Old News: Past Blog Posts

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

An open letter about a race.

Last weekend, I piled into an SUV with several of my best running buddies. The back window boasted a Hillary sticker and the driver was a gay man wearing a Pride 5K tank. So we may have been a bit of an anomaly as we cruised across the Mississippi and dipped into rural southern IL. Still, we were met with a warm welcome by a small town hosting one of the hottest and most challenging half marathon courses I've ever encountered. I was particularly touched to find that each and every bib number had been personalized with a magic marker, wishing us luck by name. 

Notably, it had been just over a week since the Stockley verdict had ignighted protests across our city; so when we were asked to place our hands over our hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance (a somewhat unique request for a group of runners awaiting the start of a race); the words 'justice for all...' felt somehow like a false and unfulfilled promise. I breathed heavily and considered my knees as the flag was paraded past us, but knew instinctively that this sea of friendly rural white faces would very likely have totally misunderstood the gesture. 

When the invocation speaker was handed the microphone, my instincts were verified. This was a warm and friendly crowd, but not one that had any idea what was really happening just across the river from them. I felt a little sick as I approached the start line and realized that a big part of our country is completely unequipped to understand what is really happening at this moment in history, the epicenter of a movement swelling just a few miles down the road. 

It took me several miles to shake out the dead feeling in my stomach. Then something sort of lovely happened. I found myself running in pace with a women who struck up a conversation (as is sometimes needed to break the awkwardness of being in stride with a stranger in a smaller race). We spent five miles or so talking lightly about various local races and our families. Eventually, our discussion sidestepped cautiously around and then right into that dead feeling that had set in before the race. I was so relieved to find that she had been equally put off by the rhetoric we'd heard from the speaker before the race; and while she acknowledged that her views were something of an anomaly in the area, it comforted my soul to hear her acknowledgement and understanding of the social injustices plaguing this country. 

The blistering heat and a vague foot pain (largely the result of rage-tying my laces too tight at the start line) caused me to fall behind my enlightened companion in the last 3 miles or so of the race; which also happened to be mostly uphill. I finished a full 20 minutes slower than my usual half marathon pace, battered and aching, but somehow also feeling much better than I had at the start of the race. 

It was probably a totally futile effort on my part, but I spent the next few days composing the following letter to send to the race organizers. The letter was really more for me than for them as I am unconvinced that letters do much to actually change hearts and minds. But I come from a solid lineage of strongly-worded letter writers, so I suppose this composition was unavoidable. 


To Whom It May Concern: 

I want to first thank you emphatically for such an amazingly supported race this past weekend. I was really impressed with the excellent turn out to support water stops at *every* mile (wow!) and I know that I would certainly not have been able to finish without that frequent and ready access to water and Gatorade (and fruit!). The heat was oppressive, but the enthusiasm of the race supporters and the community was a huge help. 

I also want to take a moment to address the Invocation at the start of the race. Even though my friends and I drove over from St Louis, we were aware that the race was inspired by the tragic loss of a firefighter in your community. Given that, it was not surprising to find the race was taken as an opportunity to support first responders. 

I want to emphasize that I fully support our brave and willing public safety officials who make it their responsibility to keep us civilians safe and I am always so happy to engage with my community's firemen and women and also law enforcement officers. The fire department in particular is often present at community events in my city and I love the way they interact with my children. 

I also understand, as we all do, that there is a huge problem right now in St Louis and in our nation involving the behavior, perception, and treatment of some of those first responders. Your invocation speaker cited that there had been over 100 police fatalities this year. That is a tragedy. Senseless loss of life is always something to mourn, particularly for those who make a career out of diving straight into dangerous situations with the ultimate goal of keeping communities safe. 

I've been doing some research recently myself, because I believe in finding truths and using those truths to help identify and solve problems. There were a few different sources and numbers on the loss of law enforcement lives that I found. A Newsweek article dated August 7 tells us 74 officers have been killed nationally this year, with a slight uptick in firearm-related deaths (totaling 28 nationwide). Here is a link to that article.

Another site I found states there have been 95 police fatalities nationally in 2017, claiming this number is down by 3% from last year. This site, 'Officer Down Memorial Page' attributes 33 deaths to firearms. These deaths are indeed a tragedy among the more than 1.1 million law officers nationwide.

I'm not writing to refute numbers though. 

As I mentioned, any death is a tragedy and particularly when it's violent and of course when it's an officer of the law.

I embrace the idea of a community rallying together to solve what they see as a problem. There were statements made in the invocation declaring that police killings ('ambushes') were at an all-time 

high and the 'thin blue line' concept is clearly a community responding to what they believe to be a crisis. The idea that public servants are under attack, including the sentiment regarding 'anti-police legislation' seemed to be the general theme of the race's invocation. 

Here are some more things I've learned through recent research:

In 2016, there were 963 fatal shootings by police. There have been 721 this year so far. Mental illness played a role in 25% of these deaths. The victims of these shootings are disproportionately black and Hispanic; as in nearly half of these were minorities who account for only 30% of the nationwide population. In St Louis alone, there have been 8 fatal shootings in 2017 by police officers. 

The number of high-profile police killings of unarmed citizens (generally people of color) in otherwise seemingly benign situations is staggering and the details of these are so tragic and upsetting: Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice...just to name a precious few. 

And now, we are witnessing the very intense reaction to these statistics and high profile cases; a visceral response to an unfair judicial system and the real sense that some of our fellow Americans now are made to feel *less* safe in the presence of public safety officials. That feeling is real, even if it's not a feeling that I (as a white woman) have ever actually felt. 

Here is a suggestion: Let us not make it us versus them. Let us not perpetuate the sentiment that there is an ongoing war between law enforcement and a portion of the population and we all must pick a side; that my acknowledging that black lives matter is somehow an act of aggression towards the policing community and their families or that taking a knee during the national anthem is meant as an act of disrespect towards our military personnel. 

The systemic injustices of our criminal justice system stems at least partially from vast wealth inequalities which has amassed over past decades of legislated racism (median white wealth is *twelve times* higher than median black wealth in the US). Let us not fall into that trap of feeling compelled to pick a side and then turn a blind eye those issues being raised up by our fellow Americans, who are fearful for their lives and those of their children. 

Let's support our law enforcement officers. Let's support them by holding them to a higher standard and give them the tools and continued education and training they need to make safer communities and better understand the diverse needs of those individuals in their communities. Let's be willing to weed out those few bad apples who give the entire bunch a bad rap and create a greater danger to all. I believe the vast majority of law enforcement officials are good in their hearts and join the force to serve the public and make communities a safer place. However, any bolstering and promoting of a culture of bullying, excessive force, intimidation and otherizing only makes it easier for them to be demonized and targeted. 

If we perpetuate that sentiment, the idea that we must demonize each other in the name of defending our own perception of reality, then how can we come to the table together to solve real and upsetting problems in America??

I stand by my responsible first responders. 

I stand by the non-violent protestors. 

I am actively looking for solutions. But in order to move forward, all voices need to be heard in this matter. 

Thank you for listening to mine.  



Photo credit: Jeff Jensen

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Word of the day: NOT A-Okay

So this thing happened last Sunday that has been sitting like a brick in my stomach all week. I've been carrying it around with me and now, on the eve of the Stockley verdict, I am compelled to share the story: 

Around mile 3 of a really beautiful long run in Forest Park, a man passed me, running the opposite way on the trail that loops the perimeter of the park. He was silhouetted pretty strongly against the morning sun at first, so I didn't notice his hand as I nodded politely at him. 

It was positioned awkwardly against his body, thumb and forefinger circled together and 3 remaining fingers splayed up against his lower sternum. 

An 'A-Okay' sign. 

But secretive and cautious, like a quiet question mark.

As he passed, and the gesture registered in my brain, I whipped my head around at him and blinked hard, wondering if I'd imagined it.

I questioned my friends (just ahead of me) moments later. They hadn't really noticed it, but had also nodded and waved at him...because you know, we are friendly folks. Neither were aware that the 'A-Okay' sign has been adopted by white supremacists. ('O-KKK'...those clever bastards). They offered possible explanations: maybe it was a side-stitch remedy, or a palsy. Perhaps I was dehydrated and hallucinating. 

About 3 miles later, on the north end of the perimeter trail, there it was again. It was the same man, same gesture...only now elevated overhead, pointing our way like a salute. 

This time, I stopped short in my tracks. This time, even my friends (both also white) couldn't deny it. 

I felt sick. I felt like someone had just sucker-punched me. This place, this beautiful urban park that I cherish; the miles of trails and towering trees, the lovely architecture, it all felt suddenly soiled and ugly; tarnished.

After the initial shock and disgust settled in, I turned and chased after the man in a full sprint. I only made it about two dozen yards before I stopped my legs again. He was a fast fucking Nazi, and I realized it was a worthless chase even if my fury had allowed me to catch him. What was I supposed to say? 

I just wanted to tell him NO. 


No, I am not your ally. 

No, I will not tolerate your beliefs.

No goddamn chance will I stand for this bullshit. 

But instead, I turned around and ran 6 more miles, leaving my disgust like a trail of crumbs behind me, shedding it one step at a time and eventually having a lovely day with my kids and husband at the zoo and later, a baseball game. 

I fully recognize this story just reveals me as the sort of White woman, slactivist, SJW-wannabe who calls her Representatives from her Bluetooth on her commute only on days when she's bored of her podcasts and feeling that fleeting but oppressive weight of her Catholicism-inspired guilt over her privilege. It also reveals I am not quick on my feet (figuratively OR literally) when confronted by an actual white supremacist. I am a woman who will be outraged and horrified and deeply disgusted by a 'not-guilty' Stockley verdict, but keep all those feelings safely at home with my family in the house I could afford largely because of my genetics and decades of racial inequality. I grapple with this constantly.

White women fucked up last fall and many of us are still attempting to atone for the sins of our sisters. We knitted pink hats and took to the streets and unfriended our racist high school classmates. We programmed our senator's numbers into our phones and joined activism listserves and Facebook groups. It feels simultaneously like too much and also not  nearly enough.

There is still a simmering pot of hate brewing over hot flames in our country. It's emboldened by a president who relies on them to stroke his fragile ego. It's perpetuated by propaganda machines mascarading as cable news. But then, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. 

I can say I am tired of this shit landing so close to personal space, interrupting my life in places I never expected. 

My CrossFit coach turned out to be a Nazi too. He lost his job after marching in Charlottesville. He's the reason I know about the 'A-Okay' sign. 

That's him 👆🏼.

I had no idea. I had no idea about any of it. He was just a nice guy; a guy I respected and who helped me achieve a handstand push up (kipping, but still). 

Life was easier before I became aware of all the ugly. I miss that day in grade school when some kid told me the 'A-okay' sign meant 'asshole.' And maybe it does. Even the Internet can't seem to agree on whether this gesture is actually racist or not. Maybe that guy is just a weird fucking dude who wants us to know he's all good. Maybe I'm spending too much time and effort distracted by social injustices and reading too deeply into this whole encounter.

All I know is that the rest of what I've said is real. 

Things are decidedly not A-okay and it's becoming a whole lot harder to ignore that fact. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Word of the day: Uncomfortable

When I was 15 or 16, I found myself reluctantly subjected to the gusto and flare of some motivational speaker. I have no real memory of who it was, where I was, or what they were ultimately meant to have been motivating us for; but I do remember one particular, basic bit of rhetoric; Don't be afraid to be uncomfortable!

I was a dutiful soldier, or at least a marginally committed team-player, internalizing at least a bare minimum of all lectures coming my way; and I soon learned that this was a useful little tiddly-bit to carry around in my back pocket.

If I had spent my life until now paralyzed by the notion of discomfort, the whole thing would've certainly gone in a dramatically different direction. 

At 18, I wouldn't have moved 4 hours from hometown sleepy Midwest college town (to another town described in very similar terms) or decided to take a chance on grad school (twice now). I wouldn't have studied abroad or jumped out of a plane or spent a summer driving across the county alone. I most certainly never would have called that guy back from that one float trip where I had too much to drink and acted like a total dipshit. You can bet I wouldn't have run 3 marathons or dared to try CrossFit over the age of 30.  

In fact, caving to the fear of discomfort would probably have me still trapped in the communal woman's bathroom of my co-Ed dorm wearing only a towel, where I found myself the first week of freshman year listening to strange male voices from the other side of the door, alerting me that the men had indeed begun to move in. 

As it turns out, Mr Motivational may have actually been on to something: maybe a little discomfort isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

So, white people, I invite you to join me for a minute in waters which some of you may find to be somewhat uncomfortable. If you're feeling a little hot and shifty in your seat already, and bristled a bit by me calling out your race, than I insist you read on, you probably need to hear this stuff the most. 

Let's start here with a simple request: Can we just promise to stop silently assigning a hierarchy value to everyone on the planet? Please? 

Because look, here's the thing: one should simply not be valued more, or less based on the following: 

*big inhale*....

- job title 

- income 

- employment status 

- alma mater

- level of education

- smartphone brand 

- gender 

- age

- race

- sexual preference 

- house size

- pants size 

- breast size 

- penis size (so will some of you kindly put your dicks away and stop trying to piss further than everyone else?)

- weight on a scale 

- weight you can bench press

- how many carbs you had yesterday 

- religion 

- nation of origin

- marital status 

- home many children you do or don't have 

- whether or not you're a working mom (or dad...and if your brain just hiccuped a little there, spend a minute reflecting on why that happened before you continue).



Now. Here are some things I believe to be true, buckle up and get ready to perhaps feel a little discomfort.

Once we get lost in judging others based on this idea that one sort of particular person is better or more deserving than another, we are lost as a society. 

Ok. Not so bad, right?

When we presume a woman does indeed have a value of only 77% that of a man in the workforce, all of us potentially loses out on vital contributions from brilliant women in our industries. 

Not too inflammatory of an idea there. 

When we tell a woman that she 'can be more' that 'just a mom' then we are other-izing women who can't have or don't want children and we are shaming all of those people who are content and successful homemakers.


Once we decide that all young black men are criminals, we allow ourselves to sleep at night, yet rob their mothers and fathers of peaceful slumber, all of us knowing they're being gunned down in the streets.

Yup. I went there. 

Once we buy into the notion that we have to pick a side between black lives and blue lives and fucking purple goddamn lives (screw you Barney), we are opening the door to unsafe communities and unsafe first responders. We are inviting riots and we are left with further conflict and greater divides.

We have to say black lives matter, and those words actually piss people off; how fucking sad is that?

Similarly, if we can't acknowledge our own internal bias and tendency towards tribe mentality, then we can never expect ourselves to actually treat all people with equity and respect. It becomes easier to ignore the truth behind the real need for criminal justice reform, voter protection, modern day slavery and basic civility towards one another.

In case you missed it, people of color are getting shit on all around us. It's a real thing. Look it up

If our egos are so delicate and fragile that we cannot possibly accept any snippet of criticism and then use it to learn and grow and be better, do better...then we need to spend a minute reflecting on the why of that and the broader implications of our personal sensitivity.   


While we are assigning blame to victims and and claiming to be 'color blind' (re: blissfully ignorant of systemic racism), we are quietly aiding and abetting institutionalize hate and criminal level abuse of power.


If we stick our fingers in our ears and angrily argue that our privilege was earned (and no, I'm not saying you haven't worked hard all your life, pay attention) and our safety nets are universal and the road to success looks and feels the same to all, we may as well be building barricades on those roads and need to be willing to accept what that means about ourselves. 

Being even a little woke is exhausting and sad. But so is living in a world where the cards are so plainly stacked against you. 

If we decide that our LGBTQ family, friends and neighbors aren't worthy of dignity and privacy or legal equity and recognition of loving and committed relationships, we are breaking the very souls of those people and convincing them they are somehow less-than. We are contributing to depression, anxiety, bullying and suicide and then how do we ever expect then to move forward together? How can we make our communities stronger and healthier by alienation? 

If you try to tell me it's a lifestyle choice, I will be very tempted to throat punch you. 

If we are too afraid to speak up against a known act of injustice, no matter how small, we are complicit in that very act. 

Been there. Done that. Feels terrible. 

And indeed, if we think we are sufficiently #woke by suddenly cracking our eyelids open to sneak a quick peek at a world that has thus-far wrapped us snugly in a cocoon of blinding privilege, we can never learn more and be a real positive vehicle for change.

Sigh. We are all a work in progress. Always. 

But the bottom line is this: if we don't see some very big problems, we're just actively not paying attention. If we chose to be comfortable in our ignorance, we are by default, part of the problem. If you're blood pressure is up and you're formulating your counter-points and labeling me a left-wing extremist, I don't expect you to be with me today, and probably not tomorrow either. But just do yourself one little favor: start by allowing yourself to be a little uncomfortable. 

Pay attention. 

Be uncomfortable.

It's okay.

It will make you better. 

It will make all of us better.

We NEED to be better.

Photo credit: Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day for Shit Moms

Happy Mother's Day: A letter to my Inner 'Shit-Mom' 

So you walked in to preschool last week empty-handed, behind a mom armed with Teacher Appreciation Week gifts. And that happened just before it dawned on you that you'd promised to make the class play-doh and then just didn't?? 

I mean, you were so busy forgetting to make that ENT follow-up appointment and worn out from dodging the PTO emails ALL YEAR, it's pretty understandable actually.

But it's cool. Because, remember the time you showed up to school and all the other kids were dressed in their PJs? Your kid looked way more prepared for school than everyone else, running around in footie pajamas....even with that grape jelly stuck in his hair. 

That meltdown you had in the car? Nobody saw that. And since you can't remember the last time you wore mascara anyways, there was zero lasting evidence of it. So you're cool.

See? You are KILLING it. 

Like, no. Wait. Actually the opposite of that. 

You've kept those kids ALIVE! (And that is no joke, because they often seem to be hell-bent on actively trying to murder each other). Pat yourself on the back big girl, because you clearly cannot be stopped!

And hey, before I forget, don't forget to fill out that survey for the preschool Speech Therapist. It's on that stack of papers in the kitchen...no, the other one....no, not that one. 

I'll wait. 

Yeah, it's in that one. It's right underneath the bill for that chest x-ray last winter (maybe go ahead and pay that?). 

Oh crap. She wanted us to complete and return this by yesterday

Well. Um. Excellent news. An opportunity to recycle! See? You're a suburb person. No. Stellar. Recycle the crap out of that bad boy. Save that planet! 

See? You've got this!

And Here's the deal: today, we will celebrate you anyways.

Sure, you've f*cked up. Your 3-year-old even said the word one time. To the sitter. And he covered for you when she asked where he heard it!! (That kid is nothing if not loyal.) 

Lordy knows, you haven't gotten it all just right. Those kids are totally building strong cases for therapy....like, as we speak.  Hell, there will be plenty of future f*ck-ups too. We both know it. 

You will forget to pack lunches and have the time wrong for the soccer game and you will most CERTAINLY pose an immediate threat against every one of your offspring's chances of passing 6th grade math.

But we celebrate you. Because you maybe do suck a little, but hey, you also reside inside of all of us. Sure, many women do a better job of suppressing the inner 'Shit Mom.' They actually join the PTO and they remember the Play Doh. They know every kids' name in the whole preschool class and somehow also find time to shower daily. But yes, even those sanctimommy queens have an inner Shit Mom and that means that someday, her kid will show up wearing breakfast instead of a super hero shirt. And in that moment, you will feel both deeply sympathetic and also somehow vindicated (and possibly also a little self-satisfied).  

You're terrible. We know this. But let's celebrate you anyways. Because even though you are literally the worst; even though you sometimes cost us in late fees and don't actually know how to cook without a microwave...

...you love those kids. 

You love those kids more than anything (apparently, even more than an uninterrupted 7 hours of sleep, remember when that used to be a thing?) and that's really all that matters anyways. 

Happy Mother's Day to all the Shit Moms out there. Keep doing what you're doing...

...and for the love of God, don't forget that Monday is Show and Share.  

PS Sorry, mom. Sorry for all the cursing. 

Actual meal not involving the microwave.
Underpants = dressed.
Shit Mom for the win.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter...And That Other Day We ALSO Go to Church

Disclaimer: this is 100% not meant to be offensive. If Religion is a hot button for you, I highly recommend clicking away; maybe go find a nice cat video to cleanse your palate instead of letting a Midwest mom get unintentionally under your skin. 

The thing is, God seems like an okay dude; and Jesus and Muhammad and all those bazillion Hindi gods and goddesses...etc, etc. But the idea of wrestling my three boys into collared shirts so we can all sit quietly got an hour or more every week is just not in any way appealing. With both parents working full time and all our children continuing to require either a nap or some 'down time' for several hours in the afternoons, I just cannot muster up the energy and enthusiasm required to drag our family to church during 50% of the *two* precious mornings we have together. Instead, we go to the Zoo, or the Science Center, or the Botanical Gardens, or the Butterfly House or to a playground. Yup. We consistently skip church, and I feel super good about that choice. Why? Because it's the right thing for me and my family and the only people's opinions who really matter on this decision are me and my spouse...and neither one of us has ever lost even a minute of sleep over it. 

But I was raised Catholic; so I simply cannot imagine any realistic scenario were I could escape the crushing guilt that would come from missing Christmas or Easter Mass. Okay, that's a lie. One year, I was two weeks post-partum and I did stand my ground. I figured God wasn't so big of a prick that He would dock me any Heaven points for saying 'no thanks' to packing up my healing c-section and two toddlers to squeeze in a little Body of Christ between NICU visits and breast pumping. 

But typically speaking, like every good apathetic Catholic, I dutifully mark my calendar for the two big Jesus days: his birthday and his re-birthday. We head on in and grab a seat in a pew so I can recite the Lord's Prayer and fumble my way through the new verbiage the Vatican initiated several years back with the clear intention of making infrequent mass-goers like myself feel uncomfortable.  

I will admit that church-going, like many things in my life since becoming a parent, has gotten progressively -- but only very marginally -- easier over the past 2 years. Christmas this year was an exercise in patience and also just basically exercise. By the end of mass, I was covered in sweat and lightly bruised in some places. I had paced the rear of the church with the 2-year-old long enough to regret the heels and at one point was acting all at once as a make-shift jungle gym for my 2, 3, and 4-year-old; as they simultaneously crawled over, under and behind me. When wearing a dress, there is really no graceful way to manage this sort of situation without running the risk of unintentionally flashing someone (which feels especially wrong in a church). 

The priest at my preferred place of worship is a man with a flare for the dramatic. So it wasn't a surprise when the lights were extinguished, darkening the lofty gothic cathedral to created a little more theater for a moving, candlelit rendition of Silent Night, immediately followed by a pure moment of crisp, spirit-stirring silence....

....cue the 2-year-old. 

I won't say we caused a huge disruption, but I will say a woman seated three rows ahead of us stopped me during our rapid and clumsy exit to acknowledged our struggle. 

So this morning, we did it again. We brushed off our spiffy Sunday best and headed out for our bi-annual trip to God's turf. Just to prove I am capable of adaptation, my dress was longer and my heels were shorter. As usual, there were books and snacks and various non-noise-making toys emerging from the diaper bag and rotated in at a sometimes rapid-fire pace. The boys now crawl across laps and underfoot at a slower, less urgent speed. They respond more appropriately to whispered threats and are less prone to spontaneous verbal outbursts during deliberate moments of silence. Luckily, the perish we visited today clearly cares more about filtering in and out families with fidgety children than it does about sending chills down a person's spine. There were no echoing stone ceilings or any dramatic lighting. Instead, there were canvas bags filled with crayons and books about things like 'Bible Heroes' (filled with illustrations of white men with bulging muscles).

My husband (and possibly anyone with small children who doesn't routinely lie to themselves) would likely agree that the level of stress involved in escorting young offspring to a place of worship typically eliminates the ability to walk out feeling even remotely fulfilled by a church service. If you want to admire the beauty of the China in a China shop, you don't bring a bull with you...and you certainly wouldn't bring three bulls.

Still, I sometimes long for that sense of spiritual fulfillment. These fleeting moments of longing is something I've felt for years. I even did a little light church-shopping in those few years between graduate school and getting married (that's how I found Father Spine-Tingle and his awesome gothic cathedral...which incidentally is reserved only for fancy occasions). I would love to be a tangible part of a spiritual community and to finally shed that heavy cloak of cynicism I don in the face of Religion. Maybe someday when I'm not living in the thick of these precious and fleeting early parenting years, I will find myself anxiously bounding out of bed on Sunday mornings, stoked to drag my kids to church...even on some random July morning. Until then: Jesus...? I'll see you at Christmas brah.

Excessive candy and commercialism is what this day is a really about anyways; right?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

word of the day: Mediocrity

Next week, I will be sitting on a panel of bloggers at Illinois State University as part of the Communication Department's 'COM Week.' 

Here's how I feel about that in emoji form: 😳. 

In the interest of full disclosure, my dad is an ISU faculty member working in that department; so if there were money changing hands, this would all boil down to a clear-cut case of nepotism.

Here's the thing: I live in a constant state of concern that I will be revealed as a fraud. This is true in exactly all areas of my life. 

EXAMPLES: I am genuinely worried that someone will soon identify me as a totally mediocre Physical Therapist (I had some brilliant and now wildly successful classmates, so this one is totally valid). As a cook, it is not secret that I am genuinely a colossal failure; whether I am overcooking the vegetables or undercooking the pasta, I really have no business in the kitchen. As a friend, well...let's put it this way: if Facebook fails me, I will probably forget your birthday. I am sure to finish no better than square in the middle of my age group for any given race and I will scale down the WOD like it's my business. Sending me a houseplant would essentially be issuing that poor plant a death-sentance. Finally, I am 100% certain that I am a doing this parenting thing totally wrong. 

And yet, I have been asked to sit and speak as some sort of authority on something. I'm sorry, I just can't help it, here comes the emoji again: 


Here's the thing. If we aren't related, there's a good chance you're not reading this. Furthermore, I happen to know for a fact that some relatives actively avoid my blog...for reasons that are completely fair.  

Also, here's the extent of my insider knowledge on blogging: I can purchase a domain name, provided someone talks me through the process over the phone and I have set up a 'Google AdSense' account, which has possibly generated enough revenue over the past 4 years to buy myself a beer. But the amount generated really is irrelevant because I am not sure how to access it anyways. Oh, and I just got an email threatening termination of the account for lack of traffic at my site. 

So there, now I can simply send a link to this post rather than actually sit on the panel (maybe that would effectively save my AdSense account?) 

I would do it too, if not for two things:

1. I am super-excited to hear from real-life, actual bloggers (I spied on them, and the other panelists are totally legit).


2. My parents are fantastic people who live 175 miles away and I am thrilled to have an excuse to chill with them for an afternoon.

Here's the thing. I want to be better. At everything. I want to be one of those uncommon and crazy-irritating people who just excels at life. It doesn't help that I come from a family of extraordinarily remarkable and successful people. The bar is just set so impossibly high and my vertical is not what it used to be. Also, I may just barely qualify as a Millennial, but I still feel like I should be winning at everything. Still, when I could be reading up on how to access my AdSense account, mastering the 'double-under,' or honing my skills as a pastry chef, I turn around and there is a mountain of laundry to fold, or one of my children has another in a choke-hold (Bare-Minimum Parenting Tip #1: keep them alive). So chasing perfection just doesn't always fit in my daily routine. 

So I press on as the master of mediocrity. I tread water as hard as I can, and sometimes I sink for a moment. And sometimes I blog. And you know what? It doesn't have to be great writing or boast a stunning, professional layout. It's not really for you anyways. It's really for me. When I inevitably have severe dementia and sit around at the old-folks home drooling on myself, maybe someone can pull a Notebook-style move and read back to me all the nonsense I posted to the Internet back when I was busy being a hack on all fronts. And maybe I'll be okay with that. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Road Trip

There are very few joys in life quite like that of restraining three small boys into seatbelts and car seats then motoring off for a nearly three-hour excursion through thousands of acres of corn and beans. 

This sort of endeavor is, if nothing else, an excellent way to test the limits of one's tolerance to noise and also one's shoulder range of motion. Our primary packing rule is to bring toys with high amusement value and a low annoyance factor. Think: books, figurines, anything that squishes....if it requires batteries and creates any additional noise, it's not invited. It is also helpful if we happen to have three identical versions of each toy.

On the occasion when both parental units will be on board, it pays off big-time to be the driver. That way, when the 4-year-old has decided to forcibly confiscate the 3-year-old minion and the 2-year-old has simultaneously flung his cup into the abyss-wedge between the door and his car seat (resulting in a stereo chorus of ear-splitting shrieks), I can calmly smile and point out the vital need for me to focus my attention on the responsibility of keeping the vehicle on the road and the family out of the ICU. 


If I'm traveling solo, which happens from time to time because I am a fool, I am forced to chose between refereeing the escalating sibling-war brewing just inches away and maintaining control of a one and a half ton box of metal traveling at 70 mph. Keep in mind, 2/3rds of the combatants are rear-facing. This poses an interesting challenge to my rotator cuff. Mostly during these solo trips, I just toss my mom-card out the window towards grazing cattle and plug into a pair of earbuds so I can more easily tune out the shrieks and screams of whatever chaos is unfolding behind me. This may seem harsh, but parenting means having to make some difficult decisions. Safety first, cultivating civilized behavior...distant second.

When tablets came into existence I wasn't yet a mom but the idea of children seemed realistic. I distinctly remember thinking, HOT DAMN, these bad boys will make car travel with kids a dream come true for everyone! Well done Apple!!

But here's the problem with screens: internet access. We do not have a hotspot. Nor is our 2012 Explorer (Dora, purchased as a pathetic last ditch effort to remain 'cool,' as if we spend our days off-roading through canyons rather than chauffeuring preschoolers to the zoo) futuristic enough to offer wifi. Some day, for fun, try explaining to a 3-year-old that streaming Netflix requires internet access but other apps do not. Turns out, they're completely unable (or possibly just unwilling) to comprehend this phenomenon and thus, the limited access to non-internet apps like puzzles, books and games often just causes furious outbursts of frustration. So thanks a lot Apple. Thanks for nothing.

I distinctly remember being drugged as a child in order to travel. Granted, it was in response to a pretty substantial case of motion sickness and the fact that a side-effect of Dramamine happens to be drowsiness/kid-coma was just that, a side effect, and likely not the actual desired end-game. Unintended consequence or not, the fact that 1/3 of my parents' spawn was typically unconscious during regular road-trips to visit grandparents up and down Interstate 55, was probably not unwelcome. Granted, I was the best-behaved child...in my vey reliable recollection. 

Do I drug my kids? Not yet. Am I above that? Nope. Do we try to schedule travel around nap time? We do. Does it work? It does not. 

In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times all three boys have slept during road trips and it takes only two hands to demonstrate how long those naps lasted.

And so, traveling with our family is nothing short of an adventure. We take roadside potty breaks because it's easier to pack a kid potty than to un-belt everyone and cart them all into a smelly gas station restroom. We sing Christmas carols at any season and at the top of our lungs. We play 'I spy' and spot the sky or trees or clouds with unending surprise. We listen to the two-year-old squeal with delight each time a plane flys overhead ('Plane!' 'Plane!' 'Plaaaaaaayne!!!!' ... until he is acknowledged, 'Plane?' '...Yeah.') We pass out granola bars and apple sauce pouches ('packets') like they're going out of style. We take deep breaths through shouting matches and relish even 3 minutes of silence. We roll windows down and then up again and negotiate whether the sunroof and moonroof shades will be open or closed when inevitably there will be different, and very strong, opinions about what is desirable. 

It's an adventure and a chore and an exercise in patience, but it is always worth it to see the delight in the faces of both grandparents and grandkids at the end of the journey; or just to be home again. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

word of the day: Division

 If you don't think our nation has waded into dangerously divided waters, allow me to push aside that big gnarly rock you've been living under and introduce you to this trendy little thing called the Internet.

I will advise you to practice caution if living in that underground bunker has caused you to be easily nauseated by spinning sensations.

It's brutal. It's name-calling and bullying and condescension and defensiveness and aggressive language. Quite frankly, it reflects the usual tone the latest Commander in Chief takes, 140 characters a time. 

Or, perhaps his tone is reflecting ours. 

It's dizzying and upsetting and so we retreat to the safety of our happy little echo-chambers. We block or unfriend those who post a spin that doesn't align with our ideals or our narrative just so we can sleep better at night.

We argue over lives that matter for fuck's sake! People! Listen to yourselves!! 

(SIDENOTE: If you don't understand why saying 'All Lives Matter' out loud makes you sound racist, we can certainly chat about that later).

There are plenty of theories trying make sense of how America became such an angry and confusing place; a place where a sort of lower-case kkk has emerged (thanks Aziz!) and people are somehow so numbed to the hateful rhetoric, we've hardly even noticed. 

Maybe it boils down to our life-lens and the impact our basic levels of security have on those goggles we don each morning. We look out from lenses tinted by our experiences and our support systems; or lack thereof. Some of us feel secure and some of us just don't. Some of us long for a time when we felt more secure and spend lots of energy looking for who to blame for that loss. 

Anyone who's ever been in 5th grade understands how insecurities can breed bullying behavior. Although, in the interest of fairness, a version of bullying can also come in forms of condescension by those who feel their life lens is more accurate and lack the tolerance or patience to gently address ignorance or opposing viewpoints. 

Additionally, to be informed in this complicated era means you need hours to devote to reading, listening, and watching the vast influx of media options. And to be informed in a real and meaningful way means being able to filter through the smelly sludge that is the partisan bull crap that floats around, stinking up real, legitimate news sources
. You have to be able to spot a spin but also an outright falsehood, and that's not easy for a novice consumer or for someone without a lot of extra time to vet their sources. We feed our own narratives with whatever click-bait BS we come across, because nobody is comfortable with cognitive dissonance. Then we cry 'fake news' when something doesn't align. (This is DANGEROUS, but that is a big issue for another post).

Politics are sticky. Policy issues and party platforms will forever be in debate. We all have different experiences and different ideologies and that will forever inspire disagreements and play out in party legislation tipping one way and the other. And that, my friends, is DEMOCRACY. 

However, if we all just stick our fingers in our own ears until we can find refuge in a sound-proof echo-chamber, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our fellow Americans. We need to be able to speak to each other in a productive way. We need to somehow find a way to step across this deep divide and start talking civilly to each other. Treating opposing viewpoints with respect and engaging in honest and dignified debate is really the only way we can come to reasonable conclusions on how to move forward. 

In the days after an inauguration address where the incoming president has painted our country as a bleak and deeply damaged place and doesn't appear to give much play to healing our great divides. In contrast to the apparent agenda of our new leader, we, as citizens need to find it in ourselves to knock down a few walls and build some bridges. 

I was fortunate to overhear such articulate discourse very recently and I was inspired. I have vowed personally to block less and engage more. But, I am setting some ground rules for myself. I want to be effective and also respectful. It is my hope that I can articulate myself and my feelings but also try to take something away from this experiment in civil discourse. 

Here are the ground rules I have come up with thus far: 

  1. Listen WELL and with a neutral ear. Don't let your biases get in the way of hearing what the other speaker is saying. Don't dismiss the alternate viewpoint, try to understand it.
  2. Don't make it personal. Attacking the person instead of the idea only evokes anger and shuts down my credibility. Also, assuming my verbal adversary is innately evil based on a political affiliation will shut down my ability to engage productively. 
  3. Don't take it personally. Just because someone disagrees with me, doesn't mean they hate me. If I take it that way, it will distract me from the conversation and set me unnecessarily into defensive or offensive mode...and it's almost assuredly an untrue assumption anyways (because I'm so damn likable).
  4. Don't be afraid to be uncomfortable. These are squirm-in-your-seat sort of topics. Be ready to squirm a little. 
  5. Watch out for broad generalizations and stereotyping. Labeling my conversation mate was a 'lib-tard' or a 'conservative knuckle-dragger' is counterproductive and mean-spirited.
  6. Fact check and site only credible sources (NOTE: the 'mainstream media' will always carry greater creidibility than that blog post your cousin re-tweeted, even the 'liberal media' and yes, even Fox News). 
  7. Find the common ground. It's there. We just need to unearth it. 
  8. Take caution inside my happy echo-chamber. If I see someone crossing the line or propagating false intel, speak up. We need to raise the bar here.
  9. Be willing to step outside my own experiences to understand his or hers. If we can't kick our own shoes off for a minute, we'll never understand how someone else's might feel. NOTE: my shoes have always been fairly sensible and comfortable, so I can't assume that to be the case with everyone. 
  10. Be passionate, but don't lose my cool. If my talking buddy sees I care, that's a perk. But if they see I'm hysterical, it will work against me. 
  11. Avoid snark. This one is gonna be tough, so I bolded it. Still, if I want to be taken seriously, I suppose I'll have to act like an adult. It's too bad too, because in college I Minored in Smart-Ass Comments.
  12. Be open to learning something new (but be sure to have healthy criticism, use good judgement, and fact-check!!). Guess what, I don't know everything, and neither do you. If you're currently thinking 'you don't know me, I do know everything!' Then stop reading and Google 'Dunning-Kruger Effect' before you read even one more word of this post...I'll wait.
  13. Remember, we may disagree with how to get there, or what it looks like exactly; but we are all ultimately rooting for our nation's success. If America loses, we all lose. 

I pledge to stick with this list. I vow to spend less time hiding out in my happy little private like-thinking groups and more time engaging with those people on he other side of the great divide. And I promise to do it with dignity.

Finally, in an effort to end on a note of levity, here are some things I believe we can all completely agree upon without hesitation:

  1. Calliou is a devil spawn.
  2. Taco Bell is essentially an endless combination of 4-5 basic ingredients and only good at 2am; and even then, only if you're as inebriated as the kids working the drive thru.  
  3. Matching socks and folding fitted sheets are tasks equally suited to drive a person into a clinical state of lunacy.
  4. Everything is better battered and fried.
  5. Cable prices are bullshit. 
  6. Bacon.
  7. Social media felt a lot friendlier when it was mostly just people sharing cat videos. 
  8. Something like 1 in 3 adults 'doesn't drink tequila anymore' because 'of that one time back in college.'
  9. If you're a working parent with young children, you have definitely spent at least day at work unknowingly wearing your child's boogers smeared across a sleeve or pant leg. 
  10. Thin crust pizza is an utter waste of time......

.....I stand firmly on that last one, even if it gets me killed someday. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

word of the day: Feminism

Wikipedia, in it's infinite wisdom, tells us that the word 'feminist' may be traced back to 1837, when a French philosopher and (unsurprisingly) socialist coined the phrase. It took the better part of a century to swim across the pond to these United States where a bunch of wealthy white ladies adopted it by climbing into white dresses and mustering up the audacity to demand the right to participate in our democracy. 

Over the course of the next century, women found their shoes (sensible flats) and clawed their way out of the kitchen. By the time my peers and I arrived to represent the very tip of the Millennial iceberg, the idea of a woman going to graduate school and pursuing an actual career didn't seem even the slightest bit crazy. 

Well, we did it. 

Go us. 

Big fat thanks to the baby boomers who burned their bras and made a whole boat-load of people uncomfortable so we could earn almost 80% of a man's salary!! 

Yes, it's progress. 

It is. Obviously, I slipped for a moment there into my smart-ass, sarcasm font, but I am truly grateful for those women who refused to conform; those gals who knew that maybe JUST maybe, lacking a Y chromosome shouldn't disqualify us from enjoying the same sort of basic rights that men enjoy. 

But I am also well aware that the fight of our foremothers is far from ended. 

We judge, shame, and lecture women about their clothing, their actions, their behavior. When an unconscious female is assaulted behind a garbage dumpster, we shudder and bristle and wonder what she did to put herself 'in that position.' We make the most personal and delicate decisions for her by limiting her access to certain medical treatments and claim that her body, because it is capable of creating life, is an open target for legislation. 

We congratulate her for making it into the workforce and reward her with wages amounting to more than 20% less than her male counterparts and then refusing to join the rest of the developed world in offering paid family leave. Not even one stinking day people. 

Oh, you wanted kids too?? 

We use the word 'pussy' to denote weakness and ask each other to 'man up' and 'grow a pair.' Little girls are deemed bossy and ushered gently away from STEM curriculum; their confidence battered by society openly rewarding 'cute,' but brainless behavior.   

Indeed, from the day she is born, we coo over a little girl's appearance and by the time she reaches puberty; she's learned to despise her reflection. She will stand cautiously in front of a mirror and contort her body in uncomfortable angles; grimly noting the areas that don't reflect the billboards and magazine covers and all the other images bombarding her as the impossible gold standard. She will learn that her value can be rated on a 10-scale and her worth is tied very directly to the number printed on the label of her pants and blinking back at her from the bathroom scale.

And to decide one day to embrace the feminist movement? That my friends, is a complex and somehow divisive sort of move to make. Women with great success stand at podiums and denounce this movement. They seem to happily embrace the fruits of their laboring predecessors; but can't seem to stand the thought of embracing the disruptive nature necessary to enable those changes. For reasons not totally clear, they scrunch their noses at the idea of pressing further the cause of ending sexism and sex discrimination (bell hooks). Perhaps it's just easier to let the waters calm and accept that females are indeed the weaker sex; better than causing waves that might draw attention to those dark insecurities which were handed out like candy to grade schoolers and then took firm root before high school graduation. 

Men, white men in particular, may cringe at the idea that the feminist movement should even exist. Nobody wants to be labeled the 'bad guy,' and it sure does suck to be told that you have been afforded every privilege but somehow still didn't conquer the world. Likewise, to discredit their accomplishments by implying it was all an accident of genetics is just as unfair as denigrating women for their gender. Also, where's their movement? A club promoting the advancement of white men? Pretty sure we all know what happens when that sort of thing gathers any sort of momentum. Yup, it's a lot of pressure to be on the team favored to win. It's a lonely place and nobody is picking up a poster board and marching down the street in your honor (at least nobody who isn't hiding behind a white hood and looking for trouble). 

Sure, historically men haven't always been the most gracious winners. But it's certainly arguable that the sense of entitlement rewarded to boys at birth is not evenly distributed among all men. My personal experience has been that most men are gracious and humble and at least marginally empathetic. The men in my life for the most part haven't bullied or condescended and wouldn't dream to openly practice misogyny; they instead stand firmly against it in most cases. 

But I am fully aware that this is not always the case. And having respectable and honorable men in the world does not negate systemic sexism. It does not un-assault countless women, many of whom were too afraid to even report the violence or violation. It does not solve the issues of equal pay or equal representation in our elected offices. Having reputable and decent men in the world does not undo the damage that the media has inflicted upon the collective female body image. 

So having men in the world who are willing to try and understand a women's complicated perspective doesn't mean the problem is solved; but it does mean the problem MAY someday, be solved or at least, be less of a problem. 

One could say the same for those women who cannot bring themselves to be called 'feminists.' Indeed, there are plenty of women who stick firmly in their space and are totally contented with the world as it is. They may scoff at the very notion of feminism; calling out 'crybabies' and 'liberal snowflakes' and paling at the idea of a pro-choice agenda; believing also that we've come far enough and it's best to let well-enough alone. 

It's a movement that is living and breathing and ever-evolving. It will be met with resistance and criticism until the end of time I suspect. It's a movement I didn't personally see as very important until just recently, when I saw that it was so greatly threatened. 

And now? We March. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Lessons From The Potty

I had a lot of misconceptions about motherhood. I thought I would never hand a smart phone to a 2-year-old and tell him to get lost. I never expected that the soundtrack of my home life would be an intermittent chorus of screams on par with what I imagine would rival the collapse of a crowded building or maybe the Zombie Apocalypse. 

I ignorantly believed our children would eat whatever they were served; and I never once imagined one day I would find myself preparing my four-year-old his 12th peanut butter-cheese stick roll-up of the week. 

As the realities of parenthood quickly set in, I realized that guiding a very small human to appreciate the joys of bowel and bladder control would likely be nothing short of a total nightmare. Having already been tasked with the unpleasant burden of welcoming two younger siblings into his home, our oldest was well past his 3rd birthday before we sat down and studied him carefully for any small signs of 'readiness' to use the toilet.  

There were none. 

He happily traipsed about in poopy diapers and gave us the stink eye whenever we suggested a visit with the potty. He was unimpressed with the concept of underpants and was totally unfazed by bribery of all sorts. 

So months passed with half-hearted attempts, cycling through various 'foolproof' strategies. Soon enough, our oldest's 4th birthday looming ever closer on the horizon, little brother hopped in on the action and we doubled down; me inspired, having sat patiently though a lecture on the topic, furiously scribbling notes, collecting literature, and asking questions. 

This renewed effort coincided brilliantly with our decision to embark on a major home renovation. 

Step one: demolish the bathroom. 

From there, things were at best 'inconsistent' and at worst, quite accurately described as a 'shit show'; Suffice to say, the months following this brave/incredibly foolish move were a blurry, tiresome parade of victories and failures and endless laundry.

Having now spent the better part of two years in some phase of 'potty training,' I am 100% certain of exactly nothing on the topic. And so, in the spirit of having learned essentially nothing from my experiences, I will now share my advice to those of you who may someday be embarking on this wet and smelly journey, to those of you who have already killed it and don't know what all the fuss is about, and to those readers who would sooner toilet train a baboon than attempt to potty train a toddler. 

Grab a pen people, this is invaluable stuff:

LESSON #1:  Don't listen to anyone

Seriously. Turn off your phone. Disconnect your Internet. Literally walk in the opposite direction if you happen to see anyone (ANYONE) approaching you on the street. If you happen to find yourself stuck in the unfortunate circumstance of being within earshot of another adult, stick your fingers in your ears and start humming as loudly as humanly possible, then RUN. 

See, once the world catches wind of your endeavor, you will be SHOWERED with unwanted advice. And believe me, the would-be advisor's qualifications mean nothing. Take me, for example, I just spent several paragraphs proving to you how inept I have been in avoiding soiled underpants and somehow you are STILL reading this post  

Just because some lady on the checkout line's now 47-year-old son quit wetting himself after she took him to a Shaman and drizzled honey on his earlobes doesn't mean that I should buy a plane ticket to South America and stop off at the grocery store on the way back. 

LESSON #2:  Don't fool yourself, you're not running this show.

If you're currently parenting an average or even slightly better than average child, this is a lesson you've likely already learned. I don't care how much Law and Order you're unleashing upon that poor little rugrat; you simply cannot take credit for how things unfold from day to day. This extends to a number of things; the least of which is when that kid decides to quit crapping in his or her Disney Junior brand underpants. If your little ray of sunshine tossed her diapers out the window at 15 months: congratulations and guess what? You're raising a freak of nature and it's HER success, not yours, so spare yourself the nerve injury and quit patting yourself on the back. 

LESSON #3:  Bribery is just an ugly term for positive reward system, so hop off your moral high horse and just flipping go for it.

I have shamelessly offered the following items as 'positive rewards' for one or more of my children when they just couldn't be otherwise bothered to interrupt their day to have a bowel movement. 

  1. Chocolate 
  2. Candy
  3. Crackers 
  4. My phone
  5. My husband's phone 
  6. iPads
  7. Special designated 'potty toys' picked out for exclusive use on the crapper.
  8. Coffee

Note: my gut is telling me that this is not a totally inclusive list, there were probably more shameful things offered which I have already suppressed. 

LESSON #4:  It will happen

Just when you think you couldn't possibly do another load of soiled pants without losing your mind completely; you'll find yourself happily driving to Toys R Us to pick up a coveted toy as the ultimate reward for '7 days, no accidents.' Now, I wish I could say that was that; no more boo boo in the laundry. But alas....

LESSON # 5: All kids are different 

Once our oldest got over his apparently debilitating fear of what horrors might befall him if he took a moment away from his play to visit the toilet; he just flipped a switch. It happened almost literally overnight. Suddenly, the kid was deemed 'potty trained.' And it was just in time. This was shortly after his 4th birthday, which was when I was expecting to receive a letter from the Mom Police informing me that having an incontinent 4-year-old was grounds for dismissal from parenthood. 

Our 3-year-old, however, was a totally different story. This came as zero shock to us, since the kid has been charting new parenting territory for us since the minute he arrived. He earned his 'potty toy' months ago, after we pretty much literally dangled it over his head for 7 days straight, essentially relying on coercion to drag him on out of diapers. He's calculating like that, the kid played us. Since that time, we expect at least 1-2 accidents a week and it still surprises me when he actually volunteers to visit the bathroom without first engaging in a 10 minute negotiation process. 


And so, I leave you with this parting thought, it's in response to an adage I've heard on endless occasions and one that always makes me chuckle a little: 

Well, they won't go to college in diapers

Why do I chuckle? Because I work closely with the geriatric population and guess what people, we all pretty much end up BACK in diapers eventually anyways....