Snot-Nosed Brats and The Parents Who Raise Them

Happened to catch Lavar Ball on CNN this morning. He was arguing that having to apologize for stealing should be more than enough punishment for his son, LiAngelo Ball, and whining that his kid has been unfairly persecuted by UCLA, the college he attended (until yesterday, anyway). You may recall that LiAngelo and two of his teammates were caught shoplifting sunglasses at a Louis Vuitton store while visiting China as members of the UCLA basketball team; they were arrested and faced a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Before the poo hit the fan, however, President Trump, who happened to be in China at the time, stepped in and asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to show clemency and release the three young hooligans, which he did (and which was a nice thing to do, when you consider that the way Donald Trump says “China” is kind of weird and sort of sounds like he’s insulting it)

Within a week of the arrest, and having never seen the inside of a Chinese jail, LiAngelo and his buddies were allowed to go home. They later appeared at a press conference in which they dutifully said they were sorry, and then they were suspended indefinitely from the UCLA basketball team (but not from the institution) pending further investigation. A few days later, there was a brief, hilarious Twitter battle between LiAngelo’s father and Donald Trump in which Trump griped that the Ball Family wasn’t more grateful (Sad!) and in which Mr. Ball indicated that no thanks were even necessary because things would have worked out on their own. Which was spectacularly ungenerous, even if Donald Trump is the human equivalent of a vaginal yeast infection.

As of yesterday – less than a month after this whole thing went down – UCLA had not made any permanent decisions about how LiAngelo & Company would be disciplined. Who knows why it has taken so long – maybe because of the Thanksgiving holiday, maybe because finals are coming up, maybe because UCLA wants to consult with all the appropriate personnel so they can be certain that their decision is the right one. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: As long as he’s suspended, LiAngelo Ball isn’t playing basketball, lighting up the scoreboard and leading UCLA to victory, and given what we’re hearing about his talent (from his father, anyway), UCLA’s decision to take its time to conduct a thorough review – contrary though that may be to the success of its men’s basketball team – is perhaps refreshing. How many times have we read about university officials looking the other way when star atheletes behave badly in order not to compromise the team’s win/loss record?

Then, yesterday, in a fit of childish pique (the ramifications of which could be far-reaching), Lavar Ball pulled his kid out of UCLA – you know – the institiution that was willing to given him a free education and room and board for four years (estimated price tag: $250,000) so he could play basketball, get a lot of attention on a very big stage, and probably end up being drafted by the NBA. Curse you, UCLA!

According to Mr. Ball, his reasoning is based upon what he believes is staggeringly unfair treatment by UCLA. He thinks that his son’s apology was sufficient “punishment” (god, it’s so HARD to say “I’m sorry” and not really mean it!) and that this whole think should be over already. It’s unclear whether he even believes that what his son was actually all that bad.

Well, I, for one, think it’s time for Lavar and his son to get woke, and I say that realizing that a 53-year-old white woman who gets excited about a new set of Rubbermaid storage containers probably shouldn’t be using the term “woke.”

But here goes:

Lavar, any way you slice it, stealing is illegal (whether you’re in China OR the US), and under any other circumstances (like, President Trump didn’t happen to be in China at the time, or your son wasn’t a promising young athlete), your kid would probably be sitting in jail or, at the very least, awaiting a court date with the real possibility of prison time, especially if he’d been left in China to deal with a criminal justice system that doesn’t exactly work the way ours does. In other words, the potential NBA career would probably be off the table, and being suspended by UCLA would have been the least of his worries.

So let’s all agree that what LiAngelo did was wrong, and that he was extremely lucky that our National Pride, Donald Trump, was in the right place at the right time, not groping women or insulting people’s cultural heritage. Let’s agree that it was a good thing for Lavar Ball and his idiot son that Trump was able to get LiAngelo and his friends (the little fuckers) back home to the USA without pissing off the Chinese government and prompting them to call in all our loans. Let’s agree that all LiAngelo had to do was say THANK YOU, ride out his suspension, and maybe use their free time studying or volunteering in a soup kitchen.

Well, that’s NOT what LiAngelo did. Because UCLA was mean to him, and his dad thought it was unfair. (As an aside, if you want to know what’s unfair, talk to Colin Kaepernick about his work in the Black Community, and the real injustices that go on there every day that do not involve LV sunglasses and basketball scholarships.) But was UCLA’s treatment of LiAngelo unfair, Lavar? Was it unjustified in taking some time to figure out how to handle this?

C’mon, Man.

Call me old-fashioned, but UCLA – or any other institution – has a right (and, indeed, a responsibility) to decide whether the athletes who represent it should be discplined when they, oh, I don’t know, break the law in a foreign country while on what was supposed to be a sort of goodwill tour. It has a right to determine whether or not this snotty little brat and his asshat father are really worth the squeeze, and whether it’s likely that there will be more shenanigans down the road. UCLA has a right to assess whether it expects its atheletes to adhere to a basic standard of conduct when they venture abroad – one that does not include stealing designer sunglasses.

Lest we forget, by giving LiAngelo a scholarship (and, sure, it if hadn’t been UCLA, it would have been another school), UCLA pretty much handed him the Golden Ticket – free education, room and board, so he could play basketball on a national level where he would be seen by NBA teams and likely be signed to a million-dollar contract before he even got his degree. How many kids get that kind of opportunity? By all accounts, LiAngelo Ball is an athlete of enormous talent, and his future, once UCLA reached out, seemed all but assured. All he had to do – ALL HE HAD TO DO – was play basketball. THAT WAS HIS ONLY JOB.

But LiAngelo decided that it would be a good idea, while visiting a non-democratic foreign country that has had a sketchy human rights record, to shoplift designer sunglasses.

It’s not surprising that young Mr. Ball made this particular error in judgment – and I’ll bet he’s probably not even willing to concede that much. Listen to his father talk for more than 35 seconds and you know exactly how much accountability, discipline, and good old-fashioned DON’T DO THAT SHIT parenting he got growing up. LiAngelo gives every impression of having inherited his father’s unearned belief in his own specialness and excellence, and it’s likely that if it hadn’t been designer sunglasses in China, it would have been something else, because the Ball Men don’t think they have to adhere to the rules that apply to everyone else. At least, that’s what it sounds like to me.

Still, Lavar Ball believes that the only “guilty” party in all of this is UCLA, and so he decided to get even by…yanking his kid out of UCLA (he refused to say this morning whether his son was on board with that decision). He says that he’s exploring other options for his son. How much you wanna bet that none of them include actually getting an education?

Who knows where LiAngelo will turn up? Perhaps he is in fact so talented that he’ll be playing with the NBA next year, making enough money that he won’t have to shoplift anymore.

What he probably won’t be doing is taking responsibility for his actions, ever, because his father has never forced him to, and he has now been removed from a situation where he might have had to suffer the consequences of his conduct in a way that might have helped him transition from spoiled brat to mature young man who is accountable for his transgressions. He may end up being the best basketball player the world has ever seen, but he’s unlikely to accomplish much else as long as his father is calling the shots.

So screw you, UCLA. You’ll never see the likes of LiAngelo Ball or his father again. And for that, you will probably say…thank you.

In Praise of Participation Awards

Few people have anything nice to say about participation awards, that embarrassing exemplar of all that’s wrong with today’s parents and the reason why millennials and those who follow are destined to fail.  An award that some say honors nothing beyond merely showing up, the initially well-meaning participation award was originally intended to nurture our young ones’ self-esteem and encourage less-talented players to keep at it even if they weren’t star players.  I suspect that the participation award was also an effort to replace youth sports’ over-emphasis on individual performance and minimization of the value of teamwork.  All noble ideals.

The participation award has fallen on hard times of late, however, as red-blooded Americans from all walks of life decry the notion that all everyone on a team should be honored and recognized at awards time, regardless of whether they made a meaningful contribution to the team.  Cited by some as the ultimate example of the sissification of America, the humble participation award has become a scapegoat for everything people over the age of 55 think is wrong with anyone under the age of 30, including that they’re entitled, lazy and narcissistic; are depressed and/or numb due to their parents’ failed child-rearing strategies; and are incapable of meaningful relationships and human interaction because of social media and smartphones (more on that later).  If it were true that the participation award were to blame for all these alleged conditions, that would be a bad thing.

The case against participation awards has been made over and over again in recent years:  Some argue that they send the wrong message – that it is bad – unendurable, even – to actually lose, so much so that children must be protected from losing at all costs, which is of course ridiculous.  Others suggest that participation awards, by virtue of the fact that everyone gets one, don’t end up mattering all that much to their recipients.  Still other critics aver that participation awards perpetuate the incorrect notion that everyone is a “winner,” when in fact there are winners or losers, period.  Along those lines, in a letter to the New York Time, one accomplished high-school athlete expressed her opinion that participation awards are “a slight to the truly exceptional.”  At their worst, some say, participation awards instill a sense of entitlement and discourage effort because their recipients come to believe that everything they do – things that previous generations understood as givens – are worthy of recognition – indeed, consider the following quote from a 2015 Forbes article entitled, “You Don’t Get Participation Awards for Showing Up to Work:”

A $2 billion a year industry has grown up around some parent’s need to reward their child with meaningless awards just for joining a team. And as it has, we have all fumbled an important life lesson for our children. Prizes won’t increase motivation—it actually lowers it. Why would a child attempt to improve when he or she is treated the same as the kid on the sidelines chasing butterflies?

Unfortunately, the “helicopter parenting” crowd has already profoundly affected our society.  Study after study on millennials show an increase in depression, anxiety, and a lack of coping skills with disappointment. How do we reframe this discussion with a generation of young people that have been sheltered from the harsh realities of losing?

These are all thought-provoking arguments, which, if true, are a damning indictment on participation awards.  After all, no one wants to raise a generation of lazy, entitled brats who won’t strive to achieve unless there’s the guarantee of a tangible reward.


But let’s take a step back and really look at those arguments, and then let’s contemplate whether the participation award doesn’t have some value.

First and foremost, I disagree with the sweeping assumption that millennials are doomed to a life of poor job performance, depression, and isolation.  From what I’ve seen, while millennials certainly have a different set of values (as their parents before them did), they aren’t values that suggest that we are on the precipice of disaster.  My oldest daughter, who’s 26, cares less about making a lot of money and more about having a job that she finds fulfilling – and, having just received a master’s degree in speech and language pathology, as well as a a job working with older teens with intellectual disabilities and autism, she had found her dream career where the work she does feeds her soul.  She and her fiance care less about driving a luxury vehicle or living in a mini-mansion than having free time to pursue leisure activities and jobs that will permit them to spend a lot of time with their kids, when they have them.  They and their friends are a lot less materialistic that my generation that came of age in the Big Big Big 1980’s – they aren’t very impressed with designer labels or other status symbols, and most of them have made at least one humanitarian trip by the age of 25.

These days, moreover, most high schools are requiring kids to participate in some form of community service as a requirement for graduation, and while prejudice, racism, and bigotry are all around us, most people under the age of thirty truly do not understand the hoopla over marriage equality, gay rights, or the LGBTQ community in general – it’s simply not an issue.  Millennials care about the environment and have been raised to recycle, to be mindful of the impact of greenhouse gasses, and the impact of deforestation and species extinction on our global ecosystem.  Those facts suggest to me a kinder, more tolerant, and other-focused generation.  Are there millennials who are assholes? Assuredly.  But blanket generalizations about millennials are no more accurate than those about baby boomers, or the “Greatest Generation” were.  And even if those generalizations were accurate, I disagree that the participation award is to blame, and if I had to point to the factors that may play some role in the sea change we see in millennials, I’d suggest that it’s the constant threat of terrorism, the prevalence of violence in schools, or the specter of climate change that informs the attitudes and actions of this particular generation.

Having said that, I’d like to make the case for the participation award, and I make it from the perspective of the World’s Worst Athlete, Hands Down, Ever, Case Closed, Goodnight Gracie.  I was – and this is true – always, always, ALWAYS the last to be picked for any team, whether in gym class or in the recess yard.  Even though I knew it was coming – and it always did – knowing that I was going to be picked last didn’t make it any less humiliating.  I recall one such occasion in which it came down to the last two of us, and when the captain of one team said, “I guess we’ll take ___ “ (the person who wasn’t me), the entirety of the other team groaned in unison.  Now, if that isn’t a prime example of an opportunity to feel like a loser and learning to cope with that reality, I don’t know what is.  Even when gym teachers handled team selection by counting off or going alphabetically, it was inevitable that when my teammates realized that they were going to be burdened with my predictably poor performance, they didn’t bother to hide their disappointment.

So it was that team sports were not an enjoyable experience for me, and since gym class was pretty much all about team sports (at least, when I was in grade school and middle school), it should come as no surprise that I shied away from anything even remotely athletic, save a brief period following the 1976 Summer Olympics when I (like ever 12 year old American girl) wanted to be Nadia Comaneci and took gymnastics class until my lack of talent and progress lead one instructor to tell me to just go home and stop wasting my parents’ money (true story).

Then, in seventh grade, for reasons that, to this day, continue to elude me, I decided to try out for the soccer team.  On the day that students were to show up for try-outs, I went to the wrong gym and found myself sitting among those who were there to play women’s field hockey.  I was too embarrassed to admit that I’d walked into the wrong room, and so I stayed for the meeting, picked up my hockey stick, and started showing up for practice.  That’s how I ended up playing 5/6 of a season of middle school field hockey.

I detested field hockey.  Truly, I don’t know if there are words to adequately describe how much I hated it.  Field hockey involves a lot of running, and a lot of running drills, and every day, it seemed, we spent hour after hour running up and down the field, doing “suicides,” or whatever they call it now, in which you run for 12 or 13 hours, without water, until you die.  I was always the last one finished, and you know what happens to the last one finished? They get to do it again while everyone else takes a break.  Now, I do not profess to know anything about sports coaching – nothing at all – and perhaps this technique was designed to help me improve out of sheer humiliation, but it didn’t, because everyone else on the field hockey team had at least some pretension of talent and skill, and they were all better runners – better EVERYTHING – than me – and there was no way I was ever going to be as good, or as fast, as the rest of them.

So I spent a lot of time running, up and down that stupid field, hating every minute of it.  It goes without saying that my other field hockey skills – hand/eye coordination, accuracy, etc. – were non-existent, and during the 5/6 of the season that I played on the Pennbrook Junior High School Junior Varsity Women’s Field Hockey Team, I played exactly 3 minutes of interscholastic competition, and that was about 2 minutes and 57 seconds longer than I would have liked.  I sucked.  I really and truly sucked.  Everyone on the team knew it, they made sure I knew it, and not once – not once did anyone, coach or player – offer me any encouragement whatsoever.  No, “hey, Wendy, good try!” No, “Way to stick it out even though you’re really, really bad at this!” Instead, what I heard was, “you suck.”  Which is fair, because I did.

Five-sixths of the way through the season, I decided I’d had enough, and I quit.  I think there was maybe a week left in the season, and my Mom was bewildered when I told her that I’d left the team.  “Why didn’t you just finish out the season?” she asked.  I couldn’t answer her, but the truth was, as much as I hated the running, my burning lungs, the tears that fell when, yet again, I came in last, it was the contempt I felt from my teammates that hurt the most.  I was so tired of being reminded for two hours every day how much I sucked – as if I needed reminding.

After that experience, I never, ever tried to play a team sport again, even for fun, like at a family picnic, and especially not at work events.  The summer softball game that was part and parcel of so many law firms where I’ve worked was always a cause for anxiety, but I’d always come up with an excuse why I couldn’t play (pregnancy got me out of at least two such games).  As I watched others play – some of whom weren’t all that good, and might have been worse than me if I’d given it a try – I got angry that my team sports experiences had been so negative that playing a game of pick-up softball (which everyone else seemed to be enjoying) was something I wouldn’t even consider.  There was no way I was going to risk demonstrating my lack of athletic prowess to my professional colleagues – no way.  So I’d sit in the bleachers pretending that I didn’t feel well.

Now, by this point, you’re probably saying, “gee, Wendy, that’s a shame that you suck so badly at sports and that people weren’t more supportive of you, but what does that have to do with participation awards?” Well, I’ll tell you:  If someone had given me an award – ANY award – for playing field hockey, I can tell you that I would have carried that award around with me my whole life.  It would have meant more to me than those I received for things like winning spelling bees, being the kid who read the most books over the summer, or earning the title of end-of-the-year math speed test champion.  Those awards and titles came easily to me, and even though they recognized my achievement, talent and skill, they didn’t require much effort (not at the grammar school level, anyway), so they were no big deal.  How hard was it to spell “syzygy”? How difficult is it to memorize your times tables and then write them down really fast?

But field hockey WAS hard.  It was agonizingly difficult.  Each night, after I got home from practice and ate dinner, I’d take my field hockey stick (number 56 – I still remember), and I’d go outside and practice my push-passes and dribbling down the field (which is probably not even what it’s called).  I tried – I really, really tried.  No one noticed, except me (and yes, I know, that’s the most important lesson of all).  But it would have been nice if, way back in 1977, there had been such a thing as a participation award, because maybe I would have stuck it out for the entire season, and MAYBE (it’s a big “maybe”) – I would have tried again the next year.  But we didn’t have participation awards in 1977; we had winners, losers, and contempt.

There are a lot of wonderful things about team sports.  I didn’t actually get to enjoy any of those as a field hockey player, but I did get the same teamwork-practice-goals-success piece of it as a member of a competitive marching band in high school, and I’m sure the joy and pride and accomplishment I experienced when our band won two state titles and one national championship were very close to what athletes feel when their team wins a big game – the sense of shared sacrifice, commitment, striving and success binding you forever to people you might not otherwise have encountered in your life.  I loved being in the band for the very same reason, I think, that others love playing team sports.  The lessons I learned as a member of the band have assisted me throughout my life and have made me a better person.  So, team sports can be a really great experience for kids, and we should encourage them to PARTICIPATE so they can learn some fundamental life lessons.

But a lot of kids don’t participate in team sports for precisely the same reasons I stopped after my field hockey debacle 40 years ago – because everyone knows who the stars are and everyone knows who sucks, and no one wants to be the one who sucks.  These days, especially, when kids are starting to play sports seriously at the age of 5, and it’s pretty much too late to try a new sport after the age of about 8, when parents are sending their kids for specialized supplemental training in middle school in order to increase their chance at making the travel team or the high school squad – well, it’s really bad to be the one who sucks (though those who do are weeded out soon enough).

The thing is, there are really, really good reasons to encourage kids to play team sports when they’re young, regardless of how good they are.  Some kids, for example, are late bloomers – their natural talent may not show up until they’re a little older.  There are also kids who just need a chance to get the hang of it, and that might take a few years.  There are still others who might never be a great player but for whom a team sport may be a window to friendships and experiences he or she might not otherwise have had, or who may find ways to participate as something other than a player – perhaps a team manager, or, later in life, as a coach.  For each of these sorts of players, participating in team sports can have a very beneficial effect, regardless of how “good” the player is.  And, of course, team sports is so much more that how you throw the ball; their value to most kids has less to do with how well they played than in what they learned about discipline, teamwork, and commitment.

Does the promise of a participation award guarantee that kids who normally wouldn’t play sports will give it a try? Maybe not – but it MIGHT encourage that kid to come back, even if he or she has had a tough season and is thinking about throwing in the towel.  The participation award also communicates that the player’s being there benefitted the group, not necessarily because he or she excelled, but because he or she was willing to make the commitment to the team and enable it to be a team – after all, most teams need between 10 – 20 players, depending upon the sport, and you can’t field a team with three superstars and a coach.

The participation award also acknowledges the importance of getting your butt off the sofa and onto the field, and who hasn’t heard at least one corporate CEO spout that old axiom, “the world is run by those who show up”?  Google it and peruse the many instances in which business leaders talk about the importance of just showing up – apparently, something that’s not quite as obvious as one would think.  It’s true, you aren’t likely to get an award at work merely for appearing each morning, but the importance of doing so – and, therefore, being in a position to achieve and succeed – is the raison d’etre of the participation award.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the participation awards more respectable cousin – the “perfect attendance” award – but when people talk about Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken as examples of dedication and commitment, it’s the fact that they never missed a game that they’re talking about.

When we encourage young people to show up, to try new things (even, and especially, when they’re not very good at them), when acknowledge the courage it takes to show up day after day, knowing your teammates (and probably the coaches, too), think you suck.  When we suggest that achievement and performance aren’t the most important thing in life, then maybe we also teach important values, such as persisting in the face of difficulty and being respectful of those whose talents don’t match our own.  As for that high school athlete who felt that her “exceptional talent” was being slighted by participation awards, I say, if you’re truly talented, and you’re willing to work to perfect that talent, you’re probably going to win a whole bunch of awards that recognize that skill and performance, such as team MVP, league champion, or whatever awards they give you when you play sports.  Your accomplishments are not diminished by the fact that someone with less natural talent than you was recognized for trying – and believe me, that person knows, as everyone else does, that you’re the better athlete, and always will be.

So I think participation awards may not be the worst thing next to parents who call principals and demanding that their child’s AP Chemistry grade be changed from a C to an A, or those who write they kids’ college essays or “heavily assist” in their third-grade diorama project (all bad things).  If there’s a way to encourage young people to play sports, and, in turn, to benefit from all that sports has to offer, is it such a big deal to recognize that those kids came out and tried? I’m not suggesting they receive a trophy that’s taller than they are; in fact, maybe instead of an award, the coach could say a few words about each kid and what they contributed to the team (maybe they do that anyway – I wouldn’t know).  The cream of the crop will rise to the top, and those who are truly without real talent will eventually step back once they find something else they enjoy and excel at, but I believe – I truly believe this – that the encouragement they receive as young players, being made to feel welcome and appreciated, will give them the confidence to try other things even if they aren’t sure they’ll be any good at it.

In the end, I did learn a lot from my field hockey experience even though I didn’t get a participation award.  I learned that it’s probably a good idea to speak up when you’re in the wrong room, and I also learned that sometimes, you’re not going to be very good at something no matter how hard you try, and if there are other things you’re interested in trying, it probably doesn’t make much sense prolonging the inevitable – in my case, quitting field hockey 5/6 of the way through the season.  I don’t believe that finishing out the season would have made me feel any better about my field hockey experience (in fact, another week of humiliation and agony would probably have done more harm than good), and I can’t say for sure that the promise of some sort of tangible recognition would have been enough to keep me at it for another week.  But it might have, although that probably says more about me than it does about participation awards.  Wendy does not have an athlete’s spirit.

I guess I’d just like for people to consider whether giving out some form of a participation award is really the reason why millennials are depressed and don’t want to “adult” and why the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  Does all that owe to the fact that some of them were applauded for showing up, when they were very young, and trying something new, knowing that others might be better than them or laugh at them? Or could it be the constant threat of terrorism, violence in schools, or the specter of climate change that gives millennials pause about how much longer they’ll be here and what condition the world will be in as long as they are?  In any case, no one ever died from having someone acknowledge their contribution, no matter how modest the form of such recognition; in fact, I think just the opposite is true.

By the way, I am giving myself a participation award for writing this blog.  The rest of you can heap on all the performance awards you want.

Facebook Patriots and Other Scumbags

Hey, all you Facebook patriots…Maybe instead of all your righteous indignation that Colin Kaepernick has some issues with how Blacks are treated in this country, you could go donate blood, or read a book about the Civil Rights movement or by Ta-Nehisi Coates or Ralph Ellison or Elie Wiesel (look it up), or, really, any book with words and sentences, or maybe take your kids to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. so they can learn what happens when you demonize people based upon their race or religion in order to feel better about the fact that you’re an underachieving loser who thought you were entitled to pretty much everything simply because you were born white.

Or maybe you could actually go visit a veteran of war and ask them what they think about their military experience, what it meant in their lives, how it changed them, and how they feel about being commandeered by narrow-minded, low information voters through craven, pandering memes, in the name of “patriotism”?

Last summer, I spent quite a lot of time with my Dad (West Point Class of 1955, 25 years in the military, a whole host of medals, including a Bronze Star for his service in Viet Nam in 1968-1969). We talked about a lot of things, including his Army tenure, and the impact it had on his life. Most of you “patriots” – you know, all you people who get so outraged at the idea of transgendered servicemen and women (like any of you are brave or selfless enough to serve, or could even pass the fitness test) – have no clue what men and women in uniform endure, especially when in combat, or how it changes them and their families, and you rarely vote for leaders who give a crap about veterans. Still, you’re awfully quick to wave the flag and invoke dead servicemen and women when a black guy with an afro says he’s tired of the racism in this country. And if you’re arrogant or ignorant or just plain stupid enough to insist that racism doesn’t exist, may you be reincarnated, quickly, as a person of color in the United States so you can see how easy it is to walk around in skin that isn’t white.

I am beyond disgusted by those who know nothing – NOTHING – about the facts underpinning most of the nonsense currently going on in this country in the name of “patriotism,” though I do derive some level of mean-spirited schadenfreude knowing that their Fuhrer, President Trump, will soon enough be coming for them (though they will be too dim-witted and self-satisfied to notice until its too late). These people, who get their news from Facebook memes, find themselves without any facts whatsoever to support their despicable opinions, and so they post photos of wounded servicemen and flag-draped coffins in an attempt to use people like my Dad as an excuse to be a misogynistic, racist, asshole.

It would be far more honest if, instead of pretending like you have any real investment in or understanding of American History, our founding documents, or Supreme Court jurisprudence, you’d just post a picture of your face and say, “I hate anyone who isn’t a straight, white, Christian,” (oh, and by the way, maybe use your own words, instead of hiding behind someone else’s moronic GIFs), because that’s exactly what your posts say about you, no matter how many pictures of American flags and wounded warriors you post. To be fair, maybe you don’t hate racial, ethnic, or religious minorities – as long as they know their place and aren’t doing better than you. After all, some people are more equal than others.

My Dad, and men and women like him, understood that part of what they were fighting for was the protection of people like Kaepernick to express himself (though maybe not for fellow NFL’ers who beat the shit out of their girlfriends without fear of white outrage or boycotts, or racist sheriffs who blatantly thumb their noses at the law they think does not apply to them). That’s the same freedom of expression, by the way, that allowed you to question President Obama’s citizenship or loyalty or competency without being hauled off to the Gulag, the way they do in Russia – though that may become the reality soon enough, if your fact-free president has his way.

Those brave men and women didn’t fight in wars or serve their country so that you could post moronic GIFS featuring pictures of them to justify the fact that you are a horrible human being who wishes that people who don’t look like you, or worship like you, didn’t exist. Fun fact? If, somehow, they didn’t, you’d still be a loser, just one in search of a scapegoat.

So just stop it. Stop pretending you’re a “patriot,” or that your values reflect those of the men and women who have fought for the sovereignty of this country or the rights enumerated in the Constitution (which I’m pretty sure you’ve never even read). Stop pretending you’re anything other that what you are, because, guess what?

We all know exactly what that is.

Tips for Trump: Things Not to Say to the First Lady of France (or Any Other Woman, for That Matter)

July 17, 2017

So, you’re just back from Paris, Mr. President. Quite a whirlwind trip, there! What a lovely parade, and so moving to see American and French soldiers marching together to celebrate Bastille Day. When you saluted the American military participants? That was a nice moment.

But that thing you said to Brigitte Macron? Umm…maybe not so much.

So, I know you meant well. I know you thought you were paying her a compliment when you said, upon meeting her for the first time ever, “You’re in such good shape … beautiful!” I know you think that this is exactly what every woman wants to hear when she meets a man for the first time.

Yeah, it’s not.

Hey, could you put your phone away? This is important.

What you said was inappropriate, and not just because of your history of being, well, sort of an asshole when it comes to women. It was clumsy and weird and creepy and sort of suggests that you’re still living in the 1950’s. Which, okay, in many cases, you are.

But to focus on the matter at hand, for the last 100 years or so, women have been trying to communicate an essential truth to men. They’ve tried to say it in a lot of ways, in a hundred different languages, and in a variety of media, but what it comes down to is this:

What I look like isn’t who I am.

Let’s say that together, Mr. President: “What I look like isn’t who I am.”

Now, it’s true that most women – indeed, most people – attempt to present their physical selves in a pleasant and appealing manner. Many women, and even some men, are flattered when someone provides feedback that suggests a positive assessment of one’s physical appearance.

Most women, however, tend to feel uncomfortable when such an assessment is made within the context of a business setting, or at a casual social function that is not a date, at the library, watching or participating in a sporting event, picking up the dry cleaning, test-driving a car, donating blood, getting your teeth cleaned, attending church, standing in line to vote, buying groceries…oh, and meeting your husband’s professional counterpart at a public event celebrating your country’s independence day.

In fact, probably the only circumstances in which it’s perfectly appropriate and even a nice idea to compliment a woman’s physical appearance is when it’s your significant other, but even then, you should also remind her that it’s her formidable intelligence, determination, and creativity that really get you going.

Now, you may not know this (because it doesn’t appear as though the women with whom you’ve chosen to share your life were particularly interested in the cultivation of their intellect, personal growth, or independence while they were with you), so you may need to do some further reading.

Yeah, I know, you don’t like to read.

Okay. Well, maybe we can do it this way. Here is a brief survey of the seminal literature on feminism in a format that even you can read and digest:

  • The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir (1959): Tracks the role of women throughout history and the extent to which they have been suppressed and dominated by men largely by virtue of their ability to bear children.
  • The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan (1963): Talks about how suburban housewives in the 1960’s were frustrated that the roles available to them were limited to wife and mother.
  • Sexual Politics, Kate Millett (1969): Discusses how male-dominated culture has produced writers and literary works that are degrading to women as well as the tyranny of sexual stereotypes.
  • The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (1991): Explores the growing social prominence of women and society’s demands for them to conform to specific standards of beauty.
  • Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit (2014): Defines and demonstrates the concept of “mansplaining,” in which men attempt to explain to women topics they believe women do not understand, particularly when dealing with areas that are traditionally within the exclusive purview of women (such as the menstrual cycle, which, since the beginning of time, no biological male has ever experienced).

To review:

Men have been treating women like crap for a while, and we don’t like it. We are not here solely to procreate or to serve as sexual playthings or eye candy, whether or not you think we are pretty/sexy/hot enough to make us desirable to you for that purpose. You should treat women with the same level of respect and professionalism as men, and commenting on a woman’s appearance should be avoided.

See? That was easy!

Now, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what you said to Madame Macron last week and examine:

You said, “You’re in such good shape…beautiful!”

Here’s why that was maybe the wrong thing to say:

1.  As we have discussed, you should treat women with the same level of respect and professionalism as men. If you wouldn’t tell a man he was in such good shape and beautiful, you shouldn’t say it to a woman.

2.  Commenting on a woman’s appearance should be avoided. (Yeah, I know I already said that, but it’s worth repeating).

3.  Your comment did not just suggest that Madame Macron is an attractive woman (“…beautiful!”), which, on its own might not have been so awful (though still wildly inappropriate). It also brought her body into the conversation (“You’re in such good shape”), as in, you have a good body, which turns what could have been a relatively innocent comment (“you look nice”) into something undeniably sexual in nature. For example, a father might say to his daughter, “you look beautiful today, sweetie!” and that would be okay, but he would NOT say, “you’re in such good shape, sweetie!” Well, okay, maybe YOU would – and, indeed, you basically HAVE – but most non-creepy weird fathers draw the line at making assessments of their daughter’s bodies. You might want to think about that, too.

4.  Finally, and not to get too personal, but geez, your wife was RIGHT THERE! I mean, show some class, guy!

You may be scratching your head and saying, “wait, I’m not allowed to talk to women about their periods, or their face lifts, and I’m not supposed to shove them against the wall and start making out with them…good Lord, what’s a man to do???”

I’m glad you asked.

Here are several things you might have said to Madame Macron – and, hey, if you want, I can make them generic so you can use them the next time you meet with Prime Minister May or Chancellor Merkel, or President Coleiro Preca (Malta), President Grabar-Kitarovic (Croatia), President Simonetta (Switzerland), President Kopacz (Poland), Prime Miniter Straujuma (Latvia), Prime Minister Bratusek (Slovenia), Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark), Prime Minister Solberg (Norway), Prime Minister Siber (Cyprus), President Jahjaga (Kosovo), President Grybauskaite (Lithuania), Prime Minister Simpson Miller (Jamaica),Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad and Tobago), President Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina), President Rousseff (Brazil), President Bachelet (Chile), President Geun-hye (South Korea), Prime Minister Wajed (Bangladesh), President Samba-Panza (Central African Republic), President Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), or Prime Minister Toure (Senegal).  (Damn, that’s an awful lot of female world leaders.  I wonder when we’ll get one?)

Here are things you can say instead (I used a lot of exclamation points, because you seem to like those):

  • Good morning, Madame Prime Minister! How nice to meet you!
  • I am very much looking forward to our meeting this afternoon, Madame President!
  • What a beautiful country is [insert name of country here], and how excited am I to be here!
  • I bring the well wishes and friendship of the people of the United States, even those who did not vote for me, which is only about seven, but them as well!
  • You are totally smokin’ hot, Madame President! (THAT WAS A TEST TO SEE IF YOU WERE PAYING ATTENTION!)
  • I am very intrigued by the policies you have implemented in [insert name of country here] to advance the cause of equal pay in the workplace, mandatory maternity leave, and universal medical care! (Admittedly, there are only a handful of places where this would be appropriate, seeing as how most of the countries whose leaders you will be meeting have already adopted those policies).
  • Welcome to the White House, Madame Prime Minister. I look forward to our hour-long joint press conference where we will both give responsive answers to all media outlets!
  • I can’t wait to have some croissant/falafel/pad thai/hakarl/fasolada/bulgogi/poutin/pho! I hear it’s incredible!

So, now you’re good to go. You can handle any situation. Keep these simple tips in mind, and you’ll be prepared for anything. Well, okay, not anything. Or even most things. Or, really, anything at all, except how to properly greet a woman you’ve never met before, but, hey, it beats grabbing them by the pussy.Go in peace, Mr. President.

In Debt We Trust

June 26, 2017

When I’m in the car, I listen to CNN, so I get to hear the same ads over and over again. In addition to learning that Tommy John men’s underwear makes a guy’s junk feel all warm and cozy (I wouldn’t know), I also know that Madison Reed hair color will empower you for only $30.00 a month (note to listeners: Amy Eric looks nothing like you think she will), and that ZipRecruiter takes the hassle out of hiring quality employees. Whether it’s the Third Love bra ladies (Heidi Zack and Rayelle Cohen), Scott Tannen of Boll and Branch luxury linens (thank god his annoying wife, Missy, who sounds much like an anxious Chihuahua, no longer appears in the radio spots), or one of the ten thousand mattress companies that deliver right to your door (like, how is that even possible?), I’ve pretty much got clothing, personal care, and household items wrapped up. All because I listen to CNN.

What I’ve also learned from CNN’s sponsors is that if you don’t feel like paying your taxes, or those pesky credit card balances, you don’t actually have to. After you’ve bought your hair color and luxury linens and pee-pee nestling underpants, you can hire some credit agency, or some tax relief company, and with a flick of the wrist, poof! Your liability dissolves, and you can go on with your life of sleeping on really great mattresses in a bra so comfortable you’ll forget you’re wearing it.

Now, if you know anything about me, you are aware that I am a bleeding heart liberal of the most earthy-crunchy variety (excepting that I don’t like granola, or trail mix, or raisins – particularly raisins. I hate raisins.) I do yoga. I meditate. I read the writings of the Dalai Lama and try to live his teachings. I encourage others to look for the best in people and, when confronted with the assholes of the world – the person who cuts you off in traffic, the lady who jumps ahead of you in line, the sales clerk who is rude – I tell myself that maybe they are having their worst day ever, and I try to find something nice to say to put a smile on their face. It doesn’t always work.

I regularly tout the crises we face throughout our lives as marvelous opportunities for personal growth. I exhort others to practice peace, respect and compassion to such a degree that some wonder if one of my children could just hit me over the head with a shovel already. I’m a sunny and optimistic person who believes in universal affordable healthcare and the idea of America as a welcoming place of love and tolerance for all, where our diversity is our strength, and our strength is our shared commonality of love of country.

Bottom line? I’m a pretty forgiving, compassionate sort who is willing to let a lot – A LOT – slide when it comes to how other people act and what they do (unless they are toxic negative horrible narcissistic people, and then all bets are off), so what I’m about to say may come as a shock, and you may want to hold onto your underpants:

Pay your damned bills, people. Pay your damned bills.

At the risk of displaying some serious privilege here (and feel free to call me on it if I am), if there is one thing I cannot tolerate (besides being interrupted – that really gripes my cookies), it’s a lack of personal accountability, particularly when it comes to one’s financial obligations. That makes me tear-out-my (not Madison Reed colored) hair, throw a shoe at the wall crazy.

I’m not talking about people who find themselves in the middle of a crisis they could not have planned for – a sudden layoff, a catastrophic injury or illness, say – and I am a firm believer that personal bankruptcy laws are an important resource for those who have been confronted by unexpected financial hardship. I’m not even talking about people whose credit card balances largely reflect predatory interest rates and penalties, or those who have been out of work so long they are forced to pay for basic necessities with plastic. I’m talking about people who use their credit cards to buy things they don’t need and can’t afford in the first place, people who refuse to live within their means, people who spend every penny they make not on necessities but on things they could do without, and believe it or not, you can, in fact, do without a 56″ screen television or a Michael Kors handbag.

I have compassion for those who are experiencing real financial hardship not entirely of their own making, but let’s face it: The vast majority of consumer debt that is forgiven was not incurred paying for medical bills or diapers; in most cases, it was the result of a simple lack of discipline, and I have some first-hand experience to back that up: As an attorney arbitrator, I have heard many, many credit card cases in which it becomes crystal clear that the debt at issue was incurred on dining out, clothing purchases, vacations…you name it. Some of these same consumer debt defendants show up for their hearings driving late-model luxury cars which they backed out of the garage of their beautifully landscaped single family home. Don’t believe me? Hang out at the Lehigh County Bar Association, where such hearings are held, and see for yourself.

When it comes to not paying taxes, moreover, I am even less tolerant. Remember when you got your first job making $2.50 an hour, and after working 20 hours, you thought your paycheck would be $50.00? That’s when you learned about taxes, and FICA, and all those other withholdings that someone takes out of your paycheck every month, whether you want them to or not. Responsible Americans pay their share – even for things they might not like paying for (Mitch McConnell’s salary, for example), and when the amount they’ve withheld throughout the year turns out not to be enough, they write a check for the balance. Then they drink an entire bottle of vodka. That’s called being a grownup.

Those earners who don’t have withholdings taken out – the self-employed, the independent contractors, etc. – have to be responsible in setting aside enough of their earnings so that when April 15 rolls around, they can pay the taxman, and the vast majority do. Turns out, however, that some people don’t, don’t get around to actually filing a return, or writing the check that entitles them to drink an entire bottle of vodka. They just don’t pay their taxes. And I’m like, that’s a thing? I didn’t think that was a thing.

Apparently, however, you can not pay your taxes, sometimes for quite a while, before there’s any dire consequences. In fact, if you never apply for credit, if you don’t keep large balances in your bank accounts, and if you don’t own anything to which a lien could attach, you could potentially avoid paying taxes pretty much forever. Yes, I know that they eventually got Al Capone, but unless you’re running an organized crime syndicate, you’re probably okay. Which means that those of us suckers who dutifully set aside a portion of our wages or else assure that our withholdings properly reflect our income tax liability are paying not just our share, but those of a bunch of deadbeats as well. Thank rankles me, and I don’t think they should be let off the hook.

I certainly recognize why credit card companies and the IRS are willing to negotiate with debtors – they’d rather recover something rather than nothing, and it’s cheaper to work things out than to pay for attorneys to file suit and then execute on the debtor’s assets – if there are any, that is. It’s a business decision, not a matter of principle for the creditors, and anyway, credit card companies know that those consumers who end up having some or all of their debt written off will be back, sooner rather than later, applying for credit and running up their balances again, thereby generating profits in the form of interest payments that line the pockets of bank CEO’s. Banks are willing to take less now because they know that people rarely change their spending habits and that the American consumer will not be deterred in the never-ending quest for more stuff.

And that’s part of the problem: While I don’t have any statistics on this, I think it’s pretty much a given that in providing “credit relief,” banks are essentially enabling bad habits and a lack of fiscal discipline that will likely be repeated in the future, because the only way anyone ever learns how to use credit cards responsibly is by having to pay them off on their own. Ask someone who’s had their debt paid off by someone else whether or not they currently have any outstanding credit card balances (not that you would do that, because it would be really rude), and I’ll bet you a nickel the answer is yes. Credit card banks profit when consumers are fiscally irresponsible, and so those banks have no interest in rehabilitating them of their belief that it’s possible to acquire things you can’t afford without ever having to pay for them.

My annoyance that so many end up having consumer debt or tax liabilities forgiven is partially rooted in an embarrassing resentment that stems from the fact that it’s taken Michael and I a long time and a lot of hard work to come to a place of fiscal health. Medical and law school loans and a child with special needs whose therapeutic services weren’t covered by insurance created a sword of Damocles that hung over our head for years. Sure, we’re strong earners, and we have always been able to provide for our family. But at the risk of sounding like my Dad, no one bailed us out when things were tough, and the position we are in now reflects sacrifice, hard decisions, and a lot of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

As well, at least one former friend expressed surprised at the modesty of our living accommodations based upon her assumptions about our income, having the audacity to say to me about the home we still (and proudly) inhabit, “you guys must have a lot of debt to live where you do.” Michael and I made decisions over the years about what we thought was worth spending our money on (education, therapy services, travel when possible), that’s how we spent it, and not once did we ever ask someone else to foot the bill. Bottom line – you buy it, you pay for it, period. There is no free lunch. Death and taxes. You get the idea.

There’s a larger issue, however, one that’s less mean-spirited and more global: When people don’t pay their credit card debt, it’s bad for everyone. Today, the average household with credit card debt has balances totaling $16,748. This debt reflects, at least in part, the fact that, since 2003, the cost of living has outpaced income growth by 2%. For most Americans, this discrepancy has meant not belt-tightening or doing without, but, rather, more credit card debt.

You may say, who am I to sit in judgment of how others spend their money? Perhaps I’m not, until it’s you and me who end up paying for it. At its worst, large-scale unpaid credit impacts the economy even for those who pay their bills: Remember when the housing bubble burst in 2008, and all those banks had to be bailed out? Guess who paid for that? The American public – those who pay their taxes, anyway. We also pay for it in the form of higher interest rates and more stringent credit/lending criteria – anyone who has tried to get a mortgage in the past eight years can tell you that gone are the days of low down-payment adjustable mortgages (which is probably a good thing), and even people with excellent credit, reliable income, and substantial assets are reporting that it’s more difficult than it used to be to get approved for financing of any kind.

I wish I believed that more stringent restrictions on credit would reduce the amount of debt that Americans take on, and would encourage them to be more mindful and responsible in their spending and saving, but they won’t, because we are a society that thrives on immediate gratification – I want it, I have to have it, I get it. While many are aggressive in their retirement planning, few maintain a good, old-fashioned savings account – not one that they feed very often, anyway. According to a Federal Reserve report, nearly half of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense without borrowing the money or selling something, and of those who have savings account (roughly one in five do not), almost 30% report having a zero balance, and 62% have less than $1,000 in savings. Which is why they rack up credit card debt. And so on, and so on, and so on.

We have to stop living on borrowed money, both as individuals and as a society as a whole. I won’t get into the whole federal deficit and its ramifications, but it’s not good. There are plenty of tips to avoid creating mammoth credit card balances (keep an emergency fund, pay your balance in full each month, etc.), but what it really comes down to is this: If you can’t pay for it with cash and it’s not an emergency, you don’t need it and can’t afford it, so don’t buy it and stick the rest of us with the bill – we all have enough of our own. I’ll happily contribute to universal healthcare for all by means of my tax bill; I’ll fork over money to fund the arts, pay for schools, and underwrite scientific research, and if a few extra dollars to Uncle Sam would ensure that no child went hungry, ever, you could sign me up for that, too, but I’m not paying for your trip to Disney, your Home Shopping Network addiction, or your Franklin Mint State Bird spoon collection. Pay your bills, pay your taxes, and stop buying into the notion that more things will make you happier – they almost never do.

I’m going to retreat into my Grumpy Troll Cave now and scarf down some Milanos, which will no doubt return me to my normal bleeding-heart Mother Wendy self in no time, and then I’ll go out for a walk in a new pair of Target socks that nestle my toes and make them feel all warm and cozy. Milanos – $2.49. Six-pack of athletic socks – $8.99. Fiscal responsibility – priceless.

Gun Violence, Abe Lincoln, and Pollyanna

June 19, 2017

After last week’s shooting of GOP lawmakers and staff who were practicing for a charity baseball game, I think we can all agree that the divide between left and right, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, progressives and the alt-left, has grown so broad and deep it seems virtually impossible that two people on the opposite sides of the political spectrum can have a civil conversation about anything, including, say, pancakes versus waffles (waffles, by the way), let alone about what’s going on in Washington. Every news item that mentions President Trump, Congress, policy, or pretty much any aspect of government, is fodder for thousands of tweets, posts, and panels of screaming lunatics on (insert news show of your choice), and way too much of what’s being said is opportunistic and mean.

Too frequently, what passes for “political discourse” is over-the-top, hyperbolic rhetoric that, when squeezed, will produce a nice tall glass of contempt. There’s little respect, or tolerance, for any opinion other than one’s own, and yes, I’m guilty of that. There are too many people who are as convinced that they’re the smartest guy/gal in the room as they are sure that those who disagree with them are too stupid, and too pig-headed, to listen to and accept reason and truth.

I’m guilty of that, too.

But what to do, I wonder, when the stakes are so high, when the conduct of those who govern appears to be creating a legitimate threat to national safety, the fate of all carbon-based lifeforms, and women’s reproductive rights, just to name a few? How to avoid being shrill as violence against Muslims and people of color increases, as the United States, by and through its Commander in Chief, sends the clear message to the people of the world that they’re on their own, thereby undoing years of relationship building, credibility, and leadership? What words are strong enough to effectuate change (and, at the same time, communicate to those outside our borders that not every American supports the policies being enacted by our government), yet not so strident as to be pre-emptively ignored by those for whose ears those words are intended? Is it even possible to say anything that those on “the other side” would be willing to consider – me included?

In other words, how do we communicate with those who have strongly-held opinions that differ from our own? How do we do that when one side believes that anyone who voted for Donald Trump is a de facto racist xenophobic misogynist, while the other side thinks that anyone who doesn’t support Donald Trump is a lazy godless nutcase who hates this country? Smarter and more articulate people than me have said that we have to be more respectful of each other, and that’s a start. Contempt is a big part of it, too: Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book, “Blink,” discusses a study that looked for predictors of divorce, and the number one factor isn’t infidelity or financial problems – turns out, it’s contempt. Stated differently, if a conversation is underpinned by a lack of respect and an abundance of contempt – and that’s pretty much a given as far as political discussions go these days – there’s really no reason to have it in the first place, because no one is listening.

The only thing that has ever changed a person’s mind about an opinion they held to the point of utter certainty, is a shared commonality. Justice Kennedy and Dick Cheney are pretty conservative as things go, but they both have close relatives who are gay, and guess what? Neither one had an objection to marriage equality. A few months go, I posted an excellent article about a man who freely admitted that he used to hate Muslims. His opinions changed drastically when a Syrian family moved in next door and showed him that they weren’t so different, so much so that he babysits their kids and has dinner with them on a weekly basis.

This tells me that if I want people to be open to my thoughts and opinions, I have to find some common ground, and for starters, that means no more name-calling. That’s going to be a tough one, because I don’t happen to have a very high opinion of our president, and, as well, it’s so satisfying to get off a good one. But it has to stop, and it’s going to. That doesn’t mean that I will refrain from criticizing policy with which I passionately disagree (or that I am going to stop being passionate), but I’ll tone down the rhetoric. That’s my pledge. It’s a start.

Next, I’m going to propose that we look for commonality. I’m unlikely to find too many Republicans who will agree with me on healthcare, but here are some things I think we can all get behind:

  1. Pizza.
  2. Pizza.
  3. Koala bears.
  4. Pizza.

Okay, there’s more:

  1. Will McAvoy’s brilliant speech on the first episode of “The Newsroom” notwithstanding, the United States of America is in fact the greatest nation on earth.
  2. Our government, as conceived by our founding fathers, is, simply put, brilliant.
  3. When we get hit, we come together like nobody’s business. Remember how nice we all were to each other after 9/11? We have a tremendous capacity to love and support and share and give of ourselves. That goes for Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians and Socialists and Independents and the Green Party…it’s who we are.
  4. Russia trying to infiltrate our country – however they may or may not be doing it – isn’t cool, and we should all be concerned if that’s what’s happening, regardless of who may or may not be facilitating it.
  5. Pizza.

There’s a reason people want to come to America, and it has something to do with the shared sense of freedom and opportunity and doing the right thing. We don’t always get it right, and there are too many people in our country who are hurting right now, but we are a nation of people who love this country so thoroughly, so vigorously, so passionately, that we are willing to lose friendships over it – except that’s not good, either. So stop doing that.

We need to become what the name of our country says we are – the United States of America. Not black and white, rich or poor, Christian or Jew or Muslim, Republican or Democrat. Yes, we should celebrate our diversity, but we have to start acting like brothers and sisters. We just have to. We really, really just have to.

My favorite movie of all time is “Pollyanna.” Yeah, it sucks that her parents died and she never had a doll and her aunt is kind of a bitch and she falls out of a tree, but she nevertheless brings the whole town together. She shows them how to look for the silver lining and teaches them the Glad Game. She gets Reverend Ford on her side when she says that “no one owns the church,” and she shares with him the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: “If you look for the bad in people, expecting to find it, you surely will.”

Let that sink in for a moment. (Every time you forget how incredible Abraham Lincoln was, something reminds you, and you say, “damn, that man was a genius.”)

And so everyone in town starts looking for the best in everyone else, and they rally together to build a new orphanage where the kids don’t get burned or drowned or electrocuted (something we can all get behind), and Aunt Polly and Dr. Childers rekindle their love, united in their resolve to help Pollyanna get better, and Mr. Tarbell stands up to Mrs. Tarbell, and Nancy and George get Aunt Polly’s blessing to get married, and then Reverend Ford sums it all up when he says to Pollyanna, as she’s being taken to the train station to go to Baltimore to get an operation so she can walk again (yeah, that actually happens), “We looked for the best in them, and we found it.”

Let’s start looking for the best in our fellow man, and maybe we’ll all come together and everything will be better. Hell, what with my newfound love of pruning, I’ll even fall out of a tree if it would help.

We are all Americans. We all bring something to the table. I love you all. Let’s make things better.

Mother Wendy’s Letter to Young People

June 23, 2017

Last week, a Massachusetts judge found Michelle Carter guilty of manslaughter after she sent a series of text messages to her boyfriend urging him to commit suicide. At the time, she was 17; her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, was 18. Both had a history of emotional problems.

The texts sent by Carter to Roy on the night he killed himself are chilling, and the story is heartbreaking on so many levels. As the mother of a teenager and two young women in their 20’s, I can’t even imagine what Roy’s parents must be going through – or Carter’s, for that matter, as they contemplate the years their daughter will serve in prison.

But Mother Wendy feels compelled to speak to the Young People (not that I have many Facebook Friends under the age of 40), and so I ask that you please indulge me as I address all the teenagers who may read this post.

Dear Young People:

Being a teen isn’t easy. Sometimes, it out-and-out sucks (my mother hates that word, by the way, and I only use it when I really want to make a point).

You have a lot on your mind, hormones coursing through your body, parents and teachers who are annoying and think the Periodic Table of the Elements is like, super important, and you don’t have a lot of power or self-determination. You’re dependent upon others for your basic necessities, which means that those others get to make a lot of decisions you maybe don’t like, and they also get to tell you what to do or, at the very least, severely limit your ability to do what you want.

Or maybe you have no one – no reliable adults, no support, nothing. Maybe the people who are supposed to be there for you aren’t, because of their job or drugs or prison or because they’re narcissists who should never had children. Maybe you have too much responsibility, and not enough resources. Maybe it feels like there’s no one there to help.

If there are supportive adults in your life, maybe they don’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager. They think that because they have jobs and mortgage payments and have to pay for health insurance and new transmissions that whatever you’re dealing with is minor by comparison, and maybe it is, to them, but it isn’t to you.

Sure, someday you’re the one who’s going to have to pay for the new washing machine or deal with a boss who’s an asshole, but for now, you have teenage-sized problems, and compared to middle-school or elementary school problems, they can feel all-consuming. Parents sometimes forget that things like chemistry tests, or not being included in a social event, or being teased for something about yourself that you can’t change, can feel like the world is ending. They may scoff when you complain about school, or friends, or your job, or maybe they one-up you with an “in my day” story in which they spent their entire youth wearing the same pair of underpants and working in a factory where people routinely got their arms cut off (probably not true, by the way).

Please try to remember, when this happens, that sometimes adults really don’t remember what it’s like to be young. Even more importantly, they probably don’t realize just how different a place the world is these days. My oldest was 10 when 9/11 happened, and she’s spent her young-adult life with an awareness of just how quickly a beautiful Tuesday morning can turn into a nightmare that changes everything, forever. She has lived with the uncertainty and fear that the terrorism and school shootings and economic collapse have fomented, and so has every other young person under the age of 30. So it’s not easy, and when adults tell you to shake it off, it’s because they forget that when they were younger, they used to ride their bikes to the store to buy a soda, walk unaccompanied to school, and didn’t have to be taught about “good touch/bad touch.”

So, even when you have supportive adults in your life and a pretty stable situation (a relative privilege these days, it seems), things can still be rough, because neurotypical teenage behavior is fraught with drama and angst and urgency. Your body and your brain aren’t done baking yet, so that you’re subject to wild mood swings and may be easily frustrated when things don’t go your way.

Guess what? That’s normal.

What you don’t know yet is that how things may feel on any given day is very much like the weather in London: Don’t like it? Wait a few minutes. It’ll change. I don’t say this to minimize the importance of the things you may be struggling with, or to be patronizing, or to suggest that the things that teenagers are focused on are frivolous. I was a teenager once, and for all my wailing about my Double A bra size and the fact that no boy would go out with me, you would have thought I was a penniless, homeless orphan with terminal cancer and a bad perm – just ask any of my high school friends. They’re all on Facebook. They remember.

What you also don’t know is that, with the exception of very extreme and dire circumstances (and, frequently, even in the case of very extreme and dire circumstances)…this too shall pass. It gets better. Hang in there.

I know, I know, I KNOW. Not the words you want to hear, not very helpful when it feels like the world is about to end. You don’t understand, Mother Wendy, you may be thinking.

Ah, but I do. I do. There’s a reason that old people like me say things like this: Because we’ve been there. We’ve felt that fear and frustration and sadness, and we’ve cried those tears. Just because we dye our (grey) hair, don’t know how to Snapchat, and are totally lame in just about every way a person can be, if there is NOTHING else that we know, we know this:

You won’t always feel this way.

I promise.

But when you ARE feeling this way, and if it isn’t going away, and you’re starting to feel like there are no answers, you must hear this: No matter how sad, depressed, desperate, or lonely, you may be, THERE IS HELP. There are people to talk to, medications that can drastically improve your mood and correct organic chemical imbalances, and facilities where care is available.

There are ways to get better, and people who want to help. No one will judge you – they’d rather help you than mourn you. If your parents won’t listen, talk to a friend. If your friends won’t listen, talk to a teacher. If a teacher won’t help, because she’s busy staring at the Periodic Table of the Elements, talk to your friends’ parents, and if none of those people will help, Uber yourself to the emergency room and say, “I NEED HELP.” Yes, that’s hard and dramatic and scary beyond belief, but it’s better than being dead.

Young People, there are answers, and whatever is going on, you can endure this. So, no matter how bad things may seem, DON’T KILL YOURSELF. DON’T. JUST DON’T. And if you’ve got a “friend” who’s suggesting that you should, you need to end that “friendship,” like, yesterday.

I’m an old lady with a bad right knee, I am wildly out of touch with pop culture, I love nothing better than doing crossword puzzles in my jammies, or pruning trees, or watching koala videos. I use words like “notwithstanding,” and things I find interesting include memorizing world capitals and the Periodic Table of the Elements. In other words, I’m completely irrelevant.

Except that I will always be here for you, Young Person, whomever you are, even if you don’t know me, even if you think I’m an idiot (mostly, you’re right). I’m at least one person who cares about you, even if I don’t know you, but I’ll bet I’m not the only one. If things are rough, I will be here in any way I can, and so will a lot of people. Even if you’re getting through life one minute at a time, there are people who care.

Stay tough, get help if you need it, and know that things will get better. It may take a while, but they Will. Get. Better.

Love, Mother Wendy

Reba McEntire and the Battle for My Soul

June 4, 2017

Recently, I saw a post on someone’s Facebook page with a link to a Reba McEntire song and the provocative clickbait, “AMAZING New Song Will DESTROY Every Single Trump-Hater In America!”

What’s this? I thought.  While not strictly a Trump Hater, anyone who knows me understands that I have zero respect for or confidence in the low-information, petulant toddler less than half our nation elected president.  I know I’m not alone in my opinion of Trump – he’s universally reviled by most of the rest of the world (including many of the 51 million who elected him) – and so I was curious:

If I watched this video, would it literally destroy me? (Answer: No. I watched the video, and I’m still here).

Still, I think that what (translation: White People Who Voted for Trump and Hate You Libtard Snowflakes Who Represent Everything That’s Wrong With this Country) was likely trying to say is, if you watch this video, you fascist, socialist, morally bankrupt liberal who lives off the public dole, you will no longer be able to deny that Donald J. Trump is the Second Coming and maybe you’ll shut up already.  Because Reba McEntire.

So I thought, what if there actually were a song that would change my mind about Donald J. Trump? What if Reba McEntire, of all people, was the one person in the world who could make a good argument for why it’s okay to demonize immigrants, deny access to affordable health insurance to those who need it most, and tell the rest of the world’s people that they’re on their own when it comes to climate change, even though our country has been one of the leading causes of global warming in the first place? Is anyone capable of that sort of persuasion? And if so, how?

I’ve never been a big country music fan (though I do like Faith Hill and Johnny Cash), but I once had a client who was a Reba McEntire impersonater, and she was a nice lady who had a lot of positive things to say about Reba, so I thought, hey, let’s see what I’m missing.  I clicked on the link, and I watched the video, and while it’s not exactly my cup of tea, I thought, “well, that’s nice.”  And then I ate a Milano and I considered some of the other things that had to say.

First, the USA has become “spiritually poor” because everyone, particularly the “young folks,” have forgotten “the existence of God and the true, moral and Christian values our country’s philosophy was based on.”  I guess hasn’t read the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, or the writings of many of our Founding Fathers, who made clear their intention that, regardless of their own personal beliefs, the United States of America should be beacon of religious tolerance and diversity for all, even (heaven forbid) the Jews. at fn. 3.  For starters, then, has got its history wrong.

It’s also worth noting, moreover, that since time immemorial, grumpy old people everywhere have pointed to the declining morals of the young, including a decreased respect for God and organized religion, as the cause of all society’s ills and proof that the End of Days is near.  It’s an oldie but a goodie, and whether and when you may chose to invoke it is also a good indicator of just how far along the Crotchety Scale of Life you are.

I have often found, incidentally, that those who are most concerned with how young people behave, particularly with regard to a lack of religious fealty, are frequently the same people who in their early years were hellraisers themselves.  Perhaps because of their own less-exalted conduct as teenagers and young adults, they are acutely aware of and appreciate the capacity for young people to do things that are in direct contravention with many religious tenets.  Now that they’ve had their fun, of course, no one else should, either.  But I digress. next bemoans the level of discord in our country since the election, noting that “Americans are burning flags, dishonoring our military and police officers, rioting in the streets…Clearly, we do need to get this country back to God.”  It seems worth recalling that this is exactly the behavior we witnessed in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement and as our country continued to fight an unjust war.  Know what ended those protests? Enacting legislation that forced our nation to treat all people equally and pulling out of Viet Nam.  Or maybe it was God.  Who knows. also says that I, and others like me, are the problem with all that is wrong in America because we “don’t want to ‘conform’ to one belief” and are “too cool” to believe in God.  (N.B. – To my everlasting chagrin, I’ve never once been tagged “cool,” but thanks for that,!)  Call me a wonky egghead who thinks we ought to consult the Constitution on this one, but I just sort of think that people should be able to search their hearts and decide which religion, if any, makes sense to the rational, inquisitive brains that God or some higher power apparently gave us, and then act accordingly, rather than foist one set of beliefs upon the rest of the world.  It would appear, however, that being a Proud Patriot means you ignore the clear import of the words of Madison and Jefferson and all those men who are claimed to have intended ours to be a “nation under God,” notwithstanding that those same men expressly said that under no circumstances was this to be a “nation under God.”  But why quibble with words, or logic, when you can demonize those with whom you don’t agree? goes on to say that no one is forcing Christianity on anyone and that what it is most angry about is the “discrimination” Christians endure as disciples of the one true God.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a big fan of Jesus and think more Christians ought to act like him, but I’m still struggling with the idea of a higher being named God, who at one point thought it was okay to destroy the entire world (save Noah and his crew) and who was okay with polygamy and spousal abuse and killing people who ate bacon, but then underwent some amazing metamorphosis in which he became more compassionate and forgiving, although I know having a kid can do that to you.  But just for the record, I don’t hate Jesus, even if I’m not sure he or his dad are divine.  (This is why Michael is always worried to enter a church with me).  For the record, I have zero problem with Christians, except for the ones who claim to be but act instead like assholes.

Whatever you may think about Christianity, however, it’s absurd to suggest that those who practice this faith in our country are being persecuted.  The last time I checked, the Congress was overwhelmingly Christian, as has been every man ever elected to the office of President.  Anywhere from 70 – 85% of Americans identify as Christian, as do roughly 1/3 of the peoples of the world, making Christianity by far the most dominant religion on Earth. As Louis C.K. so astutely noted, we measure time based upon the date that Christ was born, – how much more Christian do you Christians need the rest of the world to be before you’ll admit that you won?

As for this alleged anti-Christian prejudice, is just wrong.  You want to know what discrimination is? Being lowered onto a pointed stick, with or without weights tied to your feet, until your anus was perforated (or until you recanted your deeply held religious beliefs, whichever came first).  Being crammed into railroad cars and whisked to Eastern Europe to a virtually certain death, along with 5,999,999 of your brethren, simply because a certain group of people feel economically threatened by you. That’s persecution.

The fact that some choose to say “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas,” out of deference to the possibility that the person to whom they are extending their good wishes might not be a Christian is not persecution, and the placement of menorahs on the town hall lawn is not discrimination.  It’s called inclusion (look it up), and it doesn’t diminish you or your beliefs unless you faith is so fragile that it cannot withstand the fact that others may not share it.  And yet, those at (and, to be fair, a lot of others websites, too) claim to be discriminated against because the United States of America allows people who aren’t Christian to live here.

Pardon me if I don’t attend your candlelight vigil, Snowflakes.  You don’t know from persecution and discrimination, not in America, anyway, and if you’re so damned worried about Christians in other parts of the world who are being persecuted for their beliefs, then maybe consider demanding that they be granted sanctuary here in the United States, where they might take all the high-paying jobs and not speak English the minute they clear Customs.  But again, I digress.

So here’s where we are so far:  The United States is in a real pickle because liberals aren’t Christian (like that selfish bastard, Jimmy Carter, building houses for the poor, or that shithead Pope Francis who opened up laundromats for the homeless).

But wait, there’s more:  According to, liberals are “aching for the kind of values” that faith gives good Christians and that without faith, there are no values.  This is because the only way you can be a morally sound, ethical person, is to be a Christian.  You know.  Because people who aren’t Christians have no morals or ethics.  Sorry, Buddhists.  Hindus, you’re out of luck, too.

Sounds pretty grim, eh? But wait! Don’t get discouraged, all you non-Christians currently destined for an afterlife of eternal damnation and suffering, there is hope!  Thanks to Reba McEntire, soon liberals everywhere will come to know Donald J. Trump and will rally behind him in his faith-based agenda of compassion, unity, and world peace.  See, Reba recorded this song, and it’s going to change EVERYTHING.  All you have to do is tie a Trump Hater to a chair and make them listen to it, and guess what? They, too, will come to see that Donald J. Trump is indeed the answer to all of our problems.


 A few things about the song, “Back to God,” written by Randy Houser in 2008.  Apparently, it’s always been a favorite of Reba’s, one she chose to include on an album that dropped in January 2017 and which was likely recorded before the presidential election had even taken place.  As to why she chose to record this song now, Reba said, “I think it is always the right time to give it back to Him because we seem to mess things up on our own. We all need to just love each other more unconditionally, without judgment, because we can’t do this on our own.”  That’s a nice idea, even if you don’t believe in God.

If you listen to the song or read its lyrics (I’ve done both), you’ll hear that it’s about dealing with hard times and how God can be a comfort to those who are struggling.  It specifically invokes “the innocent dyin’,” expressing empathy for the heartbroken and those who have lost a loved one before exhorting those in pain to call on God in their time of need.  The video, moreover, includes vignettes of people who appear to be in real agony – though it’s not exactly clear to me why.  It looks as though two teenagers may have died and that their community, black and white, is in mourning, but ultimately comes together in a gorgeous southern Church to unite in their grief and move forward through their shared faith in God, and that’s a nice message, too.  Many people find great comfort in their faith, which is a better way of dealing with hardship than drinking, taking drugs, or shooting up a preschool with an assault rifle.

But the song, like Reba, is utterly silent about Donald J. Trump, or the issues currently facing our country, of the fact that it’s so politically divided right now, or that the rest of the world thinks we’re all assholes.  Nothing in this song – nothing – suggests that it was intended to respond to the state of the nation since November 8, 2016, nor does it advance the idea that El Presidente could fix things if only the liberals, who can’t accept that their (severely flawed) candidate lost, would just pipe down and give him a chance.

Neither Mr. Houser nor Ms. McEntire ever say that Mr. Trump is the answer to all of our problems, but does.  Wanna know why?

Wait for it…


I swear to God that’s what it says.  Guess what else?

“Donald Trump is going to be bringing God back into this country….He’s put the Lord back in our Pledge of Allegiance.”  I hate to be all insistent that arguments be based upon actual facts and stuff, but the words “under God” weren’t even in the Pledge of Allegiance when it was first written in 1892 (by a socialist minister, no less) or when it was adopted by Congress in 1945.  Just to be clear, though, ever since those words were first inserted into the Pledge back in 1954, they haven’t been removed, there is no bill in the House or the Senate proposing to remove those words, and they’re not going anywhere.  (Also, “Touched by an Angel” wasn’t cancelled because of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was already dead at the time, either).  But, okay.

So Donald J. Trump is a pillar of Christian morality? Really?  I have an easier time accepting that there may be benefits to abstinence-only sex ed.  I can think of four Commandments (I’m referencing them as they are enumerated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church) he’s violated without even having to think about it over a bag of tortilla chips:  The Sixth (thou shalt not commit adultery – think Marla Maples); the Seventh (thou shalt not steal – you know – all those vendors he refused to pay in full when he was building casinos in Atlantic City); the Eighth (thou shalt not bear false witness – like, every day) and the Ninth (thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife – “I moved on her like a bitch”).

It’s not just the sinning that makes’s assessment of Trump as a man of God so ridiculous.  We all sin, some of us more than others.  Also, I don’t presume to see into and discern the contents of Trump’s heart any more than and its ilk should purport to comment on the contents of mine.  It’s not that he hasn’t set a foot inside a church since his inauguration, or that he can’t recite a single Bible verse save “an eye for an eye,” or that he referred to Second Corinthians as Two Corinthians – attendance at church and an affinity for memorizing passages from the Good Book is not proof positive evidence of a humble servant’s soul.

Rather, what leads me to my conclusion that Trump is as much a devout Christian as I am a dedicated vegan who works out with weights and tractor tires every morning is the behavior that so obviously demonstrates Trump’s belief that he answers to no one – not Congress, not the American people, and certainly not God.  In a million years, I cannot begin to summon the image of Trump, on his knees, hands folded, begging, pleading, praying, crying tears of pain, “pounding the floor and screaming His name,” as Reba tells us we all need to be doing.

Try to imagine that, if you can; I just can’t.  Trump’s charitable works, in proportion to his wealth, are de minimis; in-depth analyses of his “charitable giving” reveal that he’s awfully good at taking credit for the monetary donations of others but that he has not made a single cash donation to charity since 2011 and had made no contributions to his own foundation since 2008.  Can you name a single cause or disease on whose behalf Trump has ever worked to raise awareness?  Have you ever seen him visit the sick or tend to the hungry (before he ran for office, that is)?

No.  Because Trump has spent his life in service of one thing and one thing only:  The Promotion and Aggrandizement of All Things Trump.  That’s the single thing he cares about (well, that and pussy), and anyone who genuinely believes that Donald J. Trump is about kindness, empathy, humility, forgiveness, service to others, self-sacrifice, and the betterment of mankind, is either the most naïve or else self-delusional person ever to have lived.

No,  Just, no.  Donald Trump isn’t a Christian, and Reba McEntire doesn’t think so, either.  The conversion of liberals, or anyone else who doesn’t practice Christianity, to your way of thinking, isn’t going to save this country until it’s got leaders in Congress, the White House, governors’ mansions, and state legislatures who understand that the United States (1) was founded upon principles of religious liberty; (2) is, was, and always will be a nation of immigrants; and (3) is the most powerful, privileged and prosperous country on earth and therefore must act responsibly, with an awareness of the impact its actions will have on the rest of the world.  When we are a nation that cares about the sick and mentally ill; that refuses to stand by while children in developing countries die from preventable disease and malnutrition; that finds a way to open its hearts and borders to those who are desperate for freedom and opportunity; that leads the way in addressing the threat of climate change; then we can truly call this country a nation that espouses Christ’s teachings, or maybe we could just say that we’re a country of decent human beings.

I’m all for people practicing whatever religion makes sense to them, if it makes them happy, as long as they don’t insist that I do it with them, but if ever anyone wanted to “convert” me, they’re going to have to come at me with better ammunition than Reba McEntire (talented though she may be) or the staggeringly incredible argument that Donald Trump “came from nowhere to bring the message of unity, peace and the love of the almighty god.”

Here’s the truth:  Donald Trump came from the 58th floor of the Trump Tower to bring a message of hatred and intolerance aimed at uniting a base that claims to love God even though they could give a crap about most of His people.  He came because he was bored, and because he’s a narcissist, and because those campaign rallies stroked his ego in a way that grabbing women by the pussy and firing D-list celebrities did not.  He came for the sole purpose of increasing his name recognition and profits, and not once prior to November 9, 2016 did he ever think he’d actually win, which was why he never stopped to think about what would happen if the policies he espoused were actually implemented.

He’s not a Christian and he’s not going to save our nation, but if you’re looking to “destroy” something,, look no further than to the country you claim to love, or to the “man of God” who’s destroying it.  Maybe Reba McEntire could do a song about that – because that would be worth listening to.

Overcoming a Helicopter Mom:  A Study in Fortitude

May 21, 2017

Hanna Elizabeth O’Connor is graduating from high school in a few weeks and will be going to college in the fall.  The college application process was brutal, but Hanna handled it with great poise and maturity, and she can hold her head up high.  Her mother, not so much.

Throughout the last year, I’ve attended meetings at Hanna’s school hosted by the college counseling staff; I’ve read a lot of books, listened to podcasts, and availed myself of all the resources out there for students and parents navigating college admissions.  Much I’ve what I’ve heard and read, I already sort of knew from doing this once before with our oldest daughter, but I did learn at least one new thing, and that’s the fact that I’m exactly the sort of parent that none of want to or should be.  Turns out I’ve broken just about all of the 10 Commandments for Parents of College-Bound High Schoolers:

  • We are supposed to let our students drive the process, figure things out for themselves. This makes the process less stressful.
  • We’re supposed to avoid any and all contact with admissions offices and admissions personnel, because this can impact their chances of admission, and hey, that’s stressful, too.
  • We’re supposed to not nag our kids to death about studying for standardized tests or whether they’ve gotten their applications in, even if it’s the spring of their junior year and they haven’t yet taken the SAT or ACT, and there are no other tests being offered until the fall, because it stresses them out.
  • We’re supposed to take our kids to visit colleges they and they alone select. We shouldn’t make suggestions, because this, too, stresses them out.
  • During those visits, we’re supposed to keep our mouths shut so as not to unduly influence them with our opinions. You know.  Because that stresses them out.
  • We’re supposed to be supportive and available to talk about the process, but only if our kids initiate the conversation. This is so they don’t get stressed out.
  • We’re supposed to encourage other well-intentioned adults not to quiz our kids about their post-high school plans, because that’s sort of stressful.
  • We aren’t supposed to talk about the process with other parents, even if the kids aren’t around, mostly, I think, because it’s impolite. But it could also stress our kids out, even if they don’t know about it.
  • We’re not supposed to tell our kids where they should or should not apply, or review any portion of their applications unless they specifically ask us to. Because of the stress, stupid.
  • It goes without saying that we have NO OPINION WHATSOEVER about where they actually end up going to school, except to the extent that financial considerations play a role in that decision. But if we have to talk about it, we should do it in a non-stress-inducing way.

In other words, we’re supposed to be preternaturally and ceaselessly calm and devoid of any emotional investment in the process that could potentially influence our kids’ decisions or opinions (or stress level) in any way.  Basically, we’re supposed to spend a year demonstrating a Zen-like discipline and detachment, and even as we recognize just how high the stakes are, we are never to communicate that fact to our children – ever.  In short, we’re supposed to so thoroughly model and embody this level of equanimity that if our children receive unfavorable results (which they won’t, so long as we do our part), they will accept them with the dispassionate composure of the Queen of England.

That’s a tall order, and if you know me even a little bit, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I failed miserably.  Just to give you an idea of the extent of my transgressions, here are all the things on the No-No List I have done in the past year – and please don’t judge me – I know just how badly I fucked up:

  •  I was regularly in touch with my child’s guidance counselor to voice my concerns and worries about my child’s list of schools and why she hadn’t received her decision from some schools that other students had already heard from, and to vent my frustration about decisions that didn’t go her way, and to express lots of other things I can’t remember but which, if my kid had heard them, would have stressed her out.
  • I encouraged her to consider schools that, in retrospect, may have been unrealistic options, not because she was incapable of being successful at those schools, but because I failed to appreciate that when colleges say they employ a “holistic” review of applicants, what they really mean is, “yeah, we really just look at the GPA and SAT.”
  • I talked to other parents – lots and lots of other parents (in fact, anyone who would listen)—about the process – a lot. I’m sure this caused her stress, even though she didn’t know about it.
  • I brought up the topic with Hanna on many, many occasions, even when I knew she didn’t want to talk about it. This stressed her out.
  • I kept insisting she process how she was feeling about not getting into this school or that, when she really just wanted not to think about it. My therapist – who LOVES processing stuff and gets paid to help people do just that, later told me that what I really should have been doing was trying to take her mind off the whole thing – et tu, Meredith?
  • I suggested she consider applying to additional schools. In January of her senior year.  I think that might have stressed her out.
  • I suggested she consider taking the ACT. Again, in January.  So, maybe some stress there, too.
  • I insisted she attend admitted students’ programs at every school she got into, even the ones in which she had no interest, and even though she was exhausted, overwhelmed, and so sick of the process she wanted to shoot me in the head (although she never actually said that). There might have been some stress involved.
  • I blatantly lobbied for one school over the other when she had narrowed her school down to two choices (although I said good things about the other school, too).

So, yeah.  I did all that stuff.  And guess what?  Hanna was stressed pretty much every minute of every day of the twelve months.  Mother of the Year, here, folks.  But you know what they say:  If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a terrible warning.

My failure to maintain the impassivity and level-headedness that all good parents are supposed to demonstrate for their children is probably the result of becoming too emotionally involved in the process, and I know this had a negative impact on Hanna, because when she received rejection or wait-list decisions, she was devastated, which can only mean that I did not do a good enough job at cultivating her self-esteem or ingraining in her an unshakable belief that a college admissions decision is not a referendum on her value and promise.

I felt inestimable despair as I watched what the process did to her, and as I heard a kid who had made high honors for fifteen out of fifteen quarters of high school actually vocalize the opinion that she was a “loser” based upon which schools said no.  I felt even worse as I considered the extent to which I was responsible for her despondency and feelings of hopelessness.  How many times did I tell her, in the months that comprised Hanna’s College Admissions Adventure, that she was the consumer and that no institution of higher learning – ivy-covered or otherwise – would ever know enough about her to make a truly fair assessment of who she was or as to her potential?  Apparently, not enough.

I love this child so desperately.  She is my baby – a precious, unexpected, thoroughly sublime surprise who must have known how much we needed her.  In 1998, Michael and I made the heartbreaking decision that our family would have to be complete with two children (as opposed to the three we had always imagined) because of our uncertainty at that time as to what type of care our younger daughter, Allie, who had just been diagnosed with autism, might need in the years ahead.  That decision notwithstanding, Hanna joined our family in March 1999, and the joy she has brought to us ever since has always felt like something of a miracle to me.

That she was, from the moment she first drew breath, the easiest and most accommodating child ever to have been born was an added bonus, but with Hanna – finally – I felt like the mother I had always hoped to be.  There was none of the first-time-parent anxiety that Caitlin, to her great credit, endured with such gentle and forgiving grace, nor the despair and terror and exhaustion that being the parent of a child with special needs occasioned.  With Hanna, it was different.  I was endlessly patient, creative, and wise, and I was far more concerned with being the parent she needed as opposed to the parent I thought the rest of the world thought I should be.  With Hanna, I pretty much got most things right, which is not to say that Hanna is a “better” child than Cait or Allie, just that she had the benefit of a mother who had gained greater insight, made better decisions, and was a lot less uptight.

And so, knowing that I so thoroughly botched this college application thing – perhaps one of the most important milestones of a young person’s formative years – is mortifying, and painful, and deeply upsetting, because I should have known better – in all honesty, probably DID know better – but did all the things I wasn’t supposed to anyway.

Michael, who is a lot wiser and less prone to navel-gazing that I, has listened to me castigate myself about all of this, and has asked me what might have gone differently if I hadn’t made all of these unforced errors?  Would she have gotten into more or better schools? Would she be any happier with her decision? Probably not.  But she might have felt less stressed, less overwhelmed, less bad about herself.  And that’s what bothers me the most.

In September, Hanna will matriculate at Mount Holyoke College – the choice of her older sister, my alma mater as well—and I know she will be spectacular.  I’m hopeful that this last year of her life will grow dim in her memory and that ultimately, all she will recall will be how much she loved her college experience.  I know she will do well in the years ahead, and I’m confident in her ability to rise to the challenges she will face as she makes her mark on the world.  I am also hopeful that she will forgive me my frailties and come to understand that if I have been less that I should have been, it is because of my inability to comprehend a college admissions staff that fails to see all that she is and will be.

We call her Puddy, or Beanie; we called her Wiz-Biff when she was little, because that’s how she said her middle name back then.  But Hanna Elizabeth O’Connor is not a mere trifle.  She may have a mother who probably needs inpatient psychiatric care, but she’s a woman of fierce intelligence, conviction, and fortitude.  She has much to show us.  I can’t wait to see what she does.