptable or no?

2) When I see a sign in the bathroom saying children of the opposite sex older than the age of 5 not permitted in the bathroom, do I REALLY not send my daughter into the bathroom with my husband?  Or is this a suggestion?

3) And, along those same lines, at Costco, can I just stand outside the bathroom (not the stall) and let my 4-year-old go to the bathroom by herself?  I mean, I usually have another toddler and a giant tub of mayo waiting.

4) At what age will my child stop thinking snacks are appropriate replacements for meals? And when can I stop carrying around with me half the contents of my pantry – just in case?

And of course…

5) At what age can my lovely child get up, get dressed, and go get their own breakfast?

So, parents of babies and preschoolers – any questions you would like added to the first edition?  And please, if you have older children, impart your wisdom to those of us navigating the muddy waters of parenting kids who can talk back.

 

is raising children a low-risk business?

Growing up, I lived on a quiet and affluent street where the houses were spaced at least an acre apart.  The houses were nestled in the woods and each backed up to a park.  So when I made best friends at the tender age of 5 with the little girl up the street, I knew I’d spend much of my childhood trekking back and forth between our houses.  And when we weren’t walking back and forth between our houses (a good .25 mile), we were hiding out in the woods, building forts – complete with a “tree” – named in honor of my large yellow labrador retriever.  We would walk down to the stream behind my house, and even when we were a little bit older (10 and 12  – maybe) cross a rather large street to go buy candy at the gas station a good mile away from either of our houses.

No parental supervision involved.  I know – SHOCKING!

Now, I know what you must be thinking: negligent parents. Didn’t someone call social services? Am I right?

Or perhaps, this sounds something like your childhood, too?

It is hard to understand how much childhood norms have shifted in one generation.  The Atlantic recently published an excellent article on the subject, The Overprotected Kid.  “Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One…study…conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower.”

Why have we gotten so risk-adverse when it comes to parenting that we won’t even let our kids walk to school by them selves?  It’s no longer socially acceptable, and potentially illegal? And why has is seemed (especially recently) that the government has something to say in every situation?  A few examples: working mom arrested for letting her chid play at the park and a woman whose kids were taken away by the state (and subsequently returned) after she let them stay at home.

This has really started to bother me since I view a large part of my job as a parent to teach my children to be independent, resilient and ultimately strong little people.  You fall down; brush yourself off and get back up.   No one has given you anything to do; make your own fun.   You see there is work to do; pitch in and help.  As a kid playing in the woods, I had massive freedom at a young age and learned responsibility.  I didn’t depend on my parents for fun nor were they apt to sit around and provide it for me.

Last week I took A., C. and our dog to my parents house.  I convinced them to go on a “walk” around the house with me (basically amounts to tromping around the woods).   We all took a big step and stood on a cliff that looks down towards a ravine into the aforementioned stream.   A. shouted “MOMMY!! LOOK OUT!! YOU ARE GOING TO FALL!”  I calmly reminded her that I wasn’t going to fall, and if I did, it would only be about 4 feet.   I also pointed out the stream to her, and told her when I was a little girl I used to walk down there.

“How did you get there?!”

“I walked”

“But HOW??” Incredulous.

“I just went through those trees in the woods” (there was clearly no path)

“Oh.” pause. “Who did you go with?”

“Friends.”

Silence. As if contemplating how I would dare to make such a treacherous journey with friends.

We walk a fine line between over-parenting our children and teaching them to be independent self-reliant individuals.   At the playground, I let my kids fall.  I let my almost-2 year old climb to the top and follow her sister down the big slide. And I don’t hesitate to let my children go un-watched in our house (parents, of course, still in the house – just not actively watching).    By allowing my children to take reasonable risks, I allow them to gain experience that builds confidence (C. doesn’t even let me help her any more) and instills resilience which is essential later in life.

My parents allowed me to take those same reasonable risks as a child.   No one called social services on my parents because they lived in a nice house on a nice street.  And  it was a different time in parenting.  Kids could play outside for hours at a time unsupervised at a reasonably young age.  Many parents don’t have options for quality child-care in the summer; and they have to work. Period.

State law in South Carolina – where the mother was arrested for leaving her 9-year-old unsupervised on a playground – criminalized leaving a child at “unreasonable risk of harm affecting the child’s life, physical or mental health, or safety.”  But the law doesn’t say what unreasonable risk is.  Is that risk leaving a child unsupervised at a playground? Letting a child eat three big Macs a day at a McDonald’s? Letting the child drink a super-large soda in New York city? Letting her ride in a car?   

Has parenting gotten too risk-adverse?  And who is to decide what a reasonable risk is for a child?  Me or my government?

What do you think?  What was your childhood like and how do you, did you or will you raise your kids?  I’d love to hear your comments below.

 

 

prison pressure-cookers, literally

A few days ago I heard a story on NPR about Texas inmates suing to force the Department of Criminal Justice to bring down to temperature in their prison to a balmy 88 degrees.  According to the suit, filed on behalf of four prisoners near College Station, it is often so hot that inmates have to put towels on scalding-hot tables in order to rest their arms down.  The small windows in the cells provide no air; and often it is hotter inside the cell than outside in the summer Texas sun.  This isn’t new, because in most cases, Texas prisons are not air-conditioned (only 21 of the 111).  The Houston Chronicle reported that there are more than half a dozen other hot-prison lawsuits in Texas, and inmates have died from the heat.  Whaaat? 

Here is the story if you haven’t read it.   I recommend it.

There are a few reasons that this gets my blood boiling.  And not just because I have gained a particular affinity for the US prison population after watching two seasons of Orange is the New Black, and am now on a ACLU-like crusade for justice.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the US has incarcerated 2.4 million people on any given day.  Chew on that for a second, and check out this graph.  It’s insane. IN-SANE. We lock up more people, per capita, than any other nation.  And it makes me think we lock up people for too many things, like children running away, or immigration offenses, and really technical, or other? What does that EVEN mean?

Now, I’m not a fancy lawyer.  But I know two things: that can’t be good when being a prisoner in the US is more common than being a high school teacher, and it must be really freaking expensive (upwards of $50K per year/per inmate according to the Economist).  Is that really good value for money?

And here is my real grudge.  Ready? Eventually most of these prisoners are going to be released back into society.  And hopefully they will seen the error of their ways, and lead well-meaning lives, and not reoffend.  But how likely is that if we can do no better than treat them like less-than while in prison?  Or provide inhumane conditions? Now, prison shouldn’t be summer camp.  However, shouldn’t it be a place of both retribution and rehabilitation?  Isn’t that the point for most offenders?

The problem is that we, our politicians and our prisons aren’t doing a very good job at providing a place of rehabilitation.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 68% of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and 77% were arrested within five years.   

So it particularly irks me when I see this:  State Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he was concerned about the inmate deaths [in Texas] but wanted to examine the circumstances of each. “Texans are not motivated to air-condition inmates,” he said he was not sympathetic to complaints about a lack of air-conditioning, partly out of concern about the costs, but also out of principle that offenders were not a priority.

 

And so I end with a quote from the great Nelson Mandela: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

Amen, friend.